This Designer Shares the Story of Losing Her Malibu Home to the Woolsey Fire

Home Inspired

You may have come across the image above, which has seen it’s time in the spotlight on Instagram, but what you may not know is that this beautiful space—the Malibu home of designer, Janette Mallory—was destroyed by the Woolsey Fire that ignited in Simi Valley on November 8th. It has been nearly six months since […]

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You may have come across the image above, which has seen it’s time in the spotlight on Instagram, but what you may not know is that this beautiful space—the Malibu home of designer, Janette Mallory—was destroyed by the Woolsey Fire that ignited in Simi Valley on November 8th. It has been nearly six months since the fire and while it may not be top of mind for many of us, victims of the fire are still in the process of healing and rebuilding.

For Janette and her husband, their home was still very new; they had only lived there for a little more than a year. However, it was a dream they had worked toward their entire lives. For them and so many others, this was an unimaginable devastation. In a feat of strength, Janette is sharing her story with us today and the memory of her beautiful home, captured by Tessa Neustadt.


Interior Design: Janette Mallory | Photography: Tessa Neustadt | Floral Design: Louesa Roebuck | Kitchen Photography: Amy Bartlam

Can you tell us about your beautiful home and the inspiration behind it?

Our house was surrounded either with ocean views or mountains views and there were lots of windows to enjoy the natural environment so I wanted to bring the natural environment inside. I wanted to create and organic feel to capture what was going on outside with regards to the surrounding mountains and not compete with the ocean views. We wanted an indoor outdoor feeling. I used a lot of natural materials and textures. Dark and light woods, textured linen fabrics, grass cloth wall coverings, hemp area rugs, African baskets, etc.

On November 8, 2018, the Woolsey Fire ignited and destroyed the homes and belongings of so many, including your own. Tell us a bit about the experience you went through during those unimaginable days.

I had terrible anxiety the days leading up to the fire. The weather prediction for the Thursday and Friday of the fires was extremely high winds up to 70 mph. The city of Malibu was calling all the residents the week before the fire and warning of everyone that they were going to shut off the power if the winds got too bad. It was so dry and my biggest fear was a brush fire. We had a scare the year before when we were out of town, a power pole caught fire in my neighborhood. Thankfully it was extinguished in about an hour. But since then I had a lot of anxiety when the winds would pick up.

My husband was out of town the week of the fire and was to return the Friday (the day of the fire). We were going to meet in San Francisco the day of the fire for my birthday which was the 12th, the Monday after the fire. The night before the fire I was going out with girlfriends in Santa Monica and when I left the Hill fire had started that afternoon in the Thousand Oaks area. I was hesitant to leave Malibu but I didn’t feel like there was any danger in Malibu. At 10pm my son called and was at his Dad’s house in Westlake Village and told me that they had to evacuate because there was a fire in Westlake Village and Oak Park! By the time I got home at 11pm, my son, his stepbrother, his stepmother and a few other people were in my house and the fire was raging in Westlake Village and Oak Park! That was the start of the Woolsey Fire that started in Woolsey Canyon in Simi Valley.

We were up all night watching the news, the wind was so intense that I feared that our roof was going to blow off and I was concerned about the City of Malibu turning off the power. By 5:30am Friday November 9th the fire jumped the 101 and I knew we had to get out of the house and I knew the power was going to be turned off at any minute. Our house was in a neighborhood called Malibu Park which backs up to the Santa Monica Mountains, my street backed up to the mountains so I knew if the fire came over the mountain there would be no chance our house would make it.

I called my husband in Chicago and told him to get the first flight he could book to LA asap. I was in full panic mode by 6am and my son, his step mother and step brother were trying to figure out where to go. We found a hotel in Santa Monica and decided that would be the best place to evacuate so we could be close and keep track of what was going on. I grabbed a handful of jewelry, a couple photos, one piece of art and my toothbrush. I planned on showering once I got to the hotel. We left at 7:10 am and at 7:30 I received the evacuation call on my cell, 2 hours after the fire jumped the 101, the fire had burned half way through Kanan.

When we got to Paradise Cove on PCH, traffic came to a complete stand still and we could see the flames coming over the mountain. That is when full panic set in because we feared that we were going to be trapped on PCH. As we sat on PCH listening to the radio we realized our house had no chance if it reached our neighborhood. It was so odd that they had closed PCH off to anyone coming in and we realized there we no firetrucks coming towards Malibu which we could not understand and it was also confusing why they were not opening up another lane for us on PCH so we could get out faster.

