Home & Garden

Tips to upgrade your home from Design Alchemy, a mother-daughter team that transforms living spaces

Kristine Renee and Deborah Costa are a powerful mother-daughter tandem in the Sacramento interior decorating world.
Kristine Renee and Deborah Costa are a powerful mother-daughter tandem in the Sacramento interior decorating world.

Kristine Renee has an eye for design and a head full of ideas. Tips for creating budget-friendly, innovative, and functional design stream out of her with optimistic fervor; she has an idea for everyone.

Renee and her mom, Deborah Costa, have run interior design company Design Alchemy together for six years in Sacramento. They have worked on local projects with their clients, and also curate and create design pieces for their dual-function shop and showroom.

Renee’s fulfillment with her career is evident. She is passionate about creating beautiful spaces but she says she cares most about cultivating a relationship with her clients and the community.

“The relationships we have with our clients are always the most important to us, and it’s the most special experience to meet a family and transform their space,” Renee said. “So many of our projects are different in style and different in scope. … Every project is a challenge, but it’s so creatively invigorating to take on something different.”

Renee and Costa have designed many homes, apartments and commercial spaces in Northern California. They take on some projects individually but always collaborate, Renee said.

Costa’s favorite part of the business is new builds, or new construction and remodels, Renee said.

“The woman is so creative, she can go into a space and just automatically envision what it would look like with walls torn down, and the ceiling raised, and a window here,” Renee said.

Renee said that her heart is in furniture sourcing and selecting decorative pieces for her projects.

“That’s what makes my heart sing. We both are involved in each aspect of what we do, but our strengths really play together nicely,” Renee said. “We’re very much involved in all of our projects together.”

A breath of fresh air on Antique Row

Design Alchemy’s storefront serves as a creative location for the mom-and-daughter duo to work. There, they source furniture and decorative pieces, reference paint and rug samples, and create “mood boards” to pin down the aesthetic and feel of the projects they’re working on.

The fashionable shop is located in the 57th Street Antique Row, an understated strip mall in East Sacramento well known for its curios.

Modern and beautiful, the shop houses constantly changing pieces that have been sourced from all over the world. It also holds original pieces designed by the duo as well as antique furniture they have refreshed with new upholstery.

The focus, Renee said, is on both original antiques – no cheap recreations – and new, innovative design that isn’t seen elsewhere. The mix is eclectic, but consistent, and the shop never feels like a jumble of mismatched furniture.

The women try to make two trips a month to source products, and a majority of their inspiration is found while traveling, Renee said.

“We have so much and it changes all the time,” Renee said.

The shop also carries pieces from local artisans, and depending on the month, hosts a Second Saturday pop-up event to feature a local artist or designer, Renee said.

Social media design darlings

The shop is often visited by Antique Row regulars, but also by another demographic: Instagram users. Design Alchemy started up their Instagram account and began gaining followers about two years ago, Renee said. The account now has more than 20,000 followers.

As popular as the account is, Renee said her and her mom try to stay off the platform as much as they can, except to post.

“There are so many leaders in our industry … that kind of lead design direction, and it’s really easy, even if it’s not happening consciously, to be provoked and influenced by the imagery that you see,” Renee said.

Instead of posting heavily about their everyday business dealings, the women use the platform as an extension of their portfolio, curating their best photos of their projects to be posted. They also use the story function to post occasional behind-the-scenes looks at projects or artisan fairs they’re attending.

The following grew organically as they completed projects, Renee said. In a photo, she would tag the artisan or designer who built each of the pieces; in return, they reposted the photo and tagged Design Alchemy, and both parties gained followers.

They also use the platform to post updates about the shop and new product, which Renee said has brought in customers that otherwise wouldn’t know about the brand.

Tips and Tricks: for everyone, from an expert

While the company serves high-end clients with their full-kit design services, the shop has plenty of affordable pieces. Renee readily offered tons of tips: for people who want to upgrade their living spaces without a complete (and bank-draining) overhaul, for those who want to make subtle changes to welcome the shifting seasons, and even for students moving into the dorms this fall.

Budget-friendly upgrades:

“Definitely lighting,” Renee said. “I know it sounds scary … it makes such a difference, and it’s something that’s really easy to install, and easy to change back out and keep the light fixture when you leave.”

Secondly, Renee recommended switching out your window coverings. Replacing plastic blinds with wooden ones or switching out curtains can be done with little money and can upgrade a space significantly.

Third, she recommended starting an art collection to punch up your walls. The art pieces don’t have to be expensive.

“Even if it’s something you find locally, or in an antiques store, or in a gallery, or while traveling,” Renee said. “Having that collection and being really mindful about what you’re purchasing is great.”

Fourth, she encouraged investing in “forever pieces”. They cost a little bit more at the outset, but save you money over time because you don’t have to replace them, Renee said.

“I know that sounds counterintuitive to wanting to stay on a budget, but I would so much rather see somebody buy a nice sofa, and then find cool antique chests at the antiques fair for $15 (to use as) a coffee table,” Renee said. “Then your sofa’s super comfy and it’s something you’re gonna keep for 10 years.”

Her last tip for finding forever pieces, and upgrading on a budget?

“Try to stay away from IKEA,” Renee said.

Seasonal changes in your home design

Switching out small details in your home’s design is the key to successful seasonal changes; no one is switching out their couch or tables for the holidays, for example.

“Maybe it’s just changing a pillow on your sofa, or maybe for the summer take away a few pieces, so it feels a bit brighter, and airier,” Renee said. “Or switching out your florals. For the holiday season, you can put some pine on your dining table, and that lasts all season.”

It’s also important to pull in colors that correlate to the season: pastels for spring, bright colors and whites for summer, reds, yellows and oranges for fall, and holiday colors in winter.

Renee recommended switching out coffee table books and putting out season-specific items, like serving dishes only used at the holidays or an autumn centerpiece.

For dorm rooms

“I loved decorating my dorm rooms!” Renee said.

Her top tip? Color.

“Infuse color into your space,” Renee said. “Dorm rooms are always so drab and boring, the carpet’s terrible, and the walls are terrible.”

She recommended getting a colorful duvet to brighten up the space, and taking it a little further with colored desk lamps and other accessories.

Renee also recommended putting in a personal touch with keepsakes and pictures, to give the room personality.

“I love the magnetic boards, where you can make the space your own by having a place to put up all your photos, things like that,” Renee said.

Lastly, a cute but functional storage piece is an essential in a small space like a dorm room, Renee said.

“For me it was always bathroom storage in my dorm room. It was awful, so I had this rolling trolley for all my hair stuff,” Renee said. “Something like a bin system, that you can collapse and move around, that’s multifunctional, is so important.”