How to Balance a Minimalist Home Design with Fun Elements

In their century-old home in San Francisco, a family adds their own informal 
twist on tradition

Leilani Marie Labong
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Color outside the Lines

Morgan Thorne was living in a modest New York City apartment with her family of four when she came up with a vision of her dream home: “Minimalist and concrete, with big glass windows.” Then, a few years ago, the family relocated to San Francisco. Guided by her contemporary leanings, Thorne worked with San Francisco designer Emilie Munroe (studiomunroe.com) to transform the century-old, 3,300-square-foot home. Munroe stripped back certain traditional elements to reveal more streamlined architecture. “The rooms seemed instantly larger,” says Thorne. “It’s like they all took a big exhale.”

Within those newly airy spaces, Munroe made some bold design moves. For example, Thorne skipped window treatments in several rooms to maximize natural light in the famously foggy city. In the playroom, a turquoise ceiling adds extra cheer.

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Bare Necessities

Munroe opened up the kitchen by replacing the cabinets with shelves that display the family’s tightly curated collection of tableware. “Coming from a much smaller home, we learned to edit,” says Thorne.

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Add Quick-Change Color

Thorne chose playful accents for the living room, including a pink and red rug and an abstract canvas by Maria Burtis. White walls and a gray sofa allow for flexibility. “If the family ever gets tired of all the color, the room could easily transition to another look,” says Munroe.

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Play with Pattern

Dynamic wallpaper in the dining room doesn’t compete with the citron rug or the room’s artwork, a large photograph of Point Reyes flora by Markham Johnson; it just adds dimension to the space. “Even patterned wallpaper can be shockingly neutral,” says Thorne.

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Create a Multi-Purpose Space

With limited counter space in the galley kitchen, meal prep usually takes place in the adjacent breakfast room. It’s also a hangout spot for Kendall, 12, and Quincy, 9. Modular shelving organizes games, homework, and supplies.

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Celebrate in-House Talent

A gallery wall in Kendall’s room brings color to the space and encourages creativity. “She can’t wait to get each new piece framed,” says Thorne. “She takes a lot of pride in her work.”

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Paint it Black

Munroe gave the exposed-brick fireplace a contemporary facelift by applying a matte charcoal paint. The hue is echoed in doors, stair rails, and window mullions. “Dark colors don’t have to be somber,” says Munroe. “They can be grounding too.”