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Your Home | Smart Solutions

Bringing a modern sensibility to a vintage Portsmouth house

A Victorian “rabbit warren” becomes a functional haven for a young New Hampshire family.

Walnut warms up a white scheme (as does family dog Truckee), while Ikea pendant lights tie to the black windows.
Walnut warms up a white scheme (as does family dog Truckee), while Ikea pendant lights tie to the black windows.tamara flanagan

Eight years ago, Mariah and Nat Morgan fell hard for Portsmouth, New Hampshire, when visiting from Northern California. Within a few months, they had relocated to a charming 1894 Victorian within walking distance to Portsmouth’s town center. Once their son was born, however, the home fell short. “These old homes are quaint on the outside, but inside, they’re like rabbit warrens,” Mariah says. “They don’t make sense for young families.”

Committed to staying in the city, the couple called Amy Dutton, a designer based in Portsmouth and Kittery, Maine, to problem solve. Mariah, who owns the local marketing agency Stout Heart, had created a website for the designer the previous year, and knew their aesthetics were aligned. “Amy totally gets my modern tastes,” Mariah says. “She also raised her kids in Portsmouth, so she had good suggestions for making our home functional for a family.”

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Dutton devised a 634-square-foot modern addition to replace the ramshackle one that was tacked onto the back of the 1,577-square-foot house back in the 1990s. There’s an open plan kitchen and family room; a mudroom with a polished concrete floor and ample storage, which connects the house to the formerly freestanding garage; a second-level master suite; and a basement TV room made sunny thanks to oversize egress windows. The addition meets all the Morgans’ needs, and just in time: They will soon welcome baby number two.

It was important to Mariah, who likens cooking to therapy, that her new kitchen be the heart of the home. “Making food is the way my family shows love,” she says. The new space is bright and airy, with large east-facing windows that let in gorgeous morning and afternoon sun. Dutton tucked a window seat and bookshelf under the windows, converting a limited space — a wide path was needed for circulation — into a highly functional one. The quartz-topped bookshelf holds Nat’s plants, and the window seat is a huge hit. “Our son sits there with his library book while I cook,” Mariah says. “I’m so glad we put it in.”

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The island is also an innovative exercise in form and function. Although the island is only long enough to fit three stools, Dutton was able to accommodate a fourth without sacrificing her vision for a sleek waterfall design. “We used a waterfall edge only on one side,” the designer says. “It allowed us to fit another stool on the far end, but still see a clean expanse of quartz from the front door.”

Oversize porcelain floor tile is a cost-effective emulation of the polished concrete floor used in the new mudroom. “I would have loved to use concrete everywhere, but it would have required building a structure to support it,” homeowner Mariah Morgan says.
Oversize porcelain floor tile is a cost-effective emulation of the polished concrete floor used in the new mudroom. “I would have loved to use concrete everywhere, but it would have required building a structure to support it,” homeowner Mariah Morgan says. tamara flanagan (custom credit)/tamara flanagan

Dutton turned the hallway that leads from that front door to the kitchen into a butler’s pantry of sorts — the wall was structural, so taking it down wasn’t a viable option. Not only does the new floor-to-ceiling cabinetry provide tons of storage, it hides the microwave and toaster, and there’s a bar that doubles as a tea station for Nat. The area also extends the new aesthetic to the front of the house. “From the minute you walk in, it’s modern,” Dutton says.

To further alleviate the “rabbit warren” situation, the openings between the family and the dining rooms are as wide as possible. A slight separation comes from the structural header — and the change from the addition’s ceramic floor tiles to the home’s original wooden planks — but the rooms meld easily. The large slider in the family room draws the eye through the dining area out to the backyard.

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The focal point in the dining area itself is a wall of custom walnut cabinetry, dubbed the “vinyl wall,” that Dutton designed to showcase Nat’s beloved record collection. “I told Amy in our first meeting that to convince my husband to renovate, the vinyl collection would have to be a primary concern,” Mariah says. Albums are arranged in cubbies and the power supply for the turntable is hidden on the other side of the wall, in one of the hallway pantry cabinets. Mariah is happy to have it. “Our son picks a record out for us to listen to at dinner,” she says. “It’s really sweet.”

Mariah names other aspects of the renovation she’s grateful for, including the utility sink in the new first-floor laundry room, a separate master bath, storage for Nat’s camping gear, her dream fireplace, and a television room far enough away from the living space that it doesn’t impede on the lovely environment that Dutton created. “I run a business, so my work life is crazy,” she says. “Now when I come home, I have this happy, simple, peaceful place.”

Resources:

Interior design: Amy Dutton Home, amyduttonhome.com

Cabinetry: Infinite Cabinetry, infinitecabinetry.com

Contractor: Star Island Builders, starislandbuilders.com

MORE PHOTOGRAPHS:

The custom “vinyl wall” is in the same walnut as the kitchen cabinetry. The homeowners found the table at the Brimfield Antique Market and splurged on the Tech Lighting linear pendant.
The custom “vinyl wall” is in the same walnut as the kitchen cabinetry. The homeowners found the table at the Brimfield Antique Market and splurged on the Tech Lighting linear pendant. tamara flanagan (custom credit)/tamara flanagan
Designer Amy Dutton worked with the cabinetmaker to design spare powder-coated metal pulls.
Designer Amy Dutton worked with the cabinetmaker to design spare powder-coated metal pulls.tamara flanagan (custom credit)/tamara flanagan
The fireplace is based on a long-admired design that the homeowner spotted on Pinterest. To save money, designer Amy Dutton used quarter-inch thick stone veneer applied to wood instead of a more costly polished concrete.
The fireplace is based on a long-admired design that the homeowner spotted on Pinterest. To save money, designer Amy Dutton used quarter-inch thick stone veneer applied to wood instead of a more costly polished concrete. tamara flanagan (custom credit)/tamara flanagan
Large egress windows, required by code, make the basement under the addition pleasantly sunny.
Large egress windows, required by code, make the basement under the addition pleasantly sunny.tamara flanagan (custom credit)/tamara flanagan

Marni Elyse Katz is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.