Second Act

A retired couple enlists interior designer Kristin Kong to add modern flair to their Duluth abode

Downsizing is a goal for many retirees, but it didn’t make sense for a couple with a large extended family. Instead, they built a five-bedroom home on a verdant golf course in Duluth with plenty of space for their adult daughter and her family, who all have their own bedrooms there.

There was just one catch: “This is my client’s dream house, but they wanted it to feel more modern,” says interior designer, Kristin Kong.

To tone down the traditional architecture, the designer painted the walls and moldings throughout in a crisp shade of white, and she brought in new ebony-stained hardwood flooring that was “museumlike,” Kong says. She also redesigned the home’s two fireplaces.

In the great room, the contemporary firebox is surrounded by sleek floor-to-ceiling porcelain slabs flanked by vertical wooden beams, a striking focal point for an Italian sectional sofa and a pair of 1980s-inspired chairs covered in a funky patterned fabric. “This home is subdued, but there are some great patterned pieces and fun pillows,” Kong explains. “We built around them.”

For example, the patterned fabric on a pair of plush lounge chairs inspired the pink and purple hues in the vibrant prayer room. And a rounded leather banquette with a cheerful white and yellow patterned seat back adds a splash of color to the classic white kitchen. Over the round, white lacquered breakfast table, a contemporary brass and glass light fixture, “sort of disappears,” Kong says.

In the formal dining room, by contrast, a jaw-dropping bubble chandelier makes a big statement over a wooden table surrounded by crimson velvet-covered chairs that coordinate with the patterned draperies. At the far end of the room, a gold leafed wallcovering  highlights a wall niche. “Every room has something that sparkles,” Kong says.

Indeed, a shimmery throw pillow elevates the upholstered headboard and simple white bedding in the enveloping master suite, where a pair of velvet channel-tufted chairs pull up to a large, round shag-covered ottoman. Floor-to-ceiling draperies enhance the sense of coziness. “It’s soft and serene,” Kong says. “When you’re not using too many bold colors, you need to layer in textures.”

Kong’s clients are thrilled about the outcome of the nine-month project, and they’ve enjoyed sharing it with guests, recently hosting family from India for an extended stay. “They feel very proud that they were able to do a house like this,” Kong says. “I feel so fortunate to have a job where I get to help give people their dream home.”

INTERIOR DESIGN Kristin Kong, K Kong Designs. (404) 953-5537;