Los Angeles restaurateur Harold Karsenty dreamed of owning acres of avocados in the hills of Ojai one day. Then, in 2016, he and his wife Madison, a lawyer and founder of Flower Firm Los Angeles, found the perfect 7500-square-foot corner lot. No avocados trees, but plenty of Ojai's magical light—and lots of potential.
Pink moments across the Topatopa Mountains. Rows upon rows of citrus and avocado. More than 2,300 acres of unadulterated open space protected by the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy. Walkable streets. Quaint stores. An artisan's sensibility.
This is what drew Harold and Madison Karsenty north from Venice, California, 75 miles, to the town of Ojai.
Ojai may have a population of less than 8,000, but, as Harold says, there isn't just one Ojai—there's downtown, there's Matilija Canyon, there's the Deep East End. Each pocket has its own unique community and feel.
Early in their relationship, Harold and Madison drove up to stay at what is now The Turtle Conservancy, back when it was available for rent by the owner, Manhattan hotelier Eric Goode, known for such New York institutions as The Bowery Hotel and The Waverly Inn.
"It looked like one of his hotels, so beautiful, such detail, every trinket, everything on the wall, perfectly curated," says Madison. "We had the most magical time there."
Subsequent trips brought the pair to various other AirBnBs, and the iconic Ojai Valley Inn. But for them, the magic was in Meiners Oaks.
"It's like Venice meets Topanga," explains Madison.
They eventually found what Harold calls "a diamond in the rough"—an old, yellow, 1,200-square-foot home whose former occupants included an elderly woman and her six dogs. They toured it en masse—with their dog, their son, and the broker's kids and dogs. The viewing took, they say, all of 60 seconds.
"But I saw it," explains Madison. "I'm not usually like that. But it was the same with our house in L.A.—I could picture what it could be." They ignored the house itself, in favor of the light, the two beautiful palm trees, the vibe, the neighborhood.
In October 2016, it was theirs.
Amidst what Harold calls an 85% cosmetic renovation, with the addition of one bath, the Karsentys transformed the nondescript home into a 2-bedroom, 2-bath modernized ranch, with a Eurocentric aesthetic that somehow managed to be both minimalist and cozy.
The country house itself has strong aesthetic connections to their home in Venice, California—the bohemian-inspired minimalism, the love of textiles and flea market finds, the mix of high and low, clean white walls and beautiful wood floors.
The floors throughout are white oak hardwood—a conscious choice by the Karsentys, who feature the chic material in all of their homes. The only difference with the Ojai floors is that its planks are, at 6.5", slightly narrower than those in the family's primary home.
"It warms it up so much," says Madison. "It's that clean look. It complements the light coming in through the windows, the light walls. It creates such a beautiful way for the light to reflect."
"And the beautiful thing is, they're going to last forever," adds Harold.
Check out these helpful tips from Bona on how to maintain the beauty and longevity of hardwood floors.
And then there was the landscaping—Harold's favorite aspect of his country home.
"When you paint a wall, it's going to be that color, it's not going to change," he explains. But plants, they are constantly evolving. "Each plant is going to do its own thing as they battle for the sun. Some do well. Some don't. And it's all going to unfold in the years to come."
For Madison, her favorite piece is the vintage hutch, purchased from Dekor at its ample Frogtown warehouse in northeastern Los Angeles. It anchors the open living and dining area.
The hutch is not the only Dekor in the house, in part because the store, founded by Swedish-born interior designer, Isabelle Dahlin, has a foothold in Ojai as well as L.A. And there are other uniquely Ojai touches—local granola from Lark Ellen Farm, available just down the road from the house at The Farmer and the Cook, and vases from René Norman's Wren Ceramics. Madison is a huge fan. Norman draws inspiration for the faces that adorn her art straight from the nature around her, Madison explains. "Each one has a different expression."
The Karsentys make it a point to escape to Ojai a couple times each month. It's a chance to welcome a quieter lifestyle, to focus on nature and family—namely, their 3.5-year-old son, Diego, and 9-month-old daughter Birdie.
"One of the first walks we did, we ran into a family on a Sunday morning nature walk," says Madison.
"The kids were a little older than my son, maybe 7 and 9 years old, and they were with their dad and the dog, pointing out different rocks and plants. How special that is for a kid growing up in L.A., to have that relationship to nature."
It's a relationship the Karsentys are fostering in Ojai, one weekend at a time.