All in Good Time

Text by Megan Fulweiler Photography by Michael J. Lee

Room by room, a handsome old house takes back the elegance and luster of its
nineteenth-century origins.

It really didn’t matter that interior designer Jackie Whalen’s husband ran late for their appointment with the real estate agent. One look around and she was smitten. By the time her spouse joined them it was practically a done deal. “Rich claims the minute he crossed the threshold he was certain this was where I wanted to live,” says Whalen with a chuckle.

Not one for shying away from challenges, the designer admits to a preference for old houses that need serious attention. This handsome 1865 residence in Winchester, Massachusetts, having seen little recently in the way of renovations, was pining for a rescue. On top of that, its history was intriguing. Originally joined to its neighbor, the house gained its current Colonial Revival style when, in 1916, the building was split into two homes. No photographs of the union exist, but the layouts are identical, which lends weight to Whalen’s theory that perhaps a double-sided staircase was the link.

It may be half the house it once was, but the refurbished dwelling is wholly welcoming and gracious, the kind of comfortable oasis that moves family and friends to invent reasons for gathering.

“I love entertaining and cooking,” Whalen declares. Still, twenty years ago when the couple and their two young children moved in, there was no time for a major kitchen overhaul. Instead, the owners did a cosmetic fix and concentrated on more pressing issues, like modernizing the systems and repairing the slate roof.

Bit by bit as time passed, however, the lovely house regained its stature from top to bottom. Drafting elevations and floor plans, Whalen oversaw all the renovations big and small, eventually zeroing in on the kitchen and pantry. The new space she designed, along with its slew of functional cabinetry crafted by local woodworker Jeff Blaisdell, complements the house and provides the passionate chef a beautiful place to work.

Everything in the three-story home is beautiful and inviting. The warm ambience even envelops the rejuvenated front porch. And, certainly the spacious foyer raises the bar on how to greet visitors. On the wall opposite the front door, an eighteenth-century Italian angel beckons from its perch atop a gleaming antique Empire secretary. To the left, a nineteenth-century painting of a saint hangs above an Italian neoclassical demilune, while to the right, a leopard-print runner adorns the stairs to the second floor. That these disparate pieces marry so happily is a testament to the designer’s talent for juxtaposing styles and periods.

Her pitch-perfect mixing and matching gives the decor vitality along with a high level of interest throughout the house. Consider the living room: amid the host of treasures sit twin Louis XVI armchairs upholstered in deep moss-green velvet, an Edward Ferrell tufted ottoman with a chic leopard-print top, and a pair of stunning grisaille drawings from the couple’s collection.

Whalen’s favorite living-room acquisition, though, is the antique Adams-style walnut, parcel-gilt, and pen-work daybed. Tiger-print upholstery and pillows clad in antique Fortuny fabric lend the bed a regal presence that suits the home’s classic architecture. The bed is parked in a book-filled alcove that’s framed with grand fluted columns. Whalen uncovered the columns minus their capitals in the basement and reinstalled them—with new capitals—where they’d originally stood. The columns, which mirror a pair at the opening between the foyer and living room, square off the sunny living room, restoring symmetry and balance, elements the designer always strives for in her work.

Fortunately, for the most part the old oak floors were in fine condition. The dining room’s original leaded-glass window had not fared so well. But, as Whalen sees it, repairs were well worth the effort. Beyond its light-giving function, the gorgeous window speaks to the home’s pedigree and partners like a dream with the white woodwork and charming Brunschwig & Fils ­wallcovering.

The couple’s stash of antique china and silver is displayed in the dining room’s built-in cabinet. Old mercury glass lines the space beneath the cabinet doors. “At night the glass reflects the fireplace on the opposite wall,” says Whalen. It’s an additional treat for dinner guests who—perched on antique Russian Regency chairs—can savor the sparkle of crystal glassware and an antique Russian neoclassical chandelier, too.

Of course, on chilly evenings when no company is present, every family has a room they favor for congregating. For this couple, the cozy, second-floor library couldn’t be better. To boost the room’s nurturing flavor, Whalen chose a Clarence House striped wallcovering and dressed the windows in an appealing Brunschwig & Fils fabric. The loveseat is flanked by a pair of antique Napoleon III–style chairs wearing chocolate-colored mohair. A nineteenth-century French oil painting presides above the mantel, and a polished English Regency wine cellarette serves as a classy side table.

Each project undertaken to inject the house with fresh life spurred another, and so it went.

Not a nook or cranny was left untouched. Whalen made every inch pretty and practical, adding armoire-like closets to bedrooms short on storage, revamping the baths (two retained their claw-foot tubs), and reinventing the powder room with an antique console.

The master bath was gutted, and in its stead rose an elegant bath with a marble floor and countertop along with posh gold fixtures. A cleverly angled shower with a sandblasted door slides in between the handsome vanity and tub. “I was obsessing,” the designer tells us. “I was so concerned about everything fitting, I made a model for this room.”

But such meticulous planning on her part really isn’t a surprise. Only a painstaking expert like ­Whalen could conjure such a lively spirit for an aging home without diminishing by a whit its appealing past. •

Interior Design: Jackie Whalen, Jackie Whalen Interiors

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