before and after

Before & After: “MOHO” Style in a Colorful Family Home

by Annie Werbler

“I call my style MOHO,” says Kari Firak, a writer, social media manager, photographer, stylist, and blogger. “Modern boho — like equal parts Stevie Nicks and Devo.” She hates clutter, but at the same time, wants her home to feel lived-in and loved. “I’m talking white walls filled with vintage artwork. IKEA furniture on Moroccan rugs. There’s a fine line between mid-century and middle-aged cat lady, and I want to walk that line,” she jokes. Alongside husband John (“With his last name making mine into a palindrome, we knew it was fate!”), a photography teacher, and their small kids Max and Lola, Kari spruced up their 1,700-square-foot, 1910 Victorian in Crystal Lake, IL with stylish and functional solutions. Though she loves color, Kari “has a thing” for white walls. “It always feels crisp and clean to me, refreshing,” she offers. “It also opens up the small rooms we are working with, making them feel larger. White walls create a blank canvas; I can go as crazy as I want with everything else in the room.”

Before she even began working on it, the house had good bones with its original wainscoting and crown moldings. The biggest adjustment was made to the living room. The previous owners used half of the long space as a living room, and the other part as a sitting room. “We just aren’t formal enough to have a separate dining room,” Kari explains. “With small children, and since I work from home, it made more sense to make the formal dining room into an office and playroom.” They then turned the other portion of the living room into the perfect family table spot around which to share meals. New ceiling light locations and fixtures were added to made the space adaptable to different purposes. “A combined living room/dining room makes entertaining more friendly, and the office/playroom gets much, much more use than if we had left it as a formal dining room,” Kari says. In the laundry room, oak cabinets and countertops surrounded the old washer and dryer. Their bulk filled so much of the tiny area that the homeowners removed them immediately after moving in. Custom shelves feel airier, and provide the open type of storage the couple prefers. Though there are still projects left to complete, Kari appreciates a home that is always in need of a little improvement. “It keeps things interesting!” —Annie

Photography by Kari Firak

In Kari and John Firak's Crystal Lake, Illinois dining room, the pair take a "modern boho" approach to decorating in their Victorian-style home.
"I love turquoise and pink together," Kari shares. "It’s one of my favorite color combos." She made the planter hanger with inexpensive rope from the hardware store.
The Firaks transformed the former living room area into their dining room. They swapped the light fixtures for more modern sconces, and scored vintage Krueger chairs on Craigslist. "I love chairs. I have 43 various dining and side chairs. I constantly change them around, and whenever we have a party they make their way out," Kari shares. The dining table is made of repurposed railroad ties, handwoven baskets hang on the wall, and graphic artwork rounds out the eclectic space.
At the opposite end of a long, open room, an inviting and bright living area functions as a place where the family often reads books, watches television, and hangs out together.
A small gallery wall behind the television somewhat camouflages its imposing presence. Kari also stores her hot pink Crosley turntable and her parents' vintage records around the entertainment unit. "From Crystal Gayle to Simon and Garfunkel to Culture Club, it’s a pretty epic collection!" she adds.
Previously a more formal sitting room, the Firaks swapped out the modern gas fireplace with iron logs for their preferred cozy wood-burning stove insert. "It produces so much more heat, which is welcome in this drafty 100-year-old house," Kari explains. "And I think it fits the look of the house better. All I need is a tea kettle for the top!"
Kari's aunt painted the abstract canvas on the wall when she was in college, and it ties in the tones of the vibrant rug.
In what was once the formal dining room, Kari and John have created an office and playroom with desks for themselves and their kids. The adults work and play here, with Kari picking up a weaving hobby after making her own giant loom. Max and Lola have their own dedicated drawers for paper, markers, stickers, coloring books, and more. "At times it can get messy," Mom admits, "But that accessibility and freedom has translated to countless hours of creativity and independence that I wouldn’t trade for the world."
The book wall provides the kids with easy access to all their favorite titles, and Kari enjoys moving them around based on color themes. Max draws long comic strips on the easel. "He wants us to animate them someday!" Kari says.
The dark and heavy laundry room was revamped with white walls, trim, and appliances. Custom shelves flank the new washer and dryer. Adjacent to the kitchen, the shelves serve double duty holding extra plates, bowls, and other tabletop items. Plants also enjoy this sunny spot in the house.
Kari framed a photograph John took of his grandfather in school. "It was a study of lighting and there is a whole series of Grandpa taken at different points of a 360°," she explains. "Someday I'll hang all of them, but this one is my favorite."
Lola loves animals, so her masks and colorful lanterns decorate the area around her bed. Kari handmade the collection of cute throw pillows. "The floral one used to be my mom’s dress from the 70s!" she adds.
Lola's desk is a floating IKEA shelf stained to match her bed -- mountable to the wall at any height. Kari made the "Big Hair Don't Care" print inspired by one from Castle.
Max’s smaller room holds only a few key pieces of furniture. Kari painted the whole room white to make it seem bigger and to mask the paneling. Tons of superheroes, Star Wars, ninjas, and Legos can be found here.
Kari painted the bed a light shade of grey to set it apart from the walls, and painted the old desk (a Craigslist find) a bright white to match. Batman decals are arranged in a regular pattern. Mom also painted a large decorative canvas with chalkboard paint and built a frame with cedar trim. "It was wildly inexpensive and turned out really, really fun," she shares.
The Firak residence's 1,700-square-foot living space on two finished floors.

