In construction and design, one project often leads to another. This concept could not be truer for Sara Kate and Jason Little, especially with the recent completion of The Bradford House, a boutique hotel they fashioned from a century-old mansion along Classen Boulevard. This was not their first build-and-design collaboration – not by a long shot. Home improvement is a common thread weaving throughout the Littles’ past, present and future.
The Bachelor Pad
Sara Kate and Jason Little first met in 2012, when she designed his second-floor-walk-up condo in Crown Heights. The two would often compare dating stories, and through the laughs, paint samples and fabric swatches, they became good friends. Two months after they wrapped up that one-year project, they started dating… and never stopped. Jason attributes their compatibility to their differences balancing each other: Type A meets Talent.
“Her talent is easy for me to celebrate,” he says. “I feel like I have my own level of taste, but her ambition and drive are so remarkable on their own.”
Fast forward to 2014: They’ve married. Sara Kate moved into the bachelor pad, after shuffling the design a bit to incorporate her belongings and unique aesthetic.
“Jason loves really simple, beautiful lines,” Sara Kate says. “He loves things very orderly, whereas I’m a collector. I love a clean shape, but I also love something kind of unexpected and crazy.”
The combined result – evident in every project the Littles complete – is a clean, crisp backdrop with layers upon layers of patterned upholstery, colorful cabinetry, vintage light fixtures, reclaimed hardware, playful artwork and travel mementoes.
Soon after they merged their styles, they found out Sara Kate was pregnant. The newlyweds tweaked the condo (again) to welcome home a new baby. When baby number two entered the picture, they realized the need for a more accommodating space. Carrying two car seats up a flight of stairs from a detached garage wasn’t ideal.
The Almost Historic Home
In 2018, the Littles found their dream home in the historic Cleveland neighborhood. Unfortunately, it had a sold sign in the yard. But the neighborhood was right. The landscaped boulevard was right. And the looming, 75-year-old tree in the front yard seemed to be beckoning them to make this house their home.
“We liked the bones of the house, from what we could see outside, and I loved-loved-loved the sycamore tree,” Sara Kate says. “The house was in sad shape, so I was really excited about restoring it and making it something special.”
That was on a Wednesday. On Thursday, they had contacted the buyer, someone Jason knew from high school. Come Friday, they were buying his contract for the house – a house they’d yet to see inside. Turns out, the inside presented its own challenges.
“It was full of junk – and not in a charming way – with parts of it you couldn’t even walk in,” Jason says. “We developed the plans and started demolition on the interior. When we got it down to the studs, it was evident there was termite and water damage. We are drawn to the fixer-upper, but we ended up with a fixer-upper that necessitated building new.”
After weighing all the options, the Littles decided it was more prudent financially to tear the house down and start over. However, they loved the existing floor plan and architectural lines of the 1940s house, so their “new” plans applied the same lot placement, dimensions, roof pitch and window placement of the original home.
“The floor plan is the original plan,” Sara Kate says. “We’re nostalgic people, and we wanted a historic home for the way the spaces transitioned to one another,” says Sara Kate. “The living-kitchen-dining transitions easily and keeps us within sight and earshot of the kids.”
The Littles only made minor changes, like raising the ceilings from eight to ten feet and extending the front porch.
“We were really sensitive to putting back what was there the best we could, rather than building a ‘90s Dallas-style home, out of context in a historic neighborhood,” Jason says.
From the street, nestled behind a large sycamore tree, the Littles’ new family home today looks like it’s been there for decades.
The Heart of the Home
The Littles moved into the Cleveland home in 2019, and their life there continues to evolve. Three children keep the place active: Edith (Edie) is three. Matilda (Tilly) is two. Baby Linus joined the family in January 2020.
“We’ve been really intrigued to see the way we’re using the space as a family,” Sara Kate says. “Pre-design, when we were brainstorming about all of it, and even during construction, our kids were still so little. The space has really worked for us in ways that we didn’t anticipate.”
