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By Design

From Contra Costa boy to celebrity decorator, Nathan Turner makes good.


At home in Malibu with Daisy and Nacho / Oberto GiliThere’s an irresistible temptation to describe Nathan Turner as the “Male Martha.” He’s good at home design and food and, gulp, even DIY crafts. He’s talented and handsome, and has a MacGyver-like ability to rig up impressive party decor. And he has just published a fabulous coffee-table book, Nathan Turner’s American Style: Classic Design and Effortless Entertaining.

“American style?” you might ask. “What’s that?” Flag-emblazoned pillows? No, but Turner has one just in case. Does American style mean Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, the most preppy and all-American of designers? No, but Turner could double as one of their models.

“American style means we have permission to experiment,” Turner says, “to mix styles of different cultures and periods. And to have fun with it.

“We are not like the French, who are harnessed by very strict periods of history—the Empire period or the Louis XIV period. Because America is built on so many cultures, a mix of vintage with ethnic with midcentury modern, for example, is genuinely American.”

You may have caught a glimpse of the Pleasant Hill and Martinez–raised style expert on television. Turner’s been featured on Bravo’s Million Dollar Decorators and is a regular on the Today Show as a lifestyle expert. He’s a stylist for Pottery Barn, which just hosted his national book tour, and he is the special projects editor at Architectural Digest magazine, where he writes a travel blog.

Max Kim-BeeTip: “The first step is to get the function down. When you start to think about redecorating, consider the reality of your life. Do your kids do their homework in the dining room? If so, maybe you should make it over as a dining room/library. That’s a very cool look.”

But that’s not all. This charming decorator to the stars has designed parties for model Cindy Crawford and Desperate Housewives star Marcia Cross, and decorated interiors for actress Amanda Peet and Modern Family star Eric Stonestreet. These days, Turner travels almost half the year, decorating for famous clients from Southern California to Singapore.

 At the home of actress Ione Skye / Mike GardnerSo how did he get there? A fourth- generation Californian, Turner credits his design sensibility to the “indoor-outdoor lifestyle” of his California childhood, when he would do everything—from eating to just hanging out—under the California sky; and to “good bones,” he says with a laugh, referring to a family history of home-decorating savvy.

As for his meteoric rise, he traces it back to a few delicious dinner parties he threw at the West Hollywood design shop he opened 10 years ago. To demonstrate his design aesthetic, he invited prospective clients to dine with him surrounded by his collection of European antiques. Turner’s playful party antics—impeccable theme dinners and opulent costume parties—caught the attention of the Los Angeles Times, which did a story on him that set his phone ringing with requests for dinner reservations. Politely, Turner told them that it was not a restaurant, but he would be happy to show them his shop.

Then came an invitation from the online home goods shop One Kings Lane for Turner to travel to India as its curator. Later, he became friends with überpopular English model, designer, and aristocrat India Hicks, who wrote the foreword for his new book.

With a voice that is equal parts funny and sincere, and lacking even a hint of pretense, American Style is a worthwhile addition to any home decor library. It succeeds, in part, because Turner and coauthor Alexandria Abramian-Mott (who happened to write that Los Angeles Times profile) found the words to explain how he does what he does. Too few design books reach this goal. It’s not just designer hype: His explanations actually make sense.

Like his tip on how to mix elements: “Put something super raw and unfinished next to stuff that is more polished, and you get this great-looking tension (and can save money and time to boot).”

Tip: “When it comes to color, maybe you want to think about decorating your room using the colors you like to wear. Odds are if you like to wear a color, you will feel good in a room of that color. I wear blue, so paint it blue!”

Nathan Turner’s shop / Miguel Flores-ViannaOr how to hang a wall of family photos: “Family photo walls can look great—or totally cheesy. For me, the key is to mix it up so you’re including old pictures, new pictures, solo shots, group shots—even art and mementos can look great, if properly framed.”

He often encourages his readers to be bold: “Go for it with paint, and just do it all over if you’ve messed up.”

American Style is really more than just a design book. It is also a very personal journey through photos of Turner’s life—from shots of him as an adorable child, to his modest beach house in Malibu (shells and batten board), to that once chockablock West Hollywood store (the “little shop that could” that has become Turner’s “big boy” store on much tonier Melrose Avenue), to a few of his handpicked client projects.

The book is also full of surprises, like the ethnic party-entertaining section, where Turner is decked out in white Indian garb adorned with a shockingly bright marigold garland. This kind of over-the-top, rock-the-casbah party theme makes clear why he is ground zero on the celebrity celebration map. And why this local boy made good and is riding a wave of popularity and success.

We think Martha would approve.


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