In Chinese culture, family is one of the singularly most important dynamics. The family unit is sacred, and it is not uncommon to have several generations of a family living under one roof. For Jennifer and Ricky Wong, keeping with tradition played a tremendous role when they began designing their new home.
The Wongs have three children — Emily, 18, who attends Barnard College, Stanley, 16, and Denzel, 11. Their family unit also includes Ricky’s mother and father. “And occasionally our niece comes to stay with us when she is out of school,” Jennifer adds.
The Wongs needed a large space that would allow for everyone to be comfortable. “We had looked at probably 30 or more homes in the Columbia area,” says Jennifer. “But nothing seemed to fill all the needs we had. I wanted to get the house finished in time for Emily to be able to enjoy it before heading off to college, so we decided to build the house we wanted.”
Drawing up the plans took about five months. Construction began in September 2013, and the Wongs moved into their new home in Ashworth Place in December 2014. “We had a few delays on the construction so it took a little longer than we wanted, but we’re so happy to be in our new home,” she says with a smile.
From the onset of designing their house, Jennifer connected with Linda Burnside of LGB Interiors to help her not only with the interior décor, but also the architectural design. “I interviewed Linda and liked her smile,” Jennifer says. “I knew right away that she could help me find the right way to arrange my home.”
“One of the things I enjoy so much about my job,” says Linda, “is helping clients learn what their own style is and take away their worries. If you are constantly second-guessing yourself, it can drive you crazy.”
Much of the inspiration Jennifer had for the house came from Houzz.com, an online home design website that features millions of photos. The site allows visitors to create their own idea book, which they can share with their designers. “My clients used to have stacks and stacks of magazines,” Linda says. “Now they have one location where they can put everything, and it’s a tremendous aid in communicating between the client and the designer.”
Jennifer agrees that communication is key. “The more homework you can do to help figure out your likes and dislikes makes it easier to express what you want,” she says. It also helped that Ricky let her have complete say in the design of the house. “It was my idea to build, so he let me handle everything. His only requirements were that I stay in budget and that he have a large shoe closet. But he’s already outgrown the shoe closet!” Jennifer laughs.
Linda also believes it is important for clients to have the opportunity to see and touch the furnishings before buying any. “Jennifer and I spent two full days at the market in High Point,” she says. “We even took Denzel with us and told everyone that he was president of LGB.”
One of the most important aspects of design is knowing what will fit where within the house. “We had the complete floor plan, scaled to size,” Linda says. “That allowed Jennifer to visualize the furniture all together, to sit on it in the showroom and see how it would all work together in each room.”
From the outside, the home appears to be a traditional brick home with an attached three-car garage. At Linda’s recommendation, the Wongs created a courtyard with a wide paved area to provide ample space for parking.
Through the front door, an open foyer greets family and friends as they step down into the more formal living area. French doors to the left lead into the home office and to the right, the formal dining room is highlighted by matching arched china hutches. A wrought iron banister with a lit staircase leads to the upstairs bedrooms.
The back wall of the house consists of large panes of glass overlooking an expansive covered porch. With a tiled floor and comfortable wicker furnishings, a large five-paddled ceiling fan helps keep the porch cool on those warm summer evenings. “The height of the porch is intentional to carry the openness of the interior onto the porch,” Linda says.
The living room provides ample seating with armchairs and two sofas. “It’s a blend of both traditional and contemporary,” says Linda in explaining the style. While many of the furnishings are more neutral in tone, the color pops from accessories and more importantly, the art.
“I always start with a piece of art,” says Linda. “A favorite piece of art can also indicate someone’s taste in colors. But, this house was a little more of a challenge to get the color flow because it’s so open.”
Linda picked up on the turquoise colors in the artwork and chose a large floor rug with blending colors to complement the piece. The colors help to offset the large wood panels that cover one wall and the trim work done in Black Fox, while a white stacked ledge stone through-and-through fireplace keeps the space open leading into the kitchen.
While Jennifer knew she wanted dark cabinetry, it was important to keep the space feeling light and airy. Linda suggested two different countertops for the kitchen — Delicatus granite for the island and ice crystal granite for the counter space.
The kitchen also features professional appliances from Thermador along with a pot filler over the gas cooktop and a steam oven. “Jennifer does more food prep than any client I’ve ever had,” says Linda, “so we knew that the kitchen would be a central focus as far as the layout and work space.”
Located next to the main kitchen is the “mother-in-law” kitchen. “It’s important that she feel comfortable in our home and that she have her own space to prepare whatever she might like, whenever she might want,” says Jennifer. While smaller in size, this kitchen is a complete kitchen as well.
Next to the kitchen, a breakfast table and separate seating area provide plenty of space for large gatherings. The focal point for this room is the overhead lighting, a large circular soffit constructed from scratch with sheetrock and LED lighting.
When their long days of work and raising family are done, Jennifer and Ricky can retreat to their master suite. With a wall of windows on one side and a fireplace insert mounted within a wall of stone on the other, this spacious room gives them a chance to wind down. The room has plenty of space for the king-sized, winged platform tufted bed while grass wallpaper behind the headboard adds a textural contrast for the other walls.
A large walk-in closet features ample shelf space, enough so that Jennifer can easily display accessories such as shoes, purses and scarves, much in the way one would browse through a boutique store. “It makes it so much easier to find things when they are out rather than tucked away in drawers and cabinets,” she says.
The en suite bathroom offers plenty of counter space featuring leathered quartz, which has the look and feel of textured leather. Across the way, a large walk-in glass wall shower offers nine showerheads at one end and a bench for seating and storage at the opposite end. “We redrew this room two or three times before we got it how we liked it,” recalls Linda.
Four bedrooms upstairs gives the kids a lot of room for their own privacy, but they are intended for studying or quiet time — no televisions to be found in any bedroom. A unique aspect of Emily’s room includes the European-style closet. “Rather than the traditional walk-in closet, we chose to put ‘reach-in’ closets along one wall of Emily’s room,” says Linda. “They have the look and feel of built-in cabinetry and provide plenty of hanging space as well as shelves and drawers for storage.”
Downstairs in the basement is a third complete kitchen, including a microwave and wine cooler, along with a second dining area, a guest room with a full bath and the media room, where family and friends come to play.
“We love karaoke,” laughs Jennifer, “and we have friends who come over to have fun with us.” The media room features comfortable leather sofas, an 82-inch wide screen television and separate speaker systems for the television and karaoke system.
Jennifer and Linda both look on this building experience as a learning opportunity for each of them. Linda feels as though she’s been given the chance to experience another way of living. “I learned so much about Chinese culture, about the significance of family and how much respect Jennifer and her family have for that. And how kind they are,” she adds.
Jennifer shares that same feeling with a renewed respect for Linda’s role as a designer. “It really opened up a new world for me about design,” says Jennifer. “You have space but sometimes you need someone else’s eyes to help you see how to best use that space,” she says. “You may have million dollar taste but your budget is much, much less. Linda treated my home as her home and made sure we used the space the right way.”
But the best part is that they feel a newfound friendship, according to Linda. “Seeing Jennifer smile and be excited about what we were able to accomplish for her and her family — that’s why I do what I do.”