We've all flipped through a shelter mag and wondered,
Whose home actually looks like this in real life? Meet design pro Kelly Lack, a One Kings Lane and Martha Stewart Weddings alum, now heading up content and community at new travel start-up Spot, who knows a thing or two about creating picture-perfect spaces. While it’s no surprise that every inch of her Bernal Heights house is full of vintage relics, stylized moments, and luxe updates, you might be shocked to discover how much of it can translate into stylish upgrades for your place, too.
Ahead, tour a beautiful, airy casa that will make you want to revamp your own home immediately. And thanks to Lack and her insider knowledge, you can.
1 of 21 Tell us about the space. How did you find your home?"It’s a petite, three-level 1906 Victorian on a small, winding street in Bernal Heights. The real estate market in S.F. is nuts, so even though we worked with really good agents, we did a ton of looking and pavement-pounding ourselves. It took months to find the right house for us." 2 of 21 What was the first big thing you did to the place?
"Painted the living room and the downstairs vanity black (
Benjamin Moore Witching Hour
) and added new hardware. For bigger renovation stuff, we put in the bathroom upstairs, which spawned the whole upstairs redo. We figured, why not bang it all out at once?"
3 of 21 "A little boho, a little goth, a little global, layered over the traditional bones of this house in a way that feels eclectic and collected. Almost everything in my house has some kind of a story, whether it’s something we scored abroad or a piece I coveted and stalked until it went on sale. I also tried to give each room a slightly different theme, but with shared elements — like hits of black — that run throughout the house. For example, the dining room feels a little more mod and Pop Art-y, while the living room is a little more formal and glammy." How would you describe your decor style? 4 of 21 "No upholstery means no bed bugs. Wait, do they have them out here, or is that just an NYC thing? Either way, probably best to pass on upholstered pieces unless it is small and something you could easily get cleaned. Also, use your imagination. If a piece has good bones, it can easily be painted or stained a color you really love. Some of my personal-best street finds are chairs — with no upholstery — mirrors, records, and art." Any tips you can share for finding cool stuff on the street? 5 of 21 "At this point, I’ve interviewed so many designers, aesthetes, and event planners, and I think you can’t help but glean tips and tricks along the way. Stuff that I never would have thought of, like never have too many 'legs' in a room. Chairs and tables should be a mix of legs, feet, skirts, and solid forms like a stump or ottoman. I also think it’s helped me consider palette in a whole new way. Every issue at How has your experience at One Kings Lane and Martha Stewart Weddings helped you with decorating? Martha Stewart Weddings had a dedicated palette, which meant that the whole magazine felt cohesive and lovely. A tight palette in your home automatically elevates your space." 6 of 21 What’s one item you’d never splurge on? "Honestly, we rarely pay retail for anything. We buy most things from vintage shops, flea markets, outlet stores, and spend hours scouring the web for deals. Coming from an NYC apartment to an S.F. home has made us realize how much stuff it takes to fill up a whole house, and it’s not feasible to pay retail for everything. Plus, we love the hunt! In terms of never splurging, all our sheepskins are from Ikea, and I’ve been really happy with them. Our curtain rods are from Ikea, too. They’re clean and black and so high up that no one can examine them up close. Our bathmats are from Target or Cost Plus." 7 of 21 We love the dining room. Tell us more about the items here.
"The idea I had in mind for the dining room was this mod, graphic, surfer vibe. Like the poster for
The Endless Summer
, but in blue hues. The rug is from Ikea, the dining table is teak and from my husband’s parents, the sheepskins are from Ikea, the chairs are from
— though tons of places sell those styles; they’re called wishbone chairs — the mirror is a street find from NYC, and the art is from a bunch of places. The agave painting is actually from none other than
. I know, who would’ve thought, but there are some gems in there! The built-in in the corner holds some of the brightest pieces you’ll find in the house, like my collection of prayer candles — I’ve always been fascinated by iconography — and a totem painting."
