Designer Patricia Kohlhepp forged a new chapter for her Victorian home while embracing its past.

By Mallory Abreu Ryan Reineck and Sarah Alba
July 22, 2020
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Crafting a home that tells your story doesn't necessarily mean putting your mark on every item, says designer Patricia Kohlhepp. Sure, personalizing a place requires knowing where to swoop in and change a finish and add a throw. But it's also about knowing where to pull back, to embrace the quirks and work around them. "I love the idea of the perfectly imperfect," she says. "Mixing old and new, traditional and modern, is how you give a house soul."

Left: Erin Kunkel
Right: Erin Kunkel

Striking that balance encouraged Patricia to look at her 127-year-old house in Mill Valley, CA, somewhat like a book, with each previous owner contributing a chapter. "It's a mix of styles and the histories of the people who have lived here," she says. "I wanted to preserve the layers of architecture and those stories."

Her mash-up of hippie-chic and midcentury modern is evident as you cross the front porch and enter the living room. The gallery wall features work by some of her favorite South American artists and reminds her of her childhood in Brazil.

Erin Kunkel

Take the living room's original rich wood paneling, for example. To brighten the space while letting the redwood shine, Patricia painted the trim white and hung gallery walls of bright art. Then there is the kitchen's massive black range hood, a quirky piece installed by former owner Sean Hopper, keyboardist for Huey Lewis and The News. To better integrate the hood, Patricia brought in black hardware on the glossy white cabinets and a sculptural pendant that matches its scale. "To me, interior design is all about problem-solving," Patricia says. "I feel extremely satisfied when I think something wouldn't have worked but find a place for it."

Erin Kunkel

Additions and swaps, like replacing rotting butcher-block kitchen countertops with quartz and upstairs carpets with hardwood, update spaces for modern living but are neutral so don’t compete with retro elements. But it's Patricia's DIY skills and bargain finds—she calls herself the "Indiana Jones of Craigslist"—that enhance her chapter. In the living room, nubby pillows she made from fabrics collected around the world share space with signature pieces like a pair of vintage Jens Risom chairs. She pulled from her childhood in Brazil by bringing midcentury design and splashy color to every room, writing bits of her own past into the home's continuing story.

Erin Kunkel

After taking out a structural floor-to-ceiling fireplace between the living room and kitchen, Patricia replaced it with a 13-foot-tall bookcase. The sleek white unit modernizes the wood-paneled space and preserves the continuity of an open floor plan while providing a hint of separation.

Patricia didn't want to rip out high-quality cabinets, but their original wood finish felt too dark combined with the paneled walls, so she painted them white. Black hardware ties in with the existing hood. A walnut and black iron table behind the island pulls everything together.

Left: Erin Kunkel
Right: Erin Kunkel

Youngest daughter Kayla's bedroom is also known as the teen lounge. Patricia kept the original loft bed for its youthful charm and so her college-age daughter, Jade, would have a place to hang out when she visits. Black and neon give the decor a punk edge.

Erin Kunkel

Replacing carpet with light stained hardwood was the first update to the master bedroom. Patricia DIYed the headboard to create a focal point. A slab of live-edge black walnut large enough for a headboard typically runs well over $1,000, but Patricia found a coffee table with the right-size top on Craiglist for $300 and attached it to her bed frame. A mix of geometric, tie-dye, and stripe patterns in the rug and pillows gives the otherwise neutral space pizzazz.

Erin Kunkel

When Patricia bought the house, all the exterior trim was an intense and dated shade of green. Now the landscaping and textural outdoor decor stand out against a subdued palette of taupe trim and dark brown on the cedar shingles.

Erin Kunkel

Bohemian flair is alive on the deck, where the casual seating area includes a rattan chair found on the side of the road, floor pillows, and a concrete table. It's the family's favorite spot for dinner; "it's private but not isolated. We hear people walking on the street below."

Comments (1)

Anonymous
August 1, 2020
I love everything about Patricia Kohlhepp’s design of this home inside and out. I’m going to cut out these pictures as inspiration for my own home. Love it!