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How a couple modernized their 19th-century Salem home

by SuperiorInvest

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

“I love old houses, the quirks and the high ceilings,” Lippman, 37, said. But he “didn’t want a house full of really big, dark antiques.”

The couple, both lawyers, were living in an apartment in downtown Boston with their dog, Scout, when Lippman became pregnant with their first child, Sammy, now 4 years old. They needed more space and knew where they wanted to move: Salem, Mass., the small town north of Boston known for its 1692 witch trials.

Lippman had grown up in Salem, and both she and Eapen, now 38, liked the historic feel of the place and the way they could walk to the shops and restaurants there, as they had in Boston. It also helped that Mrs. Lippman’s parents lived in Salem and were around to help with her future grandchildren.

So when they saw a four-story 1820s Federal townhouse with a two-story cabin in the backyard, on the same street where Mrs. Lippman’s parents lived, no less, they didn’t hesitate. They purchased the property for $1.38 million in January 2021.

The home had been restored by the previous owner, retaining charming details like the wide-plank distressed hardwood floors, arched doorways, and built-in cabinets with divided-light glass doors. The kitchen and bathrooms had been renovated. It was beautiful, but for Lippman and Eapen, the muted color palette and restrained details seemed a little flat.

“I really like the color,” Lippman said. “I didn’t want to fall into the trap of doing everything white or everything beige.”

Searching for a designer who could bring the house into the 21st century, he pored over design books and admired houses online. She soon realized that all of her favorite interiors were designed by the same person: Colleen Simonds.

The only problem? Mrs. Simonds lived in Pittsburgh. But this was in the middle of the pandemic, when professionals in many industries had figured out how to work remotely. Then her partner contacted her and asked for help.

“The living room felt a little sad and staid,” Simonds said. “They wanted a bolder look with a stronger pop of color.”

Working via Zoom and email, she asked them to wallpaper the ceiling with blue and silver Night of the Skylarks wallpaper by Birger Kaipiainen and helped them find furniture, including vintage tubular chrome armchairs with cushions that they upholstered with woolly pink fabric.

The result was exactly what the couple wanted. “There’s color, character and eccentricity,” Eapen said. “She’s wonderful at being able to bring all these different things together.”

Next came the dining room, where Ms. Simonds finally installed antique Windsor chairs painted sky blue. Before long, the couple decided to redesign the interiors from top to bottom, and this time they didn’t limit themselves to furniture and finishes.

To make the house work for a young family, they transformed a redundant eat-in kitchen space into a pantry with soapstone countertops and mint green painted cabinets. They reclaimed space under the main staircase, adding a dressing table and a bench with cabinets and drawers. They built a convenient laundry room on the second floor, where there used to be a bathroom, and added a staircase to the back of the house, between the driveway and the first floor, because the existing back entrance only gave access to the basement.

All of those changes required an architect, so Mr. Eapen and Ms. Lippman hired a neighbor, Peter Pitman, the lead architect at Pitman & Wardley Associates, who was familiar with working with houses in their historic district.

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

But that doesn’t mean you can’t go wild with interior color and design, he added, as long as the architectural bones are preserved. Regarding this project, he said, “The only thing I want to emphasize is: Wow, it was fun.”

Because Eapen and Lippman sometimes work remotely, they converted the backyard cabin into two home offices. Theirs has a cozy sage-green paneled workspace on the ground floor; It has a sunny office upstairs, with a vaulted ceiling covered in Peter Dunham fig leaf wallpaper.

While construction was taking place, the family lived for about four months with Mrs. Lippman’s parents. The project was largely completed in April 2022, at a cost of around $350,000. They returned just in time to welcome her second daughter, Annie.

“We just love everything about it,” Lippman said. “We love that it’s colorful and bright.”

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