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An Interior Designer’s Minimalist Home in Rancho Bernardo

Learn how Carol Estes styled each room, and get the details on her Instagram-famous fireplace

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San Diego Home / Rancho Bernardo Fireplace

The most raved-about photo on Carol’s Instagram is of the fireplace, a stunner for its built-in look and a far cry from its original form. When they moved in, it was a “hideous” orange brick. Carol sponge-painted it as a temporary solution to tone down the color, then hired contractors to correct it to her liking. An art piece by Joelle Somero stands atop the mantle alongside some pottery by Lee. Neighboring the fireplace is a head-scratching nook--“We’ve spent so much time trying to figure out what to do with this over the years,” Lee says--that they fashioned into a charcoal accent wall and shelving starring found items in Carol’s natural color palette. “It doesn’t happen overnight,” Carol says of the decor. “Accessories need to be accumulated over time.”

On paper, Carol Estes has a lot in common with millennials. She likes to skateboard, loves to travel, and spends a good portion of her day on Instagram. Oh, and she has upward of 70,000 followers.

She’s grown her network for her interior design business to that five-digit number in just three years. Yet her style doesn’t skew toward the flashy, fast-retail preferences of younger generations. In fact, it’s taken decades to rehab her home into the timeless aesthetic you see here—harnessing the power of patience to accessorize it from top to bottom.

“It takes me a while to make decisions on my home because I know I want to live with it,” Carol says. “I’ll wait for the right thing to get an authentic look, versus a model-home look.”

Playing the long game for the ideal outcome is sort of second nature to her. She waited almost her whole life to pursue her passion in interior design. It’s one she’s been dreaming of since she was 19, when she first backpacked through Europe.

San Diego Home / Rancho Bernardo Living Room
Living Room

The striped area rug in the living room is one of Carol’s proudest finds. She searched three years for it, until she found it at the Maison&Objet interior design show in Paris. The sofa, on the other hand, was an easier find at RH, and the commissioned artwork above it is from Colette Cosentino. The coffee table--topped with miscellaneous design books--is from West Elm, the leather chairs from Four Hands. Take a step back, and the room is a shining example of Carol’s earthy color palette of whites, browns, and blacks.

San Diego Home / Rancho Bernardo Entryway

These skateboards aren’t just for decoration. The bottommost is Lee’s, the middle one Carol’s, and the top an antique. The decor is a testament to Carol’s eye for antiquing. As her husband explains: “Carol has that ability to just look at something that I would say, ‘Oh gosh, that’s just awful,’ and she’ll know exactly how it’ll beautify an area and fit in with everything.” The console table is from Juxtaposition Home in Costa Mesa, the artwork by Colette Cosentino, the Japanese stool from David Alan Collection in Solana Beach, and the African bowl from the Rose Bowl Flea Market.

The architecture, the slow-paced lifestyle, the simplicity, “I was drawn to it all from that point on,” she says. But, “I had to be practical.” She returned to San Diego State University and earned an accounting degree, became a director of finance, and raised her kids in Rancho Bernardo. All the while, she and her husband Lee, a CPA, frequently traveled back to Europe to get their fix. Lee even quit golfing to reallocate time and expenses toward it.

The couple really tapped into their creative sides once they retired. Lee makes pottery and loves to bake. Carol paints, and that’s what took her to social media years ago—to sell her artwork. Then she started posting pictures of her house, and her second act began.

But run her name through a search engine and you won’t find any websites. In true influencer fashion, she operates her entire business through Instagram, checking her DMs even before her email or her voicemail. “I figure, why make a website? Instagram gives me business. I’m a simplifier.”

San Diego Home / Rancho Bernardo Kitchen

When Carol and Lee moved in two decades ago, the galley kitchen was stuck in the ’70s. They modernized the design using upcycled materials. The open shelving is reclaimed wood from the restoration of the Cabrillo Bridge. The ceiling beams are originally from a barn in Oregon, sourced from Reclaimed Wood San Diego. For architectural interest, they created built-ins for the oven hood and refrigerator. The cutting boards are collected from France, the white pottery from Astier de Villatte in Paris. Off the kitchen is a laundry room, reconfigured into a butler’s pantry that houses an espresso station and all of Lee’s baking supplies.

San Diego Home / Rancho Bernardo Dining Room
San Diego Home / Rancho Bernardo The Creative Room
The Creative Room

Carol says the biggest challenge of their house has been “maximizing the potential of a small home.” For this reason, she’s reimagined their rooms several times over. For instance, this room off the kitchen once served as a family room, complete with a sofa and TV. Today, a wooden table from RH anchors the space--for entertaining, when possible--but mainly for the couple’s artistic endeavors. A drapery table on the far wall, sourced from Found Rental Co. in Fullerton, houses some of Lee’s ceramics and other secondhand items. Above it hangs artwork from Parisian flea markets. The largest is by Joelle Somero, but the bottom left painting is by Carol herself.

And that’s just how the retirees live their life at home now—simply, slowly, and to their European tastes. On any given day, French music plays softly overhead, the smell of freshly baked pastries wafts from the kitchen, their creative room is strewn with arts and crafts, or carefully collected mementos are styled with purpose.

To Carol and Lee Estes, this is minimalism at its best. To Carol, it’s “living out my dream, finally.”

San Diego Home / Rancho Bernardo Zen Room
The Zen Room

This room toward the front of the house has the best lighting, which is why it once served as Carol’s art studio. Now, it doubles as a guest room and “Zen room,” furnished with a daybed and a Room & Board leather chair that’s wedged between two gallery walls. One wall consists of artwork bought from Parisian flea markets, L’Atelier in Mission Hills, and a painting by Carol. The other gleams with a collection of gold mirrors from Vignettes in Ocean Beach and other local antique shops.

San Diego Home / Rancho Bernardo Bedroom
Primary Bedroom

The primary bedroom’s minimalist furnishings give the space the same airy and earthy feel you’ll find throughout the house. But perhaps the most eye-catching point of interest in the room is the couple’s dog, C’est Bon.

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