A matter of scale
Right-sized modern furnishings create a new feel and flow in this 100-year-old South End row house.
When interior designer Kelly McGuill first saw this brick row house in the South End, it was decorated with large furniture, dark upholstery, and heavy draperies. Although the home stretches over three stories, it’s quite compact, says Walpole-based McGuill, who was called in by the homeowners to create a clean, contemporary decor. “The old furnishings were way too big,” she says. “They impeded the flow of the space. It was difficult to walk through the rooms.”
After banishing all the bulky furniture, McGuill focused on accentuating the home’s existing architectural details. Built in 1910, the house contains carved moldings, ceilings more than 10 feet high, and tall, graceful windows. Off came the window treatments to let in the light. To create focal points, McGuill had the moldings painted bright white. The scheme is monochromatic by design: Walls are a pale gray and furnishings are neutral-toned, but throws, artwork, and fresh-cut flowers add subtle pops of color.
Drawn to mid-century design, the homeowners worked with McGuill to select items created by modern masters. By the living room fireplace, a round Eero Saarinen coffee table is paired with a Mies van der Rohe iconic leather and stainless-steel Barcelona chair. McGuill found both pieces, along with a George Nelson miniature chest, at modern-furniture purveyor Addo Novo. Based in Portland, Maine, the shop recently opened a second location, in the South End.
In addition to the modern pieces and a narrow, armless sofa, McGuill added a high-backed armchair by Oly – purchased in the neighborhood at Hudson – to the living room. “In a smaller-scale home, all of the furniture doesn’t have to be small,” says McGuill, who also added seating of different heights. “It’s best to use a grouping of various sizes. If there were a bunch of high chairs, the space would seem cavernous and closed-in. With this arrangement, the space feels open,” she says, “and light from the windows isn’t blocked.”
Instead of another Saarinen table for the kitchen, the homeowners opted for an IKEA model that looks strikingly similar. With the money they saved, they splurged on Janus et Cie forest chairs – die-cast aluminum models whose leafy forest motif echoes the trees seen through the adjacent French doors.
“There’s nothing overwhelming about the space now. No one piece of furniture stands out,” says McGuill. “It just all works together.”