When Kate Pearce and her family moved into a dated, charmless house, nobody could have imagined what it would transform into.
Find the cheapest house in town. That was the approach Kate Pearce, 37, and her husband, Billy, took when they were house hunting five years ago in Huntington, New York, a town on Long Island. “My entire family is in Huntington. I grew up there, and we were actually already living in a house we owned there,” she says. “We had one daughter, Eva, and we made the decision to sell because we wanted to have a second child. I was unable to carry a baby again, and we needed a surrogate, so we sold our house, took the money we made to pay for surrogacy, and decided to buy one of the least expensive homes we could find.”
They set their sights on a 1910 farmhouse-style house that had last been renovated sometime in the 1970s. “It was solidly built, but it didn’t have too much of that old-home charm and needed a lot of love,” says Kate. “I got really excited about the move. Our first home—the one we sold—had been recently redone when we bought it. The design wasn’t at all my style, but I couldn’t bring myself to demo a kitchen when it wasn’t even 10 years old, so I just left it all be. Moving into a house that was a disaster was exciting because I could put my own imprint on it. Plus, it was $100,000 less than any other house we saw in that zip code!”
When she was younger, Kate had no idea she’d end up in the design world. But looking back, it’s easy to see when the seeds of her unique style were planted. “I have a master’s degree in art history—I wanted to work in a museum—but it was impossible to find paid work in that field,” she says. “So I went back to school to study premed.” To help pay for tuition, Kate started an online vintage-furnishings store.
But then life threw her a curveball: “I got really sick in my 20s with Crohn’s disease and ended up having to take time off from school because I was having major surgery every six months or so,” she says. “I realized my health wasn’t really stable enough to pursue the degree, so I decided to focus solely on the vintage store. It was something I could do when I was healthy and then stop for a little if I needed surgery.”
That combination of art history education and love for all things vintage can be seen in every room Kate designs. “I definitely consider myself a maximalist,” says Kate. “I love color and pattern mixing; my specialty in school was European art, and you can see that influence in my design. I pay attention to composition and love the avant-garde.”
As excited as Kate was to update her home, it took a while for her to get going. (Kate’s surrogate gave birth to her daughter Josie nine months after they moved in.) “We had only one full bathroom, and one day, two years after we moved in, I got so frustrated with how it was designed that I took a hammer to it and demolished all the tile in it,” she says. “I’m lucky my parents lived only a few miles away because we had to go there to shower for a few weeks. Billy took over from there, demolished the bathroom down to the studs, and started renovating it. He did a lot of DIY work with his dad when he was growing up, and he loves it.” From that point on, Kate and Billy caught the renovation bug and began transforming the house room by room.
From the unfinished attic that became a character-filled primary suite to the “speakeasy” Kate and Billy tucked behind a hidden wall in their basement, it’s obvious how much thought and care went into every design decision. “I start designing each room by finding a vintage piece that really speaks to me—a sofa, a rug, a light fixture—and that will serve as inspiration for the rest of the room.”
With that first bathroom renovation, for example, Kate decided to hold on to its vintage pink bathtub that probably dated from the 1950s or ’60s. “I just loved it and ended up posting the photo on my Instagram account, @katepearcevintage,” she says. “It got shared all over the place, and I think I got 50,000 new followers because of that pink bathtub!”
As much as Kate loved the house, she also knew it was time to move on last year. “We impulsively decided to move just north of Chicago, where Billy is from,” she says. “We both work from home and could live anywhere, and we fell in love with a total fixer-upper in Evanston. We are always up for adventure and don’t take things too seriously, and we felt excited to try something new. We’d worked so hard on our Long Island home, and I cried when I last shut the door and locked it, but then the wave of emotion passed and I thought: Let’s go.”
By Alice Oglethorpe | Photographs by Dane Tashima
This article originally appeared in the Holiday 2022 issue of Drew + Jonathan Reveal, Drew & Jonathan’s home and lifestyle magazine.