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A Light-Filled and Detail-Rich Colonial Remodel

Chunky moldings, wide-plank floorboards, beadboard ceilings—and places to stash toys: How this Colonial-style house blends updated classic details and family-friendly comfort

Updated Interior, Classic Exterior

Photo by Ken Gutmaker

Seen from a distance, some houses have the grace and proportions of timeless classics. Inside, however, the style may be more of the moment, and not in a good way. Which is why Emily and Bryan Kelly can be forgiven for taking a sober look inside their newly purchased house in California's Silicon Valley and texting their interior designer: "SOS."

While the facade evoked traditional Colonial style, the interior suggested late-1980s McMansion. In the foyer, topiary nested in a wall niche, and stairs rose from an ocean of checkered ceramic tile before making a U-turn over an arched passageway. The family room was sunken.

Shown: The house has an added-onto-over-time look that keeps the facade from looking too formal.

Light And Modern

Photo by Ken Gutmaker

Between their demanding jobs, nonstop guests, and growing family, the young couple had their hands full but their hearts set on a different look. "The house had been well loved, but it was dated," says Emily. "We needed to freshen it and make it feel a little more modern."

She had a pretty clear idea of how that might be done. "I'm a total decision-maker," she says with a laugh, and no amateur when it comes to Googling home accessories or combing sites like Pinterest. Declaring war on dark baths, mottled granite, and sunken anything, Emily called for a paler palette, smarter details, and better flow.

Shown: The kitchen's walnut floors and Calacatta gold marble counters reflect light from French doors in the living and family rooms. Substantial cabinet feet, copied from a vintage dresser, and large-scale moldings give the space a custom flavor. Cabinetmaker: LSC Cabinetry. Flooring: Golden State Flooring

Visual Details

Photo by Ken Gutmaker

Emily's enabler, interior designer Carolyn Woods, had worked with her on the renovation of the couple's previous home nearby. As had Emily's dad, who likes to lend his plastic surgeon's eye to home improvements. "He's very visual," says Emily, by way of explanation, "and so am I."

Shown: The mosaic-tile inset in the master bath's shower echoes the one on the floor. Wall paint: Benjamin Moore's Apparition. Mirror: Restoration Hardware. Tile: AKDO

Seamless Living

Photo by Ken Gutmaker

With dad and daughter working on the correct proportions for the trim and husband Bryan assigned to floors and finding a spot for his requested wet bar, the team looked for ways to open up the first floor. "We wanted the living spaces to read as one and flow seamlessly, for ease of use and entertaining," says Woods.

Barring the way between the kitchen and family room were bulky cabinets functioning as half walls separated by a 4-foot opening with a step down—just the thing to send an unsuspecting guest flying. The laundry room occupied a prime bit of first-floor real estate that cried out for conversion to a mudroom.

Shown: The butler's pantry, between the kitchen and dining room, catches and releases tableware. Pendant lights: Circa Lighting. Automated lighting system: Lutron Electronics

Functional Entertainment

Photo by Ken Gutmaker

The couple, who think nothing of inviting in 70 neighbors for a nonprofit fund-raising event, viewed the first-floor study as spillover gathering space, with a niche for Bryan's bar. "These days, you don't need an office because you do your work on your laptop in whatever room you're in," Emily points out.

First, however, a thicket of trees in the front yard had to come out to allow in more sun. Poorly proportioned ceiling coffers had to go, and the first floor and adjacent patio needed to be leveled and unified. As for decor, "I didn't want it to feel like it does when kids take over the space," says Emily, who was pregnant at the time and now follows the cluttered wake of her 23-month-old son.

Shown: A box bay replaced a set of doors off the kitchen, allowing an eating area to sidle up to the built-in banquette. Chair and pillow fabric: Kravet. Wall paint: Benjamin Moore's Arctic Gray

Updated Traditional

Photo by Ken Gutmaker

The dining room is anchored by vintage finds and enlivened by an oversize mirror and chandelier.

True To Style And Needs

Photo by Ken Gutmaker

General contractor Ilan Sigura drew up plans that would allow a slight reconfiguring of the layout and a staircase more in keeping with the house's Colonial style, plus new insulation, flooring, plumbing, and wiring. Along with a same-size but better kitchen, the couple wanted refurbished baths and a mudroom that doubled as a watering hole for their border collie, Bo, complete with a doggie-eye-level spigot.

"We took out every fixture and many pieces of molding and some doors," Sigura recalls. His crew opened up walls so that iTunes could be piped to speakers around the house and lighting activated by an automated system. The crew also bolstered the framing and added spray-foam insulation to some exterior walls.

Shown: In the guest bedroom, pale gray and white form a serene backdrop for a whimsical mix of flea-market and Internet finds, which can be easily swapped out as the house evolves. Wall paint: Restoration Hardware's Pale Silver. Animal heads: Anthropologie. Bedding and accent pillows: Serena & Lily. Curtain fabric: Kravet

Elevated And Finished

Photo by Ken Gutmaker

Raising the family room floor was a challenge, Woods recalls, because it meant lifting the firebox, rebuilding the hearth, and finding doors short enough to fit existing headers. The crew relocated a crawl space and put down new joists, subflooring, and wide walnut planks finished with Bryan's chosen topping: clear polyurethane. The family room gained a set of doors to the patio, and the kitchen a box-bay bumpout, which allows table and chairs to scoot out of traffic and light to pour in during breakfast.

Custom finishes include a countertop edge known­ as Dupont offset and upsized baseboards, crown molding, and cabinet pulls. "I wanted everything to look substantial," Emily says. "I love that weight. And it's important to me that the cabinets go up to the ceiling."

That ceiling is beadboard, which teams with dark bronze hardware to evoke a vintage-cottage feel. Upper and base cabinets sport contrasting trim, and stainless-steel chicken wire replaces glass cabinet fronts at different heights, so nothing looks too matchy-matchy.

Shown: The family room's traditional-look built-ins are loosened up with open shelves and cabinet doors with chicken-wire fronts for displaying favorite objects. Coffee table: Restoration Hardware

Private Retreat

Photo by Ken Gutmaker

Woods helped the couple put their stamp on the second floor as well. She overhauled the baths and made the master suite prettier and more practical, with pocket doors closing off the bath and a washer and dryer poised near the enlarged walk-in closet

Shown: Scale, proportion, and style mix it up in the master bath. The vintage-look train rack and tub filler mingle with a flat-screen TV and an oversize iron-and-wood chandelier that was nabbed at a flea market and looks as if it migrated from the dining room. Tub: Kohler. Filler: Perrin and Rowe. Towel racks: Restoration Hardware

All Settled

Photo by Ken Gutmaker

Nine months after taking possession of the house, the couple finally moved in. They've been delighted, Emily says, by the way it lends itself to their way of life. "It's incredibly functional," she says. "When we have guests, everybody has private space, but there's a sense of community because we have places to gather." She's also pleased by the upbeat style. "It was a formal house, and it still is," she says, "but now it's friendlier."

Shown: French doors in the master bedroom open onto a deck and bring light into the reading nook. The homeowners finished the room with walnut flooring, beefy crown molding, and a color-coordinated mix of patterned fabrics. drowe.com" "Perrin and Rowe"]. Towel racks: Restoration Hardware

First Floor Plan

Floor plan by Ian Worpole

The redo included replacing the floors and staircase, opening the kitchen to the no-longer-sunken family room, and rejiggering the exterior wall that frames the new breakfast nook, mudroom (where the laundry had been), and side entry. The kitchen and all the baths were renovated.

Second Floor Plan

Floor plan by Ian Worpole

A washer and dryer were added in the master bath, next to an enlarged closet.