You can't judge a book by its cover or this house by its facade. See how the homeowners imbued a traditional Colonial with their modern Scandinavian aesthetic.

By Paige Porter Fischer and Liz Strong
July 24, 2020
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When Malin Keatley moved with her family of five from Sweden to Pasadena, California, she had one souvenir from her home country picked out to bring with her: a few rolls of Josef Frank wallpaper. She knew the bright floral design, a beloved Swedish print, would land somewhere in her new home and serve as a visual reminder of her old one. Designer Amy Sklar picked the dining room to show off the exuberant pattern. "Now every time I eat a meal or even walk past, I smile," Malin says.

David Tsay

A brushed-brass and white globe chandelier provides a clean and contemporary counterpoint to the dining room's colorful wallpaper. Hans Wegner Wishbone chairs are a Scandinavian classic. A red pair provides jolts of color amid the wood ones.

From there, Sklar simplified and modernized the 1914 Colonial by incorporating the tenets of Scandinavian style: embracing bright whites, maximizing natural light, and honoring clean-lined, functional forms. The style shies away from clutter but happily welcomes moments of color, like the Keatleys' modern art, a yellow front door, and one very green bathroom.

David Tsay

Malin liked the color of a nearby house, so Sklar blended a similar soft blue-gray to bridge the home's black and white trim.

Malin and John Keatley with kids, Tilde, Stella, and Maja, and dog, Penny.
David Tsay

Used outside, bright colors can fade over time, so choose a paint and color formulated specifically for outdoor use. For a similar look, try Benjamin Moore's Pilgrim Haze for your home's exterior and Cafe Terrace from the company's Aura Grand Entrance line for the front door.

David Tsay

Natural light is a key element of Swedish design, so almost all the windows wear the same white sheers, which allow light but filter views.

Pulling furniture away from the walls into the center of the room establishes pathways and zones that make a room seem bigger, Sklar says. To nail the look, choose furniture that looks great from all angles, like these Barcelona chairs. The couch blocks off a music zone where the kids take lessons. And aim to have at least a foot of rug extending past the furniture. Sklar chose this large antique rug because it contains the colors but contrasts the style of the modern art.

David Tsay

Malin's desire for a spare kitchen called for lots of white and little ornamentation. (They used Benjamin Moore's Simply White in matte for walls and satin on trim.) The wood island top and table keep the room from feeling austere, as does the indoor-outdoor rug, which includes a bit of blue and separates the kitchen from the family room. The gray-blue and copper pendants recall the home's exterior color and the vintage cookware on the wall.

David Tsay

Painted to match the walls, built-in shelves frame the TV with an uncluttered mix of art and mementos. Low-back chairs balance the sofa without blocking sight lines to the TV.

David Tsay

As a rule, Sklar uses color and pattern economically. An overall sense of calm, she says, creates opportunity for moments of impact, like the floor-to-ceiling green in this bathroom. The Keatleys were smitten with this Moroccan cement tile. The bright basil green and the chalky matte finish set the direction for the rest of the room.

Sklar looked at nearly 30 samples before she found a glossy green tile to play off the floor. Mixing multiple patterns in such a small space requires some continuity, in this case the green-and-white palette. "It's a bit of a tightwire act," she says. The traditional shape of the subway tile also helps rein in the mix.

To showcase the tub surround, Sklar framed it with two long curtains. "The two panels are like curtains to a stage of color."

Left: David Tsay
Right: David Tsay

Framed in a dining room niche, a Federal-style sideboard got a new look through mere proximity to the vivacious floral print.

In the tiny powder room, a moody floral wallpaper contrasts the cheery paper in the dining room. "I think of those patterns as two sides of the same coin," Sklar says.

David Tsay

The patio kitchenette stays busy—a perk of their California climate. Behind the grill, a no-frills stainless-steel backsplash protects the house. Around a long table, chairs in a mix of brights energize the space.

David Tsay

The Keatleys had a concrete "sectional" poured on the patio as a fireside lounge. It has the contemporary look they were after with the bonus of being maintenance-free. A few indoor-outdoor pillows cushion it for softness.

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