Blank walls inspire Minneapolis designer Honja Kocemba to get creative with markers, paint, and fabric.

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When you walk through Honja Kocemba's house, the first thing you see are gorgeous walls tattooed with golden, freehand flowers and curvy scallops. But the project she's most excited to tell you about is one you can't see: the absent popcorn ceilings. "The house was all popcorn, and I so badly wanted those old house, smooth ceilings," she says. "The estimates to do a job like that would have been thousands. So instead, I spent two months living with the mess of scraping, applying skim coat, and sanding, over and over." Both projects—her wall designs and the smooth ceilings—were born of the same DIY attitude: Why not?

That mentality is present in every project the designer takes on for clients and in her own home, which she shares with followers on Instagram. "I see something and think, I want that. How do I make it happen in a way that's affordable and beautiful?" The answer usually includes a paintbrush, a marker, or yards of starched fabric.

Honja Kocemba wall with gold mural
Credit: Kim Cornelison

Blank walls don't stay blank for long in Honja's home. She even drew a bold mural in the narrow entry using a gold Sharpie paint pen. (You don't have to be an artist to follow Honja's lead; see her trick for tracing murals below.)

When Honja, husband Andy, and kids Mila, Cleo, and Alfie moved into their Minneapolis home eight years ago, it checked all the boxes: a 1970s ranch house with no major issues and lots of dated surfaces. With an art degree, some construction experience, and a fear-nothing approach, she took on each room as she could. Sometimes moving through cosmetic projects quickly, other times picking away at small remodels, Honja tackles spaces when the inspiration strikes.

"Your home doesn't have to be resolved quickly. It has taken us seven years to get to where we are now," she says. "But our basement isn't done. Our bedroom isn't done. And that's OK. Just get started. Change the color. Buy that gallon of paint. It only costs about $25, and if you hate it, redo it. Give it a try." After all, why give creativity a deadline?

white brick fireplace
Credit: Kim Cornelison

Thrifting and DIYing give Honja an even greater sense of pride in her home. The living room is a prime example: She installed IKEA cabinets herself, thrifted the coffee table and rug for $400, and salvaged the light fixture, which she painted gold.

Honja uses little moments to make progress. "If I have even 20 minutes, I'll paint something. I'll paint window trim before church on Sunday. That's how you find time. Make it a hobby."

living room with grey wall detail and warm artwork
Credit: Kim Cornelison

Honja's living room wall looks dapper with an impromptu black-and-gray scallop pattern that offsets the angularity of her sofa. The rest of the room is symmetrical, so she placed the scallop design and wall lamps off-center. Art in gold and brown tones warms the cool gray wall.

living room with salvaged marquee letters
Credit: Kim Cornelison

The family room mural was the first large-scale floral pattern Honja attempted. (She loves the design so much she had her drawing tattooed on her arm.) If you're a first-time muralist, Honja suggests starting with an organic design; they don't require the exact measurements of geometric designs.

bathroom wall with stenciled art
Credit: Kim Cornelison

Honja glimpsed a wallpaper she liked in a story about a celebrity's home then created her version with a stencil. She painted the powder room walls peach, cut stencils for the three main shapes, and applied blue, green, and pink paint with a foam paint roller. She drew on stems and veins freehand for dimension.

kids room with pastel rainbow walls
Credit: Kim Cornelison

Cleo's room started with white paint and a pale pink diagonal. "The fun thing about a kids' room is that you can really let go." When the 9-year-old asked for even more color, Honja added stripes using leftover paint and a couple of sample quarts. "I love perfection and math in art," she says. "I usually measure or create a template; painters tape helps too."

Editor's Tip: To create a sharp line between colors, apply painters tape, then paint the wall color over the edge of the tape. Once dry, apply the new color and remove tape while wet.

kids bedroom with navy walls and gold doodles
Credit: Kim Cornelison

When Honja's daughter Mila became a tween, she asked for a room that felt a bit more grown-up. Honja painted the walls a charcoal navy at her request then surprised her with a doodle wall of whimsical shapes and inspirational words.

bathroom with toucan pattern wallpaper
Credit: Kim Cornelison

Honja gutted and transformed the bath her kids share. She repainted a vanity from a home center and installed wall paneling and trim in the same color for impact. The toucan pattern—a fabric Honja soaked in Sta-Flo Liquid Starch ($3, Walmart) to hang like wallpaper—is a family favorite.

Editor's Tip: To adhere fabric to a wall, saturate it completely in liquid starch. Tape fabric to top of wall, then use a roller dipped in starch to smooth it on.

shower inset with tile "hi"
Credit: Kim Cornelison

Wanting the floor to have a bit of pattern that wouldn't compete with the wallpaper, Honja installed inexpensive hex tiles from Home Depot in wide black-and-white stripes. Leftover tiles line the shower niche, which greets the kids with a happy "hi."

Honja Kocemba drawing mural with gold sharpie
Credit: Kim Cornelison

How to Make a Mural

Line drawings are the base for this whimsical wall art. Follow Honja's steps to create your own mural.

  1. Draw a design freehand, or download and print a line drawing from an open source site (like Vecteezy) onto transparency paper.
  2. Honja uses a manual overhead projector (available for rent from party rental shops) to project her designs onto the wall.
  3. Once the image is projected at the desired scale, use a water-base Sharpie to trace the design. Don't pre-trace with a pencil; it can leave a dent in the drywall.

Editor's Tip: Water-base paint pens are easy to cover when you want a change. Opt for a gold metallic that glimmers or looks neutral depending on lighting.

By Kathy BarnesLiz Gardner and Mallory Abreu


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