A designer and her builder husband redo their Dorchester carriage house
Work and home life meld nicely for this duo with a passion for renovating.
Some couples play tennis or go to the opera together. Interior designer Melissa Miranda and her husband, builder Ulises Serret, renovate. “Fixing houses is what we do for work and pleasure,” Miranda says.
In 2009, Miranda — who was raised in London by a food and lifestyle photographer father and artist/interior designer mother (also ardent fixer-uppers) — moved into Serret’s home, where they live with their son Alexander, 11, and their three cats. Serret had renovated the property, a carriage house to a grand Victorian in the Harrison Hill section of Dorchester, six years earlier.
Miranda wasted no time adding her personal touch — and she shows no signs of letting up. First she tackled the kitchen, reconfiguring the cabinetry, ditching the upper units to open the space, and switching out the black granite countertops for white quartz. More kitchen updates came this summer, when she painted the cabinetry gray (Benjamin Moore’s Smoke & Mirrors), swapped the hardware for brass, and covered the glass tile backsplash with shiplap.
Other early fixes included lightening the maple floor and adding Victorian-style paneling in the living room. Last year’s project was a gas fireplace. Constructing a chimney wasn’t an option, but Miranda designed a fake one and added a mantel that evokes the woodwork in Victorian town houses in London. To complete the wood-burning fireplace aesthetic, Serret built the adjacent shelving with a spot for logs, which Miranda calls “props.”
The home’s newest addition and most-used space is the conservatory, inspired by one of the homes she lived in as a kid. “The older I get, the more I gravitate toward my childhood experiences,” Miranda says. Another influence is the year she and Serret spent in Barcelona in 2012; they returned with what she calls “Mediterranean-lifestyle desires.”
The cement tile floor recalls their time in Spain. “There were cement tiles in old buildings there everywhere we looked,” Miranda says. The tiles have a Moorish-style star pattern echoed in the Moravian star lighting fixture above the dining table. She purchased the worn table (“I didn’t want to worry about scratching it”) on Etsy for about $400, and Serret added casters that make it easy to roll out of the way. “I like to put on disco music and go crazy,” says Miranda.
Other furnishings were spontaneously collected over time, including the settee her mom spotted at an estate sale on the Cape (“the cats love it”); the bleached-out cane-seat chair deemed “a piece of junk” by its previous owner; terra-cotta pots from Spain; a plaster sconce from a former neighbor and Boston Ballet dancer; and the wicker peacock chair Serret picked up at a yard sale in Roslindale. “He paid the woman $20 for it even though she only wanted $10 because he knew how desperately I wanted one,” Miranda says.
And then there are the plants. Starting with a philodendron named Grant that she bought at age 17, Miranda has cultivated a horticultural obsession. The conservatory is well stocked with specimens that include a bird of paradise, purple heart, mandevilla, jasmine, bougainvillea, and another philodendron that started out with about three leaves but has grown like mad. Miranda explains, “The goal is for this to resemble an overgrown ’70s-era-type space.”
She recently started landscaping the backyard, creating a Provence-style gravel garden planted with lavender. “I’m out there every day, even in the rain, moving things around; it’s heaven to me,” Miranda says. The garden hugs a new deck furnished with teak pieces her mom found in Bali.
Next up: Miranda is on the hunt for a new headboard, as well as a chest to replace the couple’s functional but ubiquitous Ikea Malm dresser. “I’m always looking,” she says of the search. “Kind of like a gambler; the thought of winning is the addiction. In my head I’m saying, This could be the time.”
Designer Melissa Miranda offers tips for finding and incorporating inexpensive pieces with panache.
> Tired castoffs add texture. Miranda bought the gilded mirror in her entry and a cane-seat chair for the conservatory, complete with peeling paint, at yard sales.
> Ask relatives if you can rifle through storage spaces. “I know what’s in every box in my mom’s basement, and I am always going through them,” Miranda says.
> Mix standard pieces with custom work to reduce expenses (and effort). Miranda incorporated a pair of decorative brackets from a woodworking shop into her mantelpiece design.
> No need to buy plants when you can grow your own. Ask friends if you can clip small cuttings. Miranda cultivated one of her favorites from a broken plant piece that nursery workers were happy to let her have. “They would have just tossed it,” she says.
> Don’t be afraid to mix. “I don’t care where something comes from or what the style is, as long as I like it,” says Miranda. She blends items from big-box stores, estate sales, eBay, friends, and family.
> Scour Etsy for independent craftspeople, whose work is often more affordable than pieces by bigger names. Miranda and Serret’s dining room chandelier is one such find.