Designer Tamara Kaye-Honey creates a family-focused retreat that marries her cozy Canadian upbringing with her laid-back California lifestyle
You can take the girl out of Nova Scotia, but you can’t take Nova Scotia out of the girl. When Tamara Kaye-Honey began searching for a new home for her Los Angeles–based family, she was looking for something brighter and more spacious but, most of all, familiar. “We wanted that Canadian feel,” says the interior designer and owner of the Pasadena decor showroom House of Honey, who grew up in Halifax, the maritime province’s capital, along with her husband, Ryan. It was her nostalgic recollection of childhood comforts that drew her to a 1923 English Tudor on a wide street in the suburban neighborhood of Altadena. “The exterior has a Hansel-and-Gretel look. It reminds me of a cottage.”
It wasn’t always so. When the Honeys first walked through the property, they were met by a significant lack of polish: the space was strewn with unusual valves and masonry work, the legacy of an inventor who had lived there for decades. After 20 years of neglect, the existing house made even Kaye-Honey’s mother, a woman known for her fixer-upper tendencies, cry. “She begged us not to buy it and said that there was no way we could make it livable,” says the designer. “I think that made me want it more!”
So she set out to turn the disheveled listing into a haven that embodied the atmosphere she was seeking—and the cozy-glam aesthetic that has made her a household name among West Coast design lovers. Luckily, Kaye-Honey saw potential at every turn, from the original arched windows to the Australian-gumwood molding that remained intact throughout the structure. “Our last house was midcentury modern, which I love and absolutely appreciate. But I found myself craving older and more ornate wood detail and profiles,” she says.
Still, with age comes wear. The Honeys and their two children—Phia, 12, and Streak, 10—lived through two renovations that took nearly five years to complete. The first encompassed a series of structural changes and necessary utility work, including converting the garage into a playroom and creating a bank of sliding floor-to-ceiling glass doors. “Growing up in a very cold climate in Canada, we never had an indoor-outdoor flow for everyday living,” the designer says. “Now it’s crucial for me to have easy access to the outside. We spend most days with the doors open and the kids running to and from the yard.” In the kitchen, which Kaye-Honey calls “the heart of our home,” she knocked down a wall shared with an adjacent bedroom to increase the room’s footprint. Then she installed a custom island topped with Calacatta gold marble, which elevates a utilitarian space that serves as a homework station, snack zone, and entertaining area.
The second phase of renovations followed two years later, transforming a massive attic into a master suite, offices, media room, and den, and encompassing the additions of a pool and guesthouse in the backyard and a European-style standing-seam metal roof. “It was good to live in the house for a while before we did anything [else],” says Kaye-Honey. “We worked with a local architect but, really, we let the house speak to us, taking advantage of dormers and nooks to create some magical spaces.” Case in point: the master bath, which the designer turned into a relaxing escape complete with heated floors, brass Waterworks fixtures, a custom-made vanity and steam shower built into one of the attic’s gables, and a contemporary-looking Victoria + Albert tub with a view of the property’s avocado and other trees. “I actually bought the tub five years ago while shopping for a client, who wound up not needing it,” she remembers. “I had it delivered upstairs and placed it where it is today as a reminder of the future—it was my bathroom muse! Before the renovation, I would often go upstairs on the rickety old planks and sit in the tub to sketch and design the spaces.”
With the major work finished, Kaye-Honey was free to root out spots for her vast collection of furnishings and accents. In the kitchen, wire Modernica chairs and a white-leather banquette surround a vintage Herman Miller conference table in a nook coated with black chalkboard paint, while Droog’s Milk Bottle lamp hovers above. “I love all the scratches and stains,” she says of the table. “They’re sort of like wrinkles on a face—they just reflect a well-lived life.” Upstairs, a den that was intended to be a library is plastered with Deborah Bowness’s trompe l’oeil bookshelf-themed wallpaper. Kaye-Honey’s passion for Margaret Keane–inspired portraits is visible in Phia’s art-filled bedroom, and her love of vintage Murano, Venini, and Vistosi glass lighting is referenced in the chandeliers and sconces that appear in every room of the house. The blend is considered and aesthetically inspired with a healthy dose of humor, leaving room for everything from Fornasetti to IKEA. “Both my husband [cofounder of the bicoastal animation studio Buck] and I have a deep appreciation for fantasy and creative thinking,” she says. “We take our creative roles seriously without taking ourselves or our designs too seriously. I hope our children can keep this same outlook on life.”
She’s already given them a good start. A gaming area—used for jovial backgammon competitions, chess matches, and card playing—consists of a mix of favorite chairs that the designer couldn’t bear to part with. “It’s very Alice In Wonderland,” she says. And her husband and children can attest to the home’s ever-changing decor. “It’s not uncommon for them to come home after a playground outing to find many things moved or even replaced,” she says. “You should see the crazy amount of nail holes in the walls—it’s like a revolving art gallery!”
If there’s one constant presence in the home, it’s the family’s roots. “My son's room is filled with vintage ship paintings [that] remind me of growing up in Nova Scotia,” she says. Another boat—this time a brass sculpture in the dining room by the metal artist C. Jeré—nods to the designer’s hometown. And—perhaps the most telling detail—despite the temperate L.A. weather, sheepskins and furry rugs remain a staple. After all, Canada is really just a state of mind.