Pacifica, CA

How this couple is surviving the Pacifica real estate boom

Kristen Philipkoski

All photos by Megan Bayley.

Pacifica real estate is going bonkers at the moment, but this couple is staying above the fray by doubling down on beautifying their small cottage rental.

Moving into a bachelor pad when you’re a design-minded woman is a daunting endeavor that requires no small amount of patience and persistence. But Lisa Woo has proven it’s possible. She moved into her partner Mark Sessler’s Pacifica cottage in 2012, and very gradually over the past seven years has created a beautiful, incredibly tidy and comfortable home for what has become their family of three (five including the dog and cat).

Mark, founder of Green Room School of Music, had lived in the home for years, first caring for his mother and later with roommates. By the time Lisa moved in, the small space was taken over by too-large furniture and her surfer/musician partner’s myriad possessions.

But she restrained her urge to redecorate everything immediately, and instead eased into it over a period of years—an approach that’s perhaps best for the longevity of a relationship. The result, I’m sure you’ll agree, was worth the wait. Read on for Lisa’s storage and organization tips, her colorful yet neutral interior style, plus the family’s super cute Minnie Winnie.

How did you decide to make some of the changes you’ve made recently, for example that little nook in the corner behind the front door?

“There was a TV there that took up the entire space. It just never really served a purpose. So when the TV finally died (yay, I was waiting for that moment) we finally got rid of it. I always envisioned a couch in that corner but it’s such a weird space. I love built-ins because it just makes it fell more purposeful and like it was meant to be custom.

And since it’s such a long, narrow space, I wanted to break it up into little entertaining spaces. So Mark built a base and we ended up putting our cushions from the camper there.”

Did you have those cushions in mind or was that a happy accident?

“No it was a happy accident. I was going to buy a cheap couch from Ikea. I remember I found one small enough, but it just looked so cheap. It was like a thousand dollars or so and I didn’t love it. So Mark built the base and I was going to make cushions for it or find cushions, like those square floor ones that dogs sit on. So I had him build it to those dimensions so I could just buy those and pop them on and then he brilliantly thought of the cushions from the camper and he brought them in and they fit. It was the exact same size.

Before, it was always a dead space. When I look at it now it seems like the seating area has always been there—I think that’s what good design is.”

That’s amazing.

“Yeah and I love the color. I guess I see it as kind of a neutral. And it brings in kind of a water-ocean feel, and it looks great with all of Grey’s artwork.

I don’t spend money on a lot of things. With Grey’s artwork I just use cheap frames, but it’s all in the way you crop it and lay it out. I measured the walls and laid everything out on the floor and took pictures of it first to find the best configuration. I could never buy expensive art and love it as much.”

Can you talk about the artwork that you made to fit above the fireplace?

“So our fireplace was becoming a major hazard. It was put up way back when, all out of brick and it was coming down. In the next earthquake it was going to just fall right into the living room. So we had to take it down and then it was a major eyesore. Until we know what we’re going to do with the house I wanted to create a temporary facade. And so while I’ve been purging—like I am constantly because we have a little house with no storage—I came across all these fabric samples from when I worked at the architecture firm from all these great showrooms and I decided to upcycle them into art.

I had held onto them all these years because I dreamed of having a camper redesign business, but new fabrics are always coming out and these were a bit outdated. So I wanted to use them in a cool way plus it’s affordable and it was fun to make. We had all these different renditions. Initially it was more circular and sort of three-dimensional. Grey loves rainbows and I just improvised. I was doing triangles to make them into shapes, but it just never felt right and then I think we were having a party and I wanted to get something over that space so I stayed up one night and I ended up cutting those into fringes and just gluing them on haphazardly and that’s what we ended up with. Sometimes you think of something for so long and then it just happens. This one is pretty different from the original idea but I love it.”

What would you say are some of the easiest ways to start revamping an interior when things seem overwhelming?

“I would say cleaning and then painting. Decluttering is big, and the painting is going to make you feel like you’re starting fresh, with a clean palette.

Also, use what you have. That’s what we do. Like in our kitchen—we’re renting so we couldn’t get rid of the cabinets and they were really old and smelly. So I went to town cleaning and then sanded and painted them. And I changed the hardware.

We also painted the trim and the bottom cabinets dark, because the kitchen is a relatively big space but I wanted the floor to disappear. Also for dirt, etc., it makes sense. So that’s a super easy fix and when you’re renting you have to do things that are kind of temporary.”

What about mixing old and new? You seem to have mastered that.

“Yes that makes the place a little more interesting. In our kitchen I got these tables, they were actually in our conference room at my architecture firm and when we moved I took them and made a long table so we can entertain.”

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I'm a veteran writer and editor and founder of Mean Magazine and The Mean Podcast for GenX women. I write about everything from fashion to science and everything in between. I’ve written for Racked, Refinery 29, 7x7, SF Chronicle, Wired, Gizmodo and many others.

Pacifica, CA

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