How One Couple Modernized their 19th-Century Salem home

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Julia Lippman and Mathew Eapen love antique homes, but they’re not typical old-house enthusiasts — or purists when it comes to decorating.

“I love old houses, the quirks and the tall ceilings,” Ms. Lippman, 37, said. But “I did not want a house full of really big, dark antiques.”

Sammy, now 4, was born to a couple who were both lawyers and lived in an apartment downtown Boston with their dog Scout when Ms. Lippman fell pregnant. Salem, Mass. was the place they wanted to go because they needed more space.

Ms. Lippman, who grew up in Salem, enjoyed the historic atmosphere of the city, and that she and Mr. Eapen could walk to restaurants and stores, as they did when they lived in Boston. It also helped that Ms. Lippman’s parents lived in Salem and would be around to help out with future grandchildren.

So when they spotted a four-story Federal rowhouse from the 1820s with a two-story cottage in the backyard — on the same street where Ms. Lippman’s parents lived, no less — they didn’t hesitate. The property was purchased for $1.38m in January 2021.

The house was restored by the former owner who kept charming details, such as weathered wide-plank floors, arched entrances and built-in cupboards with divided-light, glass doors. The kitchen and bathroom had been renovated. It was beautiful — but to Ms. Lippman and Mr. Eapen, the subdued color palette and staid details felt kind of flat.

“I really like color,” Ms. Lippman said. “I did not want to fall into the trap of making everything white or everything beige.”

She poured over design books, and looked at homes online. She soon realized that all of her favorite interiors were designed by one person: Colleen Simmonds.

The only problem? Ms. Simonds resided in Pittsburgh. It was the midst of the pandemic and many professionals had learned how to work from home. So they contacted her for help.

“The living room felt a little sad and serious,”Ms. Simonds stated. “They wanted a bolder look with a stronger touch of color.”

She had them wallpaper the ceiling in blue and silver Night of the Skylarks Wallpaper by Birger Kaipiainen, and helped them locate furniture, such as vintage tubular Chrome Armchairs with cushions that they reupholstered.

The couple got exactly what they wanted. “There’s color, character and eccentricity,”Mr. Eapen stated. “She’s wonderful at being able to pull all these different things together.”

The dining room was next, where Ms. Simonds installed vintage Windsor chairs in a sky blue color. Before long, the couple had decided to redesign the interiors from top to bottom — and this time they didn’t limit themselves to furniture and finishes.

To make it work for a family of three, they turned a unused eat-in space into a walkin pantry. The cabinets were painted mint green and the soapstone counters were installed. The space under the main stairway was reclaimed by adding a powder bathroom and a bench with storage drawers and cabinets. The new laundry room is located on the second floor where the old bathroom was. A staircase was added at the back to connect the driveway with the first floor because the previous rear entrance only allowed access to the basement.

Peter Pitman was the principal architect of the firm at which Mr. Eapen & Ms. Lippman worked. Pitman & Wardley AssociatesWho was well versed with working on homes in their historical district.

“As a local architect who does a lot of restoration and preservation work,”Mr. Pitman said “I strongly encourage design and ownership teams to preserve historic character.”

But that doesn’t mean you can’t run wild with color and pattern inside, he added, as long as the architectural bones are preserved. He said that this project was a good example. “The one thing I want to emphasize is: Boy, it was fun.”

Because Mr. Eapen, and Ms. Lippman work remotely at times, they converted their backyard cottage into two offices. Hers is a cozy office with sage-green panels on the ground floor. His is a sunny, open-plan space with a barrel vaulted ceiling and Fig Leaf wallpaper by Peter Dunham.

While the construction was going on, the family lived for about four months with Ms. Lippman’s parents. The project cost $350,000 and was completed in April 2022. They returned just in the nick of time to welcome their daughter, Annie.

“We just love all of it,” Ms. Lippman said. “We love that it’s colorful and bright.”

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