Michelle Borrero lives in a San Luis Obispo loft with an urban vibe. But at her core, she’s still a Southern girl.
Born and raised in Louisiana, she grew up in an antebellum home that her mother decorated in a gracious and hospitable style. “It was extraordinarily warm and inviting,” Borrero recalled, “and very traditional.”
She came to California to study agribusiness at Cal Poly and was astounded by the myriad architectural styles in the state — especially modern, which contrasted sharply with what she was accustomed to. This influenced her own home purchase; she wanted something modern — but with a distinct Southern accent.
Borrero is vice president of Gulfstream Financial Group. Five years ago, she traveled frequently for work and needed a low-maintenance home. She also liked the idea of living near downtown.
The loft fit the bill perfectly. It is part of a mixed-use project in San Luis Obispo’s historic railroad district. Located on the third floor of the building, the 1,400-square-foot condominium trades high-maintenance yard space for an expansive 500-square-foot patio with sweeping city and mountain views. Two banks of folding glass doors virtually disappear when opened to fully connect the patio with her living space.
The open floor plan was already in place when Borrero purchased the unit, designed by architect George Garcia of Garcia Architecture + Design. However, she chose every finish material. The overall look is sleek and minimalist: ebonized oak flat panel cabinets, sculptural Lacava bathroom fixtures, and midcentury-modern inspired lighting. The color palette is mostly gray, black and white, a fitting backdrop for Borrero’s furniture that includes several classic modern pieces.
Borrero’s Southern roots show in warmer, more traditional touches. For instance, she bypassed typical modern flooring options such as concrete and tile, which she said would make the space “come across as cold.” Instead, she chose walnut floors with visible cracks, knotholes and a distressed finish that add character to the home. Wood also creates a warm, forgiving surface underfoot.
“I want to be comfortable when I’m here,” she said.
Borrero avoids the term “eclectic” because she feels “it gets thrown out too much.” However, she’s not afraid to mix things up for an element of surprise.
In the kitchen, she selected three pendants, all in the same black metal, but with different shapes. A modern Noguchi coffee table sits on a traditional Uzbek wool rug. Borrero uses rugs for warmth and subtle color throughout the house — even in bathrooms.
Several pieces have a history with the homeowner or her family. Borrero purchased her massive live edge dining table from a furniture shop in Santa Barbara that was going out of business. It spent four years as a slightly out-of-place piece of office furniture, because she couldn’t find the right spot for it in her home. It has finally found its rightful place as a focal point in the centrally located dining space. She combined it with Saarinen Executive Chairs in plush tomato-red knoll velvet.
In her typical style, Borrero gave the rustic table and modern chairs a traditional foil: a stunning crystal chandelier. Her uncle had purchased it the year she was born and never hung it. She found it in his closet in Louisiana. He gladly passed along the fixture, which was broken in transit, then repaired by Farris Lighting in San Luis Obispo (a six-month process).
Borrero’s next, and possibly final project will be adding an outdoor kitchen to her patio space, completing the indoor-outdoor feel of the home. It will put a cap on a project that merges urban sophistication with down-to-earth hospitality, old with new, and past with present.
STICK WITH TRADITION: Traditional elements add comfort to a modern space. Think traditional rugs underfoot, a classic chandelier, or a traditional piece of art.
RUSTIC UNDERFOOT: Rustic wood floors have character and are much more forgiving than slick, glossy wood. Scratches and scuffs only add character, whereas shiny, monochromatic surfaces tend to show every spot and blemish.
COMMON THREAD: A repeating element makes an eclectic mix look intentional, rather than random. For instance, keep your color palette consistent, or use the same material repeatedly in your composition.