This Home Proves the Power of White Paint

November 10, 2021

A dark, traditional home gets a modern makeover fit for an active young family.

Text by Alyssa Bird    Photography by Jared Kuzia


So often the best things come to those who aren’t looking for them, and such was the case with Ashley and Josiah Lilly’s residence in Newbury, Massachusetts. The couple hadn’t been planning to leave their beloved riverfront home in Newburyport, but when Josiah—a realtor and Newbury native—noticed this listing come on the market, he knew it was too good to pass up.

Boasting triple the square footage and more outdoor space for their two children, dogs, and cats, it checked all the boxes for a young family. The only problem? “Ashley hated the house when we first saw it,” he says with a laugh. “But we’ve done renovations before, so we knew we could take it from traditional to transitional to suit our taste.”

And although the 8,600-square-foot residence—which was built in 2010—felt a bit dark and dated, thanks in large part to heavy mahogany paneling throughout, it also had a lot going for it. “When I toured the house with Ashley and Josiah, I thought it was a beautiful starting point with great craftsmanship,” says builder Carson True, a childhood acquaintance of Ashley’s who has collaborated with the couple on previous projects. “It was clear, however, that there would need to be changes made for them to feel comfortable in the house.”

At True’s suggestion, the homeowners met with interior designer Holly Gagne. “We knew immediately that we wanted to work with her,” says Ashley, a financial tech consultant who also grew up in the area. “She was kind, had an amazing vibe, and seemed to get us right away.” Gagne, along with her associate Tina Sanchez, even visited the Lilly’s Newburyport house to get a better handle on her clients’ wants and needs. “It was helpful to see what they liked so we could translate that into their new home,” says Gagne, adding that the new residence had “great bones, charm, and character, but felt too formal for a young family. Our goal was to breathe new life into the home, making it lighter, brighter, and more casual.”

Among the list of mandates was installing a new kitchen (the mahogany cabinetry and earth-tone marble flooring didn’t speak to the homeowners’ aesthetic), transforming the pantry into a multiuse space with two desks, restaining the reddish-toned wood floors to bring out their natural walnut color, addressing the mahogany paneling and trim, changing out all lighting and hardware, and painting the entire house. “There was a solid four months of painting alone,” notes Sanchez. “We discussed removing the mahogany trim altogether, but painting it white actually makes it pop.”

With just about every surface refreshed, Gagne and Sanchez could begin furnishing the family-friendly home, incorporating some of the couple’s existing items along with new contemporary pieces upholstered in durable
performance fabrics. “They have an active lifestyle with kids and pets, but they also appreciate quality and enjoy an elevated sense of style,” explains Sanchez. “We balanced the strong, rich woods with airy neutrals, including textured fabrics in white, taupe, cream, and gray.”

And now that the transformation is complete, Ashley couldn’t be happier. “The end result truly fosters our lifestyle,” she says. “It went from dark and heavy to light, casual, and elegant.”

Project Team
Interior design: Holly Gagne, Tina Sanchez, Holly Gagne Interior Design
Renovation builder: Carson True, The True Company
Architecture: Benjamin Nutter, Rick Bernard, Benjamin Nutter Architects

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