Remodeling projects are challenging, but when interior designer Heidi Caillier renovated her personal home in Tacoma—a dilapidated 1910 Craftsman-style cottage—she faced a particularly tough set of circumstances.
On top of the fact that she was adjusting to a new town and her husband, Justin, was opening a new business, she was expecting twins.
And this was no quick, cosmetic fix. “It was in disgusting condition,” Heidi says. “It hadn’t been remodeled since some time in the 1960s, and it had been a rental for 30 years. The front porch was covered with AstroTurf, many of the shingles were falling off, the interior was covered with dark paneling, and it smelled bad. A real estate agent walked in behind us, looked around, and walked right back out again.”
Many people would take the agent’s action as a bad sign. This couple, already expecting two sons, was ebullient. “We were excited that there would be less competition,” Heidi says. Although they weren’t overjoyed about the rest, they weren’t completely disappointed either.
“I was looking for a blank slate, something I could put my stamp on,” Heidi says. “And there were many positive aspects about this house too—I loved the large entrance, the bones of the house, and some of the original details—such as the doors and the door hardware—that remained. We saw the potential of it right away.”
The designer’s big ideas: remove the dark paneling, open up the wall between the kitchen and dining room, and create more storage and efficiency with a mudroom and a linen closet. Oh, and do it all quickly, before the twins were born. “I went into major nesting mode,” says Heidi. “I was on site every day, and very pregnant. I think it was a big motivation for the contractor, because we were done in four months!”
Although she loved the original details, Heidi was not beholden to them. For instance, in the living room, she removed the original brick fireplace and replaced it with a smooth, modern surround and mantel that’s flanked by bookshelves. “It wasn’t a hard decision,” she says. “I wanted some modern moments and I wanted the space to feel lighter. Putting in the bookshelves gave us some much-needed storage.”
In other places, the designer added classic elements where non existed before. “Although there were a few original molding details upstairs, they didn’t exist downstairs,” says Heidi. “We actually added them in.”
Bright white is a modern choice, and Heidi selected Simply White by Benjamin Moore. “My contractor thought it was crazy to choose white for all the rooms with two babies on the way,” she says. “But I knew I wanted a clean background with pops of color and texture coming from the furniture, art, and accessories. And truthfully, it hasn’t been a problem with the kids. I’m not a fan of waiting until your family is grown to remodel your home. My policy is do it now and enjoy it.”
The decor she chose is eclectic—ranging from Moroccan rugs to midcentury modern furniture. In the living room, for instance, a pair of vintage 1960s-era armchairs and a coffee table sit upon a tribal Jaipur rug. African baskets, jewelry, and masks adorn the walls, shelves, and contemporary console. “I have a master’s degree in international public health, and in a previous job I travelled to Africa and Southeast Asia often,” says Heidi. “I used the opportunity to collect things.”
Another decision that adds a contemporary feel is the choice to open the kitchen to the dining room. The move makes the kitchen feel larger, and the small amount of floorspace gained there allowed for a kitchen island. For Justin, who opened The North End Social Club as the house remodel was happening, this was important. “My husband likes to cook and entertain,” Heidi says. “This makes it easier to do.”
But not everything here is a precious collectible, as Heidi is not a designer beholden to to-the-trade labels. “In the downstairs powder room, I was searching for the perfect hand-carved Indian mirror,” she says. “I looked everywhere, and at all kinds of price points, but nothing worked. Then, one day I noticed this mirror at Cost Plus World Market. I spent less than $100 on it, and it’s perfect.”
That up-for-anything attitude is also evident in the entry, where the designer installed a colorful ethnic rug, a blue-and-white settee, and a collage like art wall. Magazines and Pinterest are full of art walls that rely on painstaking formulas and strategic planning worthy of a royal wedding. Heidi took a more organic approach.
“It’s a mix of family photos, fine art, and pieces I’ve picked up at flea markets over the years,” says Heidi. “I didn’t have the patience or the time to map out a wall, so I started building it piece by piece, hanging each item myself—all while I was eight months pregnant.” The result is an installation that’s more loose and allows room to grow and re-arrange the items.
This wide-ranging, global style has made the home close to the couple’s heart. “I can’t claim that we will always live here,” says Heidi. “But this will always be the first home I designed for my family and the place I brought my babies after they were born. It will always be special to me.”