Tour Michael Booth’s Federal-Style House in Providence
November 7, 2022
Designer Michael Booth returns to his roots while rehabbing a stately Federal-style house in Providence.
Text by Lisa H. Speidel Photography by Nat Rea Produced by Karin Lidbeck Brent
For San Francisco-based designer Michael Booth, the move to Providence was a homecoming of sorts. The Rhode Island native’s Providence roots run deep: his grandfather went to Rhode Island School of Design (as did he), his parents both attended Brown University, and his father was a longtime teacher at a local private school. Years of memorable summer vacations on the East Coast only solidified the move.“We didn’t close our eyes and throw a dart at the map,” jokes Booth, cofounder of the design firm BAMO (which now has a Providence outpost).
And then there was the architecture. “Providence had the highest per capita income in the U.S. from something like 1880 to 1910,” explains Booth. “And the houses show it.” In fact, the listing that caught the attention of Booth and his husband, Mike Oliva, was a handsome Federal-style brick house on the East Side built in 1911.
The only problem? It hadn’t been renovated since the ‘80s. Though for a designer, that presented more of an opportunity than an issue. Armed with a ton of ideas (“As an interior designer sometimes you can’t make up your own mind,” Booth admits with a laugh) and an able team—architect Mary Dorsey Brewster and SR Fine Home Builders—Booth set out to quickly transform the house from dowdy to divine.
First, there were some larger tasks to tackle, including reconfiguring the pantry “dry bar,” enlarging the kitchen by bumping out the exterior wall six feet, moving the first-floor powder room, combining two bedrooms to create a primary suite, and adding another full bath upstairs for proper guest quarters. “It was a substantial renovation,” says Nick Vanasse of SR Fine Home Builders. “It’s a challenge to go into an old house like this and bring it up to date while simultaneously paying homage to its origin.”
Booth eliminated doors (“We threw away twenty-seven,” he recalls) and, in many cases, enlarged door openings throughout the first floor, lending a more open feel. New seven-inch white-oak flooring and a coat of Benjamin Moore Simply White gave the designer a neutral canvas to work with. Gesturing around the living room, he says, “Everything you see is from storage in San Francisco; it’s a collection of stuff acquired over time.” Only the piano (teenage twins Grace and Gabriel both play), coffee table, and rug are new.
And all those pieces, which are so skillfully and artfully arranged, come with a story: there’s the bookshelf in the main bedroom that’s from London, the Jansen Furniture sofa in the sunroom that was discovered at a Paris flea market, and the antique wing chair in the living room found at David Neligan Antiques in Essex, Massachusetts. Not to mention all the watercolors and etchings deftly scattered about that hail from both sides of the family. “I really admire Michael for his dramatic sense of displaying things,” says Brewster.
A sense of the dramatic is imbued throughout the house, from the panoramic wallcovering by Iksel Decorative Arts in the dining room to the geometric Clé tile in the sunroom, to the black stairwell in the foyer. “I had never worked on a project with a black stairwell before,” remembers Brewster. “I had my doubts, but it is wonderful.” Much the same way any doubts about a cross-country move were erased as the thoughtful new family home came to fruition.