Welcome to the Animal House

When decorating her midcentury Beverly Hills home, jewelry designer Daniela Villegas drew inspiration from the wonders of nature that inspire her pieces. The result is a menagerie of whimsy, frivolity, taxidermy and ephemera—as enticing as Eden itself

Photography by ROGER DAVIES


The dining room is dominated by a black table of Hayek’s design, featuring an asymmetrical shape. “If you have 15 people sitting around a rectangle, that can be hard for conversation,” he says. “This breaks it up into smaller groups, and encourages everyone to talk and get up and change positions.”


It should come as no surprise that jewelry designer Daniela Villegas was born on Día de los Muertos. The Mexican holiday is best known as a day of remembrance for beloved ancestors who have passed on, but instead of playing out like a mournful dirge, it’s a riotous celebration infused with color, drinking, laughter and joy.

So, too, is the Beverly Hills home Villegas shares with her husband, Sami Hayek, an interior and furniture designer, and their two young children (plus, of course, Tito, the Maltipoo). “It was like a continuous fiesta,” she remembers of the sacred occasion that doubles as her birthday party. “That’s why I like to be surrounded with that feeling.”

Fiesta, indeed. Walk into the classic midcentury modern dwelling—a large, open plan that looks out directly onto the Hockney-esque backyard pool, which bounces undulating afternoon light off the walls—and your senses will be electrified, confronted with a mélange of clashing patterns, piñata hues and a trove of dramatic objets d’art. It’s part natural history museum, part Mexican fun house, a pointed riposte to the placid beige interiors that trend on social media. The whirl of soulful visual stimuli acts as a compelling contrast to the soothing architecture in which it’s housed, and is loaded with personality. “I love texture, I love color,” Villegas says, wearing a flowing, patterned Dries Van Noten dress, as if to prove the point. “It makes me feel happy.”


Set against the Josef Frank wallpaper is a mixed-media piece by the couple’s friend, Los Angeles-born, Guadalajara-based artist Eduardo Sarabia.


Surprisingly, the family has only been in this new pad for about six months after decamping from their former home in Bel-Air. Perhaps all these family totems and amulets served as good luck charms, because Villegas and Hayek were able to secure a new space that mirrored the look and energy of the former, right down to the fireplace that was a perfect match. As such, much of the decorating was a relatively easy job, and on the hot summer’s day we visited, the house looked like a fully realized carnival.


From left: The jewelry designer poses with a Ulysses butterfly from her beloved insect collection.Atop a table made by Hayek—with a sleek anodized aluminum top over legs made of volcanic rock—is a menagerie of stuffed birds and books. “You know that rule to look at yourself in the mirror and remove something before you go out? I like to add more!” Villegas says.


“I like to be surrounded by things that connect me with my childhood”

Daniela Villegas


Not that there aren’t surprises abound. Take, for instance, Villegas’ “office”—a desk sitting smack dab in the middle of the family room, facing a jungle of florid Josef Frank wallpaper and topped with framed boxes of mounted butterflies and insects from a creature collection she’s been amassing for the better part of 15 years. Installed on the wall is the work of family friend Eduardo Sarabia, a menagerie of clay, ceramic, fiber glass and cast metal birds perched around a framed painting of a ceiba tree; this sits over two chairs which bookend a side table overflowing with sculptures, candles, books and crystals. “I cannot work sitting looking at white,” Villegas says. The influence is obvious when looking at her hands, festooned with a stockpile of gold and jewel-encrusted beetle rings of her own design. (Her jewelry has been featured in Vogue and Elle and worn by celebrities like Selena Gomez.)


“This is like a classic entomology box,” Villegas says of the table she designed with her husband.


It’s from this in-the-middle-of-everything spot that she rules the roost, with the ability to run her business while simultaneously keeping an eye over her brood. Hayek’s office, meanwhile, is in the muted pool house, though he often pulls his computer up to the dining room table.

Directly adjoining the family room is a tucked-away, half-hidden children’s playroom with a wall of shelves. Their contents, naturally, are a kaleidoscope of ephemera that reflects Villegas’ penchant for effervescent maximalism while also serving as a showcase for the children’s whimsical toys. Books serve as a foundation—sorted by themes including gastronomy and mythology, with novels organized by color—layered on top with ornaments such as framed paintings, plants and souvenirs.

As Villegas walks through the house, it becomes immediately clear that every item, no matter how small or seemingly trivial, has a tale—whether it’s an award, a gift from a family member or friend, a souvenir from a vacation or something that, somehow, magically made it into the house. “A friend of mine told me that the difference between collecting and accumulating is you know where things are, you know what’s here, what’s missing. This may look like a lot, but I know where things are. Every piece has a hidden story.”


