Interior Design for the Ages: Decorating a Confused Colonial

You may have driven by the farm recently and wondered “What on earth are these lazy people doing? It’s 60 degrees in February! Get on with it already!” I feel your pain! While absolutely nothing’s been happening on the property, there has been plenty of progress behind the scenes. Fingers crossed, our approvals are almost there, and the construction loan is ready to close any day now. Our broker has very kindly pointed out ours is “the most complicated, convoluted mortgage I’ve ever dealt with in my 37-year career.” Who knew we could be so difficult? It’s not like we plan these things. While Jason’s been hard at work on the architectural drawings and designing our off-grid power system, my grand vision for the interiors is starting to coalesce. While the main focus at my business, Simply Sustainable, is materials, I do some interior design consulting as well. Having this wonderful house to play with is a dream come true. I thought I’d share a bit of that with you today. With pretty pictures of course.

I know many of you following our project are great lovers of old houses, and perhaps were excited to see it brought back to period appropriateness. You might hate me after this. The fact is, despite my absolute adoration of old buildings, and chronic desire to hug and fix up every neglected one I see (that translates to animals and flea-market finds as well) I am not, at heart, a historic purist. Once upon a time some random horoscope described my style as “sleek and modern with oddball antiques.” This has proven to be startlingly accurate, or perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy. I love blending periods and styles, particularly the juxtaposition of old and modern. I am forever drooling over masterpieces like these:

Clockwise: Space Asia Hub in Singapore by WOHA; Bombay Sapphire Distillery in Whitechurch by Thomas Heatherwick; Public Folly Water Tower Renovation in China by META-Project; The Jane Restaurant in Antwerp by Piet Boon; The Louvre Pyramid in Paris by I.M. Pei

Clockwise: Space Asia Hub in Singapore by WOHA; Bombay Sapphire Distillery in Whitechurch by Thomas Heatherwick; Public Folly Water Tower Renovation in China by META-Project; The Jane Restaurant in Antwerp by Piet Boon; The Louvre Pyramid in Paris by I.M. Pei

And here are a few fantastic stone house conversions:

Clockwise: Scottish Island House by WT Architecture; Gloucestershire Barn conversion; 18th Century Farmhouse in PA by Wyant Architecture; Pavillon Roly in Belgium by Bruno Erpicum; Yew Tree House in Cotswold by Jonathan Tuckey; Loughloughan Barn in the UK by McGarry-Moon Architects; Tourin Barns in Ireland by James Gorst Architects

Clockwise: Scottish Island House by WT Architecture; Gloucestershire Barn conversion; 18th Century Farmhouse in PA by Wyant Architecture; Pavillon Roly in Belgium by Bruno Erpicum; Yew Tree House in Cotswold by Jonathan Tuckey; Loughloughan Barn in the UK by McGarry-Moon Architects; Tourin Barns in Ireland by James Gorst Architects

Now, due to the Historic Easement on our property, there will be no modernist meddling going on with the exterior, but short of the dictate to not rip out the fireplaces (who would do such a thing?!), I have pretty much carte blanche on the interior. Even Jason gave up the majority of his say so in return for naming the property. He’s an amazing architect, but colors are not his forte. (Love you, darling!) So here are the beginnings of some of my ideas. These are obviously subject to change with no prior notice, but I’m enjoying frolicking with potential options and would love to hear what you all think.

