A Minimalist Condo with a Flair for Adventure

It’s rare that I get to work on a project without having ever met the client, but that is exactly what happened with this sleek little Seattle condo. When the gal who bought this  space contacted me, she already had a clear sense of what she wanted. In fact, she’d already bought a number of items and had collected a handful of others that were in her “possibilities” pile. My job would be to help sort through the ideas and make sure that the final result looked cohesive and fit the scale of the space.

The client’s enthusiasm, the fact that she was a single lady moving across the country fro a new adventure, and the delightfulness of the items she’d chosen captured my designer heart, and I took on the project. (Honestly, it was the art she loved that did it, as you’ll see below!)

Before we started, the space was like any modern urban condo: bare, white, and minimal. Of course, it also had the most amazing view of Seattle and the water, and no matter what we did, it was important that we not take away from what made it unique! The trick was to balance the minimalist lines of the architecture, the clean lines of the furniture she liked, the wow-view, *and* bring in some whimsy. She was *not* looking for a generic, anyone-could-live-here space.

I learned she’s a big fan of Eli Halpin’s work (as it turns out, so am I. If anyone wants to get me a present, her “Baby Llamas” have my name written all over them!) Once I learned that, it set the tone for the playfulness we’d bring into this sophisticated space.  The key was to restrain the color palette, letting the content and character of the art set  the mood.

On a more practical level, we defined this open-concept room using an L-shaped couch and pet-friendly rug. The leggy furniture keeps it feeling open and airy, while still providing lots of seating and table surfaces.

Lighting was a particular challenge in the condo because the architect hadn’t provided any overhead light. That was easy to address in the living room with a striking arc lamp, but what to do in the dining room, especially with 10′ ceilings and barely enough room for a dining table?
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Dark Paint Brightens up a once-boring basement

It’s rare that I show you an “after” before the client has completely moved back in, but I just can’t wait to reveal this one to you! This fun family had a perfectly reasonable basement gathering space. It was clean and functional, but one that they found completely uninspiring and (dare I say it) boring. They wanted to add some sass into the space and make it way more multi-functional for their crafty, music-jamming, lego-playing, movie watching family! They wanted a space that made them *want* to be in there.

Before we started, the long-skinny shape of the space along with the location of the bedroom door at the end of the roo forced the sofa to be centered in the space. This chopped the room in two, kept it from feeling cozy, and made it hard to use the whole room effectively. In addition, the foundation wall along the long side of the room further narrowed the feeling of the space, making it feel even more cramped.

To make this space work we needed to 1) use color to liven it up and make the room feel more cohesive, and 2) use clever storage solutions to hide some of the family’s belongings to make it feel less cluttered. Oh, and do it all on a normal-person’s budget, so no fancy-pants custom installations!

Contrary to what you might expect, we chose a yummy dark navy for the walls. The contrast of the dark paint against all the white trim and light carpeting actually works to make the room feel brighter, while also giving it some fantastic personality. We incorporated the foundation wall into the room by running a full bank of cabinetry across the top of it. By painting the foundation wall and baseboards white to match the cabinetry (thanks Ikea) the whole unit looks cohesive and integrated with the room.

We added upper cabinets over the TV space and trimmed out the window in white. Now the window, cabinetry, and trim in the room is all tied together, and because the TV is both framed by all that bright cabinetry and set against a dark paint color, it’s no longer a big black hole in the room.

Of course we also add a floor lamp because while the recessed lighting does a good job making the room functional, it’s a design-crime to leave the ceiling dark (that makes any room feel smaller and darker no matter how many lights are turned on).

Then we started bringing in the personality, starting with the wall mounted guitar holders (check these out!) that turn their well-used guitars into works of art! Just wait until they move in the rest of their fabulous belongings!
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I usually share transformations we’ve designed for our clients, but this time I get to share our very own office update!

This winter I realized that the RWI team had outgrown its home in our Fremont location and decided it was time to move. I found a sweet little spot in Wallingford (I knew it was meant to be when I realized that we’d be across the street from *both* Archie McPhee AND the Meowtropolitan Cat Cafe!) and sat down to design our new space.

