About a year+ ago, I was approached by a couple who had completed a large renovation of their lovely 1790 Cape a couple of years prior. They had totally overhauled and added on to the kitchen under the guidance of a local kitchen design studio, as well as added a large entertaining “piano room,” a mud entrance, and a basement hang-out room.
After more than a year+ of construction and expenses, they understandably had become decision/budget weary. The piano room still hadn’t been addressed, but they had no idea where to begin in furnishing it. They were uncertain of their style, layout, furniture needs, and they didn’t want to make a costly mistake and purchase things they’d later regret. So they didn’t do anything.
Hopkinton Historical: The “Givens”
Sadly, the room that was supposed to be vibrant had become little more than a storage space for cast-off furniture no one else wanted from family.
The wife had inherited a large Oriental rug (which I briefly featured in this post about how to avoid Oriental rug overkill), along with a number of other random pieces of furniture. She asked my advice about what was worth keeping, recovering, and donating.
Frankly, a piece of upholstery is really only worth re-upholstering if it has sentimental value, is a unique or unusual silhouette, or of very high quality and was already in possession or acquired dirt cheaply. Otherwise, for the cost of labor and fabric, you may as well buy new.
The room, while plenty large in size, has a ceiling only 94″ high — pretty low compared to the overall square footage. Furthermore, these beams are 8″ in depth, making window treatments that don’t further lower the ceiling height difficult.
I’m terrible at remembering to take good “before” pictures, so I’m sorry the above is grainy. I want you to notice the bump-out soffit below these windows.
Detail of the rug. Totally fine, but combined with the dark blue paint, the beams, and the full-size the black grand piano, the overall effect is really heavy.
On the tour of the house, the wife showed me the above large-scale photo art, a treasured gift from her father, in an out-of-the-way spot. I thought we may be able to find a spot for it in the piano room, if other elements were “lightened.”
The bookshelves were somehow recycled from some prior iteration of the house. The clients didn’t love them, but they weren’t going to change them either. And while they offer a huge amount of storage, each shelf is actually rather short in height compared to how long it is — making it difficult to use any taller styling items like vases, art, etc. to break up that expanse.
Another difficulty with the room was lighting. The couple had worked with a good architect, but consideration hadn’t been given to floor plan or how the space should flow. There was very little ambient light — the 4 cans by the bookcases you see above, a few sconces on the walls, and the small flush mount you can see by the room’s entry. No general overhead light, and no outlets in the floors to allow for hazard-free lamps.
If you’re considering a renovation or a new build, I highly suggest reviewing your plans with a decorator at the beginning of the project. He/she will think of things — like how your floor/lighting plans will work — that an architect may not.
Hopkinton Historical: The Results
My clients wanted the room to fit in with the antique character of their home, but have it still be comfortable and not a museum. They loved the look and feel of Oriental rugs and tended toward a more “mature” style, but still wanted the room to feel lighter. They also wanted to keep the blue color, and the husband wasn’t a fan of drapes … though the wife agreed with me that they would soften the room. And then there was the big black piano.
Could I work with all that?
Just kidding. My clients were actually absolutely fabulous to work with. 🙂
I told my clients that, yes, I could create a plan that works with the piano, rug, and current blue paint, but it would not have the lightened, freshened feel they were seeking. It’s tough to let things go, and it’s tough to be honest sometimes, but I truly felt that either the rug or the paint would HAVE to change to get the effect they wanted.
Boy, was I surprised when they said that they would get a new RUG!
The husband really wanted to pick out the rug themselves, so I gave them a general size to look for and a general color scheme — lighter ground, some dark to balance piano and walls. I was ecstatic when they chose this!
Sy and Fou at PRG Rugs in Nashua really steered them right! My client LOVES it, and so do I!
With that rug as our launchpad, and knowing my clients’ anti-floral, pro-Ralph Lauren tendencies, I came up with this mood board.
Ready for the “afters?” Here we go!
All photos by Emily O’Brien Photography unless otherwise noted.
The wife’s treasured art is now beautifully showcased for all the world to see!
A new semi-flush mount light, tailored enough to jive with the rest of the fixtures they’d already chosen for the space, offers ambient light and centers the room.
The new floor plan deemphasizes the bookcases. Instead, the seating faces the view to the beautiful woods outside the largest window and the grand piano, which we switched to the corner furthest from the entry to make the room feel less “heavy.” Ottomans can be pulled up for extra seating.