10 of 21 What DIYs did you guys do to the kitchen?
"We painted all the cabinets gray. The countertops were these beige, rustic tiles with brown grout. My husband did a bunch of reading online about painting tiles and landed on
Rust-Oleum Tub and Tile Refinishing Kit
. You paint it on in two steps, and it creates a hard white epoxy. It made the tile look so much slicker and easier to clean. We also put up a couple of open shelves using wood we got at a salvage yard and stained a darker, richer brown."
11 of 21 What other major renovations do you hope to accomplish in the next year? "We’d love to totally redo our kitchen, but I think that will probably lose out to fixing up our deck and landscaping our backyard. We really just want to be able to get out there and take advantage of having a rad outdoor space — the first we’ve had, EVER." 12 of 21 What items are you hoping to add to the place? "Crown molding in several rooms. More art because we have a lot of empty walls. A permanent runner on the stairs because our dog always slips going down. And replace the peach-yellow linoleum tiles with better flooring in the dining room and kitchen. It’s been a great, hardy surface for our puppy as he’s grown up — he’s now two — but the color is a bit blah and makes the room feel a bit dull and dreary. Also, more decorative accessories because you can never have too much! And another set of Matteo linens. I bought one of their vintage linen sets when I was at One Kings Lane, and it totally spoiled me." 13 of 21 What are your tips for adding more greenery in the space? "I love plants and how they can bring life and color into a room. I have a handful of the bigger guys, like a fiddle-leaf fig, a rubber plant, tall cacti, and a couple of split-leaf philodendrons that can sit in their pots right on the floor or can be hoisted up slightly on a small pedestal to add height to a room. I also have a variety of smaller plants sitting on surfaces like desktops and tabletops or even air plants resting in abalone shells. "For the smaller ones, I like to think about contrast, like a feathery fern alongside a hard succulent alongside a Venus fly trap. I also love plants like fishhook succulents and vines that you can hang and they spill over their vessels and down a wall. In addition to plants, I always have cut flowers in my house. These might be pruned succulent flowers from my front yard, thistle from this lady who sells the kind of weedy, witchy stuff I’m obsessed with on Cortland Street on weekends, or blooms or branches I’ve snipped around the neighborhood. I’m big time into foraging: Any pretty weeds growing in sidewalk cracks are fair game for my dining room table." 14 of 21 What are some of your favorite items from your travels with your husband? "We have these cool antique metal and wood cowbells from Cambodia that we spent what felt like a lifetime haggling over, blankets from Peru, a maté cup from Argentina, vintage brass knickknacks from Colombia, and beer-brand shirts from Southeast Asia that I actually wear all the time to sleep and work out in." 15 of 21 What’s the biggest challenge with owning your own place? "The never-ending projects. We toyed with the idea of buying a complete fixer — the thought of doing a bunch of work to a house to make it exactly what you want sounds so dreamy. But the truth is that we couldn’t have managed a total reno job — our day jobs are too demanding. Even with that being the case, it still feels like many of our nights and most of our weekends are taken up with house-related projects." The biggest reward? "Even though I was just complaining about projects, the ability to change up your house exactly how you want it is really rewarding. Not having to live with issues and inconveniences because your super won’t come by, but being able to fix them is wonderful. And I can’t say enough about having your own space and the freedom you feel. I love not having neighbors above and below me, not being woken up by heels clicking across the wood floor above you at 3 a.m., or finding a drunk naked girl locked out of her apartment in the entryway — true story. We lived in apartments for so many years across five different cities, so we had more than our fair share of shitty neighbor situations and shady landlords." 