As one of the first couples in their social group to start a family, Abby and Jon Wyss were determined to ensure that both their friends and their kids could have fun in their new South End home. That meant an open layout, comfy furniture, lively colors and patterns, and a killer bar. “We wanted our place to be where friends would congregate, instead of always trying to get a baby sitter,” says Jon.
The couple, who have two daughters, Letty, 3, and Marlowe, 1, called on Caitlin Flynn and Elyse Parkhurst of Beverly-based North Fork Design Co. to help pull together a plan for the 1,500-square-foot duplex. The design hinged on replacing the staircase smack in the middle of the garden-level living space, which acted as a barrier between the living room and kitchen. “The stairs cut the apartment in half and made both sides feel dark and closed,” Jon says. “We wouldn’t have purchased it if we couldn’t have opened it up.”
Having spent a fair amount of time on Pinterest, the couple knew exactly what they wanted — a contemporary steel staircase that would allow for an open floor plan and set the tone for the entire design. Flynn and Parkhurst worked with Clarke Steel of Stoughton to create a custom feature that is safe, sturdy, and striking. Simple oak treads float between steel stringers, and the steel rail is capped with walnut. Rather than buff out the blemishes, the Wysses insisted that the materials remain as-is, raw and full of character. “The staircase was truly the starting point for our home,” Abby says.
After the original stairs and connected kitchen cabinets and closet came out, light filtered in. Flynn and Parkhurst gutted and reconfigured the kitchen, taking care to keep it airy while providing storage. New cabinetry painted Benjamin Moore Newburyport Blue is accented with brass hardware, and floating walnut shelves, scribed for a perfect fit, hug the curved wall. The large central island with a modern fireclay farmhouse sink has a waterfall-edge countertop made of Neolith Estatuario, a cost-effective Carrara marble lookalike. “It draws your eye through the living space,” Flynn says.
The scene stealer is the dining nook, lined in Shanghai Garden wallpaper from Designers Guild, an eye-popping fuchsia floral on a metallic silver ground. A fire-engine-red table and a turquoise bench are bold slashes across the oversize blooms. The exuberant tableau is a testament to the couple’s playful approach. Abby says, “It’s such a surprise when people walk around the corner.”
Flynn and Parkhurst designed the living room color scheme around the smoky violet rug. “It has a vintage feel and a lot of character,” says Flynn. “With the purple, magenta, and teal, it was the perfect jumping-off point.” The L-shaped sofa is large enough to hold a crowd, and the durable ocean-blue canvas slipcovers can be sent out to be cleaned (they have two sets). “The color adds so much life,” says Abby. “I can’t imagine living with a beige sofa.”
Behind the seating area, Flynn and Parkhurst incorporated dual-function built-ins. “It’s work on the left, party on the right,” jokes Parkhurst. One end holds Jon’s home office, a walnut-topped desk with a wall-mounted computer monitor. The other features a walnut-topped, antique-mirror-backed bar, complete with beer and wine on tap. The designers worked with Boston Barrel & Tap in Acton to devise an efficient setup that allows for two kegs; they dispense rose, shandy, hard cider, and red wine, depending on the season.
Abby couldn’t partake when they first moved in because she was pregnant with Marlowe, but as planned, the family entertains frequently. Abby says, “We had a party last year with guests who ranged from two months to 72 years.” Jon adds, “We envisioned a space where everyone and their kids could have a good time. And they do.”
Marni Elyse Katz is a frequent contributor to the Boston Globe Magazine. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter@BostonGlobeMag.