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Betsy Bracken Has Turned Her Cardiff House into a Home

The Bixby & Ball owner takes a moment to stop and smell the scented candles


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Bracken’s great room is a study in indoor/outdoor coastal living, with a deck overlooking a large backyard that doubles her living space. Custom sofa by Bixby & Ball, pillows by John Robshaw

It’s called hygge (pronounced “hoo-ga”): a Danish term that roughly translates to the concept of finding pleasure in one’s home. Hygge is the design industry’s buzzword du jour and something designer Betsy Bracken has been thinking a lot about.

“To me, it’s about celebrating ordinary things that bring me joy and comfort—lighting my favorite candle, curling up with a soft blanket, putting a small vase of flowers on my bedside table,” she explains. “It’s about indulgence, but not extravagance, and there’s a distinct difference between the two.”

The marble-clad kitchen with soft greenish-gray cabinets is just off the entry, and connects to the living room and outside area. Pendant from Circa Lighting, vintage table and chairs with seat cushions in Peter Dunham fabric

As owner of the Solana Beach home store Bixby & Ball, Bracken is well versed in the art of turning a house into a home. “With everything that’s going on in the world, our customers and friends are really wanting a place that feels safe and like a sanctuary,” Bracken says. “We’re seeing this return to ‘home.’ People are spending more time at home and entertaining more at home.”

In her own life, she’s been preparing to open a second Bixby & Ball location in Newport Beach’s Lido Marina Village and overseeing the shop’s various design projects. She recently began offering in-home styling services, which—at $95 per hour with no required minimum or commitment to buy—are a more affordable option for people looking to spruce up their interiors. She notes, “It’s amazing what a few new pillows, a lamp, and a rug can do to transform a room!”  

Bracken in her at-home office. Desk from Selamat Designs, vintage bamboo chair, lamp by Jamie Young

All of which brings us back to hygge. Whether it’s an idea, lifestyle, or general feeling of coziness, Bracken’s got it in spades. Her charming seaside cottage welcomes guests with a bright and open living space, overlooking the backyard and ocean beyond. The scent of fresh-cut gardenia via lit candle wafts through the beachy Cardiff air.

The dreamy upstairs bath features a custom shower door from American Shower Door, with glass and installation from Encinitas Glass.

Neutral tones complement pops of green and coral, which she describes as “still feminine but a little more sophisticated than pink.” Layered textiles, like John Robshaw throw pillows and Peter Dunham drapes, add style without being too fancy or fussy. A feathered coffeeberry plant (the new “it” plant, according to Bracken) stands tall in the corner, its basket ever so slightly askew.

A sunlit guest room’s decor blends coastal blues, Moroccan prints, and natural textures. John Robshaw curtains, bedding, and pillows available at Bixby & Ball; vintage bench, throw blanket from Anthropologie

She’s learning to embrace imperfection, which she also connects with the idea of hygge. In her recently finished downstairs area, Bracken called upon her Colorado roots to create a Ralph Lauren–inspired space that “mixes in the pretty with the practical.” Read: leather sofa, wood accents, and bookshelves that aren’t overly styled. “I want people to be able to pull a book off the shelf and actually read it, rather than have shelves of color-coordinated books that no one touches.”

Style meets function in this custom, built-in bar painted in Benjamin Moore’s “In the Midnight Hour,” with brass finishes. Faucet from Barber Wilsons & Co Ltd, sink by Rocky Mountain Hardware from European Bath Kitchen Tile Stone in Solana Beach

This philosophy applies to entertaining, too. She used to deter friends from coming over if her house wasn’t perfectly pulled together or if she didn’t have the perfect dish to serve. And she never wanted help—until she realized that her perfection was making the space uninviting and uncomfortable.

Now it’s all about enjoying time with the people she loves, whether or not the pillows have been fluffed. And if one of them offers to help, the response is, “Here, help me chop!”

Bracken’s built-in media cabinet is stocked with meaningful things, like a vintage painting that reminded her of her dog, Charlie, and a Van Gogh print she bought at the National Gallery in London while studying abroad.

A Hygge How-To

  • Only buy things you absolutely love and splurge on the things you’ll use the most—cozy bedding, plush bath towels, luxurious bath and body products—versus the things you only use for special occasions.
  • Bring only the colors, materials, and textures into your home that you find most soothing. 
  • Do at least one thing each day just for the simple pleasure of it, and when you do it, really savor the moment, don’t rush.
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