Your Home

So Happy Together

Editing and organizing is the secret to a beautiful home. How one determined designer put a seriously disordered Cohasset family in its place.

(Photograph by Eric Roth)
By Marni Elyse Katz
September 7, 2008
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IT'S EASY TO IMAGINE THAT A YOUNG family of six would inhabit a home that is perhaps a tad chaotic, even if the house is Norman Rockwell perfect and located on historic Cohasset Common. Not here. Sarah, 37, a stay-at-home mom, and Gabriel Gomez, 42, a principal in a private equity firm in Boston, and their four children, Olivia, 9, Alexander, 7, Antonia, 5, Max, 4, and a yellow Lab named Booba, live a very well-ordered life. And they have a designer to thank.

The house is no stranger to activity (the couple who owned the home prior to the Gomezes raised seven children there over 39 years), and it has about 6,500 square feet of space. But it didn't function quite right. There were rooms the family never used or that had been given over to the children. So the Gomezes turned to designer Robin Pelissier, who, in extreme makeover style (albeit after several months of planning), redecorated the entire first floor while the family was on vacation.

The family wanted the house to look beautiful, of course. But they also wanted the design to work for them, not against them. Pelissier rearranged existing furniture, added new pieces aplenty, switched light fixtures, sifted through old books, reframed photos, papered walls, and laid new carpets, all with an eye toward function. By rethinking how the rooms could best be used, paring down clutter, and adding key elements (not to mention the infusion of more than a sprinkle of impeccable taste and dramatic fl air), Pelissier created a thoroughly gorgeous example of a well-edited house.

Pelissier started by transforming the entry. The vestibule, with its two niches flanking a set of tall etched-glass doors, had a lot of character, but lacked life. Pelissier covered the walls with a rich textured paper in persimmon to add color, set a thick sisal mat over the damaged marble floor to absorb noise and dirt, and painted the insides of the front doors black (the dark color allowed them to act as an anchor for the space). "Pow!" Pelissier exclaims. "We set the tone." For further drama, she outfitted the niches with handsome boxwood topiaries in zinc urns.

The foyer also received a complete overhaul. Pelissier recognized the grandness of the space and papered the walls in a pale green with a shimmery gold stripe that played off a new gold-painted iron lantern entwined with leaves that echo those etched in the glass on the doors. The radiator could not be removed, so she replaced its small cover with a longer one designed with a rounded front to give the impression of a console table. An outlet was added behind it, two candlestick lamps perched on top, a mirror hung, and, voila, the foyer now had a place where family members could deposit mail and keys on the way in - and check their appearance on the way out. "Sometimes helping with organization is not just taking things away," says Pelissier, "but adding things to give the space purpose."

The living room is confounding. The room is chock-full of furnishings - there are no fewer than eight different materials and half a dozen tables, all in different silhouettes - yet it doesn't appear the least bit crowded or cluttered. "It's glamorous, but still a put-your-feet-up sort of space," says Pelissier. But why does it work? "The elements are the right size and shape, and there are a lot of neutrals." When the main furniture is muted, she says, you can add bolder prints, decor, and light fixtures.

Pelissier worked around the two taupe sofas that the Gomezes had already purchased. She split them up and used them as the starting points for separate seating areas. (Sarah had originally stationed them together, in front of the fireplace: "I wasn't able to navigate around the furniture," she says. "Now it's so open and inviting.") Then Pelissier added lots of color and pattern. There's a Louis XVI-style side chair upholstered in a horsehair zebra print that adds a touch of bohemian chic and pillows in a punchy but traditional red-and-gold Brunschwig & Fils fabric. Pelissier likes to say that the zebra-print chair is neutral, since the bold pattern can match with most things. "It can be pulled into other rooms in the house," she says.

Everything in the living room has a purpose. There are quirky cocktail tables upon which to set a drink, a cabinet that doubles as a bar, a desk and chair at which one might find Gabriel using his laptop. The couple previously worked with Julie Mussafer of Jules Place, so they already owned a sophisticated art collection that Pelissier was able to integrate into her design. Pelissier complemented the two-dimensional paintings with three-dimensional accessories, like bulbous shelves with tall urns, a round mirror flanked by sinewy sconces (Pelissier makes it a practice to pair rounded mirrors with vertical lamps or light fixtures), and a spiky sculptural piece she spray-painted gold that sits atop a stack of books about marine life as an ode to the couple themselves. Gabriel, a former Navy SEAL, and Sarah, a former Peace Corps volunteer, met in St. Lucia.

