When you photograph and style beautiful things for a living, you get ideas. And when you're a design-minded homeowner with considerable DIY skills — like Amber Thrane, of Dulcet Creative, and her husband Bryan — you put those ideas and skills to work, even when you're heavily pregnant with your third child.
For some projects, however, you should hire professionals. About a year and a half ago, the Thranes — then four of them — moved out of their 1980s-era home in Temecula for a substantial six-week renovation. "Being the eternal optimists that we are, we created a few weeks of cushion time and rented a cabin in the woods with our family to get away during the renovation," Thrane says.
"My home and I are soul sisters. I am always in a constant state of change, constantly looking for ways to improve and better myself." — Amber Thrane
Two months later, baby No. 3 had arrived — and the contractors still weren't done. They moved back in anyway last November with work still to be done.
Living amid change and projects-in-process is nothing new for the Thranes. The first wave of major renovations to the three-bedroom, two-bath house took place shortly after they purchased it in 2012.
"The home was so terrible," she remembers. "It smelled like animal urine and had dark walls and dark, stained carpet and giant dark drapes that blocked all the light." Despite all that, and the choppy floor plan, she felt certain it was the place for them. "I wouldn't even venture to say the bones were good but I felt connected to it and it didn't take me long to develop a very clear vision for it — despite how crazy our friends and families thought we were for even considering buying it," Thrane says.
The home was surrounded by equestrian meadows on nearly an acre of land. "I knew buying the worst home in a nice neighborhood is never a bad investment. I knew even if we fixed it up a little bit we would instantly profit on resale," says Thrane. "Little did I know that we would pour so much of our literal blood, sweat, tears, and memories into building and creating our home that we would become pretty attached."
Those early renovations lightened and brightened the space, and Thrane filled it with a wide-ranging yet always tasteful collection of accessories, mixing Urban Outfitters and IKEA with vintage and higher-end pieces. She took the quirky atrium in the center of the house, which is open to the sky, and redid the floors with Tulum tile from Cement Tile Shop. "Although it would have been easier to tear it out, I really wanted to keep it as a little area off the kitchen that we could eventually fix up," she said.
That was three years ago — and a lot has happened in that span of time. The latest incarnation of the home is still tastefully curated — but different. Thrane says the overall style is a "relaxed, California-collected vibe." The accessories are more restrained; the palette is more strongly neutral. It's less eclectic, more refined. And the space is drenched in light.
"My favorite new design element was the amount of windows and light we were able to pull into our new design and floor plan," says Thrane. "My husband calls me 'solar-powered' and it couldn't be more true: I need sunshine to function."
The most recent renovation was a complete reimagining of the house's layout — centering on the kitchen, where Thrane, who loves to cook, spends a lot of her time. And it was something she had envisioned the minute they bought the home, six years prior.
"I wanted the kitchen to be central and open to the backyard instead of tucked away in a corner in the front of our house," says Thrane. To do so, they knocked down five walls inside the home and opened up the floor plan.
Although it took nearly a year, for instance, from the time they moved out during the demolition until the countertops were finally installed, it was worth it, she says. Now, the kitchen is the true heart of the home — for everyone, even the baby, who's enjoyed a few baths in the kitchen sink. "It is such an open, functional space that never feels crowded. The kids can help in the kitchen now and cooking has become one of our favorite things to do together," she says.
While it's not done — they still want to add backsplash, some hardware, and a pot-filler — it's functional. And there's Christmas to attend to, one of Thrane's favorite holidays. There's the gorgeous dried wreaths above the fireplace and in the kitchen. Seasonal buds from the property are in the bud vases above her bed. And a DIY branch that bridges one holiday — Thanksgiving — to the next.
It's all a far cry from their first Christmas there when the tree was in the living room, but the living room was just subfloor. "We didn't even have furniture yet, there was drywall dust everywhere, and the walls were ripped down to the studs in some places," she says. "But to us, it was home."
And for Amber Thrane, that's everything. "My home and I are soul sisters. I am always in a constant state of change, constantly looking for ways to improve and better myself. I think my house has taken on so many different versions of itself over the years and we are slowly, day by day, exploring our potential and growing into who we were always meant to be."