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Case Study

The home of an Alamo interior decorator is a showcase for her design principles


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Kriste Michelini doesn’t like being typecast as a decorator who sticks to one style. Instead, she relies on key strategies that apply to different genres and spaces—including to her own white-framed, New England–style home.

“I have clients who are into French country and others who are into modern,” she says. “I love it when I meet someone who is trying to describe what they want and I can make it happen for them.”

She had the chance to make it happen for herself and her family when they moved into their Alamo home. The two-story 1960s structure was ready for an overhaul, and Michelini relished the opportunity to use it to test out her design theories.

Michelini grew up painting and doing photography, but became a high-tech sales executive. When she left that career to be a stay-at-home mom, she channeled her creative talent into decorating the homes of friends. When her home-design business was just taking off six years ago, Michelini, her husband, and their three children moved from Moraga to Alamo.

In her new home, she put to work principles she used with clients. She realized that most of all, she wanted her house to be open, spacious, clean, and welcoming. So, Michelini, with the help of architectural designer Esther Suzuki Arnold, gutted most of the interior—which had an outdated layout of small rooms and narrow hallways—and added 1,500-square-feet to create breezeway-like living, dining, and kitchen spaces that flow from one room to the next.

Another of Michelini’s key strategies was to repeat colors and design motifs. She has found that this kind of visual consistency creates a sense of expansiveness, by letting people’s eyes move easily from one room to the next. Michelini believes it is also helpful to choose one main color that shows up in different forms throughout the house. In Michelini’s home, the main color is white.

“It’s a color I can live with, and it’s light and soothing,” she says. 

She added a sense of warmth—and more visual consistency—by installing chocolate brown wood floors. The flooring extends throughout all downstairs rooms, including the powder room. Eclectic personal touches add more warmth: In each room, Michelini mixed and matched favorite pieces of furniture—some she’s had for years, others she designed for the home, and all in different styles and colors. A 200-year-old elaborately carved dark wood hutch stands in the kitchen next to a more modern table in a lighter shade of brown.

“You should only put things you really love in your house,” she says.

Minimizing clutter makes the home feel open. Michelini has filled her house with clever storage devices, including frosted glass lockers for each of her kids. The lockers stand in a hallway leading from the garage into the living room. As soon as the kids arrive home, they unload their coats and sports equipment into the closets.

“As I’ve gotten older, I want less stuff in my house,” she says. “I wanted to merge traditional with a clean aesthetic.” 


 

The Fireplace (above)


tip | 1 The living room fireplace was not centered in the wall, but visual balance was achieved by extending the shelf below the mantel to display artwork.


 

 The Living Room

tip | 1 
The earth tones in the rug and the truffle color sofa make the living room family friendly, not formal and fussy.

tip | 2
Outdoor fabric helps the upholstered chairs, used often by three children, to stay clean and bright. 

tip | 3
Mixing different colors of metal creates a relaxed aesthetic and avoids an impersonal “matchy- matchy” look. 
 


 

The Dining Room


 

tip | 1 Many of the downstairs walls, including those in the dining room, were removed to make the rooms more light, open, and spacious. 

 

 


 

The Kitchen

tip | 1
White makes the kitchen look bright, clean, and modern, while different sheens add subtle visual texture.   

tip | 2
The gently sculptural lamps, suspended from the ceiling, provide a visual anchor and sense of height.

tip | 3
Hiding not very pretty electrical outlets beneath the upper cabinets keeps the kitchen from looking cluttered.


 

 Home Office

tip | 1
Mix and match colors, shapes, and design styles. The gentle curves of the tulip-shaped Saarinen table are similar to those of the Cherner chairs.

tip | 2
The color of the wood in the chairs stands out against the white in the table, walls, and fireplace.   

tip | 3
The Caboche chandelier is a mix of ornate and contemporary, and contrasts with the simple but traditional style of the windows and mantel.

tip | 4
The chandelier appears to float and adds to the room’s  airy, spacious feel.
 


  

The Backyard

tip | 1
A series of glass doors and windows  opens the rear of the house to the yard.

tip | 2
The layout of the patio, with direct access between the fire pit area and the family room, enhances the indoor-outdoor connection.

tip | 3
A 12-inch-wide wall surrounds the fire pit to give people a place to sit and put up their feet, or to use as a coffee table.

tip | 4
Setting a planter of traditional exposed brick next to modern concrete makes an attractive and comfortable space.

 

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