A Livable Living Room

Hopkinton designer Amy Mitchell made her formal living room functional

From day one, Mitchell wanted to fit a baby grand piano into the room. Mission accomplished.

Photo by Eric Roth Photography

When interior designer Amy Mitchell of Home Glow Design decided to make her living room in her 1790s Federal farmhouse in Hopkinton a room that her young family could use every day, she knew she was up against some pretty big challenges. For starters, the dimensions
of the room were tiny (11 feet by 27 feet), but the family wanted to fit a baby grand piano and large book collection in the space. They also wanted to pay homage to the home’s history, yet keep it fresh and colorful to reflect the vibrant young people who live there. And even though they had a tight budget, Mitchell held to her belief in investing in real furniture pieces and a design that could last.

She collaborated with Dena Hamilburg of Hamilburg Interiors to come up with a floor plan. “I really struggled because the scale of furniture was all 40 inches deep at box stores, and, prior to starting my own business, I didn’t have any trade resources,” says Mitchell. “Dena helped me find furniture with proportions that could fit the size of this room. She has since become a real mentor to me.” Built-ins were added for their large book collection, and they found the smallest baby grand possible at an estate sale in Concord. “We all read and play the piano in there every day now,” says Mitchell.

Mitchell started her design plan by researching the Federal period. “George Washington redecorated the West Parlor at Mount Vernon in 1787, around the same time our house was built, and wrapped it in turquoise blue. But wrapping a room in one color started to hit the design magazines about two years ago, so it feels fresh and modern. It’s like designers rediscovered this bit of tradition,” she says. Mitchell chose Farrow & Ball’s Stiffkey Blue and used an eggshell finish, which tends to show off uneven surfaces. “I thought a sheen would look good with the deep color, and showing off imperfections would help make it look old.” The ceiling is Navajo White with a pearl finish. “I wanted the light from the sconces to glow a little,” she adds. A classic Federal-style bullseye mirror was added as a focal point over the fireplace. “But we made it oversized so it feels more modern,” says Mitchell. 

As for furnishings, “I wanted to keep the furniture silhouettes classic, but used contemporary patterns and fabrics. The damask on the couch is a classic fabric, but it is done in an oversized floral, which feels modern. And the chair in the corner is a toile print, which is traditional, but it is a leopard toile, so it feels fresh.” Soft fabrics, pillows and rugs — including a floral Persian rug found at William A. Smith in Plainfield — help soften the classic styling and make the space inviting and kid-friendly.

Mitchell turned to auctions for the non-upholstered furniture. “The hard surfaces are things you can buy at auction,” she says. “This room was a stretch and was an investment in furnishings. We searched at auctions for vintage American furniture from the 1950s-1970s. Using American-made things [from] the past 50 years is where you can really save.” She used auction sites such as liveauctioneers.com and bidsquare.com to find auctions near her. “You definitely want to be able to shake the furniture before you buy it. I’ve learned the hard way,” she says.

Other sources in her living room include an ottoman from Craigslist, upholstered in leather from eBay, with the upholstery work done from the correctional facility, which has shops in both Concord and Berlin.

Mitchell says she found big savings in the industry rates that designers get. “People don’t realize that when they work with a designer they can get custom American-made furniture for a similar price as box store furniture that’s made in China,” she explains. “I’ve always been a big proponent of American-made furniture. The other stuff doesn’t last.” These rates also helped when it came to saving on her Roman valances. “We drew the color plan for the room, and found this perfect Pierre Frey striped fabric, but we had seven windows in the room, which is a lot. I used Home Depot honeycomb shades behind the valances to cover the full window and made the valances shorter but still had the feel of the fabric in the room. We saved eight yards of very expensive fabric.” Her custom windows weren’t that much more than Pottery Barn or other box-store window treatments. “It is worth it to work with a designer. Ask around and get referrals.”  If her ability to handle this challenge is any indication, there are sure to be plenty of those in her future.

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