October 22, 2013
A gentle revamping holds on to the best of the past while forging a fresh look and feel for a well-loved old house.
Text by Susan Kleinman Photography by Bruce Buck Produced by Stacy Kunstel
When Paula Casey was looking to downsize from her large home in Concord, Massachusetts, a few years ago, her friend Janice Battle, who happens to be her interior designer, too, found her a smaller house right out of a storybook—or a history text. Snug and cozy, with a gothic roof and diamond-paned windows, the Victorian-inspired structure Casey now calls home was built in the mid-1800s on the site of Concord’s first meetinghouse, abutting the Old Hill Burying Ground. President Ulysses S. Grant visited the neighborhood on the centennial of the Battle of Concord. Louisa May Alcott and Nathaniel Hawthorne were close neighbors of the original owners. And Ralph Waldo Emerson is said once to have rested his cigar in the wrought-iron garden gate while he chatted with a lady, so as not to offend her delicate nose—or sensibilities.
With all that history on and around the property, Casey says, strangers ring her doorbell all the time to ask questions about the place.
That’s just part of what appeals to her about the house. “You just don’t see houses like this anymore,” says Battle, who heard that the 2,000-square-foot house was going up for sale before it was officially on the market and encouraged Casey to grab it. “You mention this place to anyone in town, and people always say, ‘I know that house! I love that house!’ ”
Casey loved it, too. It’s in the perfect location, convenient to the exercise studio she co-owns one town over, in Acton, and close to the friendly, bustling center of Concord. “You can walk everywhere from here,” she says, “and there’s always a lot going on. Sometimes there’s music at the Main Street Cafe, and I can just open the windows and hear it. I can look outside at the gorgeous churches and steeples lit up at night,” she says, “and in the winter, I can sit in my bedroom and watch the snow fall on them.”
The house was in perfect condition, too, thanks to the last owners’ painstaking renovations, including a complete kitchen overhaul executed by Kochman Reidt + Haigh, of Stoughton, Massachusetts. “This was the first time I was ever able to move into a house without fixing anything,” Casey says.
Her only disappointment? That she would have to leave behind the gorgeous Farrow & Ball wallpaper she had in her old home, a slate-on-blue pattern halfway between a floral and a paisley—charming but not cutesy, traditional but not stuffy-looking. “Paula said, ‘I’m so bummed out that I have to leave that paper behind,’” recalls Battle, who had decorated Casey’s former home twelve years ago, just as she was starting her design firm, Beyond the Garden. “But I said, ‘Why do you have to? We can get more and put it up in the new house.’ When I told her that, she was really over the moon. So we got more of the paper, put it in the dining alcove, and then painted the archway around the dining area a similar blue.”
That hue dictated much of the color scheme for the home’s first floor, where the dining area flows seamlessly into the living room. It can be difficult to decorate a long, open space so that it feels like a home and not a hotel lobby, but Battle was more than up to the challenge. “We used several different rugs rather than one long ballroom-style carpet in order to break up the space,” she says, “and we created a couple of distinct furniture areas, rather than one mass grouping.”
To tie the whole space together visually, Battle used one cream-and-sand drapery fabric throughout the ground floor. “When I moved in, there were heavy curtains,” says Casey. “I wanted to lighten it up”
An antique gilt-and-glass case in the living room adds more brightness. So does gold-leaf crown molding in a library niche that connects the kitchen and family room, and gilded trim in the master bedroom—all done by the previous owners and retained in the redecoration because Casey and Battle agreed that the effect was beautiful. Asked how she knows how much gold is enough but not too much, Battle says, “It’s a mix of instinct and practice.”
That same combination of intuition and experience told her to keep the existing green wallpaper (a discontinued Clarence House pattern) in the master bedroom, as well as the armoires that had been built in to supplement the scant closet space so common to historic houses.
But while some elements of the previous design carry over, this home looks and feels entirely personal to Casey. She brought some of her favorite pieces, including the dining-room chairs, from her last house. And when the matching table was too big for her new home, she swapped with her sister, who was happy to give Casey a smaller table. Other too-large furniture was passed on to Casey’s grown children, and replaced with petite antiques in various wood finishes, and new, perfectly scaled club chairs in a shade of blue that picks up on the color of the wallpaper.
When the decorating was done, the home was cozy and chic, just as Casey knew it would be. “The nice part of working with Janice,” she says, “is that I know what I want and she creates it. I do like somewhat of an old, traditional approach with a contemporary flair, and she can do that.”
Delighted as she is with the interior of her new home, Casey is at least as happy with what goes on outside her walls. “One day last spring,” she recalls, “I was sitting on the porch, and there was a wedding going on in the church out front and a tour of the cemetery behind me, and people bicycling on the street. And I thought, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I live here.’” •
Interior design: Janice Battle, Beyond the Garden