Kirsten Hollister was busy with her usual morning chores—vacuuming, preparing her 7-year-old son, Owen, for day camp—when a handsome man appeared at the front door with a huge bouquet of hydrangeas. "My husband, Andy, didn't recognize Nate, so he thought it was a bit strange," she recalls, laughing.
As for Kirsten's initial reaction? Well, a different sort of shock set in. "I was sad about my wardrobe choice," the former fashion-company office manager confesses. "I was in front of these cameras, caught in schlumpy jeans and flip-flops—I definitely wasn't ready for my closeup!"
Fortunately, though, her house was. Nate immediately raved about the natural elements that carry through from room to room—a centerpiece of antlers on the dining table, an urn filled with seashells in the living room—and the way those rough-hewn touches contrast with the home's finer details, such as narrow legs on much of the furniture.
Kirsten had honed her eye for design while living in Switzerland—her husband works for a Swiss-owned company—with her family for three years. "I knew it would be good for our son and us to experience another culture," she says.
It also jump-started a new obsession: Northern European design. Visiting Swiss friends' homes, Kirsten studied how they seamlessly melded the modern with the old and appreciated the merits of small spaces. Along with that education, she acquired some major souvenirs: a giant Swiss armoire, an antique sofa and zinc lanterns from Europe, and a motley assortment of vintage floral paintings and wood-framed mirrors. "Let me put it this way," she says. "We arrived in Switzerland with a 20-foot crate and left with a 40-foot crate."
The difference between stuff on a shelf and an eye-catching vignette? A little careful curating. Butterflies and a bird painting keep with Kirsten's nature theme. Notice how Kirsten repeats colors and shapes, and sticks to objects with a nature theme. The urn full of seashells gets added punch, thanks to the surprise of two cherub heads wearing Madonna crowns.
When the family returned to Minneapolis, Kirsten started redecorating their 1,700-square-foot home, trying to emulate what she'd seen abroad. She was bold in her paint-color choices—rich chocolate brown in the family room, pumpkin orange in the entryway, a dark gray-green in the living room—and mixed her newly acquired antiques with modern pieces that run the gamut from pricey Kartell lamps to cheap-but-chic Ikea finds. In her son's room, she installed a German-made spiel bett, a bed built to look like a ship.
In the breakfast nook, a vintage mirror becomes a functional message board. The owners of the antiques store where Kirsten purchased the piece broke out the mirror and then sprayed the backing with chalkboard paint. She sits on a slipcovered Ikea storage bench at her breakfast table—an affordable take on an iconic Eero Saarinen design—also from Ikea.
Scattered throughout the house, these flea-market flower paintings might come across as mere kitsch. But grouped together, they make a strong graphic statement. Kirsten propped the paintings loosely atop two Ikea floating shelves to let guests know that she knows the pictures are more about fun than fine art.
Working with a small house was a challenge, but one that Kirsten took on with newfound enthusiasm when she came back from Switzerland. "In Europe, I realized that what we consider a small space in America would be considered palatial in the rest of the world. It changed my perspective on space. I decided that wherever I am, I'm going to make it beautiful."
To create the illusion of more space in the master bedroom, Kirsten painted the walls with horizontal stripes in close tones of one color. She plucked these three shades off a single swatch card.
A little room doesn't require settling for little furniture. This bed fills the space perfectly, Nate says. "It gives a feeling of grandeur."
If you're considering a bathroom redo, beadboard—which Kristen used—is more economical, less clinical and easier to install than tile.
The key to merging dissimilar furniture styles is using bridge pieces, like this pair of polycarbonate Kartell lamps that refer to traditional shapes in modern materials.
Kirsten's picnic-style dining-room table is a one-of-a-kind antique; the striped chairs on either side of her hutch are from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams. And instead of standard dining-room chairs, Kirsten paired this table with the same storage benches used in her breakfast nook—they take up less space and seat more people than individual chairs.
Another good way to stretch your decorating budget is to select urns or vases that look great with or without flowers. Then you won't need to put them away when they're empty.
A stenciled daybed does double duty as a sofa, allowing the guest room to function as a study.
Think outside the fabric bolt: A favorite pillow sham finds a new purpose when tacked on to a footstool.
Kirsten brought the guest room's wooden crest back from Switzerland.
Here, seven-year-old Owen poses in front of his father Andy's portrait, painted when Andy was roughly Owen's age.
"There's great consistency in this house," Nate says. "Kirsten has decided what her taste is, and she's gone step by step, room by room, to create an entire environment that reflects it right back to her. She's also a master at symmetry, which calms the eye and allows her to be more experimental throughout the rest of the space. There's nothing in this home that I would change."
And not only beautiful, but comfortable for her family as well: "Things can't be perfect with a 7-year-old in the house, so I decided to stop obsessing. Now if something gets dinged, I just call it patina." Good advice for us all.More with other O at Home contest winners...
Find decorating ideas from Nate and love the way you live.
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