As anyone who has lost a life partner knows, there’s a fine, even delicate line between keeping memories alive and starting new ones. It can apply even to a home redesign. Yes, to changing this, but not quite ready to redo that.
Lori Mohr and her husband, Jim, who was a financial adviser and founder of Mohr Financial Group in 1984, met in 1986 and married a year later, buying their first and forever home that same year. They were the original owners of the two-story, four-bedroom, three-bathroom, Del Mar home, which overlooks San Dieguito Lagoon and the Pacific beyond. It’s where they raised their now-grown three children, Michael, Kaitlin and Patrick. About 20 years ago, they remodeled the 2,205-square-foot home, taking out walls, adding an office, changing the staircase and redoing the windows.
Jim, a star high school and college football player, died in May 2020 after suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. The couple was in the middle of a large landscape remodeling project, which Jim had been actively involved in, just as he had been with the home remodel years ago.
“Life with Jim Mohr was my biggest gift,” Lori Mohr wrote as a Legacy Story for the Concussion Legacy Foundation’s website. “I loved his passion for life, his abundance of energy, his love for adventure, his genuine kindness, compassion, and his warm laugh! As disciplined of a worker as he was, he had the ability not to take himself too seriously and made sure he scheduled in plenty of fun!”
Six months after Jim’s passing, Mohr — who had decided it was time to start updating the house — reached out to Susan Wintersteen, founder and creative director of Savvy Interiors.
“I found Susan on Houzz, where one of her kitchens was featured,” Mohr said. “How she used color and different texture, and just this great black backsplash caught my eye. And it was a Del Mar project.”
She also liked that Wintersteen clearly explained the design process and the company’s systems for approaching a project.
“I’m an organized, logical thinker. I loved that it’s just like me,” Mohr enthused over the design process. “Finally, you have a creative person who is also organized to run an efficient business.”
The scope of the work, which started in May 2021 and finished a year later, was limited to most of the first floor — the entry, kitchen, family room and dining room — as well as the staircase. For sentimental reasons, Mohr wasn’t ready to do bedrooms and bathrooms, although she’s now in the middle of renovating the office.
What Mohr wanted was a home that would be light, bright, warm, and cozy. But Wintersteen needed to pull more from her to be able to produce a plan. She calls it “design discovery.”
“Once we go into contract and we start working on a project, we do quite a bit of design discovery,” Wintersteen explained. “That usually involves a lot of questionnaires, a lot of inspiration photos, a lot of talking about budget and money. ‘How much do you want to invest in this?’ ‘What do we want to put over here?’ ‘What kind of colors do you like?’ ‘What kind of textures?’ Things like that.
“Lori had a very cohesive set of inspiration photos. We saw some repeating themes and saw some patterns of what she was drawn to, so it made our job a little easier.”
“I didn’t have a specific design in mind,” said Mohr. “What I wanted is a feeling. I want light and bright, yet warm and inviting.”
Wintersteen said Mohr has a clean, tailored aesthetic “that is warm and inviting and focuses on crisp colors and soothing textures. She wants a calm, peaceful home to relax in.”
They settled on a palette of creams and almonds with pops of blues. “We wanted to play on texture and neutrals to really let our eyes wander and focus on the ocean,” Wintersteen said.
Mohr basically gave Savvy Interiors carte blanche, except she didn’t want to change the layout “because it worked and that’s what we had remodeled 20 years ago.” The only structural work amounted to relocating a waterline pipe that came down vertically right in the middle of the countertop from the previous remodel, taking out a corner unit in the family room, removing a fireplace in the dining room, and moving the family room fireplace over to center it in the wall.
When plans for the kitchen were unveiled, Mohr said she started to cry because it was so beautiful. While Mohr isn’t a big cook, she likes to entertain — and she’s anticipating hanging out with grandchildren someday.
The focal point of the kitchen is the 12-foot-long island, covered in Ironsbridge quartz by Cambria, with a Brizo faucet for the sink; it’s long enough for five wood and rattan barstools with sleek leather seats. “We were thinking the kids are going to be up at the counter someday making cookies and cakes with Lori and hanging out, so we did quartz instead of a natural stone,” said Wintersteen.
