Designers at the Old York Show House bring a neglected historic home back to lifeHistorical homes are a designer’s dream when they are given a chance to bring glory to spaces that may have been neglected for years. Emerson House in Old York was built in the early 1700s and functioned as the Woodbridge Tavern for many years before it was purchased by Edward Emerson Jr. in 1793. At that point it was moved to its present location to become the first structure at the Emerson Homestead. The property underwent many changes over the years as the building was expanded, but bits of history are still evident throughout the house. The Emerson family, consisting of hardworking, successful members, kept up the homestead and the land upon which it rested for more than two centuries.The Museums of Old York opened this house to the public in July, revealing the work of more than 20 local designers who transformed a bland interior with good bones into a 21st-century update with respect for the past. Their ideas may give you just the spark you’re looking for in redesigning your own space.Designers at the Old York Show House bring a neglected historic home back to life.Design Tip — Bring the indoors outdoors with comfortable weather-proof custom-upholstered furniture.Bridget Bleckmann of Penumbra Textile and Renee Carman of Mandeville Canyon Designs in Barrington created an "outdoor room," complete with comfy upholstered seating, a harvest table and a riddling wine rack.A touch of intriguing greenery is added by the horizontally potted succulents that create a "living wall." Medomak Natural Stone steps were installed by Charles Hugo Landscape Design while the pink polka-dot plants and astilbe were planted by Churchills of Greenland.Before and after: Designer Meredith Bohn of Hollis chose a rustic French toile wallpaper by Thibaut for this beautiful kitchen/dining room. The unusual wicker chairs surround a rather dainty table covered with a matelasse bedspread. The old chest of drawers to the left of the table is now used for storing linens and complements the color of the chairs. The black borders of the doorways, pictures and fireplace echo the pen-and-ink drawings on the toile. In the prep area of the kitchen, a concrete covering in a neutral shade of gray replaced a modern Corian countertop that felt incongruous in the period home.
Design Tip — French toile wallpaper can add a French country feel to any room.Using a paintbrush instead of a lathe, Massachusetts decorative painter John Parsons created an optical illusion of indented panels on these flat cupboard doors, using a technique called "shadowing." To accent the family room's orange and green hues, Parsons also included touches of copper. He used Benjamin Moore's Edgecomb Gray to complement the nearby Bistro cabinetry. The faux soapstone finish on the countertops give the room its own personality, compatible with neighboring rooms. The small pantry is a welcoming rest stop on your way to the front or back of the house.
Design tip — Use optical illusion techniques like "shadowing" to create dimensional effects.Everything in this room was made in the United States. It wasn't easy, admits Designer Anne Cowenhoven, who had to search far and wide for books and board games that were not from foreign publishers or manufacturers. A local find, the checkerboard is from the Concord prison workshop, but Anne completed it with seashells for a bit of whimsy. Locally made furniture from Thos. Moser of Maine is sturdy yet classic in design. Artwork from the George Marshall store in York adds a reassuring touch of home to the family room. The classic bowl of fruit still life is accompanied by common New England scenes of main street and a picturesque field is only more pretty with the bisecting power lines depicted with a light touch. The Kravet fabrics are colorful and add to the happy touch completed with the light green wall finish created by Judy Dibble of Brookwood Designs in Contoocook. The aim was to create a room in an old house that young people could appreciate and enjoy.
Design Tip — Using bright colors and fun patterns will make anyone feel younger.Designer Valerie Jorgensen of Wells, Maine, pictured a bistro/wine bar style for the second kitchen in the house. (At one time the house was subdivided into two apartments.) Jorgensen envisioned owners with a love for wine, so she stocked the nooks and crannies with collectible corkscrews, wine racks, wine books and other wine memorabilia. The room was given neutral gray hues inspired by three lovely charcoal bird prints set on the counter. All around the room, cabinets were painted to look like soft gray driftwood, while the countertop was "slipcovered" with painted canvas for an economical, but durable, makeover. In the center of the room a small island with a stovetop was enlarged with a wood base inset with rustic wooden tiles. It is now large enough for guests to sit while their wine is being poured. The area rug is FLOR carpet tiles in a pragmatic dark gray. Out of view, stands an antique painted man who, wearing top hat and tattered tails, welcomes guests into the room.
