2010 CHD Award for Residential Interior Design (More Than 3,000 Sq. Ft.): Melissa Palazzo


A house of surprises. This may sound more like the description for a state-fair attraction rather than interior designer Melissa Palazzo’s Costa Mesa home, but a brief survey of the color-rich, art-filled dwelling reveals an abundance of conflicting elements. The contradictions begin at the entrance—a pair of revealing all-glass shop doors that have deliverymen scratching their heads, wondering if they’ve arrived at a business or a residence. “Well, we do use our home as an idea lab for our new products,” says Melissa, who runs Pal + Smith, a Newport Beach–based design firm, with her husband Marc. The shop doors might pose a privacy issue for the family of five, were the house not tucked away on a quarter-acre lot with a gargantuan and historically protected coral tree standing guard (it’s one of the oldest in California).

The 4,000-square-foot modern gem of a house owes its form to that very tree. Four years ago, when the decision to remodel the house—originally a 2,500-square-foot 1950s ranch home—was made, the thought of cutting down the 70-year-old coral tree never even crossed the Palazzos’ minds. (Admittedly, one limb lost its life to make space for a new dining room, but not before an ambitious plan to incorporate the arm into the space was seriously considered.) Instead of a sprawling design intended to accommodate the growing family (now with three children), the plan went vertical, and a two-story box of glass and corrugated metal was added to the original structure, containing a ground-level media room and upstairs bedrooms for the children plus a loft space. “We felt that the tree was the cornerstone of the house and the property,” says Melissa. “There are now more than 15 windows in the house that each frame sections of that tree.”

Inside, gallery-white walls and concrete floors are in tune with the cool modern architecture and serve as a clean palette for all that enlivens the house. “I didn’t want the home to feel icy,” says Melissa. “Isn’t that always the struggle with modern houses?” Sunlight streams through the home’s innumerable windows, highlighting her fearless use of color—kelly-green predominates in the loft while lemon-yellow, ice-blue and seafoam green are found throughout the house. Distressed white-oak stairs and Douglas fir doorways and ceiling beams add an earthy element. The Palazzos’ extensive art collection favors simple, quiet pieces: A tender moment between horse and human is captured in an Augustus Butera photograph hanging in the foyer; a hazy Tahitian landscape painting by Daryl Millard is displayed in the living room; and a contemplative black-and-white shot of Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder by Charles Peterson decorates the media room (Marc is an avid collector of rock-and-roll photography). “These pieces represent our interests and travels as a family,” says Melissa. “When you’re using elements that mean something to you, the design comes through effortlessly and naturally.”

A play on scale in the house, whereby low-profile furniture occupies spaces with vaulted ceilings, contributes to the whimsical effect. “The idea behind the low furniture is to keep an easy visual flow,” says Melissa. The long and narrow living room encompasses three separate seating vignettes that star Pal + Smith’s custom sofas, each no more than 29 inches high: The curvaceous tufted Muse, upholstered in citrine mohair, occupies a cozy nook next to the fireplace, and identical midcentury-style Madison couches, covered in Lulu DK’s handsome chocolate-brown Chant fabric, outfit the middle seating area and library.

While cooking in the adjacent open kitchen, husband and wife are privy to happy scenes in the living room or lush backyard, where their kids—Isabella, 11, Luke, 9 and James, 3—play outside. “They’re young and right now they like to be close to us, wherever we are in the house,” says Melissa. “So we’ve made every room kid-friendly.” Even the formal dining room, with its mannered marble-topped table, pedigreed Mies van der Rohe woven-cane cantilevered chairs and armless high-back chairs upholstered in olive green leather (“They are really easy to clean,” insists the designer), is not off-limits to homework sessions and crayon-swept art projects.

Remarkably, despite the overtime demands of career and parenthood, the ground-level master suite in the original ranch house presents an atmosphere of tranquility. The room’s stronger pieces—a reclaimed-mahogany Edge platform bed by Environment Furniture and an Escher-esque Chiesa rug by The Rug Company—anchor the space, while gossamer white drapes that sheathe the walls are delicately stirred by any movement. “Our bedroom is the one place in the house where I most want to be. Then again, I do really love the character and the energy in the living room. Let’s just say I appreciate different areas for different reasons,” says Melissa.


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