Design Trends, Ideas + Inspiration

On Our Radar: California Modern

Channeling elements of mid-century modern, bits of sleek minimalism and a touch a bohemian, there’s something about California style that is so quintessentially cool.

While “California modern” might not be widely recognized (yet!), this distinct style manages to capture the energy, ingenuity and creativity that the Golden State is known for. It’s relaxed, sophisticated and inherently modern—and we can’t get enough of it. Here’s a look what makes the California modern look work.

Mid-Century Lines

Clutter in a California modern design scheme is most definitely frowned upon. As such, the clean lines seen in iconic mid-century modern and Scandinavian designs are one of the foundational elements. In addition to larger furniture pieces, such design styles are a great choice for the lighting elements. Smooth domes, spheres and drums are ideal lighting shapes to keep things clean. George Nelson Bubble Lamps and Moooi’s Non Random Light, for example, are great options for this kind of space.

The shades play a large part in the kind of light infusing the space. Natural materials factor strongly into the California modern design style (more on that below), and lighting pieces offer a great opportunity to bring that element in through the shade material.

Light, Breezy Tones

To engender the calm feel of a cool, breezy day by the beach, you want to keep your color scheme light and airy. Whites, greys and other pale tones work hand-in-hand with clean lines to keep things feeling simple and sophisticated. (Of course, using light colors is also a basic design tenet for making spaces feel bigger and more airy overall.) Having a setting based mostly in light colors helps to make any richer toned accents to really stand out.

Bohemian Accents

Design by Daniela Malca Benloulou. Photography by Amy Bartlam. Images via

While bohemian textiles are a prominent element in the California Modern style, it can be easy to overdo it. In order to keep this style more on the luxurious and sophisticated side, you’ll want to stick to select pieces that make an impact, as opposed to multiple pieces in this style. Layering bohemian pieces with other textiles that are simple and minimal will allow these pieces to shine. Rugs are an excellent choice for bringing in this element.

Luxe Leathers

Project by James Magni (Magni Kalman Design). Image via

Warm, worn leather embodies all the elements of the California modern style. Whether it’s on a small side chair or large sectional sofa, leather adds a vintage and organic touch to a room. This classic material’s versatility and strength is a must-have in a California modern space.

Industrial Elements

Project by Zack de Vito Architecture + Construction. Photography by Bruce Damonte. Image via

Sleek and shiny metals are the next element to the California modern style. This component offers another excellent opportunity to bring in some showpiece lighting fixtures. Starburst style chandeliers or lights that branch out and use interesting glass shades or bulbs (like the Agnes Chandelier, shown above) really work well in this type of space.

Natural Materials & Plants

Finally, organic materials and plants play a large role in this design style. Woods, woven baskets, sheepskins or hides and greenery round out this design by giving it warmth and depth. These elements play into the style well against the light and pastel colors that you frequently find in this design style.

While it may seem like a difficult style to recreate, there is actually a lot of freedom in your choices to create this style. By striving for balance and not over-incorporating any one element, you can achieve the chill, sophisticated space that is California modern. Get started on your look with the our favorite California modern lighting at YLighting.com.

Nicole Tatem

Nicole Tatem

Nicole is the Sr. Site Merchandiser for Accessories, Kids, and Textiles at YLiving. She is obsessed with great design in all forms with a special love for jewelry, wine bottle labels, and tableware. When she’s not exploring the many museums and art galleries of the Bay Area, Nicole spends time looking for and visiting obscure and unusual destinations (locally and abroad) while practicing her photography skills.

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