Few are the number of people who would sign off on a fixer-upper without ever having seen the property. But that’s just what happened when boutique store owner Kyong An Millar and her husband, Donnie, purchased a crumbling 1920 English Tudor-style home on her “dream tree-lined street” in the suburbs of Salt Lake City, Utah. “We had always wanted to buy an old house and renovate, so we began the Sunday afternoon drives, trolling our favorite neighborhood so many times I was worried that people were going to call the cops on us,” Kyong recalls. “After almost a year of looking we gave up, and then one day my husband happened to be online and stumbled upon this house.”
Miraculously, it had only been on the market for a day, and the Millars jumped on the opportunity. Though he drove his wife back to the site later that night to investigate the location and exterior architecture, Donnie put an offer down before Kyong even had a chance to see inside—or have reservations—a sequence of events that ultimately proved beneficial. “When we did the walk-through with the inspectors I was secretly dying inside,” says Kyong. “The house was in such bad condition. It had been a rental for almost 30 years and it was awful. I cried the first week we moved in and told my husband I wanted to go back to our townhouse.” The couple consulted contractors who offered considerably low estimates for all of the necessary work—another boon. “It’s comical when we think back on it. Perhaps it was good they were so off, otherwise I don’t think we would’ve bought the house.”
Despite their initial misgivings, the Millars lived in the house for four years before a single nail was removed. “I’m so grateful that we were forced to live in the space and learn about the house, traffic patterns, the light that it gets,” says Kyong. “If I hadn’t, I know I would’ve regretted so many choices.” When the time was right, the couple hired Greg Ross of Northstar Builders to update the original knob-and-tube electrical work and old plumbing, knock down plaster walls with the goal of creating a more open layout, install a new roof and garage, plus additional windows, and build out the basement—all in five relatively short months. “I tell people we bought an old house, then built a new house inside of it,” says Kyong.
During those months, she had plenty of time to gather decorating ideas from Pinterest before enlisting the help of Salt Lake City interior designer Marianne Brown of White & Gold, who, in Kyong’s words, acted as “a sounding board to help hone my choices.” The duo landed on a traditional design style, maintaining an elegant barrel ceiling in the formal living room and installing classic herringbone hardwood floors while adding modern touches throughout. In the powder room, industrial white subway tile brushes up against a moody yet feminine black-and-gold floral wallpaper; in the living room, a Beni Ourain rug sits beneath a pair of cane-accented armchairs, found at a local flea market and topped with plaid pillows and contemporary fur throws. “Since our home is an English Tudor, we tried to find elements that would complement the Old World with the new,” says Kyong.
In the end, the home has become a reflection of both its past and present, thanks in part to a high-low mix that incorporates items from Restoration Hardware with pieces from Target, wallpaper by Ralph Lauren and lighting from TJ Maxx. “Each house has a voice, and we tried to find it,” says Kyong. Find it, they did.