Kathleen Renda: Dust off those disco eight-tracks and hot pants. This home is crushing hard on the 1970s!
Kong: I absolutely love that decade, from the fashion — I’d wear a plunging-neck Halston every day if I could — to the decor, with its sculptural lines, metallic accents, and channel tufting. Midcentury design is still what everyone obsesses over, but compared to the buttoned-up reserve of the Mad Men days, the 1970s were just so much more fun. A huge, sink-in sectional that’s sized for all your friends says, “Come relax! Let’s have a party!” Who wouldn’t want a sociable, inviting home like that? But while I used vintage pieces, these rooms aren’t pure 1970s. Not everything from the era is worth revisiting. So no waterbeds or shag carpets.
And I’m not seeing classic ’70s colors like harvest gold or avocado green.
Kong: Back then, palettes were brave and exaggerated. I’m drawn to the same kind of boldness, if not the exact hues of the period. I adore dark, dramatic, and moody. So the master bedroom is a regal amethyst; the living room is chestnut, espresso, and coal black; and the dining room envelops you in rich, vivid greens. Just not avocado green.
Did you also design the interior architecture?
Kong: Yes, and it was a game changer. This was originally a split-level belonging to my husband’s parents, and after lots of debate, we tore it down and built a Carpenter Gothic. I nixed a formal living room in favor of a multipurpose family room adjacent to the kitchen; the strategy was to be able to funnel guests out of the kitchen during parties. Notching the top corners of the doorways adds personality, and it became a visual line that helps connect all the rooms.
What inspired the grand world tour in the living room?
Kong: It was more by accident than by intent. I was attracted to the wallcovering’s pattern, which is groovy and tribal, and everything dominoed from that. The finished look is cross-cultural: Along with mud-cloth pillows and framed Kuba cloth from Africa, there’s also a painting from Russia, a Moroccan bowl, and Italian artworks. You could say that the room is all over the place, geographically and chronologically and stylistically — and that’s the reason I think it works.
There’s a connective thread to what catches my eye, and that is what holds it all together. The same thing happened in every room. For example, in the dining room, there are inexpensive flea-market and garage-sale chairs — I spray-painted some of them gold — around a sleek, modern table. And in the living room, I paired a streamlined Le Corbusier lounger with vintage Pierre Paulin molded-foam chairs.
The dining room is incredibly atmospheric and almost hypnotic. How did you pull it off?
Kong: I enveloped the entire room in an abstract painting, which was turned into a wallpaper mural. For movement and flow, I had a mirror image of the pattern created and reverse-hung on the opposing walls: The image is flipped, then hung upside down. It creates the sensation that colors are flowing and swirling all around you, like you’re submerged underwater.
Any pushback from your husband about the very purple master bedroom?
Kong: At this point in our marriage, he trusts me. But what made it an easy sell is that it’s not a tweenager-ish purple; it’s an earthy aubergine with rust undertones. You want democratic choices in shared spaces like bedrooms, and this was a color both of us responded to.
Have you always been fearless when it comes to color?
Kong: I’ve always liked strong hues. In fact, starting at age four, my mom let me dress myself, and she says I’d always emerge from my bedroom in perfectly color-coordinated outfits. In high school, when we moved to a new house, I was allowed to choose the palette for my bedroom. Of all the colors I could have picked, I went with wisteria. Everything was wisteria, including the carpet. My parents were very understanding people.
“As the dining room’s kick-starter, the wallcovering is both a complement and a counterpoint to all of the other colors and patterns — everything needed to react to it,” Kong says. “To balance its ethereal quality, I used a velvet ikat on four chairs. Strong and graphic, it echoes the geometrics of the foyer’s wallcovering and the acidic greens in the dining room’s. With all the prints going on, a solid emerald velvet on the captain’s chairs anchors the room and allows the eye to rest. It’s also substantial, matching the chairs’ heft and presence.”
See more photos of this gorgeous home:
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This story originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of CQ.