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, their now 4-year-old son, was born to the couple in their apartment in downtown Boston, where they were both lawyers. 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 could 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. They purchased the property in January 2021 for $1.38million.

The previous owner had restored the house, retaining charming details such as the wide-plank weathered wood floors, arched doors and built-in cabinetry 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 looked through design books and online for a designer that could bring her home into the 21st Century. She soon realized that all of her favorite interiors were designed by one person: Colleen Simmonds.

The only problem is? Ms. Simonds was a resident of Pittsburgh. It was the height of pandemic and professionals in many fields had learned how to work remotely. 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 helped them find vintage tubular chrome chairs with cushions they reupholstered with woolly pink fabric.

The result was exactly as the couple had hoped. “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 this house work for the young family, they converted a redundant eat in kitchen into a walk in pantry with soapstone countertops and cabinetry painted minty-green. They added a powder-room and a bench that had storage cabinets and drawers under the main staircase. They added a laundry room to the second floor where there used to be a bathroom. They also built a staircase in the back of the home, between the driveway entrance and the first-floor, as the existing rear door 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 this was the project. “The one thing I want to emphasize is: Boy, it was fun.”

They converted the backyard cottage to two home offices because Mr. Eapen sometimes works remotely. 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 was completed in April of 2022 at a cost around $350,000. 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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