To be described as “approachable and easy to get along with” is rarely a bad thing, unless it refers to an interior and designer Suzanne Hall is doing the talking. “The décor felt pedestrian and formulaic,” says Hall, describing Stacy Smith and husband Ben Johnson’s Sugar House home. “It was not nearly as interesting or witty as its owners.” The family house lacked personal style as well as a comfortable layout, so Hall—V.P. of Design for Alice Lane Interiors—teamed with design principal Jessica Bennett and designer McKinley Emmett to propose a bold refresh and remodel. Smith and Johnson eagerly embraced their ideas and, in return, got an updated family home that is as fashionable as it is functional.

All photos by Lindsay Salazar

Sugar House remodel
Dressed in wood shingles and trimmed in white, Stacy Smith and husband Ben Johnson’s family home makes a charming statement in Salt Lake’s Sugar House neighborhood. 

“Over the years, we had done some superficial improvements, but definitely not a major overhaul,” says Smith, referring to the modestly sized, two-story abode her family has lived in for 14 years. The new redo included both structural and cosmetic changes that began with the outmoded kitchen and then flowed throughout the house. 

“You always start with the kitchen; that is the heartbeat of the home,” Hall says. “It’s also the biggest investment.” Plagued with small windows, clustered cabinetry at one end and a lone banquette at the other, the kitchen was awkward, imbalanced and decoratively dated. The designers transformed it with a functional floor plan and dazzling details. “Now it’s the star of the show,” Smith says. 

Topped in Mont Blanc quartzite, the new island replaces an uncomfortably narrow version with no overhang for seating. “It is the crown jewel of this kitchen,” Hall says. The designers reoriented the freshly fashioned island to make better use of the space and to allow guests to sit and visit with the hosts while they cook. The Cara pendants are natural brass with white plaster shades.

The creative team reconfigured the kitchen and eliminated the work area’s galley-like formation. “The new layout makes all the difference,” Smith says. “It’s so functional and now I have a lot more fun cooking.” With the layout in order, the designers focused on filling the room with natural light and fearless style. They framed the new range wall with corner windows fronted by open glass shelves. Upper cabinets are noticeably absent. “We like to have a wall without upper cabinets to widen a room,” Emmett says. A brass-knobbed Ilve range anchors the focal wall brilliantly. “It’s a big hero and deserves the moment it creates,” Hall explains. The dark green range inspired the sophisticated hue of similarly colored cabinetry fashioned with flat-fronts and brass inlays. “The blackened green color makes the room feel less like a kitchen and more like a gorgeous custom scene you’d expect out of a cool restaurant or bar,” Bennett explains. Agreeing, Hall adds, “We are in a design renaissance now. People are so exposed to everything, so we want to create things they haven’t seen.”

Sugar House remodel
Open shelves appear to float in front of new windows framing the Ilve range and dazzling, polished nickle-strapped hood. Mont Blanc quartzite dresses the entire wall in subdued rich color and pattern. “It’s a big sweeping moment in a sea of grids,” Hall explains.

This innovative and imaginative approach fueled jaw-dropping kitchen details at every turn. A two-toned marble floor delivers stunning pattern and Mont Blanc quartzite turns the backsplash and countertops into “grand gestures,” Hall says. Because this kitchen—like most others—is a series of straight lines, rectangles and boxes on every plane, the designers introduced circular brass pendants, curved counter stools and rounded-corner brass cabinet inlays that “make the kitchen feel custom and take the edge off,” Bennett explains. The team pulled no punches. “It’s big design for a small space,” Emmett says. 

Sugar House remodel
A fashion-inspired photograph adds refreshing contrast to the dining room décor as it hangs on a wall detailed with large-scale panels crafted from applied molding. Their verticality relates to the kitchen cabinets. “The tall rhythm continues from space to space,” Emmett explains. The chandelier is by Visual Comfort and the chairs are by Vanguard. 

The transformation of the main level’s other spaces is no less remarkable. In the dining room, for example, the designers removed conventional crown molding and low wainscot to make space for chic vertical panels crafted from classic molding. “Applied finish work is one of the least expensive ways to elevate a décor,” Emmett explains. Creating a lesson in tension, a “crisp” white-and-black photograph juxtaposes with the adjoining living area’s antique rug while a gilded iron chandelier hangs above a polished table for contrasting effect. “Yin and yang is important,” Hall explains. “If everything is the same, nothing gets celebrated.” 

Sugar House remodel
In the living room, a large painting extends below the top of two reupholstered chairs to help anchor them to the décor. “It’s about the composition, not just the individual pieces,” says interior designer Suzanne Hall, who teamed with Jessica Bennett and  McKinley Emmett to update and upgrade the interior. 
Sugar House remodel
Layered rugs and shimmering drapery rods elevate the living room’s luxe factor. Surprisingly large, the framed art, table lamp and coffee table—featuring an antique-glass top and mirrored bottom—deliver spirited elegance and ease to the space. 

In the living room, the designers grounded a freshly furnished gathering space with an antique rug luxuriously layered upon a natural jute rug. A new sofa and eye-catching zebra-patterned accent chairs surround a surprisingly large coffee table. “Go big where you can in small rooms,” Hall suggests. “It makes them feel more gracious.” The TV hangs above a handsome fireplace reimagined with a black marble surround, creating a single focal point from the all-too-often competing elements. Sheer, floor-to-ceiling drapes visually raise the ceiling, and walls—painted a shade of warm white—enrich all of the home’s sophisticated living spaces. The small library, clad in brilliant teal, is a striking exception. “Enveloping a room in color makes it feel larger,” Hall explains. 

Sugar House remodel
Sugar House remodel
The designers used floor-to-ceiling draperies and a coffered ceiling, inset with grasscloth, to make the walls of the small library feel taller. They also drenched the room in Sherwin-Williams’ Endless Sea to visually enlarge the space. The designers worked Smith’s  collected art pieces into the décor. “We wanted to do a fresh take on the gallery wall by bending it around a corner both in the library and running up the stairs,” Bennett explains. Custom built-in shelves add display and storage space to the small library without cramping its style. 

Upstairs, the designers wrapped the primary bedroom in soft beige grasscloth and painted existing wall panels to match, melding them into the décor. “We didn’t want a distracting accent wall,” Hall explains. “A bedroom should be a hushed moment.” Beautifully draped windows, luxe bedding and a rug layered upon plush carpeting help ensure that this space is exactly that. “It’s as nice as any hotel,” Smith says. “It’s so indulgent.” 

Sugar House remodel
An upholstered headboard fronts a paneled wall painted to match the adjoining walls’ rich beige grasscloth wall covering. Floor-to-ceiling draperies visually heighten the space, as does the room’s cream-colored ceiling and trim. 
Sugar House remodel
A small desk doubles as a vanity in the primary bedroom. The designers placed it in front of a window to provide natural light for applying makeup.  
Sugar House remodel
The designers updated the primary bathroom with a freshly painted vanity, new hardware and a brass and white-glass sconce above the mirror.

The remarkable redo proves just how big of a change good design can make in a small home. “This is definitely custom work and you have to find the right people to create it. The designers were amazing, and they brought the best craftsmen and artists to the project,” Smith says. “We couldn’t be happier with the results.”  

Designers Suzanne Hall, Jessica Bennett and McKinley Emmett, Alice Lane Interiors

We covered another project from Alice Lane Interiors in starlet Rachel Parcell’s home, you can find it here.