“We fell in love with the property for its slightly haunting presence,” says the tech executive who lives in this 1910s home in Berkeley, California. “Gnarled oak trees, mullioned windows, thick morning fog, and enough rooms to get lost inside. I like that it came with its own character and personality.” And then there were the views—when the fog clears, every main room delivers a sweeping vista of the San Francisco Bay.
But sometimes, with character and personality come those bits and pieces that need to be whipped into shape. Enter interior designer Becky Carter, who’s based between New York and California. Working closely with the client, she and her team took the turn-of-the-century charm of the historic home, and transformed it into a place that felt fresh, modern, and tailored to the everyday needs of a busy young family. In her words: “honoring the original in a way that wasn’t too on the nose.”
Built by architect William A. Knowles in 1910 with a 1920s addition by Walter Radcliff, the house is a bit of an architectural mashup, with elements of British Arts and Crafts mixing in with the California Craftsman and Art Deco styles of that time. It had a lot going for it. Unlike many homes of its era, its hilltop location and south-facing windows keep rooms flooded with natural light, lending an almost modern atmosphere to the otherwise historical setting. The only room that did feel a bit dark was the kitchen, but Carter remedied that by opening up the layout between kitchen and dining area (“We wanted to be able to talk between the kitchen and table,” explains the client), creating a floor plan that felt better suited to contemporary life. The kitchen was outfitted with custom millwork and ceramic, terra-cotta-hued tiles, while bathrooms were revamped with hunks of statement stone and graphic tiles. For added utility, they constructed a new powder room off of the kitchen.
Carter’s client, who had experimented with a more neutral scheme in her previous home in Palo Alto, was ready to go full throttle into color for the interiors (she particularly gravitates toward blues and greens). She worked with Carter to mix it all together, looking at Arts and Crafts references—British maestro William Morris in particular—as well as the moody color palettes of Pre-Raphaelite paintings for inspiration. A Voutsa wallpaper called Rain Song, which greets visitors in the entryway, captures Carter’s intended aesthetic. “The overall styling of the wallpaper has a sort of traditional structure,” Carter explains. “But the detail behind it, which is this marbled pattern, feels a little bit edgy, a little bit modern. It does exactly what we are doing with the overall house.”