To Fit Her Family of 8, One Homeowner Rebuilt Her Childhood Home From Scratch

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Shirley Chen wasn’t going to break with tradition. She knew that as her parents grew older, it would be her job to welcome them into her home and take care of them. The issue: Her place was bursting at the seams with her family of six. Her childhood house was similarly cramped, but it was on a larger lot—there was room to grow. Yet an expansion wasn’t in the cards; the foundation needed repairs and trying to match the original structure’s 1970s features quickly grew costly. With her parents’ permission, Chen decided to tear it down and rebuild a space fit for all eight of them. “Every architect we got quotes from said it would cost the same to build from scratch as it would to retrofit an addition,” says Chen. 

entry way with wooden stool
De Jong & Co. Dibbet Stool, Lawson Fenning.

Chen slogged through the from-scratch renovation, adding two additional bedrooms (for a total of five) and a semi-attached accessory dwelling unit (where her parents live now) to the original 1,800-square-foot layout. “By the end I was exhausted,” she says. “I needed Cathie to work her magic.” Cathie Hong, Chen’s high school classmate and an interior designer, had a fledgling business that was just taking off at the time and jumped at the chance to work on a larger-scale project. 

kitchen with white island
Boomerang Drawer Pulls, Rejuvenation; Mid-Century Peg Cabinet Knobs, Rejuvenation; Alden Bar Counter Stools, West Elm; Tusk Tile, Fireclay Tile.
long dining table with eight chairs

Chen’s priorities? Stay under budget and make things durable. Style barely made the list. “I’m not going to update my house every few years; my kids will destroy the place,” says Chen, laughing. Hong, wanting to avoid trends, opted for black angled cabinet pulls, mid-century dining chairs, and globe sconces to keep things fresh. “I wanted them to be able to look at everything five years later and still have it feel good,” says Hong. And the design does hold up—the home was completed nearly four years ago, but the materials fit right in with 2022’s design favorites (hello, herringbone tile). 

bedroom with cloud wallpaper
Moia Pillows, Xasmininteriors; Eijffinger’s Cloud Formation Wallpaper, Anthropologie; Emerson Bed, Room and Board; Linen Duvet Cover, Cultiver.

With children ages 4 to 12, Chen has her hands full with homework questions and never-ending laundry piles. There’s no time for finicky cleaning routines. Knowing this, Hong chose linen bedding for all the bedrooms (it looks better when rumpled) and a jute rug for the primary space that can handle a juice spill (or two). 

bathroom with free standing tub
Slate Plank Tile, Clé; Simone Single Sconces, Schoolhouse.

The trickiest thing for Hong was trying to marry Chen’s parents’ aesthetics with her own. “I tried to keep some things a bit more traditional in the common spaces,” says Hong. The long dining table, for one, blends a classic shape with unexpected details like slatted legs. Outside, a white armless sofa and rounded, strappy chair offer plenty of seats for the adults to enjoy the California sunshine while watching the kids play. 

pink bathroom
Cement Hex Clip Tile, Clé; Vitra Cork Stool, DWR.

Upstairs however, is the little ones’ domain. A pastel pink bathroom and cloud-print wallpaper liven up the otherwise neutral spaces. Despite an argument as to whether millennial pink is timeless, Chen wasn’t worried about the bolder color choices. “At the end of the day, it makes my daughters and me happy,” she says. And with their own living quarters just steps away, her parents are as well.

Simple Linen Pillow in Rust

Hawkins New York

Stump Stool

Kalon Studios

Nuvolette Wallpaper

$548.00 $438.40

Lewis Cutting Board


Kate McGregor


Kate McGregor covers everything related to the home, from design inspiration to IKEA hacks. She has been the market assistant at ELLE Decor where she focused on curating product for the print magazine’s market pages.