Tour the Traditional 1920s Oakland Home of One Modernist Designer


“I have a very modern taste,” says Susie Novak, founder of Susie Novak Interiors. “I’ve always loved the charm of old houses but was not particularly interested in traditional design.” That meant purchasing a 1920s home was a challenge for the interior designer, who now lives in her remodeled abode with her husband, Matt, a real estate private equity professional, and their two daughters. The convenient and charming location, however, convinced her to take the plunge.

“In Oakland, the Trestle Glen neighborhood is a special mix of urban and suburban,” Novak says. “It is close to downtown restaurants, the freeway to San Francisco, and the hills for hikes.”

The 3,000-square-foot, two-story property needed significant work to make it functional for a contemporary lifestyle. Among the biggest changes: The foundation needed to be fixed, which involved lifting the house. The kitchen was also opened up by taking out an adjacent bedroom, and the staircase was relocated and widened. Elsewhere, a 220-square-foot accessory dwelling unit, which was originally a garage, was transformed into a beautifully habitable space–home office. All of this, of course, took a significant amount of time.

Susie Novak in her living room.

“We purchased the home in 2011 and have been in various phases of remodel since then,” says Novak, who became her own most demanding client, and only recently completed the project. “I like working with people on their homes and being given style and budget parameters—it reins options in and you’re given a timeline. When you don’t have a set deadline, it can turn into a never-ending remodel, which can be fun, but is certainly expensive and exhausting.”

After living in a modern warehouse loft in West Oakland, the designer seized this opportunity to widen her horizons in renovating this new home. “It took me time to adapt my style,” she confesses. “But I’ve learned so much about traditional interiors and what is so warm, whimsical, and quirky about them.” One of Novak’s favorite elements is the windows in the front of the house. “We actually had to replace them, but we did so in a way where we preserved the look,” she says. “We ordered custom wood windows and used antique glass to get that old house feel.”

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In the dining room, Novak added wainscoting to bring even more visual interest to the home. But thanks to its bathroom and walk-in closet, the primary suite is a haven that Novak particularly enjoys. “If you have the space, it’s so important to create a large [primary room] within the home,” the interior designer says. “It’s like having your own little pied-à-terre—a sanctuary where you can escape the kids but also a place for them to use that is inviting.”

Different materials, such as stucco, plaster, and marble, were used throughout. Several blue elements, including tiles, paint colors, and carpets, reflect one of Novak’s own affinities. “I really wanted the home to feel collected, curated, eclectic, and personal,” she notes. The final result, which brims with character, traces its inspiration from the California coast to interiors of Great Britain and houses of the French countryside. “In many ways, this is my dream home,” Novak reflects. “But I look at interiors so much that it’s hard to pin down all my desires in one place.”

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