California Cool: A Peek into Two Roommates’ Sunny Santa Monica Home

Jillian Attaway and Allison Norton have been best friends for 20 years, so when given the opportunity to live together after graduation from different schools, they jumped at the chance. To say they nailed the laid-back California vibe is an understatement. Their sunny two-bedroom, two-bathroom home exudes charm. They managed to combine Jillian’s preppy and sophisticated East Coast style with Allison’s beach-inspired, modern sensibility to create a warm and welcoming space.

Today these California roommates spill all on decorating secrets, their favorite Santa Monica eats, and why they make the best roommates.

Name: Jillian Attaway
Age: 25
Occupation: Blogger, Rhyme & Reason and 2nd grade teacher
Education: University of Colorado at Boulder, master in teaching from USC

Name: Allison Norton
Age: 26
Occupation: Managing editor, LaurenConrad.com and co-founder of Polka Dot Media
Education: USC, Journalism Major and Graphic Design Minor

Tell us about your journey after college. What was your first job?
Jillian: When I graduated from college, I wasn’t absolutely sure I wanted to work in education because I always had an interest in fashion; however, I’d never pursued it. So I deferred a year before starting grad school to travel a bit and explore fashion. I dove right in and interned for Who What Wear, the PR firm Bollare, and celebrity stylists Emily Current and Meritt Elliott. I loved it because everyday was different and I learned so much about three different sides of fashion.

I think my career has worked out because I gave everything a go, followed my gut at each turn, and always tried to keep my chin up

Allison: I have always been interested in the digital media industry; I graduated from USC with a major in journalism and a minor in graphic design. This was the perfect mix for pursuing a job in blogging. During my first few years in college, I thought I wanted move to New York and pursue a fashion editorial career. But with the future of print journalism and magazines looking so uncertain at the time, my professors urged me to think more about doing what I loved but in an online space.

I started a blog while I was in college where I posted curated collections of images I was inspired by, and I loved it. So, by the time I graduated I knew the digital media industry was where I wanted to be. My first job out of college was as an associate editor in the lifestyle/fashion and beauty department at a digital media agency called Eqal. I found my job through the USC Annenberg’s career email network. Word to the wise: Career and networking events really do work!

How has your career developed into what it is now and what did you learn along the way? 
Jillian: I wore an editorial and social media hat at Who What Wear, a PR hat at Bollare, and a stylist hat at Emily and Meritt. I truly loved the creativity behind working in fashion. To be a knockout stylist you have to think outside of the box and see color combinations, silhouettes, and patterns that other people don’t see. To be a social media and editorial wiz you have to be clever, smart, witty, and driven. To be a PR maven, you have to show off your client in creative and different ways.

I observed this creativity and wanted to find it in my own life. I was surrounded by talented woman, gorgeous clothes, and editorial inspiration, but at the end of the day something didn’t feel quite right. I didn’t feel like I was being particularly challenged, which did not sit right with me after working my tail off in school for years. So while I loved my experiences, I ultimately knew that teaching was my preferred career path. It sounds like a seamless transition but I was very confused that year with my career and what direction to take! I really had to try on a few different hats before I knew what was best for me.

My life lessons were two-fold. First, try everything! I think my career has worked out because I gave everything a go, followed my gut at each turn, and always tried to keep my chin up. Secondly, seek challenge and creativity. I promise you, if you are not challenged in your day-to-day life then you will not find happiness—even if the challenge comes with a little anxiety along the way. I challenged myself when I received my teaching credential and my master’s degree in teaching from USC. I then I landed the job I have now as a second grade teacher. All the confusion and turmoil was worth it!

I started my blog Rhyme & Reason as a creative outlet. I also wanted to keep my foot in the door of the fashion world so a blog was my way of doing it on my own terms. As a second grade teacher, I give my energy, love, and drive to my students all day, every day. I set goals for them and help them achieve things on personal levels. Rhyme & Reason is my gift to myself because when I work on it, it’s the time in my day that I get to set goals for myself and devote all my energy, love, and drive to me.

