aunt steph’s

June 9, 2011

back exterior deck

For some time now, I’ve shown you glimpses of my Aunt Stephanie’s house (here and here), and promised to show you more. I have not forgotten my pledge. So here is her 19th century colonial gem in full glory.

This shoot represents a collaborative family effort. The house belongs to my Aunt Stephanie and her partner, Jessie. They bought it from my Dad. It was redesigned by my other Aunt, Sheila, an architect and Stephanie’s sister. The renovations were actually executed by my cousin, Jonathan. It was photographed by me. Oh, and obviously I lived here throughout my childhood whenever visiting my father. Therefore, you might say I have an intimate knowledge of this dwelling.

When my aunts bought the house, the latest design update was the wall paper that my mother had applied (some of it upside down!) when she and my Dad were first married – 30 years before! (A very cerebral being, my father is much more interested in books than design.) A front porch, which was not original, ran along the front, blocking out a lot of light and interrupting the seamless facade. With the help of Sheila and Jonathan, Stephanie and Jessie set out to brighten up the home and restore its classical continuity.

For the interiors, the couple combined their sundry styles to create a space that is both intriguing and calm. An artist who specializes in printmaking and electronic arts, Jessie loves new, high tech and high design things, or conversely, old objects that Stephanie describes as “scabrous.” Stephanie’s guiding design principle can best be described as eclectic “Gustavian.” A.k.a. she tends to accept any furniture hand-me-down and “makes it work” in a setting that still manages to be minimal despite her penchant for a bit of Baroque bling. Just how they managed to marry these styles is easier to explain with photo illustrations, so I will do so as we go along.

Dining room

With a total of 7 doors opening into the central dining room, it is basically a glorified hallway. But with huge, mullioned bay windows on opposite sides, it also gets extraordinary light. Here Sheila mixed her own custom French gray to create a color that was alive – it changes with the light – and that was contemporary, but also in keeping with a historic home. Since Stephanie’s tends to be the scene of most family gatherings, she had a local woodworker make the large, round table which seats up to 13, but still feels intimate. (Horse sculpture in clay is by Jessie’s friend, Jean Pierre Larocque.)

A reflection of some of Stephanie’s signature “bling”  in the dining room.


One of the best features of the home is its symmetry and flow; you can literally see end to end. In the above view, if you sit at one end of the long kitchen table, you can see past the dining room, right through the door to the office/TV room, and out the window at the opposite end of the house. If you sit at the other end of the kitchen table, you have the same effect: a seamless view, down the hall, through the dining room, into the living room and out another window. Before the redo, this symmetry had been interrupted by a pantry. In a bit of aesthetic editing, Sheila removed this to recreate this perspective balance.

A DIY project with antique hooks, in the “pine room.”

The “pine room”

This view is of “the pine room,” so named because of the wide pine panelling. When I was little, this was one of the scariest rooms in the house. Then the walls were unpainted, so the room was dark. AND it had creepy stairs leading right up to the attic! Now with whitewashed walls, the room is quite cheery. My son sleeps here happily right under the rhinos. (Garden table is from Solstice Home.)

Views of the two twin beds in the pine room. (Antique linen pillow cases and runners are from Solstice Home.)

“Humorous details”

Stephanie and Jonathan are the “funny ones” in the family, and here we have a glimpse of Stephanie’s humor. On the left one of her idols, Marcello Mastrioanni of La Dolce Vita fame, dances in the upstairs bathroom. On the right are the pine room’s formerly scary attic stairs. Not so spooky now that they are white and gray with a cheeky cockatoo perched beneath.

Upstairs bath

The upstairs bath was not functional when Stephanie and Jessie moved in. Thus it received a total overhaul with new paint (Benjamin Moore’s linen white and Stonington Gray) and historic fixtures. Jonathan built the small shelf which surrounds the entire room, nicely dividing up the tall wall and adding extra storage.

Kitchen table

The long kitchen table was built by the father of the man who made the one in the dining room. (Sadly, they are both no longer living.) This room had been the dining room when my father owned the house. A small “L” came off one side of the house and served as the kitchen. In another dramatic edit, Sheila decided to remove the small addition (which most likely had been added as a summer kitchen), to restore the original line of the house. At some point someone had put in 4 huge, single paned windows that were so large that they cut into the exterior trim of the house! They were also completely out of scale. Sheila replaced these with the long, historic, floor to ceiling windows that echoed the original ones in the living room. She also took the wide planked, pine floors from the attic and used them as new flooring in this room.

Kitchen shelves

Instead of closed cabinets, Sheila installed these open shelves above the slate counter that runs the length of the room. More storage in the form of closets, was accommodated in the halls that flank the kitchen.

Living room

In the living room, one really gets a feel for Stephanie and Jessie’s eclectic aesthetic. Repurposed antiques sit along side modern pieces.

I love the mixed media chiaroscuro of this small space at the top of the front stairs. The modern painting is by Jessie. (See E. Jessie Shefrin.) The classic, marble statute is from Stephanie’s former days as a teacher at Abbott. (When this girls’ academy merged with Andover, they were throwing things like this out!) Black bistro table is from John Derian.

Book shelves

It is almost an understatement to say that Stephanie is an avid reader. A true bibliophile, she finally had Jonathan install this corner floor to ceiling bookcase last year.

Ancestral portraits hang on the opposite wall of the library. (Small black table is from a Solstice Home.)

Above and below: serene corners of the master bedroom. Antique botanic prints and large mirror both from Solstice Home.

Front exterior of the house with one of Cape Cod’s few remaining elm trees

Front exterior view of the kitchen which shows the long windows that Sheila had installed. She also removed a porch from the facade in order to restore the original line of the home.

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