Call it too much of a good thing. The 154-year-old Victorian in Napa, California, was bogged down with layers of wallpaper ― even on the ceiling ― and saturated with a disturbing amount of bright blue paint.
For homeowner Kimberley Nunn, the trick lay in imagining this thick mess peeled away.
"It was disgusting," says Nunn, a partner in the commercial interior design firm Shopworks, whose projects range from W Hotels to Banana Republic stores. "The house felt so dark and neglected. It probably hadn't been updated in 30 years."
Fortunately, she was able to appreciate the skeleton of the home: "The high ceilings and original wood windows were what hooked me. It just needed to be stripped down ― almost everything had to go."
She began by removing the wallpaper, paint, and carpeting, and building a partial new foundation.
Once the interior of the home was a blank slate, Nunn set out to infuse each room with her clean, cozy aesthetic ― and carve out a home office for herself and her business partner, Dan Worden.
"I work with color all day, so I like the simplicity of black, white, greens, and taupes," says Nunn, who shares her home with new husband Abdi Humphries. "It's calming ― it keeps you rested." She painted all the interior walls white except for the gray-green hue in the living room.
"Paint is the cheapest way to update a space," she explains. She refinished the blond wood floors with a dark stain and ebonized the staircase with black paint.
Nunn is particularly disciplined with color when shopping for furniture and accessories.
"I'm not an impulse buyer," she says. "Even if I see an orange bowl that I love, I think twice and realize it would look horrible in my house."
In keeping with her philosophy, she chose white slipcovered sofas and taupe pillows for the central living space; glass-topped coffee and dining tables; and black library chairs for the dining area.
The only exception to her pared-down look is a quirky collection of vintage crosses (brought back from trips to Mexico) in a corner of the dining room. "Because this display is isolated in a single area of the house, it works," she says.
Next: Warming up the interior
A predominantly white interior can look stark and minimalist, so Nunn brightens her home by selecting hues with warm undertones.
Her whites have a hint of yellow, grays a hint of brown, browns a hint of red. "Undertones can considerably change the feeling of a color," she says. Finishes and materials throughout the house are in the same neutral color palette ― stainless steel, chrome, silver, and pewter.
Her discipline also extends to her kitchen, which forgoes built-in storage for a four-tier baker's rack and open shelving under the stainless steel island.
"With everything out in the open, it's accessible and easy. I like the purity and the clean look," she says. "Even pots and pans can be artistic in shape."
The screened-in porch ― formerly a laundry area ― is home to a stainless steel worktable for gardening and pet chores, and transforms into a bar when hosting guests.
Nunn loves the original concrete sink in the corner: "It's old and funky and practical. I can wash paintbrushes in it or hook up a hose for gardening."
Her timeless aesthetic is easy to emulate. "I chose not to clutter my home with impersonal accessories," Nunn says. "This house had great bones, so I helped it breathe ― and let the adornments grow naturally."
Design: Kimberley Nunn, Shopworks Design, Napa, CA (707/258-1924)