It was 2005, and having recently started a family, interior designer Jill Morelli and her husband, PJ, who works in financial services, had been looking for a larger place in the city. But when visiting friends in Orleans, the Charlestown couple fell in love with a 200-year-old Cape house that was for sale nearby and decided to spend their time, money, and energy on it instead. The prospect of having an escape from the city as well as a gathering place for their siblings, who were also starting to have kids, was too appealing to pass up.
The home, which Jill Morelli says had been a serious “hunk of junk,” dates to the 1790s. Previous owners had built a long, straight addition in back that resembled a bowling alley, but the historical portion had been preserved, with all its nooks, crannies, and problems. “We definitely had blinders on in terms of all the work it would require,” says the Boston- and Cape Cod-based designer behind Small m Homes.
They started by painting, refinishing floors, replacing windows, and re-shingling the exterior. In 2010, they began working with architect Leslie Schneeberger, who now runs her own firm out of Harwich. Schneeberger helped Morelli refine the layout, redesign the kitchen, and transform the cramped second floor into an aerie for the kids, adding just 500 square feet overall. “The historic part of the house facing the street is very small,” Schneeberger says. “The challenge was to complement rather than dwarf it.”
Morelli had already spruced up the 1960s addition that housed a large family room, opening up the dropped ceiling to expose the pitched roof, replacing typical framing with a bevy of load-bearing (and decorative) trusses, and putting in new French doors that opened to a large deck and grassy yard. The whole room was painted white, including the floors, on which she used Farrow & Ball floor paint, a product she swears by. The wooden beams, left bare, created an interesting geometric pattern against all the white.
Much of the remainder of the first floor, however, needed rethinking. Schneeberger flipped the location of the guest room and master suite and created a powder room. “Before,” she says, “everyone had to walk through the master to use that bathroom.”
In the kitchen, they raised the ceiling (“just a foot,” Morelli says, “but worth it”), took out the island, and streamlined and modernized the aesthetic, again rendering everything white. They reused portions of the cabinetry, installing new doors over existing boxes where they could, and spent a long time searching for a range hood that would fit under the sloping roofline.
They also moved the laundry out of the kitchen to make way for a butler’s pantry and relocated the fridge to accommodate a breakfast bar, where the couple’s two elementary school-aged daughters eat their morning cereal. Around the corner, a spacious closet, made charming with a sliding barn door painted deep purple, is dedicated to charging electronics. “Two things I learned from waiting five years to renovate: Build a place to hide all the phones, cameras, laptops, and iPads as well as a spot to store the beach paraphernalia.”
Such functionality is an overarching theme in Morelli’s work. “Designing useful, practical, yet hidden space for all the stuff that clutters a house is a huge motivator for me,” she says.
This creative practicality is nowhere as apparent as on the second floor, where light now floods both girls’ attic bedrooms and where a narrow hallway was turned into an ingenious sleeping space for their cousins by tucking built-in bunks under the eaves. Morelli and Schneeberger worked carefully on the design, ensuring the nooks would accommodate standard size mattresses and adding smart touches like deep drawers under the beds, niches that act as night stands, and a pullout laundry bin.
While Schneeberger is happy with how Morelli’s modern tastes meshed with the historic parts of the house, Morelli is most grateful for the home’s flow. “Now the house can be loaded with people and it works. We’re not all on top of each other, and neither is our stuff.”