Finding My Path to Design

When I was eight years old, my family moved from sunny Santa Barbara, California to Augusta, Maine. It was a bit of a transition. For the first few months, we lived with a grad student named Dereck, in a mostly empty home. Dereck had a kitchen table and a few chairs, but other than that, nada.

My sisters and I shared a room where we each had a section to call our own. It was in that corner of the hardwood floor on Hillcrest Drive when I realized my surroundings could be whatever I made of them. Each night, I’d return to my cold, army green, goose-down sleeping bag, roll around in it to warm up (and pretend to be a caterpillar), and return to my world of Laura Ingalls Wilder and “Little House in the Big Woods.” It was my private world. I found a lot of comfort in that. My sleeping bag was snuggly warm, too.

Within a few months, my parents settled on a beautiful colonial across the street from a Catholic Elementary school with access to a playground with really long swings. I was thrilled. And I had my very first bedroom. All to myself. So much to consider for a budding eight-year-old designer. Here’s one of two pictures I have from that house on Chestnut Street.

My old house, circa 1973. My bedroom window was just above the porch.

How would I use my bedroom furniture this time? How many windows would I have? Where would my fish tank go? What could I swap with my sisters? There was always giddy talk about our plans as we consulted with each other about how we would change our rooms around again and again. “Where are you going to put your bed, Kim?” Of course there was some undercurrents of sibling rivalry, but more than anything, we were thrilled every time either of us decided to move our rooms around again. The best part was always the reveal. “Don’t come in my room until I say so!”

By the summer of ’74, I settled into my new life. Maine was so different than California. The accents, different outlooks, and snow mountains slowly melting in the A&P parking lots until June was kind of cool. I missed California weather and swim team, but I never saw so much snow and I loved touching my frozen hair after swim practice. This photo was taken that summer.

Still feeling a little California. In front of our home. 1974. I’m in the middle.

I’d go on to move many more times in my life. That’s the life of a military kid. You move, unpack, use the same stuff from the old place, and learn how to fit in again. It becomes a part of your fabric. However, it was in 2002, when a neglected, abandoned house on 148 Christopher Street in Montclair, NJ changed everything.

This is what it looked like the first time I saw it.


Originally designed by architect, Oscar Cadmus of New York City and given as a wedding present from a very generous father, 148 Christopher Street slowly faded and sat abandoned for many years after the young bride became ill and had to be institutionalized. Renters came and went. I was recovering from a mysterious virus when my friend told me the home would soon go on the market and I had to see it.

When I stepped inside for the first time, I knew we could make it beautiful again. The bones were there. Within 12 hours, the house was ours. For the next year, with the help of visionary interior designer Sally Ross and Bill Wojtowicz of Premiere Contractors, we breathed new life into 148.

The kitchen went from this…

Ready for love.

To this:

Design by Sally Ross, 2006

For four years, we stayed and loved every part of the home. The day we said goodbye was heartbreaking for our family.

This photo was taken moments before we left. Still gets me. So many memories to leave behind.

Goodbye, 148 Christopher Street. February 3, 2006

Who knew I’d be back, over 15 years later? Not me, that is for sure. The house that we saved, they loved, too. And they wanted me to help them with design ideas. So I did. Full circle.

Here’s how it looks now.

Hello Again! June 2017

The paint colors are same colors I picked out in 2002, but wow, what a change. What a home.

It’s not neglected anymore. And I’ve moved on to redesigning one space at a time in North Carolina.

A view from the living room. 2017.