Designer Spotlight

California Boy Nathan Turner Entertains — and Shops 1stdibs — with Élan

The designer shares his flair for relaxed-yet-refined hospitality in a new book dedicated to his home state.

“This is quite possibly my favorite kitchen that I have ever designed,” Nathan Turner says of the above space, which epitomizes the Central California style the designer and consummate host celebrates in his new book. Top: Here, Turner poses with his friends’ horse Achilles at their Malibu biodynamic farm, One Gun Ranch, before sitting down to a chic barbecue. All photos by Victoria Pearson

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.”

 

Northern California

 

Turner appreciates Northern California designs for their eclectic, adventurous spirit. Here, a space embodies what he learned about traditional antiques from San Francisco’s design elite, with organic, naturalistic touches and a few hits of bold colors and shapes.

“A classic English sofa is a confident, timeless statement in any room.”

 


Martinez

 

Known for his love of blue and white, Turner throws a bit of red into the mix for a colorful Sicilian supper party. Inspired by his Italian great-grandmother Marion, he wanted the decor to match the passion of her cooking. Turner prefers a round table for smaller gatherings. “It feels cozier, and everyone can talk to each other.”

“I love the feel of old mirrors in a room, especially the soft glow they cast at night when you light some candles.”

 


Hope Valley

 

Spending much of his childhood on his maternal grandparents’ ranch near Stockton, California, Turner came to appreciate the rustic simplicity of worn wood, sisal, raw linens and white stoneware. “There’s a sense of history and classicism to it all.”

“I am always on the hunt for great vintage linens. I love the worn look and feel of them.”

 


Big Sur

 

Turner’s father would often take his brothers and him when they were younger to Big Sur to watch the elephant seals on the beach. He still visits often but upgrades the usual sandwich-and-chips routine to an Asian-style picnic, complete with matcha Rice Krispies treats.

“I collect vintage blankets from the U.K. to use as throws, picnic blankets and upholstery fabric.”

 


Malibu

 

To create his signature free-spirited, Southern California look, Turner embraces a healthy mix of layers: new and old, solid and patterned, spunky and sophisticated. And, he claims, he “never met a blue-and-white pattern I didn’t like.”

“A little mid-century mixed in is very Californian.”

 


Rancho Santa Fe

 

Turner likes to punctuate interiors with elements of Spanish Colonial style, which figures prominently in Southern California. He says accessorizing a buffet table is much like finishing a room: “Think about color, pattern, texture and scale.”

“Pottery is a great way to add subtle color to a space.”

 


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