Home Lifestyle Who Says Historic Homes Have to Be Stuffy?

Who Says Historic Homes Have to Be Stuffy?

Who Says Historic Homes Have to Be Stuffy?


Julia Lippman and Mathew Eapen love antique homes, but they’re not typical old-house enthusiasts — or purists when it comes to decorating.

“I love old houses, the quirks and the tall ceilings,” Ms. Lippman, 37, said. But “I did not want a house full of really big, dark antiques.”

The couple, who are both lawyers, were living in an apartment in downtown Boston with their dog, Scout, when Ms. Lippman became pregnant with their first child, Sammy, now 4. They needed more space, and they knew where they wanted to move: Salem, Mass., the small city north of Boston known for its 1692 witch trials.

Ms. Lippman had grown up in Salem, and both she and Mr. Eapen, now 38, liked the historic feel of the place and the way they could walk to stores and restaurants there, as they had in Boston. It also helped that Ms. Lippman’s parents lived in Salem and would be around to help out with future grandchildren.

So when they spotted a four-story Federal rowhouse from the 1820s with a two-story cottage in the backyard — on the same street where Ms. Lippman’s parents lived, no less — they didn’t hesitate. They bought the property for $1.38 million in January 2021.

The house had been restored by the previous owner, who retained charming details like the weathered wide-plank wood floors, arched doorways and built-in cabinets with divided-light glass doors. The kitchen and bathrooms had been renovated. It was beautiful — but to Ms. Lippman and Mr. Eapen, the subdued color palette and staid details felt kind of flat.

“I really like color,” Ms. Lippman said. “I did not want to fall into the trap of making everything white or everything beige.”

Looking for a designer who could bring the home into the 21st century, she pored over design books and admired homes online. All of her favorite interiors, she soon realized, were designed by the same person: Colleen Simonds.

The only problem? Ms. Simonds lived in Pittsburgh. But this was in the thick of the pandemic, when professionals in many industries had figured out how to work remotely. So the couple contacted her and asked for help.

“The living room felt a little sad and serious,” Ms. Simonds said. “They wanted a bolder look with a stronger touch of color.”

Working over Zoom and email, she had them wallpaper the ceiling with blue-and-silver Night of the Skylarks wallpaper by Birger Kaipiainen and helped them find furniture, including vintage tubular chrome armchairs with cushions they reupholstered in woolly pink fabric.

The result was exactly what the couple wanted. “There’s color, character and eccentricity,” Mr. Eapen said. “She’s wonderful at being able to pull all these different things together.”

Next came the dining room, where Ms. Simonds eventually installed vintage Windsor chairs painted sky blue. Before long, the couple had decided to redesign the interiors from top to bottom — and this time they didn’t limit themselves to furniture and finishes.

To make the house work for a young family, they transformed a redundant eat-in kitchen space into a walk-in pantry with soapstone counters and cabinetry painted minty green. They reclaimed space under the main staircase, adding a powder room and a bench with storage cabinets and drawers. They built a convenient laundry room on the second floor, where there was previously a bathroom, and added a staircase at the back of the house, between the driveway and first floor, because the existing rear entrance had provided access only to the basement.

All of those changes required an architect, so Mr. Eapen and Ms. Lippman hired a neighbor, Peter Pitman, the principal architect at Pitman & Wardley Associates, who was well versed in working with homes in their historic district.

“As a local architect who does a lot of restoration and preservation work,” Mr. Pitman said, “I strongly encourage design and ownership teams to preserve historic character.”

But that doesn’t mean you can’t run wild with color and pattern inside, he added, as long as the architectural bones are preserved. As for this project, he said, “The one thing I want to emphasize is: Boy, it was fun.”

Because Mr. Eapen and Ms. Lippman sometimes work remotely, they converted the backyard cottage into two home offices. Hers has a cozy work space lined in sage-green paneling on the ground floor; his has a sunny office above, with a barrel-vaulted ceiling covered in Fig Leaf wallpaper from Peter Dunham.

While the construction was going on, the family lived for about four months with Ms. Lippman’s parents. The project was largely complete in April 2022, at a cost of about $350,000. They returned just in time to welcome their second child, Annie.

“We just love all of it,” Ms. Lippman said. “We love that it’s colorful and bright.”

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