Father Knows Best

January 2, 2013

A busy single dad’s trust in his design team leads to a stylish but kid-friendly new space that makes him and his young sons feel completely at home.

Text by Stacy Kunstel    Photography by Stacy Kunstel    Produced by Stacy Kunstel


Rob McGee owns a car dealership, but when it comes to decorating he’s not one to kick tires. In designing the Norwell, Massachusetts, home he planned to move into with his two young sons, he didn’t need to sit on the linen-covered sofa before signing off on its purchase for the family room, or hem and haw about how much blue was just right for the silk-infused rug for the living room.

In fact, he saw very little in the way of furnishings and overall designs that went into the house, until Jennifer Hanlon MacQuarrie and David Wantuck of the interior design firm Hanlon-Wantuck finished it.

“He’s a really busy guy,” says Hanlon MacQuarrie. “We went to his office and sprawled fabric samples everywhere, and he selected ones he liked and told us those he didn’t.”

She and Wantuck also tore pages out of magazines that showed what they envisioned the house looking like and went through them with McGee, who chose a few. “That was the end of it though,” says Hanlon MacQuarrie. “There were no more presentations.”

“I don’t have that kind of flair, and I have no time at all,” says McGee. “When we moved in, I wanted it to feel like a completed house for me and the kids.”

The designers—who’ve worked together for the past fifteen years, first at Bierly-Drake (where Wantuck still works three days a week) and for the past five years on their own—set about creating the perfect home for father and sons.

The interior architecture of the house (designed for a previous owner by Campbell Smith Architecture of nearby Duxbury) has a quietly traditional feel, with clean moldings and simple paneling throughout. This led the designers to a scheme that complements the home’s classic nature. “We focused on using lots of soft and friendly textures and contrast in the color and finishes rather than large amounts of printed fabrics,” says Hanlon MacQuarrie. “It’s a tailored interior that’s sophisticated enough for adults and yet perfectly practical for young, active boys.”

Being the mother of two young children herself, she completely understood that the house, while elegant, needed to be durable enough to stand up to an energetic pair of boys. “David and I made decisions like choosing weathered finishes instead of paint,” says Hanlon MacQuarrie. “I thought about juice boxes and finger paints and chose a lot of neutrals with texture so they wouldn’t show wear.”

Along with those practical finishes came beautiful furnishings and even a few antiques. A crystal chandelier hangs over the trestle table in the dining room, and a silver chain of embroidery dances across the slipcover of one of the chairs.

In the living room, an antique secretary anchors one end of the room that includes an armchair upholstered in velvet and a custom sofa outfitted in Hinson fabric. “The living room composition is really elegant, but there’s nothing untouchable in that room,” says Wantuck. “It’s all pretty forgiving.”

Throughout the process, the designers also kept in mind the sensibilities of people who are most likely to visit. “My house is in a central location for my family, so on all the holidays—Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, anything—the whole family comes over,” McGee says.

“The house couldn’t be too bachelor pad/Ralph Lauren lodge looking,” says Hanlon MacQuarrie. “The living room is more feminine; we really thought about his mom and sisters coming over when we thought of that room.”

That doesn’t mean the house isn’t manly. In fact, one of the least feminine rooms is also the designers’ favorite space. “My favorite is the office,” Hanlon MacQuarrie says. “It’s extremely cozy. It’s simple, but there are dark black-brown walls and an antelope carpet and a crocodile-covered desk.”

But none of it—not the dining table with its rustic finish, not the tufted office chair, not the industrial-inspired coffee table in the family room, not even the black-and-white guest room—was seen by McGee until the unveiling.

“During the last month Jennifer asked me not to come in,” he says. In that time, walls were painted and wallpaper hung, rugs laid and light fixtures installed. A final two-day push finished with furniture placements and artwork. Hanlon MacQuarrie and Wantuck purchased every detail, down to the water glasses and cutting boards, soap and bath mats.

On the day of the big reveal, McGee arrived with boys in tow. “I was excited,” he says. “I knew what the wall colors and the wallpaper would be, but not much else.”

“Watching the boys was the best,” says Hanlon MacQuarrie. She and Wantuck had painted the walls of their bedrooms with thick horizontal stripes—green and blue for one, blue and red for the other. “They were most excited about their own rooms and freaking out about the popup TV in Dad’s bedroom,” she recalls. “They were jumping on their beds—it was only slightly more chaotic than our typical walk-through.”

From the rustic breakfast room with its branch chandelier and benches to the elegant entryway with the console and shapely carved walnut chairs, it immediately felt like home. “I wanted to be proud of our house, and I love coming home to it,” says McGee.

Hanlon MacQuarrie and Wantuck struck just the right balance, creating a space that marries luxury and practicality.

“The rooms I use the most are the office and my bedroom,” says McGee. “My office is great; I can really focus there. My bedroom is where the boys and I relax and watch TV together if we’re not spread out on the sofas in the family room.”

As for those finer areas of the home, such as the living room and entryway? “The boys know it’s our home and they need to be respectful of it and have fun with it,” McGee says. “They know they can’t roughhouse in the living room.”

As a father and businessman, McGee has plenty of opportunities to be the decision maker. This time, he was happy to step away and let the experts make the choices. And that, it turns out, was the best decision of all. •

Interior design: Hanlon-Wantuck
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