Allison: While working at Eqal, I met two of my best friends (and now business partners) Ilana and Rachel. From there, we decided to take some of our clients on our own and created Polka Dot Media, a boutique digital media firm. It’s my dream job! It’s a lot of work, but what great job isn’t? We hired our first full-time employee Jessi last May, which was a big milestone for us. We have some exciting things coming down the pipeline, so stay tuned!

I’ve been working with Lauren Conrad on her site since 2012, and it’s been such a wonderful and inspiring journey. I work with my business partners to plan photoshoots for the site, create engaging content, manage our partnerships and contributor network, and run the social media accounts. It’s a job where every day is a little different, which keeps it exciting!

What drew you to Santa Monica and the neighborhood specifically?
Jillian: I love living blocks from the beach and we’re in love with the particular pocket of Santa Monica we live in. We’re nestled in the Montana Avenue neighborhood of Santa Monica so we can walk to shops and restaurants along Montana Avenue and we are close to two farmers markets! The Montana neighborhood is a great balance of families and young people and everyone is always out enjoying our little slice of paradise.

It’s honestly a happy and healthy (we have sunshine and the beach to thank for this) place to live! In general, Santa Monica is a more relaxed neighborhood than many parts of Los Angeles because of its proximity to the beach so we feel right at home! In my downtime, I love enjoying the shopping and restaurants along Montana Avenue and the rest of Santa Monica. I also can’t stay away from the beach for long.

Communication is key. If there’s anything on your mind, sit down and have a conversation about it.

Allison: Most of my friends graduating from USC were planning to move west, so I guess you could say I migrated in the direction everyone was going. We wanted to be able to walk to restaurants and shops from our home, and we really lucked out when we found our spot. I’m completely in love with this neighborhood—it’s the main reason Jillian and I wanted to live in this area.

Montana Avenue is just a block away, which means we can walk to just about everything we need: fun restaurants, our post office, our dry cleaners, our bank and even our neighborhood Whole Foods. We often get together with our boyfriends, who live in the area, and walk from our house to Ocean Avenue and back, which is about a 3-mile walk round trip. I think it’s important to see the ocean at least once a day if you live close to it. It’s good for the soul! And the gorgeous houses we pass along the way during these walks are so dreamy.

What advice do you have for others living with roommates? 
Allison: Communication is key. If there’s anything on your mind, sit down and have a conversation about it. It makes for a much more open, transparent relationship and you’ll build trust in each other.

Jillian: Roommates can be tricky. The key to finding the perfect roommate is knowing yourself and knowing your friends. Everyone has a friend that they love but know they can’t live with, for one reason or another, so you have to find a friend you truly gel with and openly communicate with.

How would you describe your personal decorating style? How have you combined your different styles to create this fabulous space?
Allison: I would describe my interior decor style as beach-inspired, clean, and cozy. I like my space to be inviting and have touches of my personality, but I try to minimize clutter at all times. I love a neutral color palette (whites and beiges) with pops of blues and greens here and there. My home is actually one of my happy places because it’s so comfortable and inspiring to me. I love coming home to a space that feels comfortable, tidy, and full of delicious candles and soft blankets. I also need lots of natural light in my home, and this apartment has a ton of it. It’s a must!

Our styles are pretty similar! The main difference is that my style is probably a little more West Coast and Jillian’s is a little more East Coast. We’ve shopped for a lot of our pieces together, and if one of us brings home something new, we always ask the other about it before making it a permanent fixture. Just like any living situation, it’s all about compromise!

Jillian: Our decorating styles are slightly different, but very compatible, so decorating our apartment together has been a blast. I tend to have very traditional, preppy taste and I like to incorporate feminine touches while Allison’s taste is a little more modern. We both gravitate toward a coastal beach-y look, which is what I think makes our decorating style work so well! I go for more of a traditional East Coast beach vibe and Allison goes for more of a carefree California beach vibe so we meet in the middle with lots of nautical inspiration.

On top of the beach, travel is a huge influence for both of us. Both influences appear vividly in the decor of our apartment. For instance, we have a gallery wall composed of quaint impressionist style paintings, which includes multiple paintings that depict places we love to travel. Our gallery wall is juxtaposed against a bright yellow Rusty surfboard so, for us, the balance just works!