16 of 21 You’ve previously worked in the home-interiors industry — how do you make a place feel instantly magazine-worthy?"Some of my favorite tricks: Decant your soaps, shampoos, and conditioners into pretty bottles for your sink or shower. Have fresh flowers and plants. You’d be shocked by how much difference a flower arrangement can make — even a super-simple one that takes no arranging like a bunch of daisies in a mason jar. Hanging your curtains well above the molding around your windows makes your ceiling look a million times higher. Having random stuff corralled in trays, boxes, and baskets. Having rugs and art; these are both finishing touches that really pull a room together. "And finally: Give your space a cold, hard look so you can identify those things that have become nearly invisible to you but will suck the stylishness right out of your house. A great example for me is my fridge: I typically have bills stuck to the front with magnets and cereal boxes lined up on top. Not a good look, and it’s something that I hardly notice unless I force myself to look at the space with fresh eyes." 17 of 21 What do you love about your neighborhood? "I’m such a Bernal Heights groupie now. We live on the north side of Bernal, so I love how it’s just up the hill from the Mission if we want to grab dinner or go out. I love all the twisty-turny streets and how they don’t follow a grid and some are still dirt, and if you’re driving you might hit a dead end, but if you’re on foot there’s almost always a secret staircase between houses you can use to get to one of the streets below. I love all the flora there — it’s super-lush with overgrown trees and tons of blooms. I adore walking up to Bernal Hill and letting our dog run around. And generally how it’s just a little more artsy, boho, and funky and possesses a strong sense of community." 18 of 21 What’s your favorite feature in the entire house?
"All the bead board upstairs gives it a quaint, sweet, farmhouse vibe that I found really appealing. I also am obsessed with the five-panel doors upstairs that are original to the house that my husband stripped and stained black and refurbished the glass doorknobs and hardware. You can still see the wood grain, but the black gives them a modern edge. I probably comment on them once a day."
What are some of the big renovations you guys did after moving in?
"Oh, man. Downstairs, we put in a hall closet. Upstairs, we put in a bathroom, raised the ceiling in our bedroom to display the A-frame, majorly changed up two closets, put in built-in drawers, and stained the floors. And when I say 'we,' I mean we worked with a contractor, architect, and engineer, though we sourced all the finishes ourselves. The design stuff we DIYed: My husband built the gorgeous bookshelves and window seat in our office with a miter saw I got him for Christmas, and we had the window seat cushion custom-made by our go-to upholster,
Save My Seat
. He also stripped and stained the doors black upstairs."
19 of 21 What’s the most prized item in your house? "It’s a toss-up between our cat, Charlie, and our dog, Levon! But for decor, it would have to be between the oil-painting portrait in our bedroom — some kind of soldier or spice trader — and this gold-leaf and line-drawing collage of a semi-nude girl in our bathroom that I think is so arresting and elegant. I’ve always struggled with buying art— each piece seems like such a statement or a commitment, like getting a tattoo — that when I find a piece I really, truly love, it becomes very special to me even if it’s not expensive, which none of our art is." 20 of 21 What advice can you share for people house hunting in S.F.? "Mostly perseverance. Pay attention to sites like Redfin. Look at a ton of houses, even houses you aren’t 100% interested in, so you can see what they list for and what they actually sell for. This lets you get a realistic view of the market and come to terms with the fact that you’re going to have to pay over asking to actually get a house. And accept the house you get will have lots of flaws and quirks, but you can use those quirks as opportunities to make your own mark on the place and fix it up so that it reflects who you are. The process was frustrating, scary, exciting, and exhausting, but in the end we feel very lucky we were able to get a place with so much charm and just the right amount of 'weirdness' that we could fix it up to our style.” 21 of 21 "The rest of our house is a little edgy, and I really wanted some elements in it to be more classic. We had a hard time nailing down a headboard, and when we finally landed on that tufted gray one, it set the tone for the rest of the space — peaceful and serene, a dreamy escape. I think the white linens and curtains finished off the look. Also, because I can’t have anything be totally traditional, we did a little bench moment in the corner under my favorite old-school portrait." The bedroom is gorgeous. What was the inspiration for it?