When it comes to dated residences, there is often hesitancy. “Clients can be skeptical of buying an old-world style home because they don’t know how to bring it up to date,” says interior designer Holly Wright. “But it’s a shame to pass on them when all they need are aesthetic modifications, plus they often have great bones and great views.”
In this case, her new clients were already in the house—and had been for many years. But they had tired of its heavy, old-fashioned feel and wanted to find, or even build, a new modern abode. Wright’s perspective, however, helped them see that they could stay put and start fresh all at the same time. “This is a young family,” explains Wright, “and the home is in a gated area with good schools nearby—it just made sense to stay where they were.”
Bringing on builder Tom Argue to help make a few architectural tweaks, the designer set her sights on the main living areas, starting with the great room’s fireplace. “It was a traditional mantle with columns, so we replaced it with a clean-lined steel-and-drywall design for the more industrial feel the clients wanted,” Wright notes. “That really drove the whole design scheme.” In the kitchen, she added a new hood, cabinetry and lighting. “These Tuscan transformations are fun to do!” she says. “It’s like a puzzle—we’re making it click in a new way by opening walls and repurposing spaces and materials.”
The couple’s cavernous bedroom was next to meet the sledgehammer, with the designer knocking out a fireplace that peeped through to the bathroom and a dated, unused tub. “We redid the bathroom completely, doubling it in size by lifting the ceiling and creating an all-new layout,” Wright says. “People think we added square footage, but we didn’t. It’s just a better configuration.” The designer also replaced one bedroom wall with new energy-efficient glass doors that open onto a patio. “The room was dark, and they wanted something brighter. Now they can see the clouds and rain, the view, and the trees,” she explains.
But it’s important to note that Wright’s decisions about what to keep were just as significant as what to jettison. “The exterior of the house is Santa Barbara style, so we wanted to maintain some of those elements inside,” she explains. “It’s necessary to have a common thread through a home, so it made sense to keep that interior-exterior relationship.” To that end, she identified several key architectural elements that would create such balance. The original reclaimed floors, which the designer describes as “beautiful, distressed wood with old nail holes,” were a must-stay, as were the living room’s ceiling beams. “Without them the room would have felt cold,” she notes. Wright also kept the dwelling’s numerous brick archways. “To remove them would have been a more major project, so we got rid of the attached columns and softened the look of the brick with a painted glaze,” the designer says.
To bring new life to the reimagined rooms, Wright worked closely with the owners on melding existing pieces with contemporary designs. “The wife had already bought new pieces for the living room, so that helped start the evolution process,” she explains. “But I like to make sure all of my homes are individual, so we shopped trade resources for tailored pieces unique to her.” And when they spotted a pair of spiney gold chandeliers, they knew they had found the element that would lead the dining room’s transformation. “We built the room around them,” says Wright. “They bring an industrial edge to the space.”
The result is still an old-world style abode appropriate to its neighborhood, but it has been reinvigorated. “It’s now a modern home with a timeless palette and natural textures,” notes Wright, who is quick to point out that the updated layout better meets the family’s needs. “There are more kid spaces now,” she explains, and the grand piano was given a club-like setting all its own. A new art collection, too, has reinforced the modern spirit with its bold black-and-white works. “There’s a way to make these older structures modern without taking them down to the studs or being wasteful,” says Wright. “You can repurpose and recycle and still make a house that’s warm and inviting—a stand-apart home with character.”