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Diamond in the Rough

When Kate Pearce and her family moved into a dated, charmless house, nobody could have imagined what it would transform into.

pearce family portrait living room
Wanting a cozy library-like vibe for the living room, Kate covered the walls and ceiling in Magnolia Home’s Locally Grown paint, which is a deep green. She filled a wall with shelving, which she uses to house her collection of vintage books, and had her husband, Billy, build the ladder to finish off the room.

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.”

lenox remix china line festive plate setting
The china looks vintage but it’s all from the Lenox Remix line, which takes old patterns and reimagines them in bright colors.

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!”

kate pearce holding daughter in festive dining room
The chairs, chandelier, and hutch were all finds from Facebook Marketplace—one of Kate’s favorite places to source vintage furniture.

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.”

modern artsy kitchen festive decor
All of the wood in the kitchen—the open shelving, island base, and bottom of the range hood—came from an 1800s barn in Connecticut that found its way into a local reclaimed-wood shop.
father and daughters in kitchen

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.”

attic bedroom with french doors
The entire attic was unfinished when they bought the house, so Kate had an architect build it out with three dormers. “I love all the nooks and crannies created by the sloped ceilings,” she says.
cheery bathroom clawfoot bathtub
The clawfoot tub in the primary bath may look like porcelain, but it’s a much lighter acrylic, ideal for installing in an attic.

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.

daughter's bedroom with hot air balloon mural
Kate’s daughter Josie’s favorite color when they decorated her room was blue, so they chose a pale blue paint and playful hot air balloon mural, both from Graham & Brown.

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!”

screened in front porch christmas decor
The screened-in front porch is the family’s go-to spot for coffee in the morning and after-dinner s’mores.

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.”

couple sitting in moody breakfast nook

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.

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