Designer Justine Sterling offers a small house to breathe

Renovating a small house requires big ideas. When interior designer Justine Sterling was asked to lead the redesign of a 1,500 square foot Cape in Melrose, which included the addition of a small new addition, her first step was to assemble a team that would included longtime collaborators – Stephen Reilly of SLR Architecture and local Melrose contractor Glen Mistretta.

“Every room was small,” says Sterling, whose task it was to create a more open first-floor plan that included a kitchen and dining area, as well as a mudroom with a side entrance accessible from the driveway. A terrace next to the kitchen was also part of the plan. By the time the project was completed, every room in the house had been upgraded in some way, whether it was just a fresh coat of paint or cleverly designed built-in storage. “When you walk into the house now, you don’t feel like a tiny little Cape anymore,” Sterling says.

“The owners had to turn the house into something they loved,” she continues, sharing that the couple wanted to be able to observe and enjoy nature from the comfort of their home. In the new kitchen, an oversized window and six-panel glass door offer a view of the back garden, which was a house-buying incentive for the couple. The kitchen is mostly a palette of neutrals – crisp and clean off-white cabinets complemented by a full-height quartz backsplash and brass finishes. Rattan chairs and woven counter stools introduce texture into the scheme.

Adequate space to entertain the family, including young grandchildren, was also important to the owners. In the kitchen, Sterling designed a spacious, upholstered banquette that she says “looks more like a couch than a regular bench.” The use of indoor-outdoor fabric, here and elsewhere in the home, is also a concession to the little ones, but given the high quality of durable materials these days, stylish decor is in no way compromised.

“I’m a big proponent of using colors, materials, and finishes with natural flow as you walk through a home,” observes Sterling. “I aim to keep colors in a palette that will take you from room to room, especially when it comes to walls.” Using Benjamin Moore paints, the Simply White walls and cabinets in the kitchen transition to Edgecomb Gray in the mudroom and living room, all with Dove White painted ceilings and trim. For contrast, Taos Taupe has been used on the three first floor doors that lead outside.

The living room is decorated in neutral tones.

Against these neutral but warm-toned walls and ceilings, Sterling strategically placed repurposed and new furniture throughout the home, often considering where pops of color would add a nice touch. The deeper colors of the owner’s living room rug, for example, served as a springboard for the pillow fabrics selected for this room. Impressed by the owners’ art collection, Sterling guided the selection, cropping and positioning of the pieces she felt worked best in the refreshed home.

Although relatively small, the new addition brings a lot more floor space to the home, which is a boon for active young children visiting. Without changing the square footage of the two bathrooms and the master bedroom, these spaces were also part of the overall project. All three have been remodeled with new cabinetry, finishes, and fixtures, and the second-floor master bathroom features a zero-entry shower. Sterling’s clean, minimalist approach to the project gave homeowners a more streamlined take on their master bedroom, with custom closets and wardrobes to suit their storage needs.

Limited storage throughout the house necessitated the addition of bespoke closets and cabinetry, starting with the mudroom. There, full-height storage hides behind grass fabric paneled doors, and there are pull-out recycling bins for excess mail as well as a drawer for keys as you enter the room. The new dining area, which connects effortlessly to the kitchen, features a custom wooden niche that provides a focal point as well as substantial storage space.

From the start of the project, the owners thought they would redo the home office themselves. But, says Sterling, “they reached a point where, with everything looking so beautiful, they decided there was no way to do the office without my help.”

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