Nathan Turner comes by his California effortless-chic aesthetic honestly. Having grown up outside San Francisco and on a cattle ranch near Stockton, he’s spent the past 20 years in Los Angeles designing homes for such celebrities as Ione Skye, Amanda Peet and Eric Stonestreet.
Turner’s first love, however, was cooking, which he learned at the feet of his mother, grandmothers and great-grandmothers. He was considering a life in the culinary arts when in his early 20s a family friend asked him to accompany her on an antiques-buying trip to Europe. That experience not only informed his later designs but deepened his passion for food and for setting a relaxed, jovial table. “There was such a genuine warmth and welcomeness about the dealers there,” Turner says, recounting a story about an 80-year-old French woman who dealt antiques from her barn. She had amazing finds but wouldn’t allow any peeking before sitting down to a rustic spread of wine, bread and cheese. “I was lulled into something bigger than a settee,” he recalls. “It was a memorable experience with others over a simple, delicious meal.”
Soon after, he began cooking for friends and fellow decorators at the eponymous shop he opened in 2002. Whether offering homemade soup to customers who strolled in, hosting an impromptu sidewalk dinner or orchestrating a lavish Indian-themed bash, his mantra remained the same: “Play with various elements, create a layered table, and enjoy a fun meal for all.”
The designer has captured his favorite ways to do so in his recently released Nathan Turner’s I Love California (Abrams). Described as a love letter to his home state, it’s filled with charming, accessible table designs and West Coast comfort food classics like cioppino, ranch-style chili and Mexican chocolate cake. Each of the menus is inspired by a Cali locale close to Turner’s heart.
The book, whose text I had the good fortune to pen in collaboration with Turner, is a blend of travel journal, recipe scrapbook and entertaining primer celebrating California’s stunning landscapes and famously laid-back vibe. Winding slowly down the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway), he presents an assortment of menu and entertaining ideas that are equal parts effortless and elevated: There’s a crab feast on Tomales Bay, an Italian grandmother’s kitchen supper in Martinez (home of John Muir), an upscale picnic amid the stunning vistas of Big Sur and a beachside taqueria party in Malibu — with much more fun and food in between.
Photographed by Ojai-based photographer Victoria Pearson (who better to capture that Golden State light?), the book is a feast for the eyes. The California casual menus have inspired backdrops that mirror what’s on the table. A winery in Napa is the setting for a “hippie luxe” lunch filled with the area’s bounty of fresh vegetables and local cheese. Farther south, Turner sets up a ranch-style barbecue at biodynamic farm One Gun Ranch, in Malibu. And in Carpinteria, a bohemian ladies’ lunch is served amid acres of rose bushes and citrus trees at Rose Story Farm.
Throughout, Turner’s self-effacing wit makes the journey seem like a road trip with friends you never want to end. And that’s just what he was going for. “I don’t care if you don’t make a single recipe,” he says. “If you just want to flip through it, that’s fine. On second thought, definitely make the chili.”
“A classic English sofa is a confident, timeless statement in any room.”
“I love the feel of old mirrors in a room, especially the soft glow they cast at night when you light some candles.”
“I am always on the hunt for great vintage linens. I love the worn look and feel of them.”
“I collect vintage blankets from the U.K. to use as throws, picnic blankets and upholstery fabric.”
“A little mid-century mixed in is very Californian.”
Rancho Santa Fe
“Pottery is a great way to add subtle color to a space.”
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