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Space Explorers

As the saying goes, design is in the details. That’s true no matter the scale, from a meticulously planned master community to the perfect outdoor lounger. We meet the San Diegans making it happen: a green-thumbed development whiz, a couple whose outdoor furniture is a fixture at high-end hotels from here to Dubai and an interior designer whose modern-glam style is turning heads. 

Tim O’Grady at his latest coup, The Oaks, with Cardinal

Natasa and David Burnett in their Babmar Miramar showroom. The company has revolutionized the outdoor furniture industry.

Designer Christie May strikes a pose.

Tim O’Grady is all about living the brand. As vice president of land development for Davidson Communities, a planner of exclusive enclaves from San Diego to Orange County, he could have his pick of places to call home. But he’s on his second Davidson. “And that’s before I even worked for them,” says the resident of The Crosby at Rancho Santa Fe.  

“Bill Davidson is a master of architecture,” adds O’Grady, who co-founded the Villages of La Costa, which developed 3,600 units in Carlsbad, before joining the Del Mar-based Davidson. Typical models include standout touches, from soaring ceilings to stylish custom cabinetry and flooring. They also celebrate Southern California’s indoor-outdoor lifestyle with usable side yards and bi-fold doors that open up expansive walls of glass.

At The Oaks Farms in San Juan Capistrano (units from $1.8 million), the homebuilding company’s latest coup, is an iconic on-side equestrian facility inspired by the communities’ pueblo-inflected design. “We took some contemporary license, obviously, but we really embraced the historic, local architecture,” says O’Grady, whose green thumb guided the landscaping. A plant enthusiast who favors drought-friendly native grasses and containers brimming with color and texture, he relocated mature oaks and created a nursery for succulents displaced by construction.

Closer to home, Davidson just sold the last of 63 units at the brand-new Arterro, a high-profile development next to the La Costa Town Square shopping center. “The biggest thing we talk about for this one is walkability,” explains O’Grady. “We create a sense of place that works within existing neighborhoods.” Also underway? A 19-house infill project with a farmhouse-modern vibe at the eucalyptus-dotted San Dieguito Tennis Club near Encinitas, and Top of the Hills in San Elijo, which features large lots and panoramic views.

From covetable locations to luxurious details, it’s no wonder Davidson has a long list of repeat buyers. “They just get it,” says O’Grady. Spoken like a true brand ambassador. 

When David and Natasa Burnett honeymooned in Bali, they both fell hard for Indonesia’s beautiful handcrafted wood furniture. “We shipped back an entire container for our house in Miami,” says David. “And so many friends were asking about it that we started importing it.”

Then the couple had their first child, moved to San Diego and turned their focus exclusively to outdoor furniture. Less than a decade later, Babmar is one of the world’s leading online design resources, exporting chic all-weather styles to destinations as far-reaching as The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai. At least half the furniture is designed in-house at Babmar’s Miramar showroom, and the company has become a go-to favorite for top architects
and designers.

Babmar’s clean-lined outdoor wicker pieces are practically ubiquitous at upscale hotels around the globe, including San Diego’s Hard Rock. “That wave has crested,” says Burnett. “We just introduced the Amber Collection, a sleek new line of high-end, all-aluminum furniture. We think this might be the next big thing.”
The Burnetts, who met in Switzerland where French-born Natasa was working as a model, find plenty of inspiration for alfresco living in San Diego. “The climate is just so right here,” explains David. “It makes sense to maximize your outdoor living space with attractive, comfortable furniture.”

At their La Jolla home, the two have a large deck outfitted with Babmar pieces. “I wish we had more time to enjoy them,” says David, who frequently travels to places like Morocco, Mexico and the south of France. The company’s namesakes, 8-year-old Babette and 9-year-old Mariette, definitely have a Babmar favorite. “They love our Brisas daybed swing,” says their dad. The future of the family business clearly is in good hands.

She earned her chops under one of San Diego’s most in-demand interior designers. Now, Christie May is an unstoppable force on her own with Rockwell Interiors. Just two years in, her boutique design studio has brought modern-glam good looks to everything from a next-level cocktail lounge in North County to high-end homes across the city.

“I appreciate all styles,” says May, formerly a lead designer at Jules Wilson I.D. for seven years, where she helmed residential and hip, smaller-scale commercial projects. “I like to put my own spin on things. If a project is really modern, I wouldn’t hesitate to throw in an antique piece so it doesn’t feel sterile. If it’s traditional, it’s never by the books.”

May, who named her fledgling firm after her three-year-old son, Hudson Rockwell, adds elements of unforgettable flair to every space. At Shelter, a hip Encinitas hangout, she hung large chandeliers, an especially dramatic accent when the retractable ceiling is open. In a kid’s bathroom, she customized a Japanese ceramic tile and paired the eye-catching black-and-white pattern with an emerald-green vanity. She has a particularly deft hand when it comes to finishing touches like wallcoverings and hardware.

“I make a statement but keep it timeless,” says May, who posts her greatest hits on Instagram. “I recently put a white hex tile in a shower, but used black grout and a different scale for the floor and alcove. Then I capped it in marble, giving it a high-end look. The little details are what I love about design—pulling out the tricks to make it dynamic.”

One thing May doesn’t do? Repeat performances. “Each project is a chance to create something new,” says the designer, whose current roster includes a midcentury-modern Point Loma house and a new build she’s overseeing from start to finish in Kensington. “I never like to do the same design twice. I won’t even use the same fabric!”