My framed Louis Vuitton scarf that depicts a world map is probably my favorite piece of “art” in our house but I love the way we’ve been able to collaborate to pick out unique pieces from flea markets and interior stores to curate an approachable, beach vibe in our home.

Did you decorate on a budget? Tell us your favorite places to shop for furniture and home decor!
Allison: We decorated our space over time—it definitely did not look like this when we first moved in! Throughout the decorating process (which is still a work in progress), we’ve focused on mixing high and low. Some of our pieces are super special, passed down from our families (like our gallery wall of oil paintings from Jillian’s mother).

Others are flea market finds that we got great deals on, like the side table in our living room that we bartered down to $20. Our dining room table and chairs are from Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic, and they were probably the biggest splurge item I purchased for our home. But they were worth it because I know I’ll have them in my future house too.

I love shopping at Calypso Home at the Brentwood Country Mart, Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic on Montana Ave, and Anthropologie at the Third Street Promenade. I also love discovering unique and vintage treasures at the Rose Bowl Flea Market. I recently found a set of four crystal champagne coupes for just $20! They now live on our bar cart in the dining room. Online shopping favorites include Lulu & Georgia, Pottery Barn, and One Kings Lane.

Jillian: We definitely had a budget in mind when we decorated our apartment but what helped us most when expensing our décor was decorating over time—so the costs were spaced out. We were very mindful to not decorate or buy pieces for the sake of filling our space. We bought pieces like our sofa pretty quickly, but then we really hunted around for the right pieces that matched the vibe we were looking for. We were also smart about buying big pieces like our sofa; we bought a floor model and saved a couple hundred dollars!

We were very mindful to not decorate or buy pieces for the sake of filling our space.

For my room, I wanted to find the right headboard—I went back and forth on getting a nailhead or tufted headboard. Ultimately, I went for a nailhead headboard because I thought I wouldn’t grow tired of it as quickly. I also went for a very simple space without a lot of clutter. In college, my room was filled to the brim with clothes, sorority stuff, memorabilia, you name it, so I did a big flip when I styled this room. I keep my countertops pretty clear and have kept my color scheme to blue and white.

When it comes to buying home decor and furniture, I love shopping all over. Pottery Barn makes great classic pieces; I got my headboard at Pottery Barn. I also love One Kings Lane. I think it filled such a void in the home decor market because they have the best of everything from furniture to art to accents like poufs and small decor items like faux flowers. I also always look at Serena & Lily (their store in the Hamptons is a must when I’m in that part of the country!) and Lulu & Georgia when I’m on the hunt for something for our home. To bring real life and personality into decorating, I like to snag little pieces from Design DarlingWaiting on MarthaFurbish Studio, and flea markets.

What is your favorite thing about your home? 
Jillian: I absolutely love our common space because we are always hanging out in our living room and working or eating in our dinning room. I think our living room is so inviting, happy, and peaceful. I also love that every time I walk in the door of our apartment, I feel relaxed and thrilled to be there. People come over to our house to relax, watch movies, or have dinner because they love the vibe. I don’t blame them!

Allison: My favorite thing about our home has to be its dose of old Santa Monica charm. Our home was built in 1957, and when we first came across it while on our apartment hunt, we could tell it had a little more character than some of the other homes in this area. The archway between the living room and dining room, the thin panel original wood floors, and even the worn-down crystal doorknobs—these all give our home a special touch that newer apartments don’t have.

What do you love most about being roommates? 
Allison: Jillian and I have known each other for 20 years now, so we’ve literally grown up together. Sometimes it feels like we can read each other’s minds! Your 20s are such a fun time to live with your best friend.

Jillian: As corny as it sounds, I love being roommates because I get to live with my best friend, which makes everyday a blast! We have so many common interests that we always end up wanting to do the same activity, go to the same restaurant, or watch the same movie. I love having a buddy for everything!

Allison Norton is The Everygirl…

Secret talent?
I’m really good with scents—I can tell the perfume or cologne someone is wearing without even asking them! I should probably be working in a Parfumerie, to be completely honest.