The future RWI headquarters was a completely blank slate. Just a single large room, with a private bath and separate storage area down the hall. I knew it would need to look cute (hey, we are a design company after all), serve my team well, and also give me a private space where I could work and do coaching via Skype.

What I needed was a private little phone booth. I thought about creating a red phone booth like you’d see on the streets of London (would have been cute!), but then I had a better idea! Why not build myself a TARDIS?! (For all of you not in-the-know, a TARDIS is a phone callbox that travels through time and space like this!) Why a TARDIS? because:

#1 I think that people should surround themselves with silly things that make them smile. I knew the TARDIS would make me smile!

#2 because the whole point of the TARDIS is that it is “bigger on the inside” and that is *exactly* what we do – we make small spaces feel bigger on the inside. It was the PERFECT idea!

So I did a bunch of research on proper TARDIS specs, drew out what I wanted, and Read More…

The whole enchilada: this time we do *ALL* the rooms!

You know how sometimes you buy something you love, like a fabulous necklace or gorgeous blouse, but it never quite works with anything else in your closet? That sort of happened for this family with their dining table. It was this uh-mazing live-edge table made from one beautiful slab of wood, but it was just too big for the space. The lady of the house hated the table because it made it a challenge to navigate from the front door to the kitchen with her two twin toddlers. The man of the house vetoed making it smaller, so what was the solution? Let’s make the space bigger! Luckily, we knew just what to do…

Those columns were closing off the space in a way that made navigating into and out of the room pretty tough, and they had to go. By removing them (and of course, brightening up the paint and furnishings) the whole space became lighter, brighter, and both visually and physically more open.

Of course, we didn’t undertake a whole-house remodel just to accommodate this beautiful table. There were other problems, too. While the columns crowded the table on the living room end, on the other side of the table the kitchen was completely closed off from the dining, making it quite the labyrinth to get from the front door to the fridge. This was a #layoutfail for this lively family of five. Read More…

creating a bright and open kitchen

When we met this kitchen we found what would otherwise be a nicely-sized space chopped up by a protruding peninsula and a closet-style pantry that jutted into the room. The combination made it feel small and cluttered. The delightful gal that lived in this uncomfortable kitchen wanted it to feel bright and open, and to have an entertainment-ready space that made it easy to gather and cook as a family! So what did we do?

The key to success was all in the layout. We knew we needed to take down the wall dividing the family room and the kitchen, demolish the closet-pantry, and eliminate the peninsula. That gave us the space to put in a deliciously expansive island and still have plenty of room for a great work triangle!

(Yes, the picture below is from about the same angle – look at the window locations to orient yourself.) 😀

Honestly, I am not sure which made the bigger difference – eliminating the closet/pantry, or getting rid of that peninsula. Both were instrumental Read More…

Crowded Condo Kitchen Lives Large

Tiny kitchens don’t have to be cluttered and chaotic, but they do take careful planning. This fun couple wanted to upgrade their tiny condo kitchen so that it was both more functional for cooking and more fabulous for entertaining. How did we do it?


One of biggest challenges in this room was the fact that there was literally no room on either side of the cooktop, not even a sliver of space for a spoon! We desperately needed more counter space, so we reclaimed the area left by the builders for a kitchen table and made it part of the kitchen. By extending the length of the kitchen we created an L-shape counter that provided plenty of space for a proper slide-in range and a beautiful under-mounted sink with an awesome feature faucet, leaving lots of breathing room on both sides of the cook space and sink areas! Fantastic!

The other change we made in this area that helps it live large? We eliminated the pocket door and side walls that closed in the right side of the kitchen, leaving an open-ended counter and creating a much more spacious and airy feeling to the whole room!

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Two Small Kitchens: Reimagined

Here’s another one of those projects where you might not believe your eyes when you look at the “before” and “after,” but I promise the angles and the rooms are the same!

