Just-Right Realism in an Eclectic Family Home

With 1,100 square feet, a modest budget and 2 young children, a San Francisco family embraces a creative DIY approach.

Yes, this is my house. I decided to include it not because I think it’s perfect, but because it’s an ongoing project that includes a lot of DIY, a realistic budget and one major remodeling project.

We bought the house, in San Francisco’s Sunset District, in 1998, and it was a total dump. The linoleum was duct taped to the baseboards, the entire place was covered in filthy pink wall-to-wall and the backyard was empty except for weeds and dog poop. We didn’t discover until after we moved in that there was no hot water in the kitchen. We paid $302,000 for it.

It was the height of the dot-com boom, and we were literally being priced out of the housing market by the day. We bought in a blind panic, and on the day we signed the paperwork, I cried my eyes out. It was definitely not my dream house.

We fixed it up as best we could with no money (we spent all of it buying the place), ripping out carpet, refinishing floors, and painting and replacing warped and mildewed doors. And then we lived in it pretty much as it was for 10 years, trying to use decorating flair to cover for its shortcomings. We also added two people to our family, making the place seem even smaller than its 1,100 square feet.

Then, in 2011, we finally remodeled, opening up the entire first floor and gutting the kitchen completely. The place is still small and imperfect. But it is our home, and it reflects our life and personalities perfectly.

Houzz at a Glance
Who lives here: Me; my husband, Pete; our 6-year-old twins, Magnolia and Oliver; 5 chickens and 1 goldfish
Location: San Francisco
Size: 1,100 square feet; 3 bedrooms, 1 1/2 baths
Next big project: Adding another room and bathroom to the back of the garage

We knocked down a wall to open the kitchen to the living room. A table and a hanging globe light demarcate the dining area between them. My dad painted the canvas around 1967. I found it in my mom’s garage, cleaned it up, repainted the frame and voilà. I found the ’60s-era ladder chairs on the sidewalk early one morning — my best street find ever.
I wanted to keep the color palette in the new kitchen pretty earthy and neutral so that I could have lots of colorful accessories. Also, when your living room looks right into the kitchen, it’s nice to keep it simple.
My inspiration for the materials was a creek bed: wood, stone, water and forest (that’s the green you can see out the two large windows in the previous photo). The countertops are Caesarstone; the upper cabinets are quarter-sawn oak in a slab style. The lower ones are a color called Truffle, in a Shaker style.
Aside from accessories, this is the only wall color on the whole first floor. It’s barely noticeable, but I think it adds some warmth. As soon as I painted it, the whole place looked more “done.”
These are custom shelves that I had our contractor build. My inspiration was this photo from Houzz. I wanted a little flourish in an otherwise modern and clean-lined room.
The yellow sofa was an impulse buy, and I love it. I love color in a big, white room. I had the pillows made from some Otomi embroidery I got in Mexico.
The carved Indian table is from a local import store, and the chairs were salvaged from an ancient real estate office that was going out of business. I planned to re-cover them, but the black has sort of grown on me.
This lawyer’s bookcase is from the same defunct real estate office. Because it is such a beautiful display case, I use it for knickknacks as much as for books. The hardest things to choose in the entire remodel were the sconces. I ordered and returned three sets before I found these geometric milky glass ones.
I love the look of old and new together. This is my collection of miniature modern chairs next to my collection of old etiquette and homemaking books.
I covered the backs of the shelves with scraps of Woods wallpaper using double-stick tape. The bookshelf looked too heavy and dark at first, and the paper helps lighten it up.
This is directly across from the living room sofa. More mixing of old and new. The mirror is from my great-aunt; the photos are by San Francisco photographer Thomas Chang. The low console is from Ikea; it holds kids’ toys and games. The white basket is full of building blocks.
A detail of the stuff on my console. I love these yarn flowers, because they never die! I have yellow ones in the bedroom.
Our house’s previous owner turned the linen closet into a water closet. For years we had to walk across the hall to wash our hands in the main bathroom. Then we found this toilet-sink combo, and we now have a fully functioning powder room. It also saves a ton of water.
I traded a friend a little table for this bookcase. Then I painted it the brightest, reddest pink I could find after realizing I have a lot of red, pink and turquoise in the art here.
Down the hall, opposite the pink bookcase.
Our twins share a room so we can have this combination TV room, office and guest room in our third bedroom. It also houses most of our books and my husband’s closet. It’s a very crowded room. A sleeper sofa is a must-have for small houses.
The shelf over my desk (in the same third bedroom). There’s a magnetic strip under the shelf so I can hang inspirational pieces and ephemera.
Our tiny bathroom. There are no windows, but there is an opaque skylight for natural light. I hung a large full-length mirror on the wall next to the sink to try to create a feeling of space.
The kids’ room, courtesy of Ikea. The only way to get two 6-year-olds into a very small bedroom is to use loft beds that can accommodate furniture underneath. In our case this means a dresser, a desk and a toy storage tower for each kid.

Most pictures of kids’ rooms make me sigh, because they are unrealistically neat and clutter free. The truth is, kids are natural collectors and hoarders. I freely admit that this is as tidy as this place ever gets.

Leave a Reply