Design Tip — Consider carpet in the kitchen. Use carpet tiles that can be replaced when a spot is damaged. They come in a myriad of styles and colors.A cluster of mirrors framed in a brushed gold add light to the space and interest to the sofa wall."In spite of all the windows, this room was still pretty dark," says designer Marcye Philbrook of Kittery, Maine. But a choice placement of mirrors and bright white furniture lit it up. Once the room was lit, the centerpiece, a modernistic painting of rocks against the seacoast, provided an artistic theme for the rest of the space. Philbrook created an ocean theme reflecting the shapes, colors and textures from the sea. The green orbs pictured left reminded her of seaweed. The ocean theme also inspired the assortment of gold and silver gazing balls scattered about the room. The walls are covered in a honeydew melon-color string cloth from Kravat. A jute rug reminds one of sand while the soft blues seem to be a reflection of the sky. The brushed gold and brass accents found on knobs and lamp bases are new trends that achieve a warming effect, says Philbrook. The space is minimal in design while the furniture is transitional in style.
Design Tip — When covering a wall with paper, paint the wall a similar color so there are no "light leaks" in the seams from a white wall.Before and after: Designers Michael Boehm and Kacey Graham turned the most historic section of the home (the former 1719 Woodbridge Tavern that was moved to the site) into a cozy men's club with black upholstery, a black animal skin on the floor and black and brass accents throughout the room. The fireplace becomes the focal point with black paint and the faux-painted concrete for the surround for these Bedford designers.
Design Tip — Don't be afraid of black. it is an easy way to make a statement.If the diagonally facing bed does not pop out at you when you walk into this room designed by Georgie McGowan, the large felt flower rug surely will. The floral design just came to her, she says. She wanted the room to brighten up the mood of any occupant. The bench anchors the bed, where the floral quilt continues the theme.To add flare to the old fireplace, McGowan attracted a flock of handmade wooden seabirds. One even "flew" the coop and perched atop an antique china cabinet repurposed as a storage area for towels and necessities. McGowan's love for natural things does not stop with flowers and birds, she also added her stylistic touch with a small metal "house mouse" hiding above the power outlet. All furnishings were from her shop, Georgie's Home & Garden in York, Maine.
Design Tip — Be boldly cheerful in guest bedroom design while mixing old and new.Before and after: A classical style is alive in this luxurious bedroom designed by Frank Hodge of Boston. The statuette at the head of the bed reflects ancient classicism while the portrait of a colonial man in powdered wig marks the more "American" side of things. The portrait served as the inspiration for the room itself. Rich use of chocolate, cream and blues make up a luxurious palette inviting the eye and the hand.
Design Tip — Build in extra storage space under the bed.The calming teal from the rug brought this master bedroom to fruition. The room is filled with calm ocean tones, complete with a painting of an expansive shoreline. The walls are gray but due to the lighting appear lavender. To soften the mood, designer Barbara Vaughn of Hampton Falls upholstered a cloth inlay to the headboard and the footboard of the bed. Vaughn also hand selected all of the furniture for the room to be sure that it was American made.
Design Tip — Find your favorite rug and build your room from there, repeating the colors and the patterns from the rug.Sweet scents fill the attached bathroom designed by Holly Lowe-Adamy of Portsmouth. A vintage marble top was added to the existing vanity which was freshly painted. The wall color was carried through from the bedroom, but is a slightly darker shade of the same gray. The restful theme in the master suite makes staying in the space feel like a restful day at the beach.
This article appears in the September 2011 issue of New Hampshire Magazine