It took 2.5 hours to get to Santa Monica, by the time we checked into our room and turned on the TV my neighborhood was fully engulfed in flames and I knew that there was no chance my house would survive. As I was watching my neighborhood burn I realized that there was not one firefighter in sight. Our house burned down while my husband was on his flight back to LA from Chicago. My son and I just sat and watched the TV in shock and complete horror that from the time we left our house around 7:30am to the time we arrived at the hotel and got to our room around 11:30 or so our house was gone.

How did you cope with the loss of your home in the weeks and months following the fire, and even still today?

Everyone was in complete shock because it all happened so fast. A lot of Malibu locals were angry and confused because of the way the city handled the evacuations, the lack of firefighters, and the gridlock on PCH. We heard they would not allow Red Cross to come in and help the residents that did stay back to save their homes that did not have fresh water or any food. They would not allow any of the residents in to find out if our homes had survived so we had to rely on people that did stay there and try and get information as to what was going on. No one made a statement. It was so disappointing that such a small tight knit community turned into a complete disaster with no one in charge or anyone that knew what they were doing. From that day on I told my husband that I could never go back to Malibu and feel safe and secure that when, not if, this happens again it could be fatal. I have a huge sadness still to this day from all the loss of years that my husband and I worked to build what we had only to lose in a fire. There will be more wild fires in Malibu and I just don’t have the confidence with the city of Malibu that they are prepared for a disaster of this size, we are lucky that we all survived, the next time it could be a lot worse.

Its been almost six months and it is getting easier but with each day there is another realization or a memory of something that you realized you have lost that you no longer have that item. We will never be able to replace everything that we lost but with time we will be able to rebuild and heal and look forward instead of back.

There are issues that we have to cope with besides the loss of our home and it fluctuates between the anger of what I explained above and the loss of our belongings and the frustration of having to rebuild (and dealing with the insurance companies not wanting to pay). Its been almost six months and it is getting easier, but with each day there is another realization or a memory of something that you realized you have lost that you no longer have that item. We will never be able to replace everything that we lost but with time we will be able to rebuild and heal and look forward instead of back. I am still mourning and have not been able to go back to our house and say goodbye. I thought that after we were able to clear off the debris and the lot was cleaned up that would help but as of today I don’t feel that I would be able to handle it. We’re thankful for our health, kids, family, etc. We are lucky to have all that and for now that’s what’s important.

Can you tell us a favorite memory you will forever cherish that took place in your home?

My husband is Italian and owns restaurants in Malibu so we rarely went out because he was always in one of his restaurants on a daily basis. We built an outdoor kitchen with a pizza oven so we had many pizza parties with our friends and family. We truly enjoyed our home for the short time we lived there. We have many great memories that will last a lifetime. The thing that keeps me going is of course the love and support of my family but also knowing that I created a beautiful space that I can be proud of.

Which room was your happy place in your home?

That’s a hard question to answer. I loved my kitchen, it was my dream kitchen and it had several views, ocean and mountain which made it more special. My bedroom which has been instagrammed over and over was our sanctuary. It was so peaceful and relaxing with ocean and mountain views. Our living room was breathtaking and I loved to sit there and take it all in. We had a great art collection that my husband and I collected together over the years, so it was sort of a gallery of all our favorite paintings.

Has the meaning of ‘home’ changed for you since the loss of your own? Do you feel that will change the way you work with your clients going forward?

Most definitely. Since the fire, we have learned to appreciate what we have and I am more cautious as to who we invite into our home at the moment. We prefer just to stay in and spend time with our kids and family. We feel that having our kids and family around more often defines our home for us. I don’t think it has changed the way I work or deal with my clients. It has obviously affected me on a more personal level. I am thankful that I am blessed with amazing clients and projects that keeps my mind focused and helps me move forward. There are a lot of people that lost their homes and cannot move forward and are completely overwhelmed. Everyone deals with it differently. I feel blessed that I have a creative outlet that is helping me heal daily.

You recently purchased a new home in Pacific Palisades, congratulations! What does the renovation process look like for you and when do you plan to move in?