Most activity occurs in the kitchen, and the Littles planned the space to accommodate their young family and most cherished activities. Instead of tall barstools, a wooden bench – designed by Ilse Crawford and discovered while vacationing at Ett Hemm hotel in Stockholm – backs up to the kitchen island. The kitchen table hosts family meals, small gatherings with friends and messy craft projects, with chairs covered in Quadrille’s Arbre de Matisse indoor-outdoor fabric.
The kitchen is where Jason and Edie bring in the latest harvest from their vegetable garden and cook dinner together. The Lacanche French oven range may be Jason’s favorite feature of the home.
“I joke with Sara that if we ever have to move, this range is not included with the house,” Jason says. “I do consider it like an heirloom.”
Sara Kate hung vintage pendants – rescued from a Norman restaurant – over the kitchen island. She mixed in salvaged hardware discovered on eBay, including the two pairs of large storefront door handles used on the fridge and cabinets. Sara Kate only shopped catalogs for filler, when she needed large quantities of matching knobs. Most hardware in their home was found on eBay.
“I want it to reflect us, to feel unusual and special,” says Sara Kate.
In the living room, layers of differently textured rugs sit under a tiger-striped sectional, and the back doors slide open to create a fluid indoor-outdoor living space when the weather is nice. Blackout drapes, in Schumacher’s Sepiessa pattern, are pulled shut on movie nights. The light fixtures are mid-century modern Stilnovo and delicate Venini glass, the same Italian designs placed throughout the Bradford House. Two vintage Italian chairs and a floor lamp were actually destined for the Bradford House, but Jason and Sara Kate couldn’t part with them after bringing them home.
The wall displays several quirky Hugo Guinness linocuts – a collection they plan to keep building. Wall-to-wall bookshelves hold an impressive stash of books, with many procured from weekly visits to Commonplace Books, Sara Kate’s former client.
“We are book people,” she says. “When building the house, a big question was ‘Where are the books going to go?’ because at the condo they were stacked on the floor.”
Sara Kate adores arranging (and rearranging) books, accessories and artwork throughout the home.
“It’s not uncommon for me to come home and she’s got all the books pulled off shelves,” Jason says. “It is this constant shuffle, but she enjoys the process and is inspired by outcomes.”
The Design Lab
Sara Kate likes to try new ideas, materials and methods inside her home first before sharing with clients.
“My style has evolved as I learn and travel,” she says. “I’ll go down rabbit holes of new designers or applications I’m finding.”
Unique applications – like a plaster-and-paint mixture that changes patina over time, or a marbleized wrapping paper cut into squares and used as wallcovering – can be spotted in various rooms. Glazed terra cotta Zellige tiles were chosen for the living room fireplace and the master bathroom floor for their “organic and imperfect” nature.
“We like things that look like someone was involved in the production of them,” Sara Kate says. “We discovered this tile during a trip to Morocco. It’s everywhere there.”
If you look at the white plates arranged in the dining room – antique China purchased and used on the Littles’ wedding day – you’ll be drawn in for closer inspection.
“I love the stamps on the back,” Sara Kate says, as she explains why some are hanging backward. The white plates are clustered elegantly on the Farrow and Ball Dix Blue walls.
Projects come and go as the Littles settle into their home. Jason is completing a garden shed in the back, with a greenhouse addition to come. Bedrooms upstairs were just wallpapered. Their collection of French rattan mirrors, clustered in the stairwell, will grow until it touches the ceiling. Pictures continually get rearranged, changing configurations as they move from room to room.
“Both of our tastes have been evolving since we started working together,” Sara Kate says, “but also, we’re trying to figure out what is our style together, and also what works for the kids.”
“We’re still doing projects,” Jason adds. “Sara always has something in mind she could enhance, but every day it feels more lived in, both inside and outside.”
For the Littles, the creative process is as enjoyable as the final product. Design is ever-changing – as life tends to be.