Empty Nesters Renovate Their Country Home for a New Start

Twenty years after they moved in, these homeowners redid their country home to make it more functional and stylish.

What was originally a contemporary house was rebuilt in 1999 and 2000 as a shingle-style house by architect Ralph Mackin.

Almost 20 years later, the homeowners, who are now empty nesters, wanted a refresh. They re-enlisted Mackin as the architect on the project, and he brought in Kathleen Walsh to do the interiors. Working together, they created a new, more functional layout for the first floor that lends itself well to entertaining and a beautiful interior perfect for 2019 and beyond.

“This project started with the desire for an updated kitchen and a super comfortable sofa, maybe a new bathroom, [and] a few more things,” Walsh says. “A kitchen conversation led us to examine the butler’s pantry layout, which led to discussions about circulation and entertaining. That opened the door to talk about the previous music room and library layout, and soon the owners decided to redecorate the whole house and make some key architectural changes to the first floor and master suite.”

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Walsh says working with the architect from the beginning was key. “When we work with architects, we’re usually brought in early and can fast-forward in time to focus on things that really relate to the eventual everyday function of the house,” she says. “A designer’s job is to have done their homework to understand how the owners want to use the house and how they live.”


The Entry

“The foyer and fireplace were part of the original design,” says Mackin. “As it is a country home, we wanted the house to have the warm feel of a central hearth that welcomes you. For the fireplace we designed custom iron and glass doors, and had it open to both the foyer and the family room. We updated the foyer by creating a larger opening into the dining room and to a new rear hall, which connects it to the kitchen and mudroom.”

For the design, Walsh says the stone on the fireplace was the starting point. “The furniture needed to be clean lined but have some curve and use a fabric color with little or no pattern to highlight the stone’s shapes and tones,” she adds.

The stair runner is custom and relates to the foyer rug. The artwork is a collection of prints the client already owned. “Not only are they beautiful, but [they are] completely fitting, given the hiking trails that the family enjoys year-round,” Walsh says.

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The Kitchen

The team embraced the classic design in the kitchen, staying true to the architecture of the house. “We embraced the comforting elements of a classic design, added some more masculine elements — proportion and shape mostly — and cleaned up all the details,” the designer says.

Walsh was designing the chairs for a collaboration with Ferrell Mittman; the client saw the sketches and decided to buy them before there was even a prototype. The designer calls the blue seats a “fave trick,” adding that “wipeable leather is the easiest upholstered seat to maintain and still looks so rich and visually alluring. There’s not a lot of opportunity in a kitchen for fabric, so we like to pop what we’ve got. The blue adds just a bit of needed punch.”


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The big change to the kitchen was updating the layout and the butler’s pantry.

“The butler’s pantry was originally in a closed room,” says Mackin. “We opened it up and created a new through hall to the foyer, and added the butler’s cabinetry into the hall, which can be used to service the dining room or as a place to serve drinks.”



The Dining Room

This room, which was papered with a yellow floral print, had a strong country vibe and doubled as a passage from the mudroom to the entry hall. The new layout allows for the butler’s pantry and for better circulation.

“We went with a strong blue on the walls and a crisp white to really show off the bones of the room and to complement the color in the fireplace tiles,” says Walsh. “We asked Ralph to give us a slightly raised center plane [in the ceiling]. I wanted the fantastic collection of tableware and the existing tiles at the fireplace to steal the show, all else needed to play a brilliant supporting role.”

The designer used a sisal rug to balance the wood tones and counter the dominance of the wood furniture. She added contrasting fabrics to the wood chairs to offset the antique pieces in the room. “I always prefer true, crisp colors; modern textures; and a few defining touches to counter the patina of antiques and give them their place in a modern setting,” she says.



The Library

What was a small office, hall, and music room is now a brand-new library designed to contrast with the lighter areas on the first floor. “We wanted to allow the space to be a secondary lounge when entertaining and to allow the piano to beckon people to enter the space,” says Walsh. “This room gets light from three directions, and despite the finishes, it feels very bright in the daytime. At night it’s cozy and enveloping.”



For the library furnishings Walsh chose shapes that are clean but not cold. “I love the tufting on the sofa — just enough to catch the eye and say ‘come sit.’ The stone on the custom fireplace mantel and surround are each lovely but together make a little magic. Some rooms just click so well; this is one of them.”



The Family Room

Walsh carried the clean-line furnishings with some curves through the rest of the first floor, including into the family room. “We wanted furniture to have interesting shapes that lean to a more sculptural and eclectic feel,” she says. “These items shake up what could have been a more expected interior.”

In the evening the room goes very dark, so Walsh added drapery in a deeper tone to warm and define the perimeter walls that turn mirrorlike when interior lights are on.

“I used color to create a flow and weave a story throughout the house, but also to define areas,” says Walsh. “For this house, a deep aubergine and shades of gray blue connect every space. For this client, blue soothes, gray keeps it smart, but the violets and plum tones allow us to mix in other colors in chosen moments, and they invigorate the other tones and add warmth to what can quickly become a sedate, boring palette.”



The Master Bedroom

The master suite was created as an escape within an escape. The bedroom was finessed architecturally, and the furnishings are a reflection of just the right things in the right places.

“I love how the curve of the bench leg balances with the stain color from the nightstands, frame on the photography, and the surrounds of the fireplace,” Walsh says.

A few distinct touches keep the design interesting, including a drink table made of shell, an Odegard pendant, and the unique pieces of art. “I genuinely try to put myself in the room, imagining what I want to see and feel as decisions get made,” says Walsh. “There’s no magic formula, but instead I rely on my intuition.”



For the bathroom: a bit of a surprise. “I find a lot of clients never use their tubs, but people put them in for resale value. I say enough!” says Walsh. “If you aren’t going to use it, why put it in? Here we took out the existing tub, and instead of replacing it, we put in a cozy chair-and-a-half slipcovered in washable indoor-outdoor fabric that will actually get use.”

The shower is generously sized and has all of the features you could want.



Be Our Guest

There are three suites in the house in addition to the master bedroom. “In all three we used the same sheeting and duvet covers — no more searching for that one specific pillowcase,” says Walsh. “Upholstery is done in indoor-outdoor fabrics on items that get a lot of use.”

From there she played with blues, grays, and violets “to achieve different aesthetics and create rooms that are unmistakably in the country but feel very much at home today.”

The sister suite is a little brighter and sunnier. For the space Walsh selected white raffia nightstands and lavender walls. “[This] room is used more year-round, and we reused some antiques and reupholstered items in fabrics that reveal the hand of the maker while still being durable and very soft and inviting,” says Walsh.

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