When Amber Sokolowski and Linette Dai, partners in the Southern California design studio Soko Dai, first laid eyes on this project, one thing was obvious: “It was a total fixer,” Linette says. “The funny thing is, as designers, we absolutely love fixers. All we see is its potential and the ways we can change the layout to make it a dream home that really supports the lifestyle of the owner.”
The 1950s Torrance home was basically a series of blank boxes, a hodgepodge of window styles, and a walled-off kitchen that screamed bad ‘90s remodel. Again, the design duo only saw upside. “Typically, we try our best to honor the style of the original architecture,” Linette says. “But in this case, the house didn’t really have any defining characteristics that warranted allegiance to a particular architectural period. This worked out for the best because the other crucial starting point for us when designing a home is the client’s personal style.”
In this case, the clients envisioned an elegant Old-World style rising from the rubble. The Soko Dai team got busy, adding moldings and extras to walls—that is, the ones that remained after several fell to make way for a more open living, dining, kitchen space—and upgrading surfaces from dowdy laminate to elegant stone. Existing sofas were recovered in buttery velvet and collectibles were organized into new built ins. The family’s large art collection was massed and contained on passageway walls.
The designers also injected modern pieces into the mix to energize the traditional elements. “We love traditional design,” Amber says, “but we wanted to kind of funk it up, put in that pop of modern to balance out all of the tradition. But we had to push the client, especially when it came to the contemporary lighting choices.”
The kitchen counter stools were also up for discussion, but luckily the homeowners had developed a trust in the designing women as their reimagined home came into focus. “She said, ‘You guys are definitely pushing me, but I kind of like it,’” Linette remembers. “The goal was to keep it relevant, but also timeless at the same.”
Trust, in fact, had been building since the primary bath remake. The bathroom was the starting point of the client-designer collaboration—which represented just one more challenge Linette and Amber rose to meet. The homeowners had been acting as their own project managers on the expansive remodel but stopped after some of the plumbing was done in this and a smaller bathroom when they realized they were in hot water with finishing these tricky spaces. “We had to put our creative hats on and really try to make it look like we had done it from the start,” Amber says. Linette agrees: “We had to pull a miracle.”
They did, and the bathrooms’ beautiful and functional results landed them the rest of the redo. It was a particularly successful—and enjoyable—project, they feel, in part because it was the first time they had worked on a job start to finish as a newly formed business partnership. Though they went to design school together and had collaborated here and there, they ultimately determined that that their skill sets meshed synergistically: Amber is the pragmatist and problem solver; Linette the envelope-pusher and finder of unexpected solutions. “In our design process,” Linette says, “we bounce back and forth, adding and subtracting our inputs and perspectives until it evolved into something greater than either of us would’ve created on our own. And we both have such like a particular taste and a discerning eye that we joke that by the time both of us like it, it must be really good.”
What they also bring to the table is a design sensibility and broadened worldview that is shaped by the fact that they share Asian descent: Linette is Taiwanese-American; Amber is Korean-Mexican-American. They plan to use their shared diversity to promote other BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) artists, craftspeople, and furniture designers. “We love to use this platform,” Linette says. “We view it as this opportunity to promote and to celebrate all the different voices that we have access to.”