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Dressing down a stuffy formal home to be bright, light, and easy

New owners transform their historic suburban Boston house into an easygoing home to fit their family lifestyle.

Rather than sticking with white windows like those used in the front of the house, Kelly McGuill specified black frames for the doors and windows at the back. “They’re separate enough to work and provide great contrast to the white, brass, and wood,” the designer says.Kyle J Caldwell

The gracious circa-1900 house in a close suburb of Boston checked most of the boxes for designer Kelly McGuill’s clients. It was large enough to raise a big family, boasted good bones and historical details, and had a grassy yard surrounded by trees. But like many period houses, the interior was cut into a collection of small, dark rooms that were not conducive to modern-day living. “They’re an outgoing, young couple who love entertaining,” McGuill says. “They wanted bright spaces that could accommodate plenty of people.”

The crux of the design challenge was the kitchen and adjacent utility areas. The kitchen was dark and dated, with brown cabinetry and densely speckled granite countertops, and the owners wanted a breakfast nook. Just around the corner was a small hall with a built-in bench and a huge laundry room with a lot of wasted space. “They needed an entrance from the garage with a forgiving floor, storage, and laundry room that made more sense,” McGuill says.


She started by rejiggering the layout. The utility area is now smaller, streamlined, and far more efficient. The new herringbone pattern tile floor is durable, exudes Old World charm, and acts as a textural counterpoint to the smooth finishes in the rest of room. Simple subway tiles are the backdrop for the washer, dryer, utility sink, and dog shower stall with a slip-resistant penny tile floor. Built-ins for outerwear, shoes, and bags line the opposite wall. As for the existing window seat, McGuill turned it into a laundry folding station with functional surprises that include hamper drawers and pullouts for hang-drying.

A Dutch door leads into the generously sized kitchen. While the overall shape of the room didn’t change, McGuill used space from the utility area to carve out a niche for a banquette. No-nonsense cushions upholstered in gray performance fabric are a crisp contrast to the rustic dining table by Vermont Farm Table, which matches the original pumpkin pine floor. “For a couple that hosts constantly, an eating nook was important,” the designer say. “When they have gatherings, people sit there and at the island.”


The original five-sided island was replaced by a 9-foot-long one that runs parallel to an expanse of cabinetry with inset panel doors and unlacquered brass hardware. Honed Carrara marble countertop and backsplash slabs are understated with soft gray veining and subtle movement against the white cabinets. “We didn’t want the marble to be the hero of the kitchen,” McGuill says.

A photograph by Michael Joseph hangs in the breakfast nook, adding modern edge to the rustic table, Old World-style chandelier, and pillows made from global textiles.Kyle J Caldwell

To let in more light, McGuill enlarged the room’s windows and doors. Above the sink, she replaced a trio of stubby windows with four taller ones. She also swapped out an existing slider for a model that provides an 8-foot opening to the outdoors. The change not only brightens the space, it enhances the connection to the backyard. “Summer parties spill onto the patio, where they built a stone banquette,” McGuill says.

Past the sink, tucked behind the stairs, is a butler’s pantry, where McGuill left the original mahogany counter, worn metal sink, and glass-front cabinet intact. The wall across from it got a makeover, with roomy drawers and an appliance garage with bi-fold doors. “They wanted to be organized and not leave things on the counter,” she says.

A swinging door leads to the dining room, which the designer freshened with wallpaper and paint to make it feel more casual. McGuill painted the original wainscoting and crown molding, along with the fireplace mantel and brick surround, in Benjamin Moore Decorator’s White. It is the same shade used throughout, which helps maintain the visual flow among spaces. The pale green wallpaper has a tie-dye-meets-kaleidoscope effect that melds with the leafy view, lending a screened porch effect to the room.


McGuill also dressed down the living room, using more white paint for the walls and woodwork. White drapery quietly softens the windows, the sofas are upholstered in performance fabric to eliminate worries about spills, and the teak coffee table takes cues from the organic nature of the tables in the dining room and kitchen. “The beauty of this project,” McGuill says, “is that we were able to take this big, old, historic house with moldings and details, and make it clean, casual, and easy.”


Interior designer: Kelly McGuill Home,

Contractor: Haven Builders,

Cabinetmaker: Herrick & White Architectural Woodworkers,

Hardscape and landscape: Palm Landscaping,


The client requested a white kitchen with Carrara marble countertops. “She understood it would get etchings and was OK with it,” McGuill says. “You need to embrace the patina.”Kyle J Caldwell
Candice Olson wallpaper infuses a fresh feel in the dining room, where fixtures from Circa Lighting tie to the brass hardware in the kitchen. McGuill chose textural natural shades over drapery, which would have weighed down the space.Kyle J Caldwell
Traditional oil-rubbed bronze plumbing fixtures in the laundry area are a pointed departure from the sleek, unlacquered brass gooseneck faucet in the kitchen. Kyle J Caldwell
McGuill upgraded the hardware in the butler’s pantry to match the unlacquered brass hardware she used on the Shaker-style cabinetry in the kitchen. Kyle J Caldwell

Marni Elyse Katz is a contributing editor to the Globe Magazine. Follow her on Instagram @StyleCarrot. Send comments to