by Tessa Woolf | photographs by Kerri Fukui
When it comes to finding her dream house, you might call designer Dorothy Day Lee something of a house whisperer.
Take her previous residence, for example: a Salt Lake City mid-century Spanish style modern dwelling in the St. Mary’s neighborhood. It was love at first sight, but the home wasn’t for sale. Lee made repeated phone calls to the owners, and she was so convinced she would live there one day she even took the liberty of enjoying takeout dinners on the front porch of the vacant property.
“I basically just stalked the home,” she says, laughing. Her persistence paid off—she eventually got the keys and completely remodeled the property. It was home sweet home for four years, but she started itching to work on a new project.
Lee called upon her friend and real estate agent Cody Derrick, owner of CityHomeCollective (CHC), to help her sell the St. Mary’s house and begin her quest for a new spot to hang her handbag. When the duo visited a unique Spanish-style home, Lee fell head over heels all over again.
“This home is one of the most interesting examples of mid-century modern, Spanish-style architecture in the entire state,” says Derrick. “I knew that it was the right fit for Dorothy. She’s unique and likes things to be different, but the home still kept in line with the era that she likes.”
The 4,000 square-foot casa was practically untouched, and Lee was excited to dive into the remodel. Cue the design team. Susannah Holmberg, a senior designer at CHC, worked in tandem with Lee to feather her new nest.
“The goal was to play up both the mid-century modern and the Spanish elements,” explains Holmberg. They also wanted to bring the outdoors inside—the lush natural surroundings and the creek in back were important design elements to the home.
To marry modern design and Spanish style in the kitchen, the duo paired sleek black cabinets with a terracotta and black-and-white marble wall tile. Outdated appliances received an upgrade, and a custom-built island made with layers of marble, copper, and walnut now takes center stage.
They hung organically shaped, hand-woven pendant lights above the island and plastered the walls for texture. A dark herringbone ceramic floor tile accented with a copper inlay adds depth underfoot.
In the living room, they mixed bohemian furniture and modern lighting with a Spanish-inspired palette of white walls, stained wood beams, and dark herringbone wood flooring. The large room features a dining area and a sitting area. For the latter, they chose a zebra-print rug, Lucite chairs, an antique settee and a pair of gold cherry-shaped light fixtures sourced by Holmberg. For Lee, they’re the cherry on top.
“They totally made the room,” she says. “They’re weird and unexpected. The living room is probably my favorite room in the home. It looks like a rock star lives there.”
Another rock star worthy element? The pool Lee added to the front courtyard. To ensure privacy, Lee swapped the existing front gate for large antique wood doors. Rather than stepping into the home through them, you step into a courtyard oasis. The house itself is accessed through the courtyard via a second pair of doors painted peacock-blue.
“I like that element of surprise,” says Lee. “It makes the home more of a secret.”
In total, the remodel took about three years to complete, and Lee couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.
“The house has soul—it has a real personality and depth,” she says. Derrick agrees. “There are parts of the home that are flashy and gorgeous, and parts that are deep-rooted and soul-connected,” he says. But Lee enjoyed the process of remodeling so much, that just like with her previous St. Mary’s dwelling, she soon started itching for a new project. So she sold the Spanish house last fall and moved on to her next dream home.
“What I love about remodels is they teach you about life,” she says. “You tear things down and you rebuild. It’s a great metaphor.”
Taken By Surprise
1. “From the very beginning when you walk into the front courtyard and the pool, it’s one discovery after another,” says Cody Derrick, who helped Lee find the property. “And then it’s surprise after surprise in the home.”
2. A pair of carved wood columns flanking the kitchen fireplace boost the room’s Spanish vibe. The columns and all of the doors in the home were sourced from Seret & Sons, a showroom of antique treasures that Lee discovered in Santa Fe.
3. In the entry hallway, the design team commissioned a mural by artist Andrew Moncrief. “We had him paint it in a primitive, naïf style,” says Holmberg. “The hope was to create a home that was almost a museum of original, unique pieces.”
4. In the master bathroom, Lee added a steam shower, a marble tub, and a trough-style sink that she designed. The sink features two whimsical jackalope heads built into the wall for the water faucets.
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