Shannon Wilkins says her previous career as a fashion stylist—advising actresses such as Emma Stone, Claire Danes, and Megan Fox—prepared her for a new career as a home-staging specialist. “Basically, an undressed body or an empty house is like a blank canvas. I come up with a concept that suits, see what’s available in stores, and then pull everything together to create a look.”
When she became pregnant with her son, James, four years ago, “and it was too hard for me to lean down and tie a celebrity’s shoe,” Wilkins says with a laugh, she bid adieu to the fashion business. Six months pregnant, she bought her first fixer “as a creative endeavor.” And she has never looked back.
The stylist and her husband, David, who handles the finances for their 2-year-old Prairie Home Styling business, have staged hundreds of homes. The most recent is their 1999 one-story contemporary Newport Beach craftsman that required as much editing as decorating. River-rock-clad fireplaces and traditional crown moldings were jettisoned to achieve a more streamlined look. Ditto the rock slide and grotto by the backyard pool. “The house reminded me of a Big Bear cabin,” Wilkins says. “It just didn’t seem like the right look for Newport Beach.”
Inside, the former owner’s blue-and-white country-French appointments were replaced with a mix of antique and vintage pieces combined with casual contemporary furnishings. “I like a balance of elegant and casual,” explains the designer. “When I lived in London, everything was very old, collected, polished. … Southern California living is very laid-back and casual. I like a mix of both. I think you can have beautiful old things but still live in a house comfortably.”
To that end, antique gold-leaf nesting tables from London’s Portobello Road keep happy company with casual rattan chairs and a jute rug in the family room. Her office contains an 1800s Spanish desk, an antique Turkish rug, and a contemporary wood light fixture. To add graphic punch, the designer employed a black-and-white theme in tiles, walls, and furnishings throughout the house and garden. “Black—whether a simple dress or a home environment—is a perfect backdrop to make things pop,” she says.
Although Wilkins kept the basic footprint of the 4,800-square-foot home, she made a few structural changes. Removing a wall from an adjacent media room created a new mezzanine office overlooking the master bedroom. She also liberated the enclosed kitchen by taking out walls and creating a great room that encompasses the dining, cooking, and living areas. A new 9-by-10-foot center island has become a favorite spot for entertaining.
It’s still a question as to how long the couple will live in the house. They’d be happy to stay awhile, Wilkins says, but then, “I’m always excited to move on to the next creative project.”