South Hill Facelift
“When my husband first saw the house, he said that to make it appealing ‘would be like putting lipstick on a pig,’” says Dawn Sorensen, describing the reaction of her husband, Larry, to the 1944 South Hill Colonial they purchased—against his better instincts—in 2018.
“I had a vision for it,” says Dawn. But “it was kind of a jump of faith for him.” Previously, the couple and their daughter, Natalie, had been living about 15 minutes out from Spokane. The impetus for a move to the South Hill was cutting down on drive time, but they weren’t interested in taking on a large-scale renovation. This home, though, had undergone a significant overhaul by the previous owner that included a renovation of the kitchen and bathrooms and building an addition (a sunroom on the main floor and a walk-in master closet and sitting area upstairs), all done by Hug Construction. Having major projects like the kitchen and bathrooms already completed, and in a style she loved to boot, was a major selling point for Dawn. “I feel like we got really lucky,” she says.
The Sorensens hired architect Nancy McKennon and worked with Hug Construction to finish the basement (which includes a family room, a bathroom, and a “man cave”), build a mudroom to attach the garage to the home, and add on a covered front porch. In combination with gas lanterns, black shutters, and a repaved driveway and front walkway, the Sorensens’ contributions imbued the exterior (previously “almost like a pillbox”) with major curb appeal. As Dawn puts it, the home got “a face lift.”
The classic lines and timeless elements—like white walls and dark wood floors, basketweave tile and crown molding—provide a neutral backdrop for the variety of styles Dawn mixes seamlessly in the décor. “My style incorporates bits of eclectic, contemporary, transitional, downright traditional…and world vibe,” Dawn says. “I love to mix it up.”
The home combines, for instance, a contemporary ghost chair and globe pendants with the hutch the Sorensens had built in to showcase Dawn’s collection of china. “I think it’s okay to have your contemporary light fixtures and your traditional china,” she says. Not everybody likes china, she acknowledges, but she does, so why not display it? Your home, she believes, should be a place where you celebrate your own passions and your family’s history.
The thoughtful display of collections contributes to this home’s personality: the row of cookie jars in the kitchen, the vintage Russian toleware purchased on Etsy, a grouping of blue and white pottery picked up during travels to countries including Mexico and Bali. “Our big passion as a family is travel,” says Dawn. Pieces from those travels include an array of artwork from Bali in the dining room and the gorgeous painting from Guatemala that anchors one wall in the sunroom.
There are groupings throughout the home of family photos, many of them taken by family friend and photographer Angela Parris of Stillpoint Photography. Dawn, who formerly worked as a buyer in the design and fashion industry, had told herself prior to getting married and having a child that she would never fill her house with family photos. “I’m not going to plaster pictures all over my house,” she remembers thinking. But now, they’re everywhere. “You should display what you love. It makes you feel good,” she’s come to realize.
Dawn loves pops of whimsy—whether that be the group of porcelain dwarves she purchased at Farm Chicks, a row of dog paintings hanging in the bathroom (their dogs Odey, Bandit, and Teddy “are a big part of our family,” she says), or the statement peel-and-stick floral wallpaper in the powder room. “I love wallpaper in small spaces, like a powder room or a closet,” she says. Peel-and-stick wallpaper was also used to hang the mural in her horse-loving daughter’s room, where the canopy bed is complemented by a string of twinkle lights. The upstairs hallway is decorated with another fun element: framed artwork Natalie created over the years, which makes a major impact when grouped together on photo ledges. “I’m not afraid of color—I love color,” Dawn says.
Throughout the home there’s a mix of things purchased recently and some they’ve owned for decades. “Let your space evolve over time,” Dawn recommends. “You don’t want your home to look like a catalog from a major retailer, where everything was purchased all at once.” This philosophy applies to other design elements. In the spacious kitchen, for instance, there are gorgeous Caesarstone countertops, both gray and white cabinetry, and a combination of stainless appliances and brass hardware. This mix adds visual interest and avoids anything matchy-matchy. “A mixture of metals—brass, bronze, silver, and copper—is beautiful,” Dawn notes.
Personality is further imbued through accessories and furnishings: light fixtures (an assortment that includes globe lighting, capiz chandeliers, and lamps), art collected locally and around the world, wallpaper, Moroccan rugs purchased on Etsy, and antiques and heirlooms like an armoire most likely dating back to 1800s France and the 1940s table and chairs in the dining room that once belonged to Dawn’s grandmother. Textiles are also important, like the vibrant, embroidered aviary-themed curtains from Anthropologie in the sunroom. Dawn also hung sheer curtains in this space to add privacy in a room that runs the risk of feeling a bit like a fishbowl with its many windows.
Other design guidelines Dawn likes to follow in her own space? Adding a touch of black in every room (“Pops of black help ground and elevate a room), using fresh flowers and greenery to breathe life into your space, and mixing high-end pieces with vintage and eclectic finds. “There’s no shame in shopping at Target, which is one of my favorite stores,” she says.
And then there’s the key that brings it all together: EDIT. “Less is more,” says Dawn. “In the words of my husband…‘That means just remember, all your husband’s $*!+ is clutter and confine it to a room called “the man cave” or a closet or a drawer,’” she says with a laugh. “In all seriousness, don’t try to display everything at once.”
Moving from 15 minutes away to this neighborhood has been a welcome change for Dawn. When they moved in, “We had several neighbors stop by within two days,” she says, bringing cookies and banana bread and a bottle of wine. With the warm welcome and the location—a short walk to Manito and Cannon Hill Parks—they felt connected to the community right away.
“I just love the architectural variety of the neighborhood,” says Dawn. “It’s not a cookie-cutter neighborhood.” There’s a mix of Tudors, brick, Colonial, Spanish, and craftsman homes, and both older residents who’ve lived in their homes for decades and younger families walking their kids to the bus stop.
She appreciates the leap of faith her husband took, “Believing in my vision for the house and supporting me in that,” she says. And she appreciates this house, where they could build on what existed and take the next steps to make it their own. “I am really grateful we found this home.”
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