A Suffragette’s Legacy Imbues a Laguna Beach Rental Home with Authenticity and Soul

After moving to Laguna Beach 27 years ago, design and marketing consultant Trina Roberts frequently drove past a house nestled between the tall trees in the El Bosque neighborhood. She was looking for a place with a yard and more privacy when a rental sign went up on the corner of the property in February 2016. “I couldn’t get to the phone fast enough,” Roberts says. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m never going to get this place; a gazillion people must have seen the sign by now.’ ” They hadn’t. A month later she and her partner, Michael, moved in with her 17-year-old daughter, Olivia, and their pocket puggle, Juniper.

In addition to the quarter-acre yard peppered with mature eucalyptus, palm, and pine trees, the quaint, two-story 1933 home and its nearby coach house came with a fascinating provenance. It had once belonged to suffragette Nita Carman, a champion of women’s right to vote and for 40 years a respected member of the Laguna Beach community. “During World War II, she opened the house to hundreds of servicemen and women and threw wonderful garden parties,” Roberts says. “She was a person who exemplified goodwill, and I’m sharing in that good energy.” In 1972, an eponymous park across the street was dedicated in her honor.

“The house is so peaceful. It has inspired me to live more simply,” says Roberts, who takes a minimalistic approach to the wood-and-weeping mortar brick home, decorating it in what she describes as a collected look. Well-edited furnishings from garage and estate sales, flea markets, and Craigslist are abundant. “Nearly everything here is on its second or third life.” Sleek midcentury chairs, credenzas, and lamps in the living room keep company with organic driftwood tables set atop original hardwood floors under a vaulted ceiling. A contemporary sofa from Restoration Hardware is one of the few new pieces in the vintage home. Added to the mix is Roberts’ collection of paintings, photographs, weavings, and midcentury and contemporary pottery from places she has “lived and loved” over the years.

One of the home’s attributes Roberts most enjoys is the feeling of living in a treehouse. A small bridge provides access to the second floor’s open living space, where a large picture window in the dining room offers verdant treetop views where squirrels scurry and crows caw overhead. The house also showcases a mostly untouched interior from the days when Carman lived here, Roberts says. Brick fireplaces, brass doorknobs, wrought-iron sconces, stained-glass windows, and fleur-de-lis pavers are original to the house. Then there are the quirkier embellishments that seem to be original: a witch weather vane and adjacent bat house.

“Old houses, like vintage furnishings, have a mystery and soul about them,” she says. “I love that about the house—it’s magical. I feel so blessed to live here.”

All photos by Chad Mellon

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