Christine Brennan and Jim McCarthy’s Ojai home is one big, breathtaking art project

By Stephanie Kinnear

Photo by Stephen Schafer


hen Christine Brennan talks about her home in Ojai, strangely enough, she refers to it as a collaborative art project. You see, Christine is a painter and printmaker and her husband, Jim McCarthy is a fine furniture maker — two occupations that can be extremely convenient when it comes to furnishing and decorating a home.

Christine bought the bungalow in 1996. She was single; it was a tiny, 670-square-foot, one-bedroom home, and the price was right. “No one wanted it because it was so small,” she explains. But Christine, ever the artist, didn’t see an uninspiring, linoleum-floored, white-walled box, she saw a blank canvas.

And then, she married Jim, which is when the real transformation began to take place.

Walking into Christine and Jim’s home is almost like being invited on a grown-up Easter egg hunt. Tucked in every corner, on every little shelf that you didn’t quite notice the first time through, are treasures that the two have thoughtfully displayed. In the kitchen, on one wall is a playful, colorful arrangement of antique phones; what Christine calls her “first experiment on eBay.” “I like them because they’ll never look like that again,” she says of the phones. “Kids come over and they can’t believe they’re real.”

On another wall is an old piano works (or, less delicately, the guts of a piano) alongside three antique toy typewriters. What might sound disjointed and strange, is actually tasteful, interesting and eclectic. The coffee table, the kitchen table, the stereo cabinet — all of them were made by Jim. Even the whimsical light fixture that hangs in the dining room, fashioned to look like a boat, was made by Jim and painted by Christine.

Then, down a narrow hallway that originally connected the front room to the home’s one tiny bedroom, is Christine and Jim’s real pride and joy — a huge, beautiful addition. The addition, which was built four years ago, is one large living room-ish space, with a staircase that leads up to a loft that the two use as a master bedroom.

Everything, from the shape of the room to the hardwood floors to the stone fireplace to the huge glass doors, was chosen by the couple — which is what happens when your brother-in-law is the architect and your friend, the contractor.

The addition has the rustic feeling of a cabin paired with the obvious open-air influences of Japanese design. A few of Christine’s paintings hang on the walls; almost all of the furniture was built by Jim, including a cabinet he built and she accented with a miniature painting.

The two are also musicians — a cello sits in one corner, a guitar in another, a gigantic upright bass leans against the stone fireplace.

The back wall, which at first glance looks like a series of floor-to-ceiling glass windows and intricate wood panels, is actually a sliding door that leads to a spacious backyard and garden. In the distance, you can hear the cluck of Christine’s three chickens. Alongside the addition, coming right up to the side of the house, is a beautiful fish pond, full of Koi and goldfish.

Off the side of the addition are large French doors that open to a miniature bridge over the pond and into what used to be a garage and is now Christine’s studio. “I have less and less tolerance for lack of color,” she says when explaining why she chooses to keep the walls of her studio a muddy, light purple color as opposed to the white most artists favor. Finished paintings line the walls, half-finished pieces sit on easels.

Sitting in Christine and Jim’s home, it is easy to imagine how art might just spontaneously happen here. There is the sound of the fountain that pours into the pond, a light breeze coming into the room from the open back wall of the house, and so many beautiful and inspiring things to look at.

“We have all these plans that will take another 10 years … This year’s project,” Christine says as she squints into the sun, the wheels of her mind obviously spinning, “is the garden.”


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