Color Palette inspiration

Color Palette inspiration

First up is the dining room, which will be located in the room with the giant fireplace. This is by far the most rustic and traditional space in the house. There’s not much that will be changed. We’ll be cleaning up and repairing the masonry, refinishing the original pumpkin pine floors, scraping down the beams, and a fresh coat of paint all around. There’s a 1940’s built in cabinet opposite the stairs which we plan to put glass doors on. With at least two architectural features on every wall, there’s not going to be a whole lot of furniture beyond the table and chairs. I’m envisioning a long, rustic wood table, possibly live edge, a la Nakashima or Jefferey Greene. The perfect table hasn’t materialized yet, but I’m sure the universe will provide it. To contrast all this wood and stone, I’m in love with the idea of a pairing the table with Philippe Stark Ghost Chairs (we scored a set of 6 at Rago Auction today!!!) and a Lindsey Adleman Branching Bubble-style chandelier . Since the ceiling is low, a long, luxurious chandelier is out of the question. A couple upholstered chairs at the ends of the table and we’re set! The transparent quality of the chairs and lights will be a counterpoint to much of the heaviness present in the space.

Dining Room Mood Board.jpg

Moving on to the library, I have a vision of teal. The red toile has to go. While my first-pass inclination with most spaces is to stick with Gray/White/Black (just visit my showroom and you’ll see) I want to push myself to embrace a little more color. When in school, my color theory professor called me out on how often I gravitated to blue-greens. I’m going to run with it. We’ll be adding built-in bookshelves, I’m a book hoarder after all, and I plan to paint everything (walls, trim, fireplace) the same, as yet to be determined, teal color. We need to take the plywood off the one window so I can see the actual amount of light the room will get, but my goal is something similar to the photos below. I’m forever encouraging my clients not to skip the essential stage of painting color swatches on the wall before committing. I’ve made that mistake before. Never again do I plan to repaint every door on the second floor of my house 4 times because I kept disliking the outcome. We’ll be refinishing the existing wood floors here too. Jason is planning to stick his vintage wood drafting desk (plucked out of a dumpster in his NJIT student days) in the bay window. I’ve been eyeing this fantastic leather couch from Rejuvenation, paired with a Pluto chandelier. To enter this womb of blue and books, we’ll be enlarging the doorway from the living room and adding a set of gorgeous salvaged doors, which I haven’t discovered yet. It’s possible the fireplace will be able to be opened and made functional, because reading by the fire with a cat in my lap is heaven, but if not, I’ll be quite happy with some sort of fun wood-burning stove.

Library Mood Board.jpg

The two upstairs bathrooms have also been coming together nicely. I fell in love with this Cattail tile from Brooklyn designer Grow House Grow the moment I saw it at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in NYC. Literally, I saw it across the convention hall and all else disappeared. We will begin carrying her whimsical tiles in the showroom very soon. This will go on the floor of the guest/kids bath, and everything else will be simple white/gray to complement it. There’s enough going on with this tile that it doesn’t need any competition. For the master bath, I magnanimously allowed Jason a say, and we’ve shockingly managed to agree on a design. The master will be located in the east 1890’s addition. This means one wall is the former exterior of the house. We’d like to pull the sheetrock off to expose the stone and lend the space instant character. Keeping with the rustic theme of the stone, we’ve agreed to reclaimed wood-looking tile planks; exact brand TBD, but will be one of the recycled-content porcelain lines I carry. Like the library downstairs, you’ll enter the bath through a salvaged door, which will be hung barn-style. To contrast the rustic and salvage, I’m looking forward to lounging in a modern soaking tub, exact model also TBD. I’m liking the oval ones though. I haven’t figured out the vanity situation yet, but I’m very fond of simple wall mounted faucets, like this one from Salvatori.

Bathrooms Moodboard.jpg

The living room and bedroom designs aren’t quite as far along yet. I’m just waiting for the perfect inspiration. I also have something super special planned for the kitchen, but you’re just going to have to wait a bit on that. Meanwhile, enjoy the links below to some of my favorite adaptive reuse and old-meets-new projects (sadly, none of which were mine).

Converted Chapel Cottage in the UK

Yew Tree House, Cotswold

Scottish Island House

Montreal Barn, Gloucestershire

Church Conversion, Neatherlands

Cement Factory by Ricardo Bofill, Barcelona

Selexyz Dominicanen Bookstore, Neatherlands







Lia Nielsen