When Boston interior designer Tricia Luong first saw her current home in Cambridge, it certainly wasn’t her dream house. With purple—yes, purple—painted siding, the farmhouse colonial was on the verge of becoming derelict with bowing walls, a roof that required immediate replacement, and hideous wood paneling, says Luong, who deemed the house “basically unsellable.”
The Cambridge housing market is hot: When Luong, a designer with Rachel Reider Interiors, and her husband were looking for a single family home to buy three years ago, she recalls that listings would come on the market, and multiple offers would be made on the first day. When this property was introduced to the market, Luong and her husband were out of town for the weekend. “We couldn’t make the open house. We toured it later the following week. I think it was still available because it had so many issues,” says Luong.
While other potential buyers couldn’t see past the 1600-square-foot home’s negative aspects (which include windows on only one side of the house), Luong and her husband felt they could transform the 1894 structure into their forever home. Not that it wasn’t a daunting endeavor.
“It was dark, musty, and kind of creepy,” recalls Luong. The couple’s primary concern at the time was making the house safe for their then 2-year-old daughter. “There was asbestos and lead paint, so we had to address all of that first. We had to rectify water damage, replaster the walls, and sand and refinish the floors.”
From there, the couple tackled the house room by room. Since the house is nestled a mere 18 inches from its neighbor on one side, about three and a half feet from the one on the other, and a condo development abuts the back of the home, windows are concentrated on one side of the house. The lack of windows combined with low ceilings in many of the rooms means that natural light flow into the home is limited. Rather than fight to reverse this aspect of the architecture, Luong’s response was to embrace the issue by creating dark and moody spaces.
“Even before we had this house, I was drawn to dark colors. On my Pinterest boards, I always gravitate toward spaces that are dark,” she says. The living room, for example—where both the walls and trim are painted Benjamin Moore Black Jack, and a plush wool shag carpet is underfoot—feels both enveloping and welcoming.
In contrast to the darkness, bold prints are utilized throughout the home to maintain an edginess and lighthearted feel. In the dining room, a Lee Jofa wall covering emblazoned with bunnies against a gold backdrop beckons. An Eero Saarinen Tulip dining table is paired with shaker chairs and a custom banquette upholstered in turquoise faux velvet.
Above, the oversize Restoration Hardware capiz shell pendant adds interest, while diverting from the fact that the ceilings are on the low side.
There’s another intriguing fixture in the master bathroom—a FLOS IC light with brass hardware. The finish is used throughout the space to add a dash of glam. Striking Ann Sacks tile creates textural dimension on the shower walls; an ample trough sink by Kohler is a showpiece.
In the adjacent master bedroom, a grey palette creates a cocoon-like setting. Walls and trim are painted Benjamin Moore Days End, and an abstract painting by Trevor Watson has dramatic flair. The West Elm sleigh bed is upholstered in grey velvet that has a purplish tint. Silver, hand-embossed Anthropologie nightstands add a subtle, shimmery aspect to the room.
While the majority of the house is awash in darker tones, the bedroom of Luong’s 5-year-old daughter is a bright, playful haven. The accent wall behind the bed is painted Benjamin Moore Lazy Afternoon in order to make the sculptural headboard pop. The other three walls are painted Benjamin Moore Stormy Monday; the trim in here is the only trim in the home painted white. The cozy shag rug is West Elm, and the Roman shades are made of a lively, multicolor Jim Thompson fabric.
When it came to the kitchen—which was clad with dingy wood paneling and tattered linoleum when the family moved in—Luong was able to transform it dramatically while keeping a tight budget. Schoolhouse Electric mid-century knobs give the black painted Ikea cabinets distinctive flair. Above, a Visual Comfort Hicks Pendant pairs black with brass accents.
The home, now comfortable, stylish, and deeply personal to its inhabitants, has been so transformed from its condition three years ago, it’s unrecognizable (the ghastly purple siding is long gone). As far as the place has come, Luong is quick to point out that it’s still a work in progress—there’s always another project to tackle. Next on the couple’s to-do list is a renovation of the first floor bathroom, and Luong is already brimming with ideas.
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