Family Honors Grandma’s Legacy with Modern-Day Style Changes

With a little paint and some fresh new furniture, Grandma's house fits just right.

Sarah Wagner Rayburn grew up having sleepovers at her grandma's house. Built in 1940 and set on a steep San Francisco hill, the home was an institution in Sarah's family. Sarah's dad, Bob, grew up in this house. It's where his mother, Arlyne, perfected her recipe for Chex party mix, earning her the nickname Grandma Munchie. So when Sarah and her husband, Kelly, were offered the chance to live there, they jumped.

family of four portrait outside house in front of red exterior door
Sarah and Kelly Rayburn with baby James and Will. Jonny Valiant

The white stucco building has a sense of grandeur and formality that Sarah loved as a child but didn't exactly identify with as an adult. "We wanted the house to reflect our taste," Sarah says. "We also had a new baby, so we wanted it to feel family-friendly."

Designer Emilie Munroe knew she could reinterpret the house to suit the Rayburns' style and needs while honoring the architecture that made the house special. "I just had to find ways to accentuate the unique details rather than hide them," Munroe says. "There was so much possibility because the house is truly a work of art. We needed to take what was there and reimagine it for a modern family with kids."

entryway with red-painted front door
Jonny Valiant

The foyer gets its spark from the door, painted Benjamin Moore's Heritage Red inside and out. "People usually match the interior door to the walls, but it's more interesting to keep it consistent with the exterior color," Munroe says.

staircase with gray woven wool runner
Jonny Valiant

homeowner Sarah Wagner Rayburn

I think my grandma would like what we did with the place. But mostly, she would like the idea of her granddaughter and greatgrandchildren living in her house. She loved her home and would be happy to know it's in good hands.

— homeowner Sarah Wagner Rayburn

The key to Munroe's plan was continuity: repeating colors, shapes, materials, and design tricks to unite spaces. To start, she suggested repainting almost every room white—all the better to highlight the colorful upholstery, rugs, and art. Then she convinced the Rayburns to take a chance and paint the millwork. The window sashes, interior doors, and central stair risers and trim are now dark gray, accentuating the ornate details in a crisp, contemporary way. Inspired by the circular pattern on the front door and on the interior door frames, Munroe played up the theme of circles and spheres, repeating them in fabrics, mirrors, and light fixtures throughout the house.

four vintage family pictures on white background
Sarah's dad, Bob, as a child, and his mother, Arlyne, with husband Irving, in family photos at the San Franciso home. Courtesy of Sarah Wagner Rayburn

"We weren't too nervous to make the changes," Kelly says. "We knew the house would retain its character even after we redecorated." And it did. All the details Sarah remembers are still there. "I think my grandma would like what we did with the place," she says. "But mostly, she would like the idea of her granddaughter and greatgrandchildren living in her house. She loved her home and would be happy to know it's in good hands."

neutral-colored living room with colorful accent pieces
Jonny Valiant

Munroe divided the long living room into three zones—a central seating area, a music corner, and a play space—demarcating each with a rug and a spherical glass pendant. Munroe's trick when using two different sofas in one room: Outfit them in the same fabric. The white-with-black color scheme of the renovation originated with the fireplace. Made for hosting, a double-tier table has a large top for snack spreads with game-night storage below.

neutral-colored dining room with fiddle leaf fig tree
Jonny Valiant

"I like to have a good mix of right angles and spheres, of straight lines and curves. So much of design is angular, it needs softening to feel balanced and relaxed," Munroe says. The dining room delivers with scallops on the rug, curves on chairbacks, and round beads on the chandelier. A fiddle-leaf fig tucks into one corner. "Plants are as important as furnishings," Munroe says. "They're living sculptures."

young boy sitting on bed in pale green children's room
Jonny Valiant

"Emilie directed us to design a kid's room, not a nursery, which we really appreciate now that Will is a toddler," Kelly says. As Will grew, the only update needed to transition the room was to swap out the crib for a twin bed. The walls are painted with Cucumber C2-90 by C2 Paints.

master bedroom with reading nook and plug-in gold sconces
Jonny Valiant

Plug-in sconces help define a reading lounge in Sarah and Kelly's bedroom. "I love to work a settee into the bedroom, so two people can put their feet up at once," Munroe says.

master bedroom with blue tufted headboard bed
Jonny Valiant

With a 60-inch-tall tufted headboard, the bed is a dramatic focal point. "Many people choose a standard 36-inch headboard, but once you put pillows on, it gets lost," Munroe says. "We prefer to make a statement and go taller. Plus, you have a place to rest your head when you're sitting up in bed reading." Munroe advises placing a rug beneath the bed to frame it.

Updated by
Liz Strong

Liz Strong is a Los Angeles-based photographer and interior designer.

She has worked as a decor and home editor for Coastal Living, producing and styling content as well as art directing projects from start to finish.

Liz is the founder of her eponymous company, Liz Strong Style, where she often collaborates with clients and publications, including Better Homes & Gardens, for editorial and advertorial features.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles