Victoria Sass knows a thing about global boho design. Born in Minnesota, the Prospect Refuge Studio owner/principal spent a decade in Santa Cruz, California, and studied in her husband’s native city of Copenhagen, Denmark. This unique mash-up of Midwestern charm, coastal casual and urban modern has undeniably influenced her work, which has caught the eyes of some 14,000 Instagram followers and landed her on Architectural Digest’s 2022 list of New American Voices. Her distinctive and collective approach always reflects and embraces its locale, and nowhere is this more apparent and celebrated than in her own family home, set in Minneapolis and deeply steeped in nostalgia.
“Every layer of your life is important,” Sass asserts. “Your experiences manifest themselves in your work and home.” For her, they manifested into a 5,000-square-foot brick dwelling in East Isles. The semi-converted triplex boasts endless grandeur with 12-foot ceilings, giant windows and six bedrooms (including two in the top-floor apartment for visiting friends and family) plus an opportunity to return the residence to single-family living. In doing so, the couple opted to lose a bathroom off the kitchen, letting them open up the floor plan — ideal for keeping an eye on their three young kids. Then it was all about personalizing the large volumes to create “little pockets of intimacy in the vastness of space,” while honoring the property’s history.
“This home has lived so many lives,” Sass says, noting that each room evolved through the remodel, one getting a bit lighter than the next. “As you walk through it, you progressively move through the decades.”
The entry represents the house’s first life and true 1900s glory as the oldest and darkest area, where the original fireplace and woodwork were salvaged. With its glowing paneling and an arched glass window, there were so many curves and angles to honor that Sass knew wallpapering would be a nightmare. So she instead opted for a custom hand-painted mural by She She, getting the whimsical effect she was after.
The preserved dining room features another original fireplace and intricate wood detailing juxtaposed with a modern RH chandelier and table and contemporary Gubi suede chairs. Moody plaster paint gives the walls texture in both this space and the kitchen, where black cabinetry and pendants contrast white trim — a request from her husband, who she laughs would’ve painted everything white given the chance.
While they brightened up much of the residence with touches like white trim and colorful upholstery, nothing is sunnier than Sass’s golden office, where wooden furniture and family heirlooms are married in a yellow box wrapped in Toile de Lapins wallpaper and curtains by Nicholas Herbert. “It’s like working in a little pat of butter,” she muses. “It’s candlelit all the time and works with all the seasons — steaming in the summer and glowy and warm in the winter.”
Given that it’s her favorite room, she’s adorned it with sentimental pieces, such as her grandparents’ plates and patterned draperies tied back with ropes and tassels. When the door is open, just passing by and peeking in offers the same nostalgia she feels on a drive through the Midwest, like spotting a little glowing house in the middle of nowhere. It’s one of those “little pockets of intimacy in the vastness of space,” which she feels are something to respect.
“In the Midwest, we do a lot of interesting things besides pond hockey,” she laughs. “Midwestern design is something to celebrate, and I’d love to see it more appreciated as its own vernacular, like California’s or the Northeast’s. We Midwesterners tend to sweep our culture under the rug, but we have so much nostalgia and heritage.”
In channeling this concept, Sass looked to fellow Prospect Refuge designer Emily Hunt (who she calls her “muse for Midwestern design”) as well as Amy Thielen, author of The New Midwestern Table, a cookbook that made her tear up while reading. Be it plates on the wall, handed-down books, braided rugs, cheerful tablecloths or wallpaper borders done in a new way, these unmistakable throwback moments create emotional experiences.
“I don’t go for trend — instead, I ask, What would my relatives have done?” she notes. “The key is to keep it modern so it’s not kitschy and doesn’t look like a time capsule.” The result is a fresh, bohemian look that has meaning and resonates deeply with others.
“I love a bohemian collective energy,” Sass concludes. “We put offers in on totally done homes, but then, what is there to dream about? Where’s the romance? This is eternally endless work, but I love the work.” While she admits it’s been a slow evolution, most of their home is finished. Now they’re tweaking the second level and finishing off the basement, which is currently still a dirt-floor cellar. But surely, a fantasy awaits and, as Sass says, “the dream will keep going on forever.”