Meeting Olivia Joffrey is like walking into a pure beam of light. She greets you with her startlingly clear blue eyes and instantly-felt warmth. The sensation of entering her home is much the same, with its wrap-around light, views of the Pacific in the distance, and some of the oldest homes and buildings in town tucked into the neighborhood both surrounding and below.
Olivia spends her days designing caftans and tunics for her eponymous collection, and her home is resonant with the patterns, hues, and textures you see show up in her pieces time and again. Olivia has only been in this house for a year, but she’s made it completely her own, filled with original art, books, richly colored textiles, and personal touches throughout.
She lives here with her three young daughters, and her home is casual and comfortable but distinctly grown-up. The former owners overhauled the back half of the house to become a joint kitchen and dining space, creating the perfect spot for entertaining friends while still being able to tend to whatever’s on the stove.
Olivia’s work and life exudes a beautiful sense of nostalgia for simpler times.
Deeply inspired by her Santa Cruz upbringing and her mother’s early years spent as an expat living in Spain, Olivia’s work and life exudes a beautiful sense of nostalgia for simpler times. Here, we join her for an evening spent with friends and a meal inspired by — and in honor of — her mother’s dreamy Andalusian days, spent among artists, writers, and the Spanish sun. Read on to learn about Olivia’s approach to food, hosting, and her version of the good life.
Olivia Joffrey on What Makes a Home
Tell us about your home and how you came to be in Santa Barbara
My house is an old SoCal bungalow from the 1920s. I fell in love with it because the kitchen is literally half of the living space. The house is aligned with my priorities: cook, talk, connect, drink, savor, read, play music, and live simply.
Coming back to California was a homecoming for me on multiple levels.
My family moved to Santa Barbara in 2017. I am a native of Santa Cruz, a similar type of beach town with a university and a surf culture. But Santa Barbara was always more architecturally and culturally alluring to me. My twenties were peripatetic: spent in New York, London, and San Francisco where I worked in architecture and urban planning. In my thirties, I got married and moved to the Chicago suburbs. I never felt at home there, despite the cool people and creative scene (and more affordable real estate). Coming back to California was a homecoming for me on multiple levels.
What’s your favorite part of your home?
I love where my house is, and the specific sounds we are privy to. The old church tower’s bells ring twice a day — it’s heavenly! If you close your eyes, you are in Santiago de Compostela. On summer evenings, my daughters and I fill our rickety beach wagon with blankets and a portable supper and we roll on down to the rose gardens. We often drag our friends with us to the lounge and savor the colors of the sunset.
Olivia Joffrey, the Brand
Can you share the story and inspiration behind your business?
I started my caftan line in 2015 when my daughter Clementine was born. I was frustrated that I didn’t have anything in my closet that felt chic, but also comfortable. I yearned for the graceful caftans I remembered my mother wearing in the 1970s when I was a child. My husband at the time encouraged me to make my own caftans and connected me with a business coach.
I bought vintage caftan patterns from Etsy and eBay and hired a manufacturer in Los Angeles who could make them for me. The entire line is a love letter to my mother, Anne-Marie, and her certain breed of laid-back California elegance and a nod to her expat years in Andalusia.
Food: A Family Affair
How did you learn to cook?
I learned to cook by watching my mother. She was a confident and sensual cook. In Santa Cruz, our kitchen was small and shabby. But from it, she would create sublime meals. My friends would sit around our old Spanish library table for dinner and she would bust out a meal of artichokes with homemade mayonnaise, a butter lettuce salad with vinaigrette, and grill us salmon cooked whole in a fish clamp. I was embarrassed by her extravagance as a child, but my friends loved eating at my house.
Food mattered to my mother the way books and music mattered to her. We never had any money, but we had overflowing bookshelves, a wall of records, and food that was simple but sumptuous.
What informs your approach to food?
I’m seeking a sensual experience. The smell in the house as you sauté the onions, the lighting of the candles, the weight in your lap of a heavy linen napkin, the small glass of wine while you assemble the different parts, and the theater of the supping itself. All of those components together make food theatrical, ritualistic, and meaningful.
What does a typical weeknight dinner look like for you?
When my children are with me, I try to make dinner a collaborative act. Each of my three daughters occupy different roles in the food preparation and table-setting choreography. My dining room is literally inside my kitchen — a layout that aligns with the way I like to live. It’s casual and overlapping.
Do you have any go-to cookbooks you swear by?
