Creating a Classic Interior

Designing for easy elegance in a New England Colonial.

Michael Carter of Carter & Company Interior Design creates classical, yet contemporary, interiors for a New England Colonial.

The owners of a New England Colonial constructed in the 1930s were tired with the low ceilings, cramped rooms, and features designed for a bygone era. The kitchen as outdated, the storage minimal, the windows small. They considered moving away, but realized that they loved the house and their neighbors enough to invest in a thoroughgoing renovation.

Working with a carefully chosen architect, builder, and designer, they systematically remade the 7,000-square-foot house without changing much about the exterior appearance. The renovation was so complete that it required reengineering entire portions of the home to raise the ceilings and open up the floorplan. The project’s interior designer, Michael Carter of Carter & Company Interior Design, calls it “a sensitive and artful reinterpretation of the house” that seamlessly joins the residence’s history and its modern usage. 

The Institute of Classical Architecture and Art New England agreed, giving the design project a Bulfinch Award in recognition of success in preserving and advancing New England’s classical tradition.

The homeowners’ collection of art and antiques are incorporated into the design.

The interior that Carter designed in coordination with the homeowners takes its cues from the classical bones of the structure but injects new materials, a modern sense of style, and a fresh, contemporary color palette. The homeowners have a fine collection of art and antiques, which Carter used as the base of his design, adding furniture, wall- and floor-coverings, and accents to complement the core of the collection.

“The end result had a lot of style,” remarks Carter. “Using the classical bones of the building, we had custom pieces made that had classical lines.” Then he incorporated materials that “speak of style and elegance today” like rock crystal, acrylic, and interesting woods that would have not been used in the house’s era.

The home got renewed colors, styling, and wall treatments, such as Studio E wallpapers, custom-made carpets from Michaelian & Kohlberg, and curtain fabric from Quadrille, Fortuny, and Lucy Rose Design.

Michael Carter varies lighting options throughout.

The colors are cool and elegant—trending toward white and tan, with pops of aqua, pale coral, and sunny yellow. The custom carpets bring out the colors in use elsewhere in each room and are created using a process for aging the wool so they look like century-old heirlooms. “They are reinterpretations of old patterns done with new scale and new colorways,” says Carter. “The end result was really quite beautiful.”

Carter constructed a careful sense of dignified grace with the furniture he brought in to complement the homeowners’ antiques, such as a Jerry Pair dining table topped by a Dennis & Leen chandelier, David Iatesta chairs surrounding a Furniture Guild table in the breakfast room, a Furn & Co desk in the office, and chairs from David Neligan Antiques in the living room.

“The aesthetic is a sense of calm elegance with occasional surprises of something unexpected,” says Carter. “It’s not as easy to achieve as it looks.”

Part of the reason an effortless-looking final effect is difficult to create is that working conditions in New England can be unforgiving. Carter remembers that contending with winter weather was the most challenging part of the project: “I think we really had to work through some seriously bad winters when the walls were opened right up, the team would meet and I remember being so bitterly cold.”

Carter keeps the dining space formal—the colors used are cool and elegant.

But he admits that such challenges are relatively easy to put up with when you have the joy of invested, cooperative, and style-conscious clients who are ready to dig into the work of entirely transforming their home.

“It was an incredibly close rapport with the clients,” Carter recalls. “They were extremely involved. They had a good design eye and had a lot of creative input.”

The award-winning result of that teamwork is now a modern and comfortable home for a couple who had considered giving up on the house, as well as a sense of satisfaction for the design team that made it a reality.

“I think the end result has an easy elegance,” says Carter. “I was very pleased with that.”

Carter keeps the dining space formal—the colors used are cool and elegant.

Tips for Designing a Classic Interior

Interior Designer Michael Carter offers suggestions for creating a traditional space:

1. Great bones make great rooms. Work with architects and builders who understand classical design and historic detail.

2. Don’t skimp on the floors. A deep, rich-looking floor is rarely achieved using off-the-shelf cans of stain. You’ll get a better result from a special formula that includes an aniline dye.

3. Use a variety of lighting options. Get good task lighting using the latest in LED recessed lighting, which is very discreet, then place the aesthetic focus on handsome lanterns, sconces, and chandeliers.

4. Use a go-to paint. You can never go wrong with the tried-and-true Historic Collection from Benjamin Moore.

5. Buy antiques! Take advantage of the virtual “give-away” pricing of antique furniture.

Tags: Bulfinch Awards classical architecture & design interior design Interior Designers New Old House Winter 2018 Issue

By Katherine Gustafson

Katherine Gustafson, a graduate of Amherst College, is a Seattle-based freelance writer. Covering the work of architects and designers coast to coast, she has written many articles for New Old House magazine.

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