By Juno DeMelo
Photography by Aaron Leitz
Designer Kelly Hohla was taking a tour of an early-20th-century home in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood when a passerby walked onto the property.
“They thought it was a park!” she says. It makes sense: “The house sits on six city lots, and it’s surrounded by what feels like a huge English garden,” says Hohla.
The San Francisco–based principal of Kelly Hohla Interiors would come to spend more than two years remodeling the home, which hadn’t changed much in the 30 years the previous owners lived there.
“The primary bathroom had pink tile and a weird pedestal sink. It was like my old bathroom in San Francisco except the space was 10 times as big. I’d never seen such a large room done in that style before,” she says.
Many elements of the home needed to be preserved: the entry stair rail, the faux painting in the entry, and the fireplaces, for example.
“And then we had to marry that with the new, which is almost harder than doing a complete gut remodel,” says Hohla. “The new owners are definitely funky, cool, contemporary people. They like pattern and color, but at the same time they had this historic home, so we did a lot of weighing of what stays and goes.”
She says the closed-off kitchen was a particularly difficult space to reimagine. Originally intended as a service kitchen, it had a wall of old freezer drawers the previous owners had used as cabinetry. Hohla—along with a team of architects from Seattle-based Studio AM Architecture & Interiors and general contractor Rob Hoxie—opened up the space by connecting it to the grand dining room and entry.
“People like to cook, and they like to share that experience. They want to be hanging out in the kitchen,” she says. “We wanted to lift the kitchen up from where it had been, and tile was a huge part of that. We knew that the kitchen needed a bold backsplash, because it’s a really long space with a really long kitchen island. We wanted to break that up and distract the eye. “
The homeowners fell in love with the hexagonal Ann Sacks Liaison by Kelly Wearstler Doheny mosaic tile—with gold grout—in the showroom. “We rendered a couple of things that were a little calmer, and the homeowners were like, don’t forgot the gold grout!” says Hohla. “It was super subtle, but it stuck with them.”
The color combo ended up marrying the colors of the whole downstairs. “The tile was the starting place for the kitchen, but we ended up using blacks and whites and golds and brasses throughout, so it started the color conversation for the rest of the house too,” she says.
Hohla also used hexagonal Ann Sacks tile in two guest bathrooms. In one, she opted for the Paccha by Popham Design concrete field tile in a custom hunter green color for the floor. “It’s not a bright, shocking green, and it’s paired with a simpler grey tile that’s kind of quiet,” says Hohla. “It’s beautiful, and I love it. Concrete tiles are an easy way to make something feel fun and custom without breaking the bank.”
In the other, she went with the Ann Sacks Mixare porcelain field tile. “It’s a guest bath upstairs that’s not used that often, so it was a real ‘why-not?’ moment. The homeowners like geometrics, brass, and black and white, so we thought, what fun thing can we find for this bathroom?” says Hohla. “Guest bathrooms are spaces to have fun with.”
Hohla says the homeowners were onboard with bold choices from the beginning. “They wanted color and interest and detail. They didn’t want to be very traditional, but they wanted to respect that it was a very traditional house.”
At the same time, they also wanted a home that could stand up to their two young children. “Everything in the home is very nice quality, but nothing is precious,” says Hohla. “We had a lot of conversations about finishes and aging.”
For example, Hohla chose unlacquered brass fixtures for the primary bathroom that develop a patina over time.
“Some people are so particular about this fingerprint or that drop of water, but this is an old house, and it’s nice to pay homage and age things appropriately,” she says. “I think his favorite word is ‘wabi-sabi.’ He doesn’t mind that the brass is aged or something’s dented—that’s how you can tell it has a story.”
Another example: the sun porch off of each of the kid’s bedrooms. “A lot of people would have blown them open to make the bedrooms bigger, but we kept them so you feel like it’s an early 1900’s house,” she says. “Yes, we put a rug over the old terracotta and green tile floors, but there are hints of those floors underneath.”
And what became of that pink-tiled bathroom? Now it’s covered from floor to ceiling in Ann Sacks Benton Clara mosaic tile.
“So many people want plain white tile, but I like a place for your eye to rest,” says Hohla. “This tile gives you something to do when you’re in the bath or shower. It’s endless fun. In fact, I loved it so much, I used it in my bathroom too.”