Thank you! We are very excited and fortunate that we were able to buy another home while we are rebuilding the home we lost in Malibu. We bought an older home in the Palisades that needs to be completely updated, so it’s going to be a process. We hope to move in by the end of the year depending on the permits and coastal commission process.

Are you planning to infuse similar design elements from your Malibu home into the Pacific Palisades rebuild or will be you be starting with a completely fresh vision?

My husband would like me to but I’m going to design something completely different from what I have done in the past. I will still use natural organic textural elements but the style and color schemes will be completely different. I don’t feel that I should recreate what we had before.

It may be months later, but the rebuild process is still happening for so many. Can you tell us a bit about that process?

It will be years before we will be able to rebuild. There was so much that went wrong during this horrible tragedy from the evacuations, lack of firefighters in my neighborhood, the City of Malibu not letting the rescue teams in right after the fires to help the people that did stay to save their homes. They did not have any fresh water for days, the residents had to step in and help out. Red Cross was turned away. There were looters coming in and stealing which is so heartbreaking. It seems that everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

Some of our friends whose homes survived the fires where buried in mud. The insurance companies don’t want to pay so you have to hire an attorney to go after them. We (and everyone else who have gone through this) are still trying to figure it all out. The one thing I would highly recommend to others, if you live in a fire zone as a home owner or a renter make sure your policies are up to date and that you have more coverage than you think you need!

Your son, JD, who recently graduated from UCSB last June, has been incredible throughout this process. Can you tell us a bit about how he has helped the Woolsey Fire victims and how he has made you proud?

My son, JD, has been so incredibly supportive to my husband and I from the very beginning. I honestly don’t know what I would have done if he was not there to help me evacuate the day of the fire. Not to mention sitting with me while we watched our neighborhood burn down on TV while sitting in a hotel room in Santa Monica.

JD wrote a book his senior year of college, MoonFlower, and did not tell anyone except one of his professors until it was finished. JD was a basketball player since he was in third grade and grew to love it, practiced everyday, played on several leagues, travel teams, tournaments and was eventually recruited by UCSB to pay Division one basketball for them. When he came home his senior year and told us he wrote a book and that he was not going to continue playing basketball after college, but instead that he wanted to pursue writing and become and author—we nearly passed out. We had no clue that he was ever interested in writing and would never think in a million years that he would write and self publish a book!

Fast forward to releasing it on Amazon (three weeks before the fire)—the Sunday before the fire we had our first book launch party at one of my husband’s restaurants in Malibu. The book launch party was a huge success, he was selling a lot of books on Amazon and life was good, until the fire on November 9th.

Immediately after the fire he decided that he was going to raise money from the sales of his book to help the Woolsey fire victims. He started promoting it on all forms of social media. Shortly after the fire the local news in Santa Barbara found out and asked him to come on the news and talk about his experience with the fire, losing our home and his fundraising efforts to help the victims of the Woolsey fire. A few days after that interview, ESPN contacted him and asked if he would be willing to be interviewed at our house, talk about the book and how he was trying to raise money for the Woolsey fire victims. ESPN aired his interview on Monday night football.

JD is an excellent public speaker, he’s so compassionate, has a great personality and people are drawn to him. Since the fire he has traveled up and down the California coast speaking at elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, college sororities, and the Red Cross has asked him to speak at several of their events. It has been such an incredible experience for him, not to mention, how rewarding it is for him to help people in need. How remarkable and refreshing is it that someone that lost everything wants to turn around and help other people? I honestly don’t know many people like that, so to say I am proud is the understatement of the century!

As we are still mourning the loss of our beautiful home, a dear friend shared some wise words from Isaiah 61:1-3, “provide for those who grieve in Zion–to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy for mourning.” I’m forever grateful for the support of my friends and family.

For those who are interested in working with you, are you taking on new clients? Also, where can we follow along with you and find your stunning work?

I am finally feeling like I can take on new clients. I also lost my office in the fire, so that has been a challenge as well—to put my home and office back together at the same time. I’m starting on a few new projects so that feels good. I look forward to working more and taking on new and exciting projects in the future. Working helps me heal and I love being creative and helping others make their homes beautiful. You can find my work here and follow along on Instagram here.


Learn more about how you can help those affected by the fires through Red Cross, there are still so many that you can help by providing ongoing support for recovery.


Interior Design: Janette Mallory | Photography: Tessa Neustadt | Floral Design: Louesa Roebuck | Kitchen Photography: Amy Bartlam

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