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Adding style and lots more storage to a house in Southie

How a clever redesign helped them stay in the neighborhood where their family has deep roots.

Maureen Dahill, husband Peter Gailunas, and younger son Henry in the dining room, painted Benjamin Moore White Dove with Chantilly Lace trim. The designer, Justene Spaulding, added a brass chandelier and Roman shades to go with the couple’s existing dining table and chairs. joyelle west for the boston globe
Spaulding created a lovely design moment just inside the front door, the space anchored by an accent wall covered in Jack’s Jungle grass-cloth paper by Phillip Jeffries. The family’s pug, Vito, sits on an artisan-made rug from West Elm. Vintage artwork from Maureen Dahill’s collection adds a spot of color. Deborah McCarthy

A lifelong resident of South Boston and founder of the neighborhood-focused blog Caught In Southie, Maureen Dahill and her husband, firefighter Peter Gailunas, considered the idea of moving to Dorchester. For about one minute. “We thought we might find a larger house with parking and a yard but quickly realized we could never break up with Southie. Our children are fifth-generation South Bostonians!”

Instead, Dahill asked interior designer Justene Spaulding of JS Interiors (a neighborhood friend who did just relocate to Dorchester) for advice on making their 2,100-square-foot home more livable. The couple found that as their kids — now Grace, 20, Peter, 13, and Henry,  11 — had grown, their needs had evolved. Plus, the kitchen was ready for a refresh.


Spaulding says, “The home, built in the late 1800s, had amazing architectural details but did not function well for a modern family.”

The series of small rooms on the first floor felt closed in; the upstairs lounge area that had once been a playroom was now rarely used; and the two boys, who shared a bedroom, were ready to be on their own. By rethinking the best use for each space and taking down some walls, Spaulding solved all their issues.

Like most homes of that era, entry was into a narrow hallway that ran from the front of the house where the living room was located to a cramped kitchen in back, with the dining room in between. Spaulding removed all the interior walls to transform the first floor into one big living space.

Spaulding defined the entry with bold palm-frond wallpaper by Phillip Jeffries, a small dresser with reclaimed-wood drawer fronts from West Elm, and a colorful Moroccan-style rug. She helped Dahill choose a new distressed leather sofa for the living room, which has become the family hangout space, and added built-in cabinetry next to the original period fireplace in the dining room.


A corner of the cluttered kitchen prior to the renovation.From Maureen Dahill

The bulk of the work, though, happened in the kitchen. Making use of the home’s extra-tall ceilings, Spaulding built up, adding lots more storage for things like serving platters and bowls and other large kitchenware. She designed a library ladder system to access the new upper row of cabinetry. “I love the industrial look,” Dahill says, “and since my husband is a firefighter, there’s significance to it as well.”

Though still small, the room is now perfectly functional. “There’s only 40 inches between the counter and the fridge, which is the minimum requirement,” Spaulding says, “but we maintained an efficient work triangle.” That the stove stayed in the same location was cost-effective, eliminating the need to move gas lines. An awkward corner sink was replaced with one in the new quartz-topped peninsula. Dahill marvels at how much more enjoyable it is to entertain there. “I no longer have to hurry up to get back out to my guests like when the kitchen was enclosed,” she says.

Upstairs, Spaulding created a new master bedroom for the couple out of the former family room. “We needed it when the kids were young and had lots of toys, but now we all gather in the living room,” says Dahill.

While the main living space is white and airy, punctuated with quirky, feminine, and mid-century modern touches that reflect Dahill’s aesthetic, the master bedroom is saturated in her eclectic style. Mod floral wallpaper from Anthropologie plays off a Moroccan rug purchased from the Imports From Marrakesh pop-up shop in the Boston Design Center. Its colors and patterns echo those of the Moroccan picnic blanket Dahill uses as a bed throw. The furniture is vintage mid-century Thomasville, purchased on Craigslist, its clean lines balancing the swirls of the wallpaper.


Spaulding credits Dahill, a fan of color, texture, and whimsy, for taking her out of her comfort zone as a designer. And Dahill is thrilled with the results. “Justene embraced my style,” Dahill says. “When people walk in they say, ‘Oh, this looks just like you!’ ”


In Dahill’s new kitchen, as on a ship, every aspect has a purpose. For example, the base cabinets have hidden toe-kick storage drawers. The island base is tiled for easy cleaning.joyelle west for the boston globe
Crisp gray and white striped bedding floats amid a riot of texture and color in the master bedroom.joyelle west for the boston globe

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