Mad About Hue

With only cosmetic changes, designer Joni Spear transforms an uninspired house into an unforgettable home bursting with colorful style. 

By Kim Hill

Interior Design by Joni Spear Interior Design

Photography by Alise O'Brien Photography


When your dream home is sold to someone else, what do you do to make the “second choice” house become “second to none?” One thing you can do is call Joni Spear Interior Design for Joni to work her magic, transforming a ho-hum, nearly characterless house into a glamourous yet comfortable home for a family of five.

    The homeowners—Kenton and Donna Bruice—live primarily in Aspen, Colorado, but when their son began boarding school in St. Louis, the family began to consider a home in the Gateway City. “We were never a boarding school family,” says Donna, “but my son very quickly became a Midwestern boy.” She says a few years later they enrolled their daughters in private schools in St. Louis. “The great schools brought us here,” Donna says.

    When their “dream home” was sold to another family, a process Donna calls “heart-wrenching,” she found a traditional two-story brick in Town and Country. “We’d heard of the neighborhood, and we liked the house’s proximity to the girls’ school and the kids’ activities,” says Donna. “It had a pool, and it had been renovated extensively a few years back, so it was a white-on-white canvas. But it was definitely not my dream house.”

    To transform the lackluster abode into a dreamy vision, Donna searched for design professionals. “I found Joni on online,” Donna says. “I talked to other designers, but I couldn’t tear myself away from Joni’s visual aesthetic and her taste.” Joni says the home had very little natural light and was staged to sell when the Bruice family purchased it. “Everything was painted white, and it was so cold,” Joni recalls. The Bruices did not want any construction, so no walls would be moved, or countertops replaced. “She was very specific in that all our work would be cosmetic only,” says Joni.

    Color, paint, wallpaper, window treatments, new lighting, new cabinet hardware and new furnishings were all utilized to update the home and meet Donna’s design style. “Almost everything changed that wouldn’t require a jackhammer,” Donna laughs.

    She says other designers she interviewed said designer and client would shop together in Chicago or other major design-market cities. “I heard that and just saw dollar signs,” says Donna. Joni, however, assured Donna they could work long-distance while the family was still living in Aspen. “She’d put together three vision boards for one room at a time and send those to me,” says Donna. “And each time, one of the boards was exactly spot on, where I loved everything on the page—the colors, the furniture, the lighting, fabrics, just everything. And she’d mail fabric swatches and wallpaper samples. It’s a very efficient way to work.”

    “My objective was to ‘wow’ her because I knew she was not in love with the home,” says Joni. “I learned she loved color and brightness, so I tried to envelop the spaces in the home with saturated colors to give that feeling of warmth.”

    Donna says she describes her aesthetic as “tradition meets glam,” or maybe “glam meets tradition.” “I’m not sure which way it should go, but I love, love, love traditional but with a very modern, hip flair, which I think Joni really brought to life, with color and mixing patterns and texture within a traditional framework,” Donna says.

    A beautiful example is the dining room. “We started with a very, very traditional table and chairs,” says Donna, which Joni notes resulted from a “highly juried online treasure hunt.” The pieces were refinished in a stain more reflective of the young homeowners, Joni says. Walls are clad in a Temperley London cut velvet and metallic animal print wallpaper, which provides a modern contrast to the traditional furnishings. The millwork was painted in a semi-gloss alabaster as a relief from the wallpaper and blush ceiling, and an opulent, antique-inspired chandelier with draped crystal beading provides a focal point. “It feels glam to me and unexpected,” says Donna. “This is one of my favorite rooms.”   

    Her office received glam treatment as well, with a show-stopping ceiling of fuchsia and violet blossoms thanks to the Phillip Jeffries wallpaper. Dated wood shelves were painted pale pink, and the wall paint mimics grass cloth wallpaper, adding texture and interest. Feminine touches abound, from the desk’s fluted sides and tapered legs to the swirling orbs of the chandelier. “It’s all just unexpected,” says Donna. “My office is one of a kind.”   

    In the family room, Joni selected a high-gloss, peacock blue paint to boldly elevate a once uninspired family room. Walls, woodwork and fireplace are all bathed in the peacock blue, with a pair of French Bergères chairs upholstered in a cut velvet of the same hue flanking the fireplace. Contrasting trim accentuates the lines of the English arm sofa with brass casters. “You are just drawn to it,” the designer says of the “magical” space. “It’s elegant but not too formal, and there’s enough seating for everyone. It’s truly a family room.”

    With the family settled into their new home, Donna reflects that she has grown to love the traditional architecture prevalent throughout St. Louis. “It’s very much inspired me, and I feel the next home I design, I want to continue with the traditional style I’ve enjoyed seeing here,” says Donna. “And I want Joni to do my next home. Her taste is fabulous, yet she’s very price aware. She just made this whole process very easy.”

    With the right designer mindfully choosing exceptional furnishings, statement light fixtures, bold colors and evocative wallpaper, an ugly duckling can change into a beautiful, graceful swan. “You can take a house that is so plain and simple, stripped of any character, and transform it into a castle without knocking down any walls,” says Joni. “My goal was for the house to be completed prior to the family’s arrival, but they became so excited about the dramatic transformation they couldn’t wait to move in.”


Paint: League Painting

Lighting: Visual Comfort, Charleston Forge (in the sitting room)

Wallpaper in foyer and office: Phillip Jeffries

Wallpaper in dining room: Romo

Wallpaper in powder room: Thibaut