Dream vacation?
Bali or the Maldives

Guilty pleasure?
Watching The Bachelor with Jillian and our girlfriends on Monday night. It’s just pure mindless entertainment!

If you could have lunch with one woman, who would it be and what would you order? 
I would love to have lunch with Grace Kelly. My family always watched classic old movies together when I was growing up, and I remember being enamored by her the first time I saw Alfred Hitchcock’s How To Catch A Thief when I was a kid. She was so poised and beautiful—and a real life princess, to boot. I would want to hear all of her fabulous stories as a Hollywood movie star and Princess of Monaco over a glass of rosé and avocado toast.

Jillian Attaway is The Everygirl…

Coffee order?
I don’t drink coffee!

Describe a perfect Santa Monica Saturday.
My perfect Santa Monica day consists of being outside! I love going to brunch somewhere alfresco with Allison (Farmshop, Huckleberry, and Ivy at the Shore are a few of my Santa Monica favorites), then heading to the Santa Monica or Brentwood Farmers Market for groceries, jetting out to the beach all afternoon, then finishing the day with a glass of rosé at The Bungalow.

Aidan or Big?
Mr. Big

If you could have lunch with one woman, who would it be and what would you order?
I would say Sarah Jessica Parker or my grandmother. I’d pick Sarah Jessica Parker because I’m inspired by the life she has built for herself with her film and fashion career and her family. I would also pick SJP because I’d have an excuse to go to New York City, which might be my favorite city. She’s the ultimate New York gal. I’d pick my grandma because she passed when I was young. I’d love to have a long conversation with her and see all the ways my mom is like her. Either way, I’d order a chicken caesar salad.

Product Sources

Living Room
Coffee Table, Pottery Barn
White Side Table, Rose Bowl Flea Market
Framed Scarf, Louis Vuitton
Rug, Pottery Barn Teen (similar)
Pouf, Lulu & Georgia
Record Player Tables, Pottery Barn
Lamp, Pottery Barn Teen
Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree Basket, The Little Market
Entryway Table, Ballard Designs
Wicker Basket, Crate & Barrel
Lamps (similar)
Pillows, John Robshaw
Oil Paintings, Vintage
Los Angeles Book, Taschen
In Vogue Book, Amazon
Gray Malin Prints, 1 and 2

Dining Room
Dining Room Table & Chairs, Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic (similar)
Bar Cart, Vintage
Bar Cart Glasses, Decanters, Champagne Coups, Vintage

Kitchen
Breakfast Nook Table, West Elm
Breakfast Nook Chairs, West Elm (similar)

Allison’s Room
Headboard, Ballard Designs
Bedding, Anthropologie (similar)
Pillow, Anthropologie (similar)
Bench, Ballard Designs
Desk, World Market
Desk Chair, World Market
Rug, Lulu & Georgia
Dresser lamp, Pier 1 (similar)
Dresser, Ikea
Gray Malin Print, Gray Malin
Bisous Print, SS Print Shop
California Print, Minted
Mirror, Vintage
Bedside Tables, Pier 1

Jillian’s Room
Headboard, Pottery Barn
Bedding, Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic 
Bedskirt, Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic
Bed Pillow, Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic
Stripe Bed Pillows, Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic
Decorative Bed Pillows, Jonathan Robshaw
Throw Blanket, Garnet Hill
“Be Happy, Be Bright, Be You” Art Print, Sugar Paper
“Travel, Charm, Love, Create, Sparkle” Art Sprint, SS Print Shop
Bedside Table, One Kings Lane
Bedside Table Lamp, Anthropologie (similiar)
Ring Holder, Kate Spade
Faux Peonies, One Kings Lane
Lucite Tray, Tuckernuck
Lucite Desk Set, Design Darling
Dresser, Pier 1 Imports
“All In Good Taste” Book, Kate Spade
“Places To Go, People To See” Book, Kate Spade
“Debutantes” Book, Barnes and Noble
“Living in Color” Book, Tory Burch
“Journey of a Dress” Book, DVF
“The Big Book of The Hamptons” Book, Assouline
Vanity, Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic (similiar)
Chanel Tray, Vintage
Giraffe Dish, Anthropologie

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