The entire house got a long-overdue update, but here I’ll focus on the two kitchens (the main kitchen, and the kitchen in the rental unit downstairs). Both had quirky spaces that required some imagination to get right.


Let’s start with the main kitchen. As you see in many older bungalows, the kitchen was isolated from the rest of the house, and included a little dining alcove. The room had three doorways, and an old chimney bumped into the room, making for a complicated, cramped kitchen with limited counter space.


To make the most of the room we reclaimed that entire alcove, eliminating the decorative archway and making the nook a part of the whole kitchen. That one choice doubled the amount of counter space and storage in the room! The homeowners were nervous since that doorway to the side yard had to stay, but once it was complete they could see that the doorway didn’t really interrupt the room, and it was better to have the generous kitchen.


On the other side of the room a wall divided the kitchen from the dining room, and two doorways led into the same hall. Not only did that feel too closed off for today’s lifestyles, but the passage between the counter and the oven was too tight (not to mention unsafe and impractical with *no* counter space on either side of it). Read More…

master bath designed on a dime (the magical QA Session)

This intrepid DIYer had no fear of communicating her design needs to her contractor, and she had no problem drawing the floor plans and tile layouts herself. She just needed help pulling all the materials together and making sure that once she’d spent tens of thousands of dollars on the construction of her master bath remodel that she’d have spent it well.  She also didn’t want to waste hours hemming and hawing over the endless options out there. She was motivated to make some decisions and move on.



It turned out that a simple Quick Action Session was the perfect fit and all she needed to complete the design for her fabulous and elegant master bath. QA sessions give us ninety minutes with a client to answer whatever design questions are top of mind: shop for materials, coordinate colors, edit through options, pour over plans, or give a professional review of design ideas. In this case the homeowner and her husband had already agreed upon the gorgeous leathered-granite countertops, and what she needed was the floor tile, shower tile, wall colors and cabinet colors to go with the beautiful stone.

Since she was on a budget (the stone was their big splurge) we decided to spend the session at Read More…

Income Property: a Seattle AirBNB

Sometimes the universe gives us the, um, “opportunity” to update our homes. In this case, the opportunity came from a flood and water damage to the mother-in-law unit in this client’s home. Wanting to update the space and make it an appealing AirBNB to create an income-producing unit, the family called me in for a few consultations on color and design. (Our QA Sessions are a great, cost-effective way to get pro-advice on an income property!)

AirBNB before

Now, if you know me at all you know that the *only* way I’ll travel is through sites like AirBNB and VRBO. I just can’t stand to wake up in some fabulous city and not immediately have a clue that I am anywhere special. As you can read here, I want my adventure to start the moment I open my eyes! For that reason alone I get really excited about helping design rental spaces!

The challenge in this space was both its location on the ground level of the family home (and thus its lack of much natural light) and its low-ish ceilings – both common problems in Seattle houses.

AirBNB Kitchen

We tackled the first challenge with color. The warm Read More…

An Eclectic and Bold Bungalow Remodel

This fabulous family envisioned something special when they took on this remodel in Ballard. They brought a love of British eclecticism and New York boldness to the project, and wanted to make sure that when the work was done they would have a home that felt unique, inviting, and fun!

Since we were starting with a rather brown kitchen and a lot of wasted space, we were excited to get started – the place had so much potential! The original layout made a lot of sense, so we didn’t have to adjust much in terms of space planning, other than to add a generous island to the middle of the kitchen. The fun came in when we started playing with the finishes!

Out went the brick herringbone floor, replaced with a natural black slate. We set clean white shaker-style cabinets around the perimeter of the room topped with black quartz to create bold and dramatic  graphic contrast. A delicious, bold red island became the centerpiece of the room, topped with a warm butcher block counter. That created an enormous amount of prep space that had been missing in this kitchen, and a place for the family to have breakfast in the mornings.


Industrial touches from the stainless pendant lights and metal stools added brightness and a little edge to the room, and the herringbone marble backsplash Read More…

Living Room: Downsized Elegance

Downsizing offers a wonderful opportunity to reinvent your space, especially when it involves moving from a suburban home on the lake to an urban condo downtown!


