Modish: The Book of Great Design Discover design inspiration from St. Louis Designer Joni Spear featured in fabulously chic, new-release hardcover coffee-table book . Joni Spear shares: “Sometimes I simply have this gut instinct when I walk into a room, but typically I sit with the floorplans and when I go to sleep, I often dream about the space. My clients joke that I never sleep because I email them at 3am in the morning!”
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Published May 2015
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Architectural salvage, reclaimed light fixtures and English pub inspiration add character in this remodel and addition
Sometimes life throws a curveball, and that was the case for interior designer Joni Spear and her husband, Dan. They had moved to Virginia from St. Louis and renovated what they thought was going to be their forever home. But family circumstances called them back to St. Louis, so they pulled up stakes and moved into a rental house while they searched for a new forever home in Missouri.
“I thought I’d find a Victorian or something else older and full of character for us, but the housing market was too hot,” Spear says. As it turned out, something quite different was available: a spare 1950s ranch that had remained pretty much untouched by updates for 70 years. “The house was full of oppressive elements like heavy draperies, orange wall-to-wall carpeting and lots of dust,” Spear says. “But I could envision that we could make it our own and knew that a ranch would be great for aging in place.” Architectural salvage treasure hunts, unique vintage lighting finds, inspiration from a British pub and a 150-square-foot addition all played a role in giving the home the character the couple craved.
"After” photos by MIranda Kimberlin unless otherwise noted
House at a Glance
Who lives here: Interior designer Joni Spear and her husband, Dan
Location: St. Louis
Size: 1,808 square feet (168 square meters); four bedrooms, three bathrooms
Before: The lackluster 9-by-12-foot kitchen inspired an addition as part of the renovations. Homeowner association rules didn’t allow the couple to alter the front of the house or add to the height of it, so they added 150 square feet off the back. They pushed the rear wall, seen here with the windows, 10 feet into the backyard. This gave them room to expand the kitchen and the primary bedroom and bathroom. Spear then reconfigured the existing space to add a mudroom, laundry room, pantry and walk-in closet.
She created the architectural plans, then had an architect draw them up and stamp them for permitting.
After: The new kitchen is 340 square feet. “I usually kick off a kitchen with the stone choice,” Spear says. “I have always wanted a green kitchen and I love marble. So when I found Calacatta Vagli marble that had prominent green veins at the stoneyard, I designed the kitchen around it.” She used the marble to give the island a special counter surface. Picking up on the British racing green in the marble’s veining, she selected Foxhall Green by Sherwin-Williams for the cabinetry.
Before: “I love a good treasure hunt because I like to incorporate old and storied pieces in all my projects,” Spear says. She combed local architectural salvage, reclaimed-lighting and antique stores when furnishing the house. “This cabinet had been some sort of built-in hallway storage in a local house,” she says.
When Spear told her contractor she wanted to integrate the piece into the kitchen cabinetry, he was unenthusiastic. In fact, he told her it was “hideous.” Unfazed, she disagreed. When he told her it wouldn’t fit, Spear suggested he add legs to it. When he said he didn’t have any, she got them herself. He said it still wouldn’t fit, so she had him add crown molding to the top. And rather than replace the hardware, as he had suggested, she cleaned up the existing hardware herself.
Photo by Alise O’Brien
The designer won that battle, and now the tall reclaimed piece adds a unique touch to the kitchen. It has a furniture-like feel yet integrates well into the cabinetry. It also anchors the far end of the bar. “This is now the thing everyone talks about and admires when they walk into the kitchen,” Spear says. The bar has a butcher block top, ready to take on the character created by wear and tear. It includes a beverage fridge, microwave, storage for glassware and open wine storage. Spear repurposed some fabulous 1950s closet door pulls from the house, installing them as the upper cabinet pulls.
A 5-by-8-foot island sits in the center of the room, and Spear added seating on two sides. The island provides lots of extra storage — in fact, there’s so much storage in the room that Spear says she still has empty drawers. The deep drawers seen in this photo are across from the range and conveniently house the cookware.
At 6 feet, 2 inches tall, Spear’s husband, Dan, is always on the lookout for comfortable seating. “We were sitting at a bar one night and he mentioned how comfortable the bar stools were,” Spear says. “I couldn’t figure out what to do for stools in this kitchen, so I flipped the stool over and took a photo of the manufacturer’s name.” She gave the company a call, and it agreed to make six of the same stools at counter height.
The back wall of the kitchen did not go as planned, but the designer was well-versed in improvising. “I designed the entire kitchen around an 8-foot-wide window over the sink,” Spear says. “But somehow the architect wrote it as 6 feet, and I didn’t catch the error when I approved the plans.” Because of the way the addition was built during the winter, Spear wasn’t able to see the window and realize that a mistake had been made until after it was installed.
“It would have taken nine weeks to get the right window, and I was devastated because I’d planned the entire kitchen around it,” she says. But designers are problem solvers who have to think on the fly, and Spear quickly decided to accept it, move on and come up with a plan. “I extended the china cabinet on one side and the coffee bar-appliance garage on the other to fit the scale of the window,” she says.
