A Berkeley home swimming in light and texture

Posted by Lauran

One of the first questions we ask new design clients is “what are you inspired by?” Sometimes the answer is a color, or a fabric, or a piece of artwork. Usually this inspiration serves as a jumping off point—a source of direction that is interpreted loosely as we build the design.

But in the case of this gorgeous Berkeley home that was just remodeled, our client’s love of swimming and the water was more than just inspiration—it was the overall design mandate. “I wanted my home to radiate a sense of calm, not unlike the feeling you get when walking along a tranquil beach, or when you hear the rushing sounds of waves at the ocean,” she explains.

Our client swims daily, logging almost 700 miles total in 2016. Furthermore, she happens to be a three-time cancer survivor, and is deeply connected to a national non-profit called Swim Across America, or SAA. SAA raises money for cancer research by hosting open water and pool swims throughout the United States. Therefore, her passion for the water—and what it represents—runs deep.

She also loves to entertain and wanted a kitchen that was full of light and room for guests to gather around a large island. Combining her style, desires and her passion for water into the new design required deliberate and thoughtful decisions by the overall design team (the homeowner, Jill and Lauren from our Berkeley-based Visual Jill team, and designer/builder Gary Johnson).

For example, Jill and Lauren carefully selected a beach-inspired color palette of pale gray, bright white, and watery blues—with just a pop of yellow. The walls are all painted Gray Owl or Coventry Gray, with all trim work in White Dove (all Benjamin Moore paint colors). And when it came to textiles, the fabrics on the chairs, sofas, pillows and rugs were chosen to represent the beach.

In the living room, Lauren and Jill advised our client to keep her chairs, console, and coffee table, and then chose a new modern sofa from Room & Board to give the existing items a fresh new perspective.  “We went with a lighter sofa fabric in a durable performance velvet fabric so that it will be easy to clean but will keep the airy feeling of the room,” explains Jill.

In the sitting room right off the kitchen, “we transformed our client’s older loveseat with a lovely Serena & Lily fabric,” explains designer Lauren. “We paired it with some pillows and a large striped rug, and now it makes for a great little seating area when our client is entertaining a large group of guests.”

The striped rug, loveseat and pillows bring to mind the stripes you might see on a pool house awning, or on a beach umbrella.

For the additional eating/working area next to the sitting room, Lauren and Jill found chairs from Pottery Barn, while Gary’s team stained a small dining table found on Overstock.  The lighting fixture above the table was custom-made by Berkeley-based Metro Lighting, using handblown colored glassware. “This luminous fixture looks like hanging sea glass,” says Lauren.

“Gary was such a visionary in creating the trim work for this gorgeous kitchen, sitting room, and the ceilings,” says Jill.  To complement the beautiful bones Gary created, Jill and Lauren picked the stunning Dual Glaze backsplash tiles from Heath to add texture and depth to the all-white kitchen.  The tiles catch the light like a white-sanded beach sparkling with sea glass. (This same tile was applied to the living room fireplace and paired with a square tile also from Heath.)

The texture continues in the marble used on the countertops, with pattern reminiscent of lapping waves.

The sea-inspired décor can also be found on the deck that is right off the kitchen, where deep blue cushions and nautical striped pillows welcome guests to relax and stay a while.

But nowhere does our client’s love of the ocean show more than in her artwork. She has long been a collector of swimming-related art that is displayed around her home . . .

. . . and even in her laundry room!

Last year, she found her art collection growing tremendously when she met a photographer named Eugene Tan while traveling in Sydney, Australia. Eugene owns a gallery called Aquabumps in Bondi Beach, and our client and her husband visited the gallery daily on their trip, combing through the thousands of images to select just the right ones for their home that they just happened to be in the midst of remodeling. “It was the perfect gallery for me—every piece had to do with water, beaches or swimming.” Eugene’s photos are now displayed throughout the home, in the downstairs living room/sitting room as well as the upstairs hallway.

Our client is proud that during the past 30 years, SAA has raised over $60 million nationally, and in the SF Bay Area her own efforts have helped to raise over $3 million for UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals in Oakland and SF. Her battles with her own health inspired her to become a wellness coach as well, operating from an office on the second floor of her gorgeous home.

It’s clear that our client’s passion for swimming, water and wellness has truly become her life’s work. Now her home surrounds her in serenity that matches her peace of mind. “I feel as comfortable in my home as I do in the water,” she tells us. “And that’s saying a lot.”


Photography by Lauren Hosmer and Justin Lopez

My kitchen update: decisions made and lessons learned

Posted by Lauran

I just completed a kitchen/family room update, and I thought I’d share the journey here so I can pass along what I learned and my decision-making process. The biggest lesson? Go with the flow—allow unexpected obstacles to lead you to different ideas. You might not get exactly what you wanted, but you might love what you get instead!

Let’s start with one “after” shot, showing my new tiled wall with open shelves and reclaimed wood trim:

kitch after

Here’s the before shot of this same area.

LW kitch before

As you can see, we started with basic white shaker upper and lower cabinets, white quartz countertops, cherry-toned laminate flooring, mosaic backsplash, and a side door we really didn’t need. My main goal was to remove the upper cabinets and open up that half-wall into the mini-family room next to the kitchen (but it didn’t turn out that way).

