Her Clients Wanted a ‘Timeless, but Not Traditional’ House—See How This Designer Achieved It
Inside a house that’s far from being too trendy.
In this four-bedroom, 3.5-bathroom home in Saratoga, California, the original floor plan was actually well-designed—which is something that is not often the case in home renovations. Most of the bedrooms and bathrooms were in one wing of the house, the living room and kitchen in the center, and an additional bedroom and bathroom on the opposite wing. In fact the optimal layout was what sold interior designer Cathie Hong’s clients on the place—they wanted to one day house their parents in the wing with one bedroom.
So while the layout wasn’t something to complain about, there were still some updates to be made. The kitchen was closed off and small, the living room was dark with an overwhelmingly large fireplace on the main wall, and the finishes were dated and in need of a refresh. “When I first walked through the house, I immediately sensed the potential,” Hong says. “It was a large house with many windows and skylights, but all of that was weighed down by the gray-washed ceilings, heavy traditional-style maple cabinetry and molding, black granite, beige walls, glossy red oak floors, cottage style tiles, and chrome fixtures. It was a hodgepodge of builder-grade and mismatching finishes.”
Hong’s clients ultimately wanted a design that was timeless but not traditional, bright and light-filled, and with a simple color palette. Their former house was a cookie-cutter townhouse with cherry shaker cabinets, dark granite countertops, and polished oak red floors, so for this new space, a peaceful, airy, and bright look was the goal.
“They didn’t want to jump on anything trendy that they would look back and regret in 10 years, but still wanted modern design and for all of the details to feel special and considered,” she says. It was the perfect designer-client match since Hong describes her own personal style as organic modern. “I veer toward neutrals with clean lines, a little bit of playfulness in color or silhouette, and am definitely influenced by the simplicity of Japandi design,” she says.
The design and renovation process was highly collaborative between Hong and the homeowners. They trusted Hong’s design style, having followed her work for years before. “They had a sense of what they liked but were limited in knowledge of how to achieve this style, which is where I came in to help them achieve what they couldn’t on their own,” she explains. “We also just spent many, many hours together working through the details of the design, walking the site together, visiting vendors and making decisions. I know I shouldn’t have favorites, but they were incredibly fun and easygoing people to work with, with an incredible sense of humor, and it was an absolute delight collaborating together.”
Much of the renovation was focused on the living room and transforming it to be a grand high-ceiling, open-concept indoor/outdoor space. The large fireplace was removed; the ceilings were raised by two feet; the footprint of the house was pushed out toward the backyard; and a large glass bifold door was installed. The kitchen and dining room were also opened to the living room as well—creating one big great room.
“The bulk of their construction budget went toward redoing this room, necessitating a new roof when their original roof was in decent condition, but the indoor/outdoor lifestyle was a non-negotiable for them,” Hong says. “In hindsight, it was absolutely worth the extra expense because they were able to enjoy the serenity of their house and private backyard throughout the pandemic.”
For the primary bedroom, Hong and the homeowners chose simple finishes in a warm, playful palette of light blues and blushes. The brass globe pendant light became the focal point of the space. Next door in the primary bathroom, calm is the theme with soft white, gray, and oak finishes. “Their primary bath is the essence of tranquility to them with its thin shaker oak millwork, slim modern matte black fixtures, recycled glass white mosaic tiles from the U.K., concrete terrazzo floors, and open concept wet room with curbless shower and freestanding bathtub,” Hong says.
And in the windowless powder room, Hong went with a playful design, adding a moody dark stone sink, luxe gold fixtures, and a lime-wash printed blush pink wallpaper. That same playful vibe was also employed in the laundry room with its blush pink and gold wallpaper.
The timeless modern design doesn’t just end with the interiors—the backyard has the same aesthetic. “We chose simple clean-lined furniture from Article to complement the modern finishes we had at the back of the house and to blend seamlessly with the large bifold door leading to the great room,” she explains.
Needless to say, the clients are very happy with the finished design. “Their next door neighbor’s house is a classic modern build with cedar siding and matte black fixtures,” Hong says. “They often see passersby stop in front of their neighbor’s house to take pictures. Their friends ask them why they didn’t choose to do the same thing, but this is exactly what they wanted: A house that feels cozy and inviting, like a cottage in the front that blends well with the quiet elderly neighborhood it resides in. A house that feels like them.”
And the design bug even seems to have gotten to their 11-year-old daughter, who says there is no place better designed than their own house. Hong says that after witnessing the renvoation process over the course of two years, the daughter is now interested in the world of architecture and design. We might have a future interior designer or architect on our midst.
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