Ojai guest house
Photo by Shannon Malone, original photo on Houzz

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Hollywood actors Mary Steenburgen and Ted Danson’s creative lifestyle called for a retreat where they could host friends and family, rehearse scripts and get some writing done. “Because everything we do begins with a written word, whether it is acting or writing music, we wanted a space that pays homage to writing,” Steenburgen says. “Movies are rehearsed here, songs are written — we wanted it to be a place that breeds creativity.”

After meeting architect Chantal Dussouchaud of Atelier de Chantal at a café in Isle sur la Sorgue, France, Steenburgen realized she had read about the designer in a magazine and had been inspired by her style. She knew immediately their collaboration was meant to be. “There was something familiar about her,” Steenburgen says. Together they created a family-oriented guesthouse in the couple’s home in Ojai, furnishing it with pieces from Steenburgen’s store, Rooms & Gardens.

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Guesthouse at a Glance

  • At the home of: Mary Steenburgen and Ted Danson
  • Location: Ojai near Santa Barbara
  • Size: 1,000 square feet; 2 bedrooms; 1 bathroom, loft
  • That’s interesting: Steenburgen’s son, Charlie McDowell, is shooting his first feature film on the property

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Steenburgen and Danson both wanted the guesthouse to have large bookcases, as a celebration of writers and writing. Dussouchaud designed a floor-to-ceiling library to fit within the footprint of the house’s original structure.

“I love that from the second you walk in the front door, you are walking under bookcases — you are literally walking beneath the written word,” Steenburgen says. “Ted and I feel that we owe so much to the writers that we have been blessed to work with; everything begins with them. We are both passionate readers, and that has been a huge part of our journey.”

In fact, everyone in the family is an active writer. Danson wrote Oceana, a book about ocean conservation. Steenburgen writes music for Universal Music Publishing Group. Their son recently finished his first book, and their daughter writes music.

Steenburgen and Danson were very happy that Dussouchaud was able to fit in two bedrooms, a bathroom, a small loft space with two single beds and this spacious living, dining and kitchen space.

Steenburgen decorated the space, pulling inspiration from her experiences and from Rooms & Gardens, a furnishings store she co-owns that has outlets in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica. “It is a home full of treasures of our lives, and hopefully everyone who walks through the door feels a sense of welcome,” she says.

A photograph of musician Captain Beef Heart by rock ‘n’ roll photographer and close friend Guy Webster is displayed in the corner of the great room. “Your home should tell people who you are the second you walk in the door,” Steenburgen says. “I don’t relate to rooms that have been beautifully designed but look like they could belong to anyone.”

“The first time I saw the way a house is built in California, with 2-by-4 or 2-by-6 posts, it intrigued me,” says Dussouchaud. “I liked the idea that there was a hollow space between the walls, but at the same time i thought it was a bit of a waste of space.”

To use a little bit of that space, Dussuchaud had contractor Floyd Streigel leave a section above the stove undrywalled, adding plaster to create small shelves. “It’s a nice trick,” she says.

Steenburgen’s mother and her childhood home in Arkansas inspired her decor aesthetic. “My mother always made our home beautiful with no money at all by adding color and DIY projects,” Steenburgen says. “I remember I went away to visit my cousin, and when I came back my mother had completely redecorated my bedroom. It was my dream room. My mother had such a grace about her where she could really express herself visually.”

Movie rehearsals often take place in the guesthouse, so Steenburgen and Danson wanted a table big enough for everyone to sit around, reading scripts.

Table, chairs: Richard Mulligan

French doors open the home to a porch with ideal seating for enjoying the view of the Ojai Valley.

Steenburgen had moved away from Ojai after living there for a long period of time, “but this house drew me back in,” she says. “Whatever you do in the Ojai Valley, you are looking at something beautiful. I love the passion and commitment the people here have about keeping Ojai unique and beautiful.”

She periodically works for the Ojai Land Conservancy, promoting their commitment to preserving the natural spaces of the Ojai Valley.

A hallway leads to the main bedroom; a stairway leads to the second bedroom and the bathroom.

An antique chest with a modern countertop combines old and new in the bath. “I love combining modern with traditional, expensive design with affordable design,” says Dussouchaud. “I have a good eye for spotting something unique in a thrift shop or something ordinary that will become extraordinary once put in another environment.”

“We didn’t want it to just be a one-bedroom guesthouse — we wanted it to be a space that could fit a family comfortably,” says Steenburgen. Bathroom Design Ideas for Your Next Remodel.

Most of the textiles and bedding pieces are from Steenburgen’s store.

“The loft is not a necessary room,” Steenburgen says, “but the low beam makes it a fun attic space. It’s a great bonus for the kids to play and sleep, and is an additional space to store photographs.”

A wall of chalkboard paint offers a place for writing and drawing.

A mobile light in the stairway by German designer Ingo Maurer came with poem fragments and quotes as well as blank pages so the family can add their own content. Steenburgen added some watercolors she painted, as well as poems and song lyrics.

Both bedrooms open to the veranda, one of Steenburgen’s favorite spots in the home. Dussouchaud loves the view of it from the gated entry. Outdoor Cushions Full of Style and Comfort.

The couple worked with Jessica Thompson of Green Goddess Gardens and landscape designer, Pamela Burton, who is both their friend and neighbor to design their gardens.

Steenburgen saw the place years ago when it was owned by comedian and talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres. “It was a beautiful falling-down barn at the time,” says Steenburgen. The property was later purchased by another owner, who tore down the barn and turned the guesthouse into a meditation center. “It was perfect for their needs but completely imperfect for mine,” says Steenburgen. “It was built so the windows were not facing the beautiful view of the Ojai Valley.”

An outdoor shower on the porch offers yet more views. “I love to stand there and look out at the mountains,” Steenburgen says. “The mountains in Ojai are ever changing and always a different color. They have a mist that rests on them in the morning; it is so otherworldly.” Keep Essentials Stocked in an Outdoor Shower Caddy.

“The one design dilemma for me was to respect the beautiful nature around the guesthouse and to design a structure that would match the character of the main house,” Dussouchaud says.

The main house (not shown) is a traditional California-ranch-style home, with large patios around the house and white board and batten siding. Both buildings have roofs made of composite shingles.

A rose grows in a welcoming arch over the guesthouse’s main entrance.

After working on this project, Dussouchaud and her family spent some time in Ojai before moving back to Europe, and they continue to visit regularly. “Working on this project made me discover an incredible area of California, which I now want to call home,” she says. ” I love the energy of Ojai and the people there, who make it a very special place.”

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