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  • Love your clean fresh taste and designs, Kari. I was fortunate enough to visit your home and its even better in person. Keep on coming up with ideas and show the rest of us how it’s done !
    Pat Baker

  • I actually like the use of ceiling fans, in the world of central air, ceiling fans do an amazing job of cooling a room. Batman decals may I inquire where your purchased them? Also what is the colour of white as it is such a hard colour to pick!

    • Hi Lisa! The decals are from Urban Walls, uwdecals.com, and the paint is Ralph Lauren Polo Mallet. Amazingly, white really is a tough color to pick- so many variations!

  • Gorgeous! And such a delight to visit – as well as it photographs, it’s even better in person!

  • What a lovely home, Kari. I was wondering if you might share the source for your rocking chair? It looks so comfy and modern; a perfect combo, basically!

  • I’m going to borrow Moho! Definitely describes how I see my style too. I just love the colours in the dining room. Feeling inspired – thanks!

  • DKK – me too…but then again, one of the nice things about being a middle aged woman is that we might just have the resources to qualify for the french version of MOHO: Bo Bo (Bourgeois Bohemian); the odd bit of glamour makes all the difference. The young and hip don’t know what they are missing!

  • This is beautiful, but the name is also funny because “Moho” is a technical term in geology! So as a style, “moho” should definitely include some beautiful maps on the wall ;)

    *in geology, “Moho” is the boundary between the brittle outermost layer of our planet (the lithosphere) and the silly-putty-like second layer (the asthenosphere) where the magic movement that drives plate tectonics takes place. “Moho” is short for the long last name of the person who identified this feature — which is only rarely preserved in a “fossil” form at the earth’s surface, usually it stays hidden miles below our feet.

  • Beautiful home! I am looking for a low and wide book shelf like the one at the bottom of your “book wall” could you share the source? Thank you!

    • Thanks :) That one was custom built by my dad, it was based off a Montessori design. If you google “low Montessori shelf” there are some options that come up.

  • Beautiful home, Kari. That pink accent wall color is just the pink I have been looking for. Can I ask what brand and color paint you used?

  • I love a home that isn’t cookie cutter and your’s certainly isn’t. Pink in a dining area….genius. Care to share the brand and shade of the pink paint/

  • What a fun and light-filled home! I can’t imagine how much work went into all the changes. Beautiful!