Leaning into an earthy design with architect, Steven Mueller and designer-influencer, Erinn Valencich

Photography by ChiChi Ubina and contributed by Steven Mueller Architects

“Aesthetics and nature” were key words cosmetic dermatologist, Dr. Kim Nichols and her husband, Chris Cabanillas used when looking to design and build their forever house.  They were referred to architect, Steven Mueller by one of his clients, to design a master plan for their site and residence.  “The shingle style home was designed in three phases. The main residence and pool were built first, followed by the detached two bay garage and finally, the pool house.”

Los Angeles-based, interior designer-influencer-entrepreneur, Erin Valencich was introduced to Kim and Chris by mutual friends to create the interior design and furnishings for their dream house. “Kim and Chris have three children and a very active social calendar. They are gracious hosts and love to entertain and are contributing members of their community, so designing a house that works for both large parties and small family dinners was a must,” says Valencich.


“The architectural design challenge of this residence was that the property faced south as you approached the house from the street. A south orientation is optimum for the primary interior spaces to face, as well as to locate exterior features like a pool and pool house. The home was sited facing south with a long driveway establishing an entry courtyard on the north. Extensive landscaping along the east side of the driveway provides the required privacy while offering a special and unanticipated experience as you arrive at the front entry.

“The owners entertain often and wanted an open floor plan, as well as several well-planned outdoor spaces to accommodate a large number of people at one time.”  – Mueller

“When designing the outdoor area and pool house, my husband and I wanted it to be the perfect extension of our main house.

“We wanted to maintain an elevated design with multifunctional use – a place where both we can invite friends and colleagues over for dinner, our children can lounge by the pool during the summer, and guests can stay comfortably overnight.” – Nichols

“Kim and Chris wanted to create a multipurposed indoor/outdoor entertaining environment that included a large covered porch and terrace with multiple sitting areas – one with a fire pit, plus outdoor dining area with a fireplace.

“One descends down a series of steps and landings to the pool and pool terrace. The pool terrace provides an area for sitting and entertaining. Adjacent to the pool and pool house is a hot tub with easy access from the main residence and pool house.

“The pool house includes an outdoor sitting area with ceiling heaters and retractable screens.

With the outdoor furniture, we wanted to contrast the home’s aesthetic to modernize the outdoor space. We chose the warmth of teak in a very contemporary style and dark and light neutrals for the rest.” – Mueller

“Kim asked for a glamorous home that is also livable and relaxed. So we trended toward traditional architectural details of the home and lighted that up with modern finishes and lighting, along with clean lined furniture, many of which we custom designed for the home, including some from my ERINN V. collection.” – Valencich

“The interior space of the pool house provides a warm and cozy sitting area that is defined with a large gas fireplace.” – Mueller.

“The wood paneling in the pool house is one of my favorite details. We were adamant about bringing in the nice oak texture with a cerusé finish that gives it depth and a more relaxed feeling. That paneling was a labor of love to get installed and stained correctly. The end result is remarkable.” – Valencich

A spiral staircase brings you up to a second floor loft that overlooks the sitting area below. Included on the second floor is a secondary bedroom with a balcony that overlooks the pool. Special features include an outdoor shower and concrete tub.

“Because the backyard is surrounded by trees and foliage, I wanted to lean into an earthy design, thus the use of wood wall paneling throughout and the concrete fireplace wall going from floor to ceiling,” states Mueller.

“I am a nature-lover, we always incorporate trees, live plants and big windows to bring in those views!

On a project like this one, with such a gorgeous property – garden is on display whenever possible. Pots and plants on the patios and balconies finish off a room.

Looking out at the views from the inside is as important as what you have put into the room.

My father was a landscape architect, so I enjoy designing outdoor spaces, hardscape and choosing plant materials.”  – Valencich