When it comes to buying a house, a grand, soaring entryway is usually a selling point. Not for Jen Parker. When she and her husband, Vic, stepped into the Tudor-style home in Northern California's Bay Area, her heart sank. "I had something cozier in mind," says Parker, who owns a stationery company called Canopy Cards. Being from Boston and having grown up in a classic Colonial, Parker was drawn to quaint, older homes with a sense of history. But she did recognize that this one, a 5,200-square-foot spec house, had a lot going for it.
The house suited their family of five perfectly (Parker has since had a fourth child): It had a bedroom for each of their children, a spacious master bedroom, and an ideal location on a quiet, tree-lined cul-de-sac. So they bought it and hired interior designer Chloe Redmond Warner of Redmond Aldrich Design to boost the coziness level.
Aside from a handful of pieces the couple had inherited from grandparents, they started from scratch on the furniture. The designer looked to the Parkers' lifestyle to conceptualize ways to transform the interiors. "Jen inspired me with her aesthetic," says Warner, who shares with Parker "an appreciation for preppy New England decor -- but not in a rigid or serious way." That meant mixing classic design elements with "fancier, jazzier, more irreverent California things." In the guest room, for example, a traditional floral pattern marches up the wall, while a graphic ikat used for the room's curtains and chair makes a bold contrast.
"Looking at the inspiration boards, my husband and I definitely had moments of 'Oh my gosh!' " Parker says, laughing. "Sometimes I'd ask Chloe, 'Is this going to match?' She'd respond: 'It's going to look good, but matching's not the point.' " As Warner explains her theory, "Matching only gets you so far. I like to start with wallpaper and use that to help establish a palette for every room. Then you need to introduce elements that play nicely with each other. That's how you achieve a truly personalized, truly interesting look."
Today the house buzzes with personality. More than 100 family photos line a back stairway. In that grand entryway, four paintings commissioned from Vancouver artist Zoe Pawlak portray a much-loved vacation spot on Cape Cod, with the Parkers' children painted into the background. These landscapes bring a human scale to the double-height space. And a corner of the kitchen accommodates a child-size table and chairs in front of a geometric-pattern mural that incorporates magnetic paint in the repeated motif. It's a sophisticated, innovative way to display the children's artwork, of which there is a never-ending supply. "I end up recycling when no one is looking," Parker says in a stage whisper. "The art production in there is out of hand."
"Jen envisioned a house where you felt someone had carefully curated perfect little moments," Warner says. Creating such thoughtful spaces meant finding the hidden potential in everyday objects. For example, a search for the perfect dining room seating turned up a set of reasonably priced chairs with a simple, Gustavian shape from a catalog. To make them more interesting, Warner had the frames repainted in a glossy celery green and the cushions reupholstered in an embossed leather. Now they're absolutely showstopping and one of a kind. "The bones were good," Warner says. "They just needed a new outfit." She's referring to the chairs, but the same could easily be said about the whole house.
Sunlight filters through sheer wool curtains in the living room, above, where a lattice rug and walls covered in a grass cloth wallpaper establish a far-from-stuffy blue-and-white color scheme.
Jen and Vic Parker, with three of their four children, above right, gather on the front stairway, made cozier with a graphic wool runner.
Mix and Mismatch
Unite a variety of patterns by sticking within the same color palette. A blue-and- white geometric rug (1) pairs well with an Asian-inspired wallpaper (2). In the dining room, right, gold ties the floral curtains (3) with the Moorish wallpaper (4).
The dining room, above right, sparkles subtly. It features a geometric metallic-gold wallpaper, a murano glass chandelier, and dining chairs that warner purchased from a catalog and then custom-painted and reupholstered in embossed leather.
Tucked in a living room corner, right, is a fretwork writing desk topped with vintage agate bookends and a porcelain lamp. the Paris street scene prints are an heirloom from Vic's grandmother, updated with thin silver frames.
Play Up Scale
Large-scale patterns can work together, especially in small spaces. Here, the sweetness of a floral wallpaper (1) is tempered by an ikat print (2) on the curtains. Small patterns, such as the geometric carpet (3) and a moire upholstered headboard (4), add layers that harmonize, thanks to coordinating colors.
Bold and Beautiful
The designer's knack for pairing patterns in unexpected ways is on display in the guest room, above. "You can get away with doing something crazy in a guest room," Warner says. "People don't have to live there forever." Parker is thrilled with the results: "It feels like sleeping in a garden," she says. The furnishings are similarly eclectic, including a glossy modern desk, above left, a chippendale chair, and a nail-head-trimmed headboard.