There was a silver lining: The mistake left ample room on either side of the window for some more statement lighting. This gave Spear an opportunity to go on another treasure hunt. “I went to this reclaimed-lighting place and asked the owner if they had anything in the basement. He said they did but that the basement was gross. I said, ‘Good. I want to go down there,’ ” she says. “These were on the basement floor, covered in dust, but I could see that they were stunning solid brass fixtures.”
Before: The ornate kitchen pendant lights were also a find on one of Spear’s treasure hunts. “These Spanish Revival pendants came from a local German restaurant,” she says. “They were covered in grease. But I fell in love with them and bought them even though I wasn’t sure where I was going to use them. I cleaned them with a toothbrush, then painted them four different times trying to get them right.”
Photo by Alise O’Brien
After: The designer determined that the kitchen was the best spot for the restaurant pendants’ new life. The light fixtures are another conversation starter in the room.
Around the perimeter of the room, Spear had the cabinets painted a custom mushroom color and used soapstone for the countertops. She chose 4-by-4-inch zellige tiles for the backsplash. “Originally I had planned for subway tile, but 4-by-4-inch tiles were what they used in the 1950s, so ultimately I went with those,” she says. “I used a running bond pattern instead of a grid pattern typical of the 1950s to keep it fresh. I love all the imperfections that show that this tile is handmade.”
The appliances are matte white with brushed bronze and copper hardware. The metal accents tie in with the mix of metals Spear used on the lighting and cabinet hardware.
“My cabinets were made by an Amish craftsman,” she says. “I told him I wanted some barnwood on the vent hood, and when he asked me what kind of barnwood I wanted, I said, ‘Really old barnwood.’ I actually never saw it until it was installed, and it’s perfect. It warms up the kitchen and it inspired me to use the butcher block on the bar and wood counter stools.”
Before: “The house was dusty and looked like it hadn’t been touched since the 1950s,” Spear says. “Everything was heavy and oppressive in this house.”
Photo by Alise O’Brien
After: After a trip through the English countryside, Spear came home inspired by a favorite pub she had visited in the Cotswolds. She continued the kitchen cabinetry’s green paint onto the family room’s paneled walls and adorned the room with equestrian prints. The wood-and-iron item over the sofa is an old sliding door mechanism from the couple’s former house in Virginia. “I meant to use it to hang a curtain in our old laundry room but I never did,” Spear says. “Somehow it made it to St. Louis, and now it’s the perfect drink shelf.”
This room was built on a slab, so hardwood flooring wasn’t an option. The floors are black and white marble tile in a harlequin pattern, and they’re heated. There’s a fireplace across from the sofa. Because this was to be the main TV-watching spot, the designer chose a comfortable sectional sofa and paired it with a green ottoman she already had.
Spear stripped heavy varnish from the family room’s antique dining table and china cabinet to reveal the raw wood. She added antique Hitchcock chairs around the table. Overhead, she hung a reclaimed light fixture that came from the same German restaurant as the kitchen pendant lights. This vignette is a good example of how the house is layered with furnishings from different eras, making it look as though everything was collected over time.
The formal living room, seen here in the foreground, has a wide view into the family room and kitchen. Spear mixed modern and transitional pieces in this space. The painting adds lots of color to the room’s neutral scheme.
Wall color: White Dove, Benjamin Moore
Before: The original primary bathroom was small and hadn’t been updated in decades.
After: The new addition allowed Spear to expand the primary bathroom. “Both Dan and I love a good bubble bath, so a tub was a must,” she says. Continuing on her quest to reclaim and reuse, she found a vintage claw-foot tub at an architectural salvage spot and had Dan get in to make sure it was comfortable for his height. It was, so she had it sanded down and re-enameled before installing it.
The tub is the centerpiece of the space. Spear added to its functionality with an oversize niche that’s handy for products, candles and a drink, as well as a handheld wand that’s good for washing hair and cleaning the tub.
Spear considered other elements that would make the bathroom easier to clean. The flooring is a large-format marble-look porcelain tile. “These tiles are 2 feet by 4 feet, so there are not very many grout lines to clean,” she says. The bath and shower surround tiles are also large-format. They fade into the background, allowing the elegantly veined floor to be the star of the space.
“This was a fairly long and narrow room, so I took advantage of it with the vanity,” Spear says. “I placed two large single-sink vanities with a makeup table between them.” She topped the blue-gray cabinetry in quartz with subtle marble-like veining. The hardware on the cabinet doors nods to the home’s midcentury vintage.
Spear didn’t have to go far to find these vintage wall sconces — they used to be in the bathroom down the hall. She had them rewired for safety and moved them to the primary bathroom.
Before: The back of the house runs along the top of this floor plan. The addition pushed the back wall out 10 feet.
After: The dark lines in this floor plan represent new walls. The addition gave the couple more space for the kitchen, primary bathroom and primary bedroom. Having the additional space allowed Spear to reconfigure spaces in the center, including the hall bath, coat closet and pantry. On the right, she installed a new laundry room and walk-in closet.