We used light colored Crypton fabrics from Thibaut (an off-white linen/chenille-like blend on the chairs and a beige herringbone on the sofa) on high-quality, American-made custom upholstery to lighten the room. The lines are classic and perfectly scaled — no 44″ deep monster sofas here! Tight-back upholstery is the way to go for those who like to keep cushion fluffing to a minimum.
To create a mix, I found the vintage travertine and bronze Baker coffee table on Sotheby’s Home. It is AWESOME; weighs about 80 lbs.!
When budget allows, I really try to steer clients toward supporting living artists and sourcing original art. All art in this space, excepting the black and white mountain photo art, was sourced through Art 3 Gallery in Manchester. Owner Joni Taube serves as curator for residences and businesses all over the country and has an extensive collection in the gallery.
This spot is one of my favorites. As my clients like to entertain — and wanted to disguise that soffit — I thought a game table would be the perfect thing, ready for the board games they like to play with their boys and ready to serve as a bar when covered with a tablecloth for parties. We painted the soffit trim the same color as the walls (not the trim!) to make it disappear.
I love the pattern play between the art, Persian rug and the plaid drapes and the texture of the natural shades and the vintage leather!
The wife had fond memories of playing backgammon with her father and really wanted a flip-top game table. While there are some gorgeous and fun game tables out there, we knew that kids and cats would be in this space a lot. This good quality, good value one by Hekman (you can find it at retail here), fit the bill — the look and style she wanted, with a price tag that would allow her to relax and enjoy the game.
Vintage caramel leather library chairs by Hickory Chair were sourced from Chairish. I had originally specified a pendant light for over the game table, but spray foam insulation above the ceiling wouldn’t allow for it (Again, I recommend reviewing your renovation drawings with a a designer!). A floor lamp with directional down light made a for a decent alternative.
The original flat white trim was too stark with the Benjamin Moore Newburyport Blue HC-155 walls, so I recommended that all the trim be repainted Benjamin Moore’s Mayonnaise OC-85, a creamy off-white, in semi-gloss. I like to use the Advance formulation for trim and woodwork. Similar side table here.
The husband’s first reaction to the suggestion was that “Mayonnaise” would look too yellow. Don’t let the *name* of a paint color scare you off! In fact, don’t even look at it. Look at how it works with your other elements. The husband ended up loving the result.
The big black beast (I say that term lovingly — I am a musician of sorts, after all!) and an abstract painting, again sourced from Art 3 Gallery. Similar basket can be found here.
As I said earlier, the window treatments in this room were difficult, because the beams came down so low near the window casings. Had we used a normal rod and rings, the drapes would have hung slightly below the white trim in order to make room for rings to pass. Not acceptable.
Instead, I used a traverse rod but with a Euro-pleat drape. The final result looks traditional because of the pleats but hugs right under the beam (no rings to interfere!), allowing the drapes to be just even with the top of the window trim.
I love these little ottomans, upholstered in another Crypton fabric, this time in a fun color and pattern by Robert Allen. The color is pretty d*** close to the wall paint. I’ll get that electrical cord photo-shopped out at some point.
That gorgeous, hand-knotted rug from PRG Rugs. In this vignette, you can see the faux boix texture of the bronze coffee table legs. The oxblood garden stool is from one of my trade sources.
More pattern play. The wife and I called the tan fabric on the chair pillows “botantical,” so that the husband wouldn’t think they were “florals.” 🙂 The bowl was a Home Goods score.
Here is what my client had to say:
“Amy is fantastic! My husband and I presented her with quite a challenge – my husband’s taste gravitates to Ralph Lauren, circa 1985 and, yet, we also wanted our living room to be ‘fresh and new and light.’ Somehow, Amy managed to give us a room that suits my husband’s taste (and mine), but that does not look dated, and we could not be more pleased with the result.
We are absolutely thrilled with our living room. The thing that we liked most about working with Amy is that she did not try to decorate our living room to her taste. Rather, she spent time getting to know what we liked, and suggested a design that would reflect our taste. The best designers, it seems to me, have the ability to set aside their own ideas about what they would do with a space, and provide their clients with something to suit the client. Amy was able to do that, within our budget, and time-frame, and with a high degree of professionalism.”
I am so grateful to and honored by the clients that entrust me with their hopes and visions for their homes. It makes me happy beyond words to help them create interiors that uniquely reflect their personalities and with quality that will stand the test of time — to be the backdrops for their families’ memories in the making!
I hope you enjoyed this before and after! With that, I’m signing off for a couple of weeks with the family. A very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my beloved readers.
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