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Stay-at-home design: Bright gathering spaces and moody nooks for study and work

Jacquelyn Burke and Jeremiah O’Connor finished reading the Harry Potter books to their son and daughter, ages 7 and 8, during the COVID-19 shutdown this spring. The 18-month marathon took place in the tucked-away space at the top of the stairs (no, not underneath) next to the kids’ craft table. The 42-square-foot reading or “nap nook,” as the family calls it in honor of its somniferous effect, boasts a window seat made from a twin mattress wrapped in tweed, built-in bookshelves, and soot-colored shades. It’s painted in Sherwin-Williams Basil, a cozy shade of saturated green. “We’re a family of readers who love to be home,” Burke says. “It was important that the rooms be comfortable.”

Burke, an attorney who traveled frequently pre-pandemic, also wanted their Milton home to be stylish and clutter-free. She hired interior designer Sarah Scales to pull it together. Absorbing ideas from images of rooms imbued with dark, moody colors that Burke admired in British design magazines, Scales presented a concept that encapsulated it all. The gathering spaces in the core of the home would be bright and light, punctuated with brief moments of color that echo those in the retreat spaces, which are done in deeper tones. “She loved the idea of going from bright white spaces to darker adjacent rooms,” Scales says. “We repeated colors for visual connection.”

The entry and dining room are crisp and spare, but polished. “It looks elegant but not untouchable,” Burke says. That the room sits at the heart of the house is not by happenstance. “We wanted one central table, not a formal dining room off in the corner,” Burke says. By that reasoning, the couple also skipped the ubiquitous breakfast nook. Architect Diane Lim, who designed the New England-style farmhouse on a lot ceded from the property of Burke’s childhood home, where her parents still live, says the couple’s concerns were about family and balance.

The Rejuvenation pendants and Visual Comfort sconces are polished nickel, while the lights in the living and dining rooms are brass. “The Midas touch feels more appropriate in the formal spaces,” says designer Sarah Scales.
The Rejuvenation pendants and Visual Comfort sconces are polished nickel, while the lights in the living and dining rooms are brass. “The Midas touch feels more appropriate in the formal spaces,” says designer Sarah Scales.Sarah Winchester

The dining room opens to an intentionally modest-sized kitchen. “We were careful not to overestimate how much cooking we’d do,” Burke says. They went luxe with the backsplash — marble tile set in a herringbone pattern at 45-degrees runs to the ceiling — but opted for white quartz countertops, kept clear thanks to plenty of cabinetry. The pale gray palette carries into the family room, where a clean-lined sectional sits opposite built-ins that house toys and the television, while the dark blue island references the living room on the other side of the house.

Cocktails, reading, and lounging by the fire happen in the living room, a grown-up space that’s a little bit sexy but doesn’t try too hard. The walls, woodwork, and ceiling are painted Benjamin Moore Hale Navy, making it cozy but not cave-like since lots of sunlight streams in. Still the effect is enveloping, and like the reading nook upstairs, the living room is a place of refuge.

Homeowner Jeremiah O’Connor’s family enjoys his office space during off-hours. The walls, painted Sherwin-Williams Contented, relate to the dark green color used elsewhere in the home. The Charlie Bluett painting was sourced by art consultant Libby Silvia.
Homeowner Jeremiah O’Connor’s family enjoys his office space during off-hours. The walls, painted Sherwin-Williams Contented, relate to the dark green color used elsewhere in the home. The Charlie Bluett painting was sourced by art consultant Libby Silvia.Sarah Winchester

When it comes time to work, O’Connor doesn’t have to go far, even in non-COVID times. Lim designed the house to accommodate his financial services business. As with the home’s other quiet enclaves, Scales used color on the walls but with a lighter touch. In response to O’Connor’s request for a client-friendly green, Scales chose Sherwin-Williams Contented. “The calming shade plays off the moody nook,” she says. “It’s a simple room conducive to working.”

The couple’s son likes to do his schoolwork there, reports Burke, who is thankful for the extra office space. Though that’s not all it’s used for. “My husband enjoys it for fantasy sports drafts and beer,” she says. “It’s his version of a man cave.”

RESOURCES

Architect: Lim Design Studio, limdesignstudio.com

Contractor: Cambridgeport Construction, cambridgeport.com

Interior design: Sarah Scales Design Studio, sarahscales.com

Millwork: Salmon Falls Woodworks, salmonfallswoodworks.com

MORE PHOTOGRAPHS

The reading nook doubles as a 
guest room for cousins. The family recently added a little free library structure outside the house to share books and avoid overflowing shelves.
The reading nook doubles as a
guest room for cousins. The family recently added a little free library structure outside the house to share books and avoid overflowing shelves.
Sarah Winchester
A table and plastic chairs, an indoor/outdoor rug, and IKEA lockers outfit an activity area. “We wanted a place where they could leave out ongoing projects,” says homeowner Jacquelyn Burke. “My daughter spent all her free time up there when school shut down.”
A table and plastic chairs, an indoor/outdoor rug, and IKEA lockers outfit an activity area. “We wanted a place where they could leave out ongoing projects,” says homeowner Jacquelyn Burke. “My daughter spent all her free time up there when school shut down.”Sarah Winchester
A bump-out in the front of the house 
made way for a table in the family room where the kids play board games and eat takeout pizza with their cousins.
A bump-out in the front of the house
made way for a table in the family room where the kids play board games and eat takeout pizza with their cousins.
Sarah Winchester
The husband uses the compact pool daily. The kids swim often too.
The husband uses the compact pool daily. The kids swim often too.Sarah Winchester
Because it’s a pass-through space from the kitchen to the living room, Scales kept the dining room uncluttered by using clean-lined but fairly traditional furnishings.
Because it’s a pass-through space from the kitchen to the living room, Scales kept the dining room uncluttered by using clean-lined but fairly traditional furnishings.Sarah Winchester

Marni Elyse Katz is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to [email protected]

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