LW kitch eat-in before

My other objectives in the kitchen were to . . .

• Seal up the door and move the refrigerator into its place . . .

• Extend the banquette bench in the eat-in space. . .

LW kitch fridge before

LW kitch stove before

• Build a pantry where the fridge originally stood . . .

• Replace the mosaic tile backsplash . . .

• And replace the flooring throughout the kitchen and family room.

Because this wasn’t a full-blown kitchen remodel, I did not want to change the cabinets or the countertops. I also was committed to keeping my old appliances because even though they’re not the most beautiful, they still work perfectly.

Here are more “after” photos showing you how it turned out.





I am really really happy with the results, but as you can see they are different from what my original plan was, which is shown here in a lovely diagram done by our very own designer Lauren Hosmer:


See that nice open half-wall passthrough? Well, guess what? When my contractor Ted removed the existing upper cabinets and opened up the wall, here’s what he found:

LW kitch progress

Not only is it a structural wall, but it also held electrical and plumbing for our upstairs rooms. There was no way of knowing this without getting in there. Our house is like a strange puzzle with pieces fitting together in hidden ways. So, after pouting a little bit, I decided to go with another look I love: open shelving installed on top of a full-tile wall. This new plan also gave me the opportunity to work in some reclaimed wood detail, which Ted expertly crafted into the doorway and window trim and a “beam” at the top of the wall. Ted also built the shelves for me because I couldn’t find any readymade that were 2 inches thick and 5 feet long.

shelf closeup

And placing the fridge where the door was? Well, it looked great in the rendering Lauren did for me (based on installing a counter-depth refrigerator):


So we removed the door as planned, but when we moved our existing full-depth fridge into the space it just seemed too huge. So once again, we changed it up and decided to build a custom pantry in this spot instead.

LW kitch eat-in pantry progress

In the photo above you can see the pantry being built, along with the new part of the bench (and my color samples on the wall) and a temporary outdoor table.


And the final, above. This was a great solution—I am in love with my pantry. But I was still pretty bummed at the way the fridge looked in the room. Ted suggested he build a cabinet around it, and it made all the difference! Now I love how the refrigerator and the pantry balance each other on either side of the kitchen.

Now, on to the little side room I can now legitimately call our family room. Here’s how it looked when we started (sorry!!!):

LW FR1 before

LW FR2 before

As you can see, this room was used for music, book storage, and some TV watching. I didn’t really use the room because the brown carpeting and random mis-matched decor just bummed me out. It’s a funky little room, as you actually step down into it from the kitchen.

LW FR built-in progress

I had Ted build me a custom shelving system to hold the TV, books and other objects. We also ran the new flooring into this room to better connect it with the kitchen. And of course, a new rug and sofa were necessary to complete the room. (As you can see below, I still have some pesky wires I need to tame!)


FR after

FR after2

Now I absolutely love this little hangout space.

Other choices I made and why I made them:

Adding a pot rack above the side console table. This was my husband’s suggestion, and it has been a huge space-saver for us because we have pretty limited cabinet space. We love just walking over and grabbing the pan we need!

pot rack

Flooring. I spent a lot of time and angst deciding what type of flooring I wanted. It needed to be waterproof (since the family room gets a little damp during rainy seasons) and easy to care for (we have a child and a dog; plus I drop a lot of stuff on the floor when I cook!). I ruled out real wood for these reasons, but I did want it to look like wood (for the warmth factor). So my choices were wood-look porcelain tile and wood-look laminate—at least I thought those were my only two choices. Then I went into EcoHome Improvement in Berkeley (love this place!) where I found out about a product called Coretec Luxury Vinyl Tile planks. They are 100% waterproof (unlike laminate, which is only water-resistant), softer and warmer than porcelain tiles, easy to install, and are a green product too! After bringing home several samples, I chose St. Andrew’s Oak finish and I am very, very happy with them.

floor closeup

Tile. Another deliberation that almost consumed my life. I definitely didn’t want white subway tile, since my countertops and cabinets were already white. Don’t get me wrong, I love a white kitchen, but I wanted some contrast. I was THISCLOSE to choosing a nice aqua/blue/green subway tile, but I was afraid it would limit me in the future if I wanted to switch out accessories in my kitchen. (Although I think I would have been very happy with a colored tile for a long time.) So I decided to go with a mid-tone gray, but I had to find one that didn’t seem “typical” to me. I found this tile at Import Tile in Berkeley, and I love both the size of it and the subtle texture it has. It looks really nice when it catches the light.

tile close up

Paint color. I knew I wanted a soothing blue/green to delineate the breakfast nook, and I tested about 10 different shades. I ended up with my tried-and-true Palladian Blue from Benjamin Moore.

breakfast nook

Black details. I’ve been noticing more black in decor lately, and it’s really appealing to me. So I got my fix with black matte cabinet and shelving hardware. I also picked up the black in our kitchen table and in the legs of those great Ikea stools. (A note about why I chose a black table: it’s much easier to keep clean. My son does his homework and coloring on this table, so white wouldn’t stay white for very long!)

Overall I’m happy with the choices I made and how it all emerged, considering it wasn’t a full blown remodel. There are so many decisions to make along the way, and it’s not easy for anyone (even those of us in the business!). What have you learned during your own projects? Tell me in the comments below.