It’s not often that a lovely Colonial-style house is compared to a hairstyle, but the owners of this new Menlo Park, California, home say it brings to mind the iconic 1980s coiffure, the mullet. “My husband and I both like contemporary homes, but we didn’t want this house to date itself down the line,” says the wife. “I felt like a modern take on the Colonial look would be a more timeless choice. From the front, it feels like Americana, but inside and from the back, it’s much more modern. I call it a mullet of a house—it’s business in the front and party in the back.”
Step inside and you’ll find that a contemporary story unfolds. A vast wall of windows, an arresting open staircase and a moody palette of charcoal gray paired with fiery orange and pink graphically contrasts with the more classic exterior. Living room furnishings are low slung and streamlined, and no trims or tassels are in sight.
“It was a bit of a challenge,” designer Mary Jo Fiorella says. “We wanted to blend a contemporary aesthetic with more traditional bones, which was a puzzle.” To retain balance and avoid a jarring disconnect, subdued architectural details and material choices refer to a more traditional aesthetic. Simple paneling was used on the walls to offer a nod to the classics without being overtly traditional. White oak floors were used throughout instead of a heavier, darker wood or concrete, and white-painted box beams crown the entry and dining room.
“We wanted a clean look,” says residential designer Jennifer Lee. “We were drawn to a field of simple materials and mostly quiet architecture.” The kitchen is a prime example of that restrained nature. White cabinets, delicately veined marble countertops and a ceramic tile with a soft texture on the backsplash create a crisp base for contrasting details. Brass cabinet hardware and pendants with a dark finish and gold fittings add a dash of visual disparity, while rustic oak beams inject warmth in the mix.
But in this house, the simple moments are offset with dramatic accents. “I usually encourage my clients to choose one or two areas for visual impact,” Lee notes. “The open stairway and the steel doors in the kitchen were our focal points here.” The pièce de résistance is the wall of steel windows with three sets of French doors. Stretching from the floor to near the ceiling, the windows act as a transparent work of art, framing the lush view and elegantly connecting indoors and out. “In California, the weather is great all year round,” the homeowner says. “We wanted plenty of light here, but we also wanted to have a very easy way to connect this space with the pool and fire pit, it’s what our 3-year-old simply calls ‘having a party.’ Now, the outdoor space has become an extension of the kitchen.”
Not to be outdone by elaborate windows and stellar views, the dining room finds its footing with a youthful yet polished mix of lively pattern and rich color. Dining chairs with graceful legs in a brass finish are upholstered in a spirited, striped velvet that is equal parts ebullient and refined. A round wood table with an oil-rubbed bronze base and graphically dark drapery and Roman shades add stark contrast to the European white oak floors. For balance, a contemporary take on a classic brass chandelier and box beams provide streamlined shots of traditional.
“This room doesn’t take itself too seriously,” Fiorella says. “But it’s also not overly playful or patterned. The goal was to be bright and fresh, but still sophisticated. The bold color and hints of pattern against the white walls just feels warm yet modern.”
Pattern makes an appearance upstairs as well, with vivacious motifs energizing bedrooms and bathrooms. In the master bedroom, a graphic ikat blue and white upholstery on a custom bronze bench was the impetus for the room—inspiring a soft-around-the-edges palette of blues and grays. A clever white oak recessed bed niche built with storage in mind serves dual purposes—offering a warm color contrast to the room’s cool hues while also integrating stealthy shelving in a space with rather challenging dimensions.
Proving that rooms with diminutive dimensions don’t have to have pint-size impact, the girls’ bathroom is full of playful pattern and a large helping of turquoise—transforming a utilitarian space into something delightfully lighthearted. Paired with unornamented neutral countertops and white tile throughout, the medley creates a room that is simultaneously spunky and serene.
“The whole house is a compromise, but in a good way,” Fiorella says. “It doesn’t feel overtly traditional or contemporary, too playful or sophisticated. It’s a version of each with some wow moments thrown in for good measure.”