Is there anything better than a virtual home tour? Designer Dream Homes is a series featuring the living spaces of our favorite interior designers and home decor influencers, where they give us the full lowdown on how they live. It’s all the things we love about browsing virtual real estate listings, with the added benefit of hearing exactly what it is that makes these dream homes so special.
Karen B. Wolf of KBW Interiors
Meet the Expert
Karen B. Wolf is the founder, owner, and creative principal of KBW Interiors, a recipient of the American Society of Interior Designers' 2021 Design Excellence Award.
Long Beach Island, NJ
“Growing up, I spent many happy summers on Long Beach Island and always dreamed of owning a beach house there,” explained Karen. “When that opportunity presented itself, location was never a question.”
After purchasing the perfect plot of land, Karen designed the 2700 sq. ft. home from the ground up, “designed to bring to mind a clean-lined California beach cottage.”
“I needed something very specific that would comfortably house three generations and I thoroughly enjoyed designing the space myself. My parents occupy the top floor of the three-story house; my college-age twins and I live on the second floor, and the ground floor is the lanai—an indoor/outdoor space that opens up onto the backyard via a sliding garage door.”
She describes the home’s design aesthetic as “beach chic—light and airy with a blue, white, and sand palette based on the color of the hand-scraped, wide-plank white oak flooring. The house was created to embody that getaway feeling—part California cottage, part boutique beach resort.”
Designing an Open-Concept House
Even though the land was exactly what Karen hoped she would find, it still required careful planning. “The lot itself was a particular challenge at first as it’s long and narrow—as many Long Beach Island lots are. From the beginning, my goal in the space was to make it feel wider.”
As she designed the home, Karen focused on “differentiating specific areas in an open-concept space to draw the eye from left to right."
"On the third floor, I raised the ceilings, eliminated hallways, and tucked the master bedroom area behind the kitchen. Outside, a rectangular pool occupied most of the available space, so I accepted a narrower-than-ideal perimeter and swapped traditional chaise longues for cocoon chairs, placing the chairs and the grasses behind them symmetrically to draw the eye outward from the lanai.”
Though “technically an indoor-outdoor space,” Karen calls the lanai “the showpiece of the yard. It is breathtaking and serene and provides a welcome respite from the sun-drenched pool and backyard that are connected.”
The indoor-outdoor environment is enhanced with “a garage-style door [that] opens to let fresh ocean air in,” and the lanai itself features “three carefully considered, multi-functional zones—prep (wet bar), dine (dining table), and lounge (comfortable living area).” Karen calls the space “cheerful, bright, and happy,” which “sets the tone for the entire home.”
The floor of the lanai features “hexagonal ceramic tiles in white and pale blue.” The vast majority of the furniture in the lanai is indoor-outdoor, “including a faux wicker sectional sofa with snowy white cushions and a found-driftwood-topped table.”
There’s also a stunning rooftop deck, which “sits between the ocean for sunrises and the bay for sunsets.”
Because lots are hard to find on Long Beach Island, Karen said there were some areas where she couldn’t be too picky. “We did not have a choice as to the direction of the home,” she said. To compensate for this, she “added as many windows as possible to maximize natural light without sacrificing needed wall space. Portholes and higher, transom windows in bathrooms and on taller walls helped to bring in extra light.”
Throughout the home, “white oak [floors] nod to light and air and sand,” explained Karen. “I begin virtually all of my designs with the flooring whose tones I strategically echo throughout the space. Pale hardwood flooring is the backbone of this design, the thread that helped accomplish the ethereal feeling I was going for.”
Karen continued with white oak as her common thread to pull her kitchen together, too. Along with the floors, it’s also “in the wood-look porcelain on the perimeter of the cabinetry and in the range hood’s rim, created from the flooring itself.”
Alongside the white oak, Karen turned to blue for her pop color. “I love the serene, airy feel of the coastal blue accents—Sherwin Williams’ Windy Blue on the front of the island and in the tiled Maritime Blue backsplash from Glazio.”
“Each bathroom in the house has a distinctly different coastal chic vibe,” explained Karen. But it’s the junior primary bathroom that’s her favorite. She described it as “a fresh, quiet space with a curated pop of turquoise ombre tile.”
Cristallo quartzite countertops offer an “understated and casual elegance,” making the bathroom “feel like a powder room but function for utility.”
Of all the spaces, Karen says that “the lanai is a favorite gathering spot for our family. You can use it for the pool, but you can also lounge in the middle of winter and enjoy the space in warmth and comfort.”
It’s also designed with nature in mind. “The lanai garage doors are our favorite architectural feature and focal point. They flood the room with light and bring the outdoors in.”
This extends further to the home’s exterior, where “the exterior blue color on the board and batten is just bright enough.”
The total effect is a laidback, beachy vibe, inside and out.