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A Game of Clue: A Stylist’s Redone Victorian Cottage in New England

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A Game of Clue: A Stylist’s Redone Victorian Cottage in New England

July 9, 2021

Justine, our Massachusetts-based contributing editor, recently took a day trip to visit another MA-based creative: Krissy O’Shea, the stylist (and writer, photographer, and cook) behind @cottagefarm. Krissy documents life in her family’s old homestead in the center of the state, “started,” she says, “by my great-grandparents, who originally came from Sweden.” But she and Justine connected over a space much newer to the family: City Cottage, a small circa-1900 house in a cluster of workers’ cottages in the Spring Hill neighborhood of Somerville, MA, near Boston. “We are its fourth owners,” Krissy says. “The lots were carved out of what was previously a very large orchard on the hillside, and from what we can gather, the house was built by two Irish schoolteacher sisters.

“It was in a bit of a state when it came to us,” Krissy says. “It was such a sad little thing. It had a very bad 1970s BandAid over some older problems. As we began to peel back the layers, we realized that we were looking at a very significant restoration project.” Krissy had taken on only small-scale upgrades in her own rentals in London and San Francisco; still, she and her husband, Sean, weren’t deterred.

The couple looked to the smallest of hints for direction on how to move forward. “Nearly all of the home’s original details were stripped away and lost over the years, but there were enough clues—an original Victorian newel post, a couple bits of window molding, the original pine-plank floors under tw0 other layers—to help us put things back together in a way that felt both modern and sensitive to the history of the home.”

All told, the project took four years, “a true labor of love,” Krissy says. “The entire home was covered in faux paneling over the original horsehair plaster, which was in horrible condition—crumbling, cracking, just missing in chunks. That had to be all stripped back to the laith and restored. We removed drop ceilings to regain the house’s original proportions with 10-foot ceilings,” excavated layers of flooring, gutted the kitchen and bath, swapped out every hollow-core door, and insulated the whole house for the first time in its history. “Then we did all the fun work: imagining what the molding and baseboards might have looked like. What a great ride, and so, so much plaster dust.”

Join us for a look at the interiors, puzzled back together, detail by detail, into a small but serene city cottage for Krissy, Sean, and their three-year-old son.

Photography by Justine Hand.

the cottage&#8\2\17;s graphic black and white kitchen. &#8\2\20;the spa 9
Above: The cottage’s graphic black and white kitchen. “The space was so dark and cramped to start” at just 280 square feet, Krissy says. Dreary though it was, “we knew we had a mountain of other work to do and not really a budget for new cabinets—so we made it work.” The couple demo’ed the upper cabinets and left the original bottom cabinets intact, then sanded them down and gave them a paint makeover (Benjamin Moore Raccoon Fur in satin finish, “possibly my most favorite color ever,” Krissy says) and new hardware from Rejuvenation.

“The kitchen became a story of ‘if you can’t beat em, join em,'” Krissy adds. “I couldn’t erase the lines of the cabinets, which I hated at first, but they became the inspiration for all the other lines in the room. I designed the island to fit the small space and had a cabinetmaker create it for me. I put it on wheels so I could move it around as needed.” It’s painted in Benjamin Moore Timber Wolf in satin finish.

&#8\2\20;i brought a perrin & rowe faucet back from a trip to london an 10
Above: “I brought a Perrin & Rowe faucet back from a trip to London and put on a new honed Carrara countertop,” says Krissy. “Not all Carrara is created equal, and I hunted for a slab with just the right amount of grey and white in it.” Krissy found the sink at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore building shop in West Roxbury, MA, for “$200 bucks! I flipped it around to show the notches,” she adds.
&#8\2\20;i had intended to leave the beautiful, smooth plaster wall as the  11
Above: “I had intended to leave the beautiful, smooth plaster wall as the backsplash, but somehow after all this renovation, things still felt flat,” says Krissy. “So I decided to add the very simple cladded backsplash and shelf to the upper wall. I love to play with the graphic in my work, so it seemed a natural progression to carry it through to this project.”
freestanding cabinets, found via an estate auction, store ceramics and glasswar 12
Above: Freestanding cabinets, found via an estate auction, store ceramics and glassware. “These came from a men’s boarding house out in the western part of the state—they were a section of the lockers reserved for the boarders,” says Krissy. “There is a tiny number ‘7’ chiseled into the front and the signature of the maker with the date in pencil on the back. I painted them white and changed some of the hardware at the front.”

The tile flooring came from another Victorian clue unearthed by Krissy: “I had found an old black-and-white photo of a Victorian kitchen with penny tile on the floor, so that became the inspiration for the white penny tile flooring,” she says. “The matte made it feel a little more modern and less industrial somehow.”

the pared back dining room, with newly added reclaimed white oak floors (&# 13
Above: The pared-back dining room, with newly added reclaimed white oak floors (“downstairs, the original floors were in too poor a condition to save,” Krissy explains).

Note the built-in hutch at right, a clever solution to a quirk of the old house. “When we started opening things up, we found a door casement between the dining room chimney and the kitchen wall,” says Krissy—perhaps the original door to the bathroom. “I was left with a very strange amount of dead space, and in a 1500-square-foot house there can be no dead space. So I designed a large china cabinet to maximize the space and asked the cabinetmaker to come to my rescue again (he built a little upstairs linen closet I designed for another bit of dead space I found).”

&#8\2\20;the doors bifold completely,&#8\2\2\1; krissy says of the cabi 14
Above: “The doors bifold completely,” Krissy says of the cabinet, “and open to reveal