Above the island are two glass-and-brass pendant lights, hanging from a white shiplap ceiling, a feature that runs throughout most of the first floor, along with Kerrew French oak, 8-inch-wide plank floors by Mediterranean Hardwood from California Classics.
Behind the island is a wall of Monogram appliances from Pirch and cream-colored white oak cabinetry from inSIDE by Savvy, the designer’s retail arm. The cabinet hardware is a mix of 12-inch Honey Bronze pulls and 9-inch Lydia pulls by Top Knobs. Mohr chose an induction stovetop and behind it, under an arch that includes the hood, is a showstopping backsplash made with 12-inch-by-12-inch Alluro marble mosaic tile in Mini Castle Cream.
At one end of the island is a coffee and cocktails bar that includes a wine refrigerator, three cabinet drawers and a textured backsplash of aptly named Montauk Gin white ceramic tiles with a satin finish. The 4-inch square tiles gleam like oyster shells in the light. In front of the backsplash are two open shelves holding wine glasses, mule glasses and martini glasses, with a full bar set on the counter below.
At the far end of the kitchen, by the windows with their breathtaking lagoon and ocean view, is a cabinet with bottom doors filled in with a rattanlike material. Above is a glass-faced set of shelving framed in black matte metal. Under the bay window is banquette seating with storage topped by a semicircular cushion with performance material, a round wood table and three chairs.
The kitchen is open to the family room, with its equally glorious view. The seating area is anchored by a wool Shazia Stripe rug in slate. Wintersteen filled the area with seating — a large beige sectional upholstered in performance fabric that curves from the far wall around to the windows and finishes on the other side where the short wall, which meets the back door, ends. In the center is a grounding dark wood hexagonal coffee table.
Next to the sofa, close to the kitchen, are two comfy-looking armchairs with rope backs. All that seating faces a new fireplace, with the television above and cabinetry next to it that mimics the set in the kitchen by the banquette.
The dining room is by the home’s entry, with easy access to the nearby kitchen. “It was originally a living room and is a little bit wider than a standard dining room,” said Mohr.
Because she grew up in New England, she wanted to bring some of the millwork she loved from that region to the dining room to “dress it up somewhat,” so the two walls have large square, white-on-white wainscoting. Mohr laughed when she recalled that she also wanted coffered ceilings, an idea rejected by Wintersteen — too much.
The room is light and elegant, but still comfortable. A bluish gray wool rug sits below a long wood table surrounded by eight distinctive dining chairs with a nail head finish encircling both the backs and the light mauve seats. Cream-colored drapes puddle on either side of the wide window. A long, dark wood console sits against the back wall, topped by a unique off-white table lamp punctuated with little balls.
Opposite the dining room is the stairway, now sporting a wool runner and black metal railing. Hanging horizontally on the wall of the upstairs landing is one of Jim’s surfboards. He was a longtime surfer who collected longboards.
Then there’s the entry. It’s all Jim with two of his Dewey Weber and one Donald Takayama longboards mounted vertically on the wall.
“Susan was great about this because it’s a very sentimental wall,” Mohr said. “My fear was I’m going to take those surfboards down and I’m going to feel the loss of Jim. Susan said to keep them up and they’re actually beautiful. The red and green one was Jim’s first surfboard that he bought with his best friend. They each paid $7 for it.”
Across from the front door is a handsome, custom-wood console by the David Alan Collection on Cedros Avenue in Solana Beach, which her husband bought her for her 50th birthday. Above is a brilliantly colored Peter Max signed and numbered lithograph, “The Gramophone,” that she bought for herself because her dad — as director of development for Capitol Records — had worked closely with the artist.
“When I saw the piece, which was part of the design for the cover of the program for the 1986 Grammys, it reminded me of my dad,” she said.
With this phase of the home renovation completed, Mohr has felt at peace with the changes.
“I always loved coming home from walks and from the outside, looking at my house, felt it was always warm and inviting,” said Mohr. “After I moved everything out for demo, I remember going, ‘Oh my gosh, I just hope that I’m going to feel that same way when I walk into the new one’ because it’s like a warm blanket of comfort.
“When you’re going through grief, you don’t want to give up anything that is important, like that feeling of comfort,” she added. “But I get goosebumps now. It makes me tear up because I just love this house. I feel like I have Jim’s blessing. This is just the next stage of my life, and it’s going to be okay.”
Caron Golden is a freelance writer.