The Beauty of Old English Design

Nina Farmer injects new life into a historic home from 1904
October 31, 2020 Updated: November 1, 2020

Renovating historic homes is often a difficult task, as designers must maintain a meticulous balance between modernizing and preserving the home’s original charm. However, for Boston-based interior designer Nina Farmer, the challenge is a welcome one.

With a fascination for history and antiques, she has established a reputation in the interior design industry as a “historic-house whisperer.”

Upon walking into the entryway, one is immediately drawn to the stunning, intricately carved staircase banister. It is accompanied by a Pierre Jeanneret chair and a mid-century Blackman Cruz console. (Paul Raeside)

Farmer’s most recent project was a 1904 English Arts and Crafts-style abode in the affluent town of Winchester, Massachusetts. When the house was first purchased years ago by a young family of five, the new owners had only a few minor changes in mind. They sought to update the kitchen, as well as to enlarge the bathroom and closets in the master suite. However, as the family got a feel for the house over time, they decided that it needed a contemporary makeover.

In an email interview, Farmer explained how she transformed the home into an elegant juxtaposition of classic and modern.

The dining room perfectly embodies the home’s design intent, with classic William Morris wallpaper and a contemporary 10-light Apparatus chandelier. (Paul Raeside)

A Balanced Renewal

The couple wanted to keep the home’s classic details, such as the beautiful stained millwork, but give the interior a lighter and more refreshing feel. To achieve this, Farmer introduced bold pops of color to offset the deeper tones of the color scheme. She also combined a medley of patterns and textures, as well as a blend of antique, contemporary, and modern furnishings. Throughout the entire modernization process, she made sure not to lose the essence of the period home’s architecture.

One key change Farmer made throughout the house was adding colors and patterns to the previously all-white walls. The uniformity had caused the rooms to blend together, and prevented one from appreciating all the unique details the house has to offer. Additionally, bolder prints and tones can create a sense of coziness. This can be seen in the family room, where the walls were painted a refreshing mid-blue. A custom sapphire velvet sectional—designed to fit all five members of the family—beckons from the center, radiating comfort and warmth.

According to Farmer, this is the family’s favorite and most-often used room.

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Farmer chose to keep the living room’s original stained millwork, giving the home an elegant, venerable feel. The addition of splashes of color in furniture and artwork, lends a sense of lightness. (Paul Raeside)

Farmer’s favorite part of the house is the dining room, which she feels best embodies the overall design intent—to make the house both cozier and more updated. The Arts and Crafts-esque William Morris wallpaper is a subtle nod to the property’s roots. It’s balanced out by the contemporary 10-light Apparatus chandelier. The result is a delicate juxtaposition of formal and informal, as well as tradition and modernity. Farmer is able to pay homage to the home’s history while ensuring that it doesn’t feel oppressive or museum-like.

The kitchen was another important part of the renovation. As a result of one of its previous updates, the kitchen had been stripped of all its unique and historic details, leaving it rather nondescript. So, Farmer took on the task of reinvigorating the kitchen, giving it the same personality and charm as the rest of the house. The owners gave Farmer carte blanche—their only request being that they wanted something fresh and interesting.

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The kitchen was inspired by art deco, as seen in the custom brass-trimmed stove hood. Subtle marble countertops add an elegant, modern touch. (Paul Raeside)

Farmer accomplished this by adding art deco-inspired elements, such as a custom brass-trimmed stove hood. She also designed custom cabinets with white-oak stained frames and two-tone Farrow & Ball panels. Subtle marble countertops give the room an elegant, modern touch.

In the master suite, dark teal curtains contrast elegantly against the light-neutral color scheme. The master bathroom is chic yet minimal with its sleek marble and gold hardware. (Paul Raeside)

Traditional Intricacy

Farmer’s love for historic buildings stems from the thought and care that was put into designing them.

“People appreciated craftsmanship, and were willing to wait for it,” she explained. This meticulousness can be seen in the stunning intricacies throughout the home, such as in the entryway. Upon walking through the front doors, one is immediately drawn to the home’s original elaborately carved staircase bannister. A Pierre Jeanneret chair and a mid-century Blackman Cruz console complement the setting.

With a design philosophy rooted in classical sensibility, Farmer frequently draws inspiration from aesthetics across various time periods. Through a combination of old and new, she breathes fresh life into this historic Arts and Crafts home.

“I loved how the house seemed to open itself up and become alive with every design detail we implemented,” Farmer said. “It was as though it was waiting for the transformation to happen.”