How Creative Claire Thomas Transformed a 1980s Ranch Into a Vibrant Retreat
Welcome to The Makers. Each week, we’re celebrating innovators, artisans and crafters of all types, taking you on a private tour of their creative spaces. For this instalment, we step inside Claire Thomas' vibrant retreat, Oeste Home, in Yucca Valley, California.
'Multitalented' would be one of the first words used to describe Claire Thomas. A true creative, her life is a mix of food, design, and storytelling and has seen her work as a food stylist, photographer, co-founder of a grain-free baking company, production designer, and commercial director. "From the inside, my career has been one long continuum, like a tree trunk with branches growing off," shares Claire. "From the outside, I probably look a bit scattered!"
Claire undoubtedly has an eye for producing innovative visuals and stories. When the pandemic slowed down her work, she utilised her production design background to help friends with interior design projects. One of her latest creative ventures saw her join forces with friend and cinematographer Yayo Ahumada to revamp a 1980s ranch home in Yucca Valley, California, with the intention of renting the space out for visitors and creative projects.
After completely gutting the abode, the pair expertly transformed it into a sunny retreat referred to as ‘Oeste Home’. The welcoming desert getaway is a lesson in how to inject a home with color, texture, and personality in a playful yet sophisticated manner. The overarching style can be described as “a love letter to Mexico” with flourishes of Moroccan design elements.
Swathed in predominantly warm hues and decorative tiles and filled with handmade textiles and natural textures, the oasis is a charming homage to Yayo’s homeland, Mexico, and one that effortlessly transports you to the beautifully sunny country. Outside, the home is equally as striking with a patio complete with its own copper tub – an ideal spot to soak in the delightful desert backdrop.
Ahead, find Claire's tips for starting your own business, how to work effectively in any creative field, and the design process behind this stylish abode.
Hi Claire! This series is called The Makers. What is it that you make?
I guess the easiest moniker is “story teller.” Whether it’s on a plate, in a space, or on screen, I love telling stories.
How does the act of “making” relate to your personality and who you are?
I’ve always been a maker, but I’ve only just recently arrived at what the healthy version of that is for me. Since I was a kid, I’ve tied my value to my output. If I’m creating something, I’m worth something. And social media fueled that heavily - I was a content machine for years.
I would create and do a million things because I could, and thought that’s what people needed from me. But in the last two years, I’ve worked hard to shift this 'output' focus to a 'make things I care about'' focus. It might sound obvious, but it took some rewiring of my brain to make that shift, haha.
Tell us about your career journey to date. Did you always know you wanted to pursue this line of work?
I’ve worked in production since I was a kid, and have always loved storytelling. I worked in film development out of college, with hopes of directing one day, and along the way I fell in love with history, especially food history. I started my food blog, and then quickly pivoted to working as a food stylist, photographer, and commercial director. While directing, I continued my blog and evolved that into digital content.
Along the way I co-founded a grain free baking company, Sweet Laurel, with one of my best friends. When COVID slowed down production, I was able to use my production design background by helping friends with interior design projects. So, my life is a mix of food, design, and storytelling, depending on the day.
Talk us through your creative process. Where do you start?
Working as a director, I start with a totally empty frame, that I have to populate with a set, performances, lighting, and a perspective- starting from the ground up can seem intimidating - it’s so many choices! - but when you approach a scene, a space, a plate of food, any canvas really, narratively, it makes it much easier for a clear vision to come through.
There are no good or bad choices, just ones that support your story. With spaces, I always come up with a little story. For instance, one home I’m doing is '1967 Pan Am Flight to Morocco' and another is 'Swedish fairytale in a 1940s California cottage.' Those are so specific that I’ll know whether a piece of furniture or paint color will fit immediately.
What’s been the single most crucial tool or strategy you’ve used to further your business?
Focus. Don’t get distracted by noise, hone in on what makes your point of view essential, and dig in there.
What’s been the most challenging lesson learnt so far in your business?
You need to have a clarity of who you are and why you’re the person to do what you do. The 'why you' and 'why now' questions are the ones that I find myself answering most often.
What’s been the best thing that’s happened to you since you started your business?
Oh gosh - this is so hard to answer. For me, I’m always looking toward the future, so I think the best thing is always around the corner.
Do you have a single piece of advice you’d give to your younger self or someone looking to pursue a similar line of work?
Be an excellent collaborator, and a pleasure to work with.
Now, the home stuff. How long have you had Oeste?
I launched Oeste with my friend and cinematographer, Yayo Ahumada, in summer 2020.
How did you initially know this was the space for you
We spent about 6 months coming the high desert for the perfect location. For me, it was the magic of the property and the flexibility of the space.
Did you do any renovations or make any big changes after purchasing the property?
SO MANY, haha. We completely gutted and transformed the space.
What was the thought process behind the way you’ve styled the interior?
The interior is inspired by Yayo’s homeland, Mexico, and our travels and experiences there. The kitchen is a reference to our time in Oaxaca and the bedrooms each pull from a different theme. It really is a love letter to Mexico.
What are your favourite pieces in the home?
I love the comal sconces. Comals are used to cook tortillas, and have a marvellous patina. We brought a few home from my last trip to Oaxaca, and I had an idea to turn them into mounted art pieces/sconces. Yayo figured out the wiring and they’re so gorgeous!
Do you have any special décor pieces you’re looking to add?
Oh not really. I spent months and months styling the house, so I’m really happy with all of the pieces we have.
Which is your favourite room in the house?
Oh gosh it’s honestly every room, haha. I love the round window in the master. I love the blue bathroom’s drama. There are a lot of fun moments here.
What are your top tips for a well-styled bedroom, and home generally?
Don’t be afraid of color. And the truth is, when people struggle with design, it’s not because they’re making “bad” choices, it’s because they struggle with sticking to a story. Design starts to fall apart when none of the pieces aren’t in conversation with each other, and it’s like visual mad libs.
For a bedroom, I always focus on texture and comfort. I love layering lots of different textures to make the space feel as cozy as possible.
Do you have any projects coming up you want to talk about?
I’m finishing up my latest vacation rental @TheHollyhockCabin, which is a Swedish Folklore inspired cabin in Big Bear, Ca. I’m so excited about this one!
For more from Claire, follow her on Instagram @clairethomas