Small Space Urban Condo Downsizing Before


Small Space Urban Condo Downsizing After

Spaces like these have two main challenges. First, they require careful space planning to make the most of the small footprint. This family wanted room to host several couples for dinner, but fitting seating for six into both the dining and living area proved to be a challenge, especially without blocking the view.

To make the space work it was important to choose streamlined furniture with track-style arms that wouldn’t take up too much precious seating space, and making sure that each element, from rugs to lamps to throw pillows, added enough decorative beauty and texture that the room didn’t need to be over-filled to be finished.

Here, for example, we used Read More…

Kitchen: a bungalow oasis

Ready to see a ridiculously awesome makeover? It’s another one that takes a second to get because the before space is so different from the after space, but I’m sure you’re up for the challenge.

Crowded bungalow kitchen before

Espresso cabinets, white counter bungalow kitchen

This was a classic bungalow kitchen chopped into three parts: a dining nook, the kitchen, and a back mudroom. The vintage kitchen didn’t have enough space for a modern fridge, so the fridge was stuck back in the mudroom. The dining nook barely fit a small dinette set, and just created an useless obstacle for this active and growing family. The stove had very little counter space on either side. And the dishwasher was basically stuck in the middle of the room! To make matters worse, Read More…

Income Property: Enormously Improved

Are you ready for this one? First off, know that, yes, the before and after pics are of the same angle. We got to play big with this space and really reimagine how it could be laid out in a more functional and appealing way. It is always such fun to reinvent not just the materials of a space, but the shape of the space, too! So, drumroll….

Horrible Kitchen Before

Rental Kitchen White Cabinets, Cork Floors, Dark Counters

Quite a change, eh? That kitchen “before” was full of odd angles and low ceilings – it just didn’t work at all. And when a space is meant to make you money as a rental, you really need it to work as well as possible. So what did we do?

We closed off the hallway and Read More…

Bed & Bath: a rustic master retreat

There are normal projects, and then there are awesome projects! What makes an awesome project? A client who is not only super nice and incredibly fun, but who also has an over-the-moon vision for their space and wants a partner to help realize that exciting vision. That describes this delightful project and client! This dynamic couple wanted to turn their chopped-up, cookie-cutter master bedroom into an elegant lodge-retreat, complete with reclaimed wood floors, rustic timbered ceiling beams, a barn-wood vanity and a freestanding double-sided fireplace. Oh, and we can’t forget the built-in bar, room-sized shower for two, and the most charming dressing room closet ever!

Master Suite Bath Before

Master Suite Bathroom Fireplace After

So, what did that take? First it Read More…

Bathroom: A beauty of a bath

This couple already had a wonderfully perfect home with a recently remodeled kitchen and a gorgeously landscaped yard. Since they were planning to stay in the house throughout their retirement years, they decided they better create a more accessible, updated bathroom.

Bathroom Before Pink Tile

Modern Bathroom Espresso Cabinets White Counters

The existing bathroom had a standard layout with bath/shower combination and dual sinks with classic pink 1950’s tile. The pink had to go, and the bathtub needed to be eliminated to make room for a generous standing shower. With aging-in-place in mind, Read More…

Office: From Beige to Bold

When this awesome business woman made the leap from her at-home office to a “proper” office, she found herself leasing a typical beige and boring box – not what she needed to inspire her best and most creative work. She had a great eye for design and pulled some wonderful ideas together, starting with a laminate floor to replace the standard office carpet. But when it came down to committing to a bold wall color and figuring out details like which rug to buy and what curtains to get, she felt stuck.


office before photo 1


office after seattle 2

In a single 90-minute session we nailed down the rug choice, finalized the paint color, and gave her great options to consider for drapes. Armed with those ideas she barreled through the rest of the design work, brought in her whimsical and fabulous personal touches, and, well…. you can see the results for yourself — stunning!

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