But with every organization project comes some dirty work. In the den, Pelissier concentrated on decluttering, paring down, and making sure that everything had a place. The shelves were laden with books, which were edited - food-stained pages? Out! - and arranged in logical groupings. She freshened up the decor by reframing family photos and adding touches like coral and shells alongside Chinese ceramics for visual interest, ridding the shelves of sentimental tchotchkes that weren't as pleasing to the eye.

Pelissier kept the bright lime-green and turquoise rug and laid-back sectional scattered with comfy pillows in the sunroom, where the kids tend to gather. She placed a distressed mossy-green-painted sideboard against a wall to store the kids' toys, books, and crayons, and tucked wicker baskets underneath for additional storage. (Choosing a sophisticated piece of furniture to store the kids' stuff keeps the room from feeling overrun by the little ones.) Over the sideboard, she hung a large, predominantly green floral canvas that the Gomezes had acquired from Jules Place. Pelissier doesn't do what she calls "matchy-matchy"; that all the greens in the room are different is deliberate.

The sunroom opens onto the breakfast room, but feels like a completely different space. Pelissier added a cushioned window seat, swapped in the round table from the kitchen ("Obviously it should have been in the breakfast room all along," marvels Sarah), affixed whimsical accordion sconces between the windows for nighttime use, and planted a potted topiary next to an Asian-style elephant statuette. "All of a sudden, the space says, 'Hi, I'm a garden room,'" says Pelissier.

And it's multifunctional. A tot can nap on the window seat, older kids can play board games at the table, and the couple can entertain casually in the space while enjoying the view of the Common. Says Sarah: "Everything is comfortable and nice, but not too fancy that the kids aren't allowed anywhere."

Marni Elyse Katz declutters in her spare time. Send comments to


Robin's Nest,
28 North Street,


Pelissier's signature style is delightful, but we remain most impressed by her practical know-how. Here she shares tips to help pare down and freshen up your rooms:

* Take pictures. Photographing your room is very helpful. It provides the opportunity to see the room more objectively and comes in handy when shopping for your space.

* Declutter! Remove extraneous items and display only your favorites. Create three piles: keep, store elsewhere, delete. At the Gomez home, Pelissier seriously edited the contents of a large glass-front cabinet in the butler's pantry. It was full of things like old wedding presents and Christmas ornaments. She removed each piece and reorganized the contents so that everyday things were accessible. Since it was visible from another room, the back of the cabinet was painted an eggshell blue to glam it up.

* Update your photos. Trade old photos for new, use oversize mats, and add fresh new frames. The Gomezes had a hodgepodge of photos all over the house. Pelissier rematted and reframed a select group of black-and-white images to create a photo gallery in a back hallway that previously served no purpose except as a pass-through. She propped the photos on ledges and added inexpensive modern track lighting on the ceiling. The effect is terrific, and it was a surprise that the homeowners loved.

* Chandeliers should be large. Chandeliers should hang 30 inches above a table. As for its size, overscale lighting brings a dash of excitement to a space and provides the room with a focal point. In the Gomez dining room, a four-tiered chandelier hangs above the large oval table. Though initially shocked by its impact, the homeowners now love the effect.

* Table lamps should be well proportioned. People have a tendency to go too skinny on lamps. Table lamps need heft and height (how much depends on the size of the table). You don't want the lamps so high that you're looking up at the light bulbs, nor do you want them so low that you're not benefiting from the light. A double-gourd lamp fills a space nicely. Be sure to leave room for something else, too, like a shell, vase, or book. In the Gomez living room, double-gourd lamps with crisp white shades, along with framed pictures, sit on end tables that flank a sofa.

* Use big patterns in small spaces. You don't have to take a huge risk to produce a big wow. Oversize patterns in small spaces can be gorgeous. In the Gomez butler's pantry/home office, glamorous bold wallpaper saturated with color and pattern, F. Schumacher & Co.'s Chiang Mai Dragon, added impact.

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