Sometimes when I first walk through a new client’s home for the first time, I kind of wonder “why am I here? This looks perfectly lovely.” Usually when we dig into things, there is a good reason why I’m there, as there is a particular problem to address, and a look and feeling they would like to have in their home. Other times, I’m walking into a construction site, or an undecorated space – a blank slate. Then there are the projects where the bones of the house are perfect, but attention to the decor has clearly suffered as a result. I’ve seen it all, and I always relish the challenge!
But when I set foot in the Nathaniel Allen House in West Newton (MA) for the first time a little over a year ago, nothing could have prepared me for the potential challenge of transforming a space here. I (along with the other designers checking out the site of last year’s Junior League of Boston Decorator’s Show House during preview days) was pretty shocked and quite saddened by the condition of the home, inside and out.
The house is one of the most historically significant residential structures in the area. It was the site of the country’s first co-educational school, and a stop on the Underground Railroad. Not to mention a once venerable and distinguished private home with beautiful architectural detail and frescoes – all of which had been deteriorating and crumbling for the past several decades.
This is the scene that greeted me upon my first visit to the future Mother-in-Law Suite.
I’m pretty sure if I had a paranormal expert analyze these photos, they would identify all manner of apparitions and weird energy fields…
Believe it or not, this room, slated to be transformed into a Mother-in-Law bedroom, was actually in somewhat better condition than most. But, for a show house with a fleeting five-week run, it needed an awful lot of work. Plaster (bye bye, textured and water-damaged ceiling), new baseboards along some walls, electrical work (including wiring for the ceiling fixture and a couple of new outlets) and, of course, paint needed to happen, for starters.
We added a vibrant fabric wallcovering to create a dramatic backdrop for the bed.
I decided to make do with the existing wood floors, hiding a number of problem areas – including an area under the bed that looked and felt like a legit step-through risk – under a beautiful 9×12 wool and silk Japanese blossom rug from Landry & Arcari.
I strategically chose a brown rug so it would blend well with the floor, such that the imperfections of the latter would be less noticeable.
And that awful institutional faucet on the ‘random sink’ (which I chose to incorporate and make as cute as possible) had to go – I swapped in antique reproduction brass hot and cold taps, even though the plumbing was not operational.
Moving in all of the furniture, hanging the artwork, and styling the space (including lots and lots of ironing – bedding is the most fun!) was really exciting, because when it was complete, I knew we had done enough to create a unique, colorful, and stylish space that reflected my style, and my focus on family-centered design.
Jane Gianarelli created this amazing rendering before any actual work began in the show house – keep scrolling to see just how talented she is!
As fulfilling as it was to create this space and to be in it (it truly was a happy, warm, glowing, peaceful place), it was equally sad to have to pack the whole thing up a month later. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to participate, and for all the new friendships made (and old friendships strengthened).
And all of those improvements to the room – they were not for naught. It’s my lasting contribution to the Newton Cultural Alliance, which now uses the Nathaniel Allen House as office space. Over $300,000 in design improvements were made to the property by show house designers! Soon, the adjacent barn will be transformed into an incredible community theatre and gathering place. The exterior is slated for a much-needed facelift/restoration, as well, thanks to a $2M historic preservation grant. And the show house itself helped the Junior League of Boston raise $220,000 to fund their incredible work in our local community.
And since I’m finally blogging about my show house experience, I need to properly acknowledge and publicly thank the partners, sponsors, vendors and helpers who helped make all of this possible – many of whom provided generous discounts, donations or loans of goods and/or their time. It’s mind-boggling what goes into pulling together just one show house room – it truly does take a village. Here are all my village people:
Painting & Plaster – Catchlight Painting
Fabric Wall Installation – Melanie Harvey
Receiver – Dana’s Moving Service
Plumbing – FBN Construction
House Electrician – J.J. Galvin
Fabrics & Trims – Robert Allen / Beacon Hill
Paint – Benjamin Moore
Draperies & Sink Skirt – Alan Babitts Workroom
Custom Headboard, Pillows, Sofa & Desk Chair – Partners in Design
Artwork – Debbie Bowen Associates
Bed Skirt – Jeanne McDermott / At Your Service
Area Rug – Landry & Arcari
Antique Secretary – The Barn at 17
Mirror & Lamps – Stray Dog Designs
Side Table – Oomph
Bedding – Leontine Linens
Nightstands – Bungalow 5
Pendant Light – Worlds Away
I also wanted to acknowledge Linda Holt, who did not hesitate when I asked if she would assist me on install day, and Amy Mitchell, who helped keep the room looking fresh each week during the show house run. And last but certainly not least, Eric Roth, who took all of the amazing ‘after’ pictures featured in this post.