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Lynn Clark and her daughter spend lots of time in the first-floor parlor, decorated in fun colors with storage bins for the toddler’s toys.
Lynn Clark and her daughter spend lots of time in the first-floor parlor, decorated in fun colors with storage bins for the toddler’s toys.Michael J. Lee

At a loss for how to set up the narrow front parlor in the town house that she and her husband, Joe Shapiro, had purchased in the South End, Lynn Clark did something she hadn’t even considered before: She hired an interior designer. “Our last place had blank walls,” she says, “and we don’t entertain with passed hors d’oeuvres. We just wanted a space that we could really live in.”

With a baby on the way, Clark took to local online parenting community GardenMoms for designer recommendations. In the spring of 2012, about six months before moving in, she hired interior designer Stephanie Sabbe. That Sabbe had a 1-year-old herself was a plus. “We knew she would understand our needs and how to resolve them,” Clark says. “Plus, she’s funny and charming.”


The initial task was to transform the 250-square-foot first-floor parlor into a multipurpose living space (it’s on the same floor as the kitchen) where parents and child would spend most of their family time. It would also be where the couple, who both work in publishing, would watch television in the evening and hang out with friends and their kids on weekends. Sabbe divided the room, which is architecturally blessed with tall bow windows and an original marble fireplace, into two zones. She transformed the front half of the space, next to the windows, into a comfortable seating area and left the inner half uncluttered so it could function as the play area that Clark had asked for.

Clark wanted the room to be both elegant and livable, with a fun color scheme to offset the traditional architecture. The starting point was the blue velvet (and stain-resistant) Kravet fabric for the sofa. The patterned chartreuse rug was an inexpensive online find — the new parents wouldn’t have to worry about keeping it pristine. Devoid of sharp edges, the sturdy coffee table has a finish that can be easily touched up if (when!) scuffed.


Although the homeowners hoped to keep their existing entertainment center, they quickly realized that not only did it take up too much space, it also wasn’t particularly child friendly. Instead, the television is mounted to the wall, so cords are tucked away and the danger of its tipping over is nil. A small locked cabinet below the TV keeps electronics safe, and a bright tray atop the cabinet holds remotes and stray board books. Storage ottomans on either side of the cabinet contain toys and can be pulled out for extra seating; Sabbe designed built-in shelving for the shallow niches on either side of the fireplace for books and knickknacks. The designer avoided floor lamps — a potential hazard to children learning to crawl or walk — entirely.

Ikat armchairs round out the conversation circle. In a genius move, Sabbe chose chairs that swivel to face either half of the room, providing the couple with a comfortable place to sit when entertaining their daughter in the open play space. Clark put her daughter’s play mat there when she was a baby. As she grows, they envision adding a mini table and chair set for art projects. For more toy storage, Sabbe designed a built-in bench with drawers.

Vertical living can be challenging with a little one, so the homeowners decided to add a first-floor powder room that Sabbe outfitted with lively wallpaper, a tiny sink, and quirky mirror. And because the home office is on the third floor, Sabbe found a vintage secretary that she had refinished and tucked into one corner of the play space so that Clark can check e-mail on her laptop or grab a stamp without climbing the stairs.


Sabbe also brought her design savvy to bear on the nursery, up one flight from the living space. Clark came up with the overall vision — an aqua and orange color scheme and gray striped walls. “I knew I was having a girl,” says Clark, “but I’m not frilly. And this way, if we have a boy later or want to use it as a guest room, it will work.”

Sabbe mapped it out so that the stripes align perfectly with the architecture of the room, and found the fabric for the Roman shades, which Clark admits she’d never have chosen on her own. The shades are lined with blackout material and are cordless, so there’s nothing for little fingers to pull on.

Clark says: “We haven’t once looked at anything and thought, ‘Why did we do that?’ That’s a testament to Stephanie as a designer.”

Marni Elyse Katz blogs about design at StyleCarrot.com. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.