Nathan Turner may have decorating projects in Singapore, Jakarta and Martha’s Vineyard — and the day we caught up with him, he was packing for three weeks in the South of France — but what he craves most is the life and experience of childhood summers spent on his family’s cattle ranch in Northern California. As a teen, he resisted it, begging his mom to shop at Safeway instead of her hippie co-op, but he now has harnessed his nostalgia and passion to create a style that encapsulates its essence: farming, horses, vegetables and long communal tables with homemade lunches for family, friends and neighbors, often at the new home in Ojai he shares with his partner, interior designer Eric Hughes.
With the success of his latest book, “Nathan Turner’s I Love California,” Turner has become the Martha Stewart of the Golden State, mixing his love of cooking, entertaining and decorating to produce books, decor and plenty of meals filled with everything California. And his ranch aesthetic is a big part of that.
In keeping with that theme, Turner recently renovated a three-bedroom guesthouse at the Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort in the Santa Barbara wine country. “Alisal has become very personal for me,” he says. “It’s so in my wheelhouse.” Design meetings were preceded by riding Cortez, Turner’s favorite horse, and followed by kale salad and tuna lunches at the Chuckwagon Grill there. (Turner will offer an “I Love California” cooking and decorating workshop at Alisal in October.)
The result is an earthy yet refined decor that feels like it might be Turner’s family home. Much of what he installed for the project was discovered in Los Angeles. We went shopping with him to see where he unearths the Turner ranch style, starting at the influential La Cienega antiques store Big Daddy’s.
What exactly is ranch style?
“What ranch style means to me is layered. It’s evolved over time. It’s how I decorate with everything, using what’s natural to that environment. There’s something kind of rough about a ranch. That’s why I love the Ralph Lauren fabrics I used at Alisal; they’re heavy, heavy curtains. Our cattle ranch had a Victorian house with a 1930s ranch addition. My English grandmother gave a very soft Anglo aesthetic to the house. It was a working cattle ranch, but she had chintz and pretty things that made her feel comfortable. That’s what ranch style is to me, rough and soft living harmoniously.”
Do you have to live on a ranch to have ranch style?
“It’s like beach style. You can be in Wisconsin and have a cute little beach bungalow if it resonates with you. The key with anything is to stay away from kitsch stuff. Think more in terms of influences as opposed to getting super literal about it. If you’re not on a ranch, bring the vibe in through colors and fabrics and accessories, instead of doing a wagon-wheel chandelier.”
How do you like to shop?
“I’m open to everything. I have no snobbery. I will go into any junk store or any flea market, and I will go to the fancy stores. In fact, I kind of like the junk stores best. When I walk into a place, I get a feeling; I know there’s something good in here. You’ve got to find it, you’ve got to sniff it out.”
THE SHOPPING LIST
Big Daddy’s Antiques
3334 La Cienega Place
“Big Daddy’s used to be a secret source for designers,” said Turner. “I used to buy stuff here and put it in my shop. I come here for Navajo blankets, wood tables, vintage Navajo rugs, really rustic wood furniture and ethnic baskets. African pieces mix really well with American Indian pieces. I like finding stuff that’s worn and patinaed. They have a lot of patinaed furniture here. The outdoors here is my favorite part. There are tables made from industrial cogs; I love using them for coffee tables outdoors. Outdoor furniture can be so lame; it can be like a bedroom set. But if you break it up with old pieces, it makes it look unique. It’s the same idea as putting an antique inside. It makes it feel layered and old.”
9310 Jefferson Blvd.
“Everything here is a proper antique. People in California get so into Italian because of the Mediterranean- and Spanish-style homes. But I find English antiques easier to mix in with modern stuff. Cleaner lines, simpler. I do have a very Anglo American aesthetic, so this is always a stop for me. I come here for furniture, like writing desks and cabinets. This is always one of my first stops when I need to fill a house. I bought an English cricket table here for the [Alisal] ranch. Look at this American Midcentury cabinet with the carved horses. I just love this.”
The Mart Collective
1600 Lincoln Blvd.
“I always come here for accessories. There are so many booths here. I find Mexican pottery, California pottery, brass boxes, paintings — I love a portrait painting — ceramics, baskets, good old serapes and hats. Yes, actual cowboy hats. For Western stuff, there’s a booth in the corner [Phusita and Todd, No. 25A]. Everyone needs a lasso from Texas. I bought one here. I do love these plates with the ropes on them — they’re from diners. We started collecting the Western version of these for our own house in Ojai.”