I really enjoyed the book Unforgettable by Emily Thelin about the life and recipes of the great Paula Wolfert. I learned to make ajvar (a Moroccan sort of ratatouille) from that book — it finds itself in my monthly repertoire. Ajvar is great on sourdough, or with roast chicken.
Kitchen Routines and Tried-and-True Tools
What are your must-have kitchen tools?
My mother’s good German knives, and her Danish enamel pots and pans. The knives are sentimental, but also handsome. When I use her knives I feel legit. The Danish pans create the most even heat, and I also like them as objects. I also cannot live without a really good garlic press.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’m an early riser, and usually wake up as the 6 am mission bells ring. My daughter Clementine and I have a ritual of a morning walk through the neighborhood, holding hands. When we get back to the house, it’s a mad rush to wake up her sisters, get everyone dressed and ready for school and pack lunches.
Once the kids are at school, I zoom in to my studio in downtown Santa Barbara, do a little meditation to focus my mind, and dive into whatever projects are pressing that week. Some weeks take me to downtown Los Angeles (a two-hour drive) where my manufacturer is, and other weeks I’m writing a lot for my copywriting clients.
In the evenings, I like to have friends over for dinner or head out to some of our favorite local spots. In the summer we get shrimp tacos at Cuernavaca and take them down to the beach.
Do you have a go-to outfit?
I have three uniforms that help me get dressed in the morning efficiently. I either wear a jumpsuit (I love Al’s Big Deal), a caftan from my line, or corduroy bell bottoms and a fitted tee. I almost always wear espadrilles.
What do you have for breakfast?
I make coffee in a French press. Then, for my daughters and me, I cut us each a thick slice of sourdough levain from the Helena Avenue Bakery that I toast, butter-side down in a cast iron pan. Sometimes, my girls like it topped with avocado and a six-minute egg, but it’s heaven just crispy with the butter.
What do you always Keep in Your fridge?
Avocados, cilantro, scallions, cornichons, Grayère, eggs, and chilled glass decanters of tap water.
What products do you love for the table?
How Olivia Joffrey Entertains
How would you describe your approach to entertaining?
Barefoot and sumptuous, warm and unpretentious. Improvisational.
What does the ideal gathering look like for you?
Some of my favorite gatherings have been unhinged dinners with creatives of all different ages. I style an unfussy table with candles and little haphazard flower arrangements in mismatched vessels. I like it when music does not go with the food: a cheese soufflé and Dr. Dre, sushi and ska music, Yorkshire pudding and Beastie Boys. I absolutely love it when someone busts out the guitar and the dinner veers toward music.
What scares you about entertaining?
I am scared of not soaking in people at dinner when I am distracted by the cooking. I’m not good at multitasking.
What brings you the most joy when spending time in the kitchen or around the table?
The enchantment of the moment: candles, colors, scents, faces. I love when the meal is over and everyone is sated and leans back in their chairs. There is a palpable little community feeling that some secret was shared between us.
Do you have any signature dishes for gatherings?
I am kind of the salad queen. It starts with whatever greens seduce me at the farmers market, then I alternate in a shredded / crumbled cheese and a toasted nut and my mom’s classic red wine vinaigrette recipe.
It’s like the lettuces are the little black dress, the cheese and nuts are the jewelry and shoes, and the salad dressing is the perfume that ties it all together.
Scroll to the bottom of this post for Olivia’s signature Ensalada Valenciana recipe.
Favorite question to get to know someone?
Where did you grow up?
Eucalyptus from the median outside my house.
Who are your dream dinner guests?
I can’t name anyone per se, but the mix of the guests holds a certain alchemy. I like a small dinner of 6-8 people max. That way, you can actually connect. It’s always a bonus when there are different age groups represented, one eccentric, a jolly person, a humorist, and maybe someone you don’t know so well yet.
What’s one piece of advice you would share for someone who wants to host on a budget?
Splurge on really gorgeous vegetables at the farmer’s market. They add color when you serve them on the table and can be just as hearty as meat and far less expensive. I have made stunning meals with oven-roasted eggplant and spices. Ambiance (candlelight, record player) and originality (what you serve) are far more memorable than how fancy you try to make it. Cozy is always preferable to grand.
What is your no-stress entertaining rule to live by?
Get chic, cheap glassware so you don’t get upset when a glass breaks. I use Borosil glasses. They are inexpensive and modern. Plus, if the party gets a little crazy, it’s not as traumatic as sweeping up Waterford crystal at 2 in the morning.
Fill in the Blank:
A perfect meal should… feel like a communion of body and soul.
It’s not a dinner party without… music.
Every cook should know how to… sharpen their own knives.