Mashup our Home: Episode 4

Pan Zen: A Traveled Home with a Japanese Twist

Stephanie Russo

Sacramento, Calif.

About the project

The Lim Family came to us looking to expand the footprint of their two bedroom, one bath River Park home and get help turning it into a three bedroom, two bath home to better accommodate their young, expanding family. They had purchased the place as a married couple sans kids, so originally two bedrooms was more than enough, but after they'd settled in, they quickly had one little girl and (during our filming process!) they found out another one was on the way.   

This project required going outside of the footprint of the existing space, which is a whole different beast when it comes to architectural and engineering requirements versus a remodel that stays within the existing footprint (unless of course you’re opening up lots of interior walls, adding beams, digging new footings, etc). But expanding your exterior footprint also typically increases your property value, therefore if you’re in a growing neighborhood, investing in expansion can be a super smart real estate choice. And in this case, the Lims loved their neighborhood, but just needed a little more wiggle room. 

What I love most about the Lims is their desire to live simply. They weren’t looking for grandeur, just a little more space, and a bathroom to call their own. It was really amazing to meet people that wanted to live with less even through a remodel. Yet while they agreed upon their general living style, their design styles were wildly different! Megan loves lots of color - all the colors - and she was inspired by the multitude of eclectic goods she’d seen during their years of traveling internationally. She loved collecting chotchkies from trips and being surrounded by an eclectic mix of colorful memories. This idea of bringing in a little bit from everywhere drew us to ground her design POV in the Greek root word, PAN, meaning “all, every, whole, all inclusive”.

And for Chris, a high school teacher who is constantly barraged by questions and teenage chaos, he wanted his home to be the opposite of a confetti explosion of fun. He was looking for something calm, restorative and was drawn to a more modern Japanese design ethos. Therefore, we tapped into the Japanese philosophy ZEN, leaning into principles of balance, simplicity and a deeply rooted connection to nature. 

For this PAN ZEN concept, we intertwined Zen’s austerity with a mix of globally inspired colors, textures and patterns. We used a range of raw wood tones, clean lines and a neutral palette infused with warmer elements through pops of bold color, a collection of textiles, and a diverse gathering of furnishings.  The design approach was rooted in functional, well-built pieces that ground the home in a sense of place, while layered elements like art and decor gave way to a home that can perpetually evolve over time. 

We focused on transforming four main spaces for the Lims, 1) their new ensuite as an expansion outside the existing footprint; 2) a living room refresh; 3) a creative kitchen upgrade on a small budget; and 4) turning their old bedroom into a nursery for their new baby girl. 

The initial moodboard we started with

And a breakdown of the spaces we transformed:
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The Ensuite Expansion

  • We wanted to create a hotel-like suite in this new space, featuring an open concept with the bathroom and bedroom connected to one another. We modeled the room off of a Kyoto hotel room, drawing inspiration from one of their past travel journeys together. 
  • Once the new structure for our ensuite was built (starting with footings, then framing, electrical, plumbing, sheetrock, etc) we painted it all white as our base layer then started layerings in lots of neutral zen-like tones. 
  • We built in a huge custom wardrobe to serve as their closet, which started with an old Drexel dresser that we completely overhauled. And with the help of our woodworker, Thomas, we created additional shoe storage and two big closets that flanked the dresser to give them loads of hanging room. 
  • We infused as much light as we could through lots of new windows, including two large (one almost 6 feet long!) clerestory windows we put into the bathroom, and a single panel French door leading to their backyard.
  • For their new bathroom, we found a vintage MCM dresser and repurposed it into a double sink bathroom vanity. We added green zelige tile up the entire bathroom wall behind the vanity for a pop of color, and then layered it with an up-cycled mirror that we had Thomas, our woodworker, frame with wood to tie it into the vanity. We created a large walk in shower, loaded it with up with interior plants thanks to Propagate (to feel instantly connected to nature) and added two custom-built Shoji room dividers that we handmade in our workshop.
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Living Room Refresh

  • We re-oriented the room so that their fireplace became the focal point of this room. Then we gave the fireplace a facelift by wrapping the weathered bookshelves in white oak veneer and painting all the fireplace bricks a calming khaki color. Finally, we balanced all of the neutrals with colorful, globally inspired finds on all the shelves.
  • We ground the room in wood furnishings with clean lines, but then layered in whole lotta colorful funk and globally sourced goods through things like patterned armchairs, a gorgeous color blocked tapestry from Oaxaca, Mexico, and a vintage Japanese lantern light that we restored by simply adding new Japanese ginwashi paper. 
  • We also opened up the entryway for them by taking down a completely nonfunctional half-wall that sat about 2 feet from the front door to make more room for a bigger dining room table and chairs. 
  • Finally, we created a custom art print for their wall, inspired by some original so-funky-but-so-fab linoleum that we found under FOUR layers of other faded linoleum we peeled back during demo'ing the kitchen. Kele designed a print that would give homage to the homes’ original bones, all while bringing some more color into the space.

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  • The Lims were on a pretty tight budget and needed to apply the majority of their money to the ensuite expansion, so we focused on cosmetic upgrades in the kitchen. 
  • We extended the hardwood flooring found in the rest of the house into the kitchen to keep the materials less busy and more streamlined for Chris. Originally (as featured in the mood board above) we tried to convince him of installing a colorful marmoleum flooring in a fun pattern (to save on costs, since hard wood flooring ain't cheap), but it ended up being a material that reminded Chris too much of being at work. Ha! Marmoleum has come a long way, and is a big fat YES in our books, but we totally get that it's a specific thing that's not for everyone! 
  • We couldn't redo all the cabinetry due to the budget, so we took off all of the original cabinet fronts and Thomas, our woodworker, rebuilt custom white oak fronts for us. We also ripped out all of the upper cabinets and put in white oak open shelving, which sat in front of a simple white square Dal tile backsplash that we added. We installed new matte black hardware, a new black sink and faucet and sourced a fun vintage Japanese-inspired light fixture to hang over the sink. 
  • With the one empty wall in their kitchen, we built a custom hanging shelving system out of walnut, which gave them storage space and also doubled as a sitting nook and coffee bar. We really tried to maximize every square inch of this wall, knowing that in small kitchens every ounce of usable space needs to be efficiently put to good use!

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Nursery Room

  • When we started this project, we were planning to turn Megan and Chris’ old bedroom into a flex space, but once they found out they were having a second little girl (about half way through our remodel with them), we went to work turning it into a nursery room. 
  • As the mom of three boys who lives in a world full of reptiles and neon dri fit, I jumped at the chance to lean into my I-wish-I-had-a-girl-too dreams in this room.  And I fully conferred with Megan before doing this….but yes even though it could be considered cliché, I painted the room pink. But barely!! A light blush, a calming pink, something that said, I can be feminine and strong and also freakin’ like pink. 
  • We worked with one of my favorite children's shops in town, Bitte, to fill the room with the most beautiful linens, toys and stuffed animals. All things to properly welcome their new baby girl. And of course, the moment older sister, Juniper, saw the room during our reveal day she claimed it as her own! (Damn right she did, oldest children - me being one - always have to lay our claim on the world).