Clockwise top left: Sitting atop a Mario Lopez Torres Cricket rattan table are stacks of coffee table books and three antique incense holders. A trio of Villegas’ signature jewelry boxes are filled with her one-of-a-kind, nature-inspired designs, all of which are handcrafted in L.A. Green is a connecting thread throughout the house. “It makes me think of the natural world,” says Villegas. A playful vignette in Villegas’ hybrid workspace.


“I love texture, I love color. I cannot work sitting looking at white”

Daniela Villegas


Part of the story, of course, is Villegas and Hayek’s marriage. Aesthetically speaking, they are, if not opposites, at very least inclined toward different flavors. Head back to Sami’s office past the pool, and one might be surprised by how soothing it is—all creamy, neutral tones and furniture with a timeless energy. (They happen to be his own pieces, made in the early aughts, which he had recently taken out of storage.) Through these viewpoints, you can see glimpses of their personalities—Villegas is looser, breezier, while Hayek is more introspective and thoughtful. And yet they come together and make something unexpected and undeniably harmonious.

Hayek’s furniture is placed strategically throughout the house and serves as a counterbalance that grounds some of the more whimsical flights of fancy. Take the tables in the main space, each of which possesses a certain gravitas. The one in the family room, underneath an enormous, solemn taxidermy bison head, is essentially a large, cantilevered glass frame filled with Villegas’ beloved insects, a piece the couple designed together. In front of the sliding glass door that leads to the backyard is an elegant worktable, a chartreuse gradation of anodized aluminum set atop two craggy blocks of hand-carved black volcanic rock. It has an undeniably masculine, grounding energy, and yet Villegas has topped it with other furnishings, books and stuffed birds. (Many of the animals in the house, if you look closely, sport a cuff, ring or other bauble from her jewelry collection.) A porcelain doll head-shaped candle holder that her son broke was glued back together by her father, making it somehow more treasured than before. Nearby is a curvy, adjustable lounge chair with rippling leather as the cushion; it’s sleek, sexy and a perfect adult design flourish to help balance out the children’s play area a few yards away.

“I like design not because of the objects, but as a medium to explore how much of an intention or a frequency can be embedded into an object,” and then transmitting that to those who engage with it, Hayek says. This thoughtful approach has led to his experiential design work with brands like Bentley Motors and Poltrona Frau, and residential and commercial projects including the luxury boutique Just One Eye.


Hayek’s office is in the guest/pool house, a much more subdued affair than the main residence. “It does promote focus and concentration. And I can look out and see the house and the greenery.”


“I told Daniela, this is my room. Leave it alone!”

Sami Hayek


Hayek’s guiding principle is expressed beautifully in the black, irregularly shaped table that dominates the dining room. The amorphous outline, he notes, is not just visually intriguing—which it is—but also a means to encourage social interaction. In his mind, he doesn’t create objects as much as scenarios for the objects to exist within. The table, for instance, naturally creates small groupings around its unexpected corners, so on nights when it’s just the family, they can cluster around one edge. Yet, when the table is fully occupied (as it often is—they are consummate hosts), it can create the feeling of a cluster of intimate conversations. A gallery wall of animal portraits overlooks a blood-red sideboard the designer borrowed from his sister, the actor Salma Hayek—a piece he has since decided to keep, as it fits the proportions of the room to a T. “I told Daniela, this is my room,” he says, smirking. “Leave it alone!”

Nature is a big connective thread in the home, which features plenty of taxidermy (ethically sourced, Villegas is quick to point out). “I did not have a lot of animals growing up,” she says. “So now that I have my own house, I was like, I’m going to do it the way I envision it.” Additionally, there is a strong sense of the family’s Mexican heritage (Villegas is from Mexico City and Hayek is from Veracruz)—from the home’s Technicolor palette to the altars, statues and religious figurines peppered throughout the space. Works by Mexican designers also take pride of place, including a woven rattan cricket table by Mario Lopez Torres that Villegas keeps near her workstation as “a symbol of good luck and prosperity.”


Villegas stands in the garden where a 1960s patio dining set is nestled by hydrangea shrubs.


Most surprising is that the home happily accommodates their two children, Balthazar and Dorotea, both under the age of 4. In fact, sometimes the couple even hosts Dorotea’s music class, which means nearly a dozen young kids roam the stuffed house. While doing so takes a certain level of trust, it also reflects their understanding that a well-decorated house, like a well-adjusted family, is always changing and evolving. “I don’t want them to be afraid that they will break this or that,” Villegas says of her children. “I want them to know they can interact with everything, and that some things are special and they need to be gentle.”

And if something does get broken, as the doll’s head once did, it can be repaired. And that becomes another chapter in its story.



Feature image: Welcome to the jungle: The family den at the home of Daniela Villegas and Sami Hayek is dominated by a taxidermy bison head (wearing one of Villegas’ jewelry designs on its horn) that looks over a table made by the couple. The two bamboo chairs were intended to be used as outdoor furniture but add another area for conversation in the room.


This story originally appeared in the Fashionable Living 2022 issue of C Magazine.

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