Interior Designer Natalie Walton on the Importance of Thoughtful, Slow-Paced Home Renovation
Go inside the design expert's new book, which outlines her intentional, slow-paced approach to filling and curating a home.
Contrary to what we see on "reality" TV, full renovations don't happen overnight. The best ones take months—even years—and Australian interior designer Natalie Walton is making a great case for why. In her new book, Still: The Slow Home ($40.44, barnesandnoble.com), she celebrates people who have embraced the process and created their dream houses step by thoughtful step. The personal rewards are clear: sustainable materials, shelves filled with beloved objects, and a flow that suits each family's rhythm.
Ahead, discover how real people applied her process in an effort to build a home that reflected their lifestyles—and functioned in the way that they needed it to. Learn from one couple, who lived in their new home for a month, adjusting to life as a new family of three and learning the ins and outs of their upstate New York space, before they made a single renovation decision. Or another duo, who found their San Clemente residence on Craiglist—listed for well under the market value—and pulled the trigger quick; only to take a slowed down approach to reconfiguring the home (he did all the work himself on the weekends; she sourced the interiors, shopping secondhand and accenting with American-made wares when necessary).
The gist? Crafting a home with intention and purpose isn't a slapstick job—and a slower, curated approach only pays off dividends when you consider the long game.
Note: The ahead edited excerpt is taken from Still: The Slow Home, by Natalie Walton, published by Hardie Grant, May 2020.
Home Number One: Kasia Bilinski & Matthew Murphy; Callicoon, New York
The birth their daughter, Thora, now 4, changed Kasia Bilinski and Matthew Murphy's life overnight. They had spent the prior 12 years working in the fashion and film industries, respectively, and living in one- and two-bedroom New York City apartments. When baby made three, they wanted to move somewhere quieter to prioritize family time. On their first trip to Callicoon, two hours northwest of the city, they found it in a three-bedroom house hand-built from two Pennsylvania barns that had been dismantled, transported, and repurposed on a modern foundation. Although another buyer had made an offer, Kasia and Matthew persisted, and eventually got the keys in 2016. The couple lived in the place for a month before starting any remodeling. That adjustment time gave them the idea to relocate the master bedroom from the top floor, which they turned into a loft-like office and guest room, to the ground level, a former wood workshop. Next, they opened a series of small rooms on the main floor into a big, sunny lounging-and-dining area. They also lightened the home's environmental footprint: Their electricity now comes solely from solar and wind power.
Adapting to a more rural life has taken some getting used to. "People here operate on a different clock," says Kasia. "Things aren't open 24 hours a day." But that has taught them to plan supply runs better, and ultimately buy and waste less. Adds Matthew, "We feel that we've carved out a nice little corner of the world."
Home Number One: Room to Roam
Kasia and Matthew reconfigured their upstate New York home to create an expansive main floor with pickled-pine walls and dark-stained floors. The table and several chairs came with it; Kasia refinished them and recovered the seats. A woodstove provides energy-efficient heat.
The couple's home sits on 14 woodland acres that roll down to a wide, trout-filled creek. They often spot deer, gophers, and mink—and on warm evenings, fireflies. "There's always a little bit of magic here," Kasia says.
Home Number Two: Jessica & Mike Kraussan; Clemente, California
After years of living an hour inland, Jessica and Mike Kraus moved with their four boys from Corona, California, to the small, sleepy surf town of San Clemente. They had all but given up on finding a place they could afford there when Mike came across an ad for a house on Craigslist in 2017. Although it had countless issues, it was close to the beach and well under market value. "We just said, 'We'll take it,'" recalls Jessica. "It looked nothing like it does now." The three-bedroom, two-bath house has its original footprint, but the pair have completely reconfigured it to make life easier and more enjoyable. Mike, a sprinkler-fitter foreman, did all the remodeling himself after work and on weekends, with Jessica close behind, giving suggestions and sourcing secondhand and, occasionally, new American-made furniture. The first change: taking down a kitchen wall and co-opting two smaller bedrooms to create a big, bright cooking, dining, and living room with ocean views and doors onto the back deck. One part of the project? They took a secondhand sideboard Jessica bought online for the living room; it didn't fit there, so Mike built it into the dining alcove off the kitchen. The transformation was neither quick nor painless—"some months it felt like we were camping," says Jessica—but that made the end result even sweeter.
With Arlo, 13; Leon, 10; Rex, 9; and Hayes, 5, running in and out, hardiness is also essential. "With everything we do, we ask ourselves if it can withstand four boys," Jessica says. Her solutions include waxed furniture (no visible handprints) and off-white tiles and grout. The reno continues, evolving as time and money allow. Up next are the bedrooms and baths, and extending that dream-come-true deck.
Home Number Two: Style from Scratch
When Jessica and Mike tore out the walls and ceiling, they discovered feature beams underneath. "It was the best surprise," she says. The cabinet frames and stove vent hood, inspired by traditional Greek kitchens and built by Mike, are plaster; he also constructed the island, shelves, and cabinet doors from white oak. Jessica found the faucet and vintage library ladder, which leads to a reading nook, on Craigslist; the pendant lights are from Lowe's.
Home Number Three: Tanya Jonsson And Kris Isacsson; Pound Ridge, New York
Pound Ridge made a lasting impression on Tanya Jonsson when she visited many years ago, to produce her first fashion photography shoot. "I loved the area, although I had no idea where it was," she says of the Westchester County town, right on the Connecticut border. "It just felt like you were really far away from everything." About 10 years ago, when she and her husband, a filmmaker, decided to trade their Brooklyn apartment for a family home where they could raise their daughter, Liv, now 10, they headed back up north to explore.
"It had a good energy," Tanya says of their 1974 ranch-style house. "We could see the potential." The open floor plan was appealing, as were the two-acre property and lake access. Structurally, the place remains mostly untouched, but the couple painted the interior and exterior, and removed a spiral staircase and loft in the living room to create a live/work space that's even airier.
Tanya is now the director of interior design for the New York City firm Roman and Williams, and often transforms a house from start to finish for clients. "It can be a wonderful and interesting experience," she says. "However, when I look around this place, I see my life." She has collected art and furniture for more than 20 years, and works with what she has. "My life isn't slow, but the way I approach my home is," she says. "It isn't designed. It's a reflection of my tastes and loves, for better or worse. I can have failures and successes—I just edit myself until it feels good."
Tanya bought her 1970s Arne Norell Ilona sofa, seen here, on eBay. The two leather chairs, with a similar safari-inspired design, were also eBay scores; ditto the vintage Kuba cloth draped over the back of one, the marble table, and the 1960s Laurel Lamp Company lamp on the shelf. Above them are graphite, charcoal, and ink drawings and watercolors, found mostly at auction houses and on eBay. She picked up the wooden end table (lower right) at Jonathan Adler's original New York City store. "It weighs a ton, and I love it today as much as I did 20 years ago!"
Home Number Three: Vintage Vignettes
Wall-mounted Danish midcentury shelves hold Tanya's ceramics. Most of the pieces are by the Swedish manufacturer Rörstrand; she especially loves Carl-Harry Stålhane and Gunnar Nylund designs in a glaze called Hare's Fur (seen in the tonal brown pieces on the center shelf): "It has the most amazing texture and subtle sheen," she says. For contrast, she mixes in Japanese, English, and French stoneware. She scooped up the sculpture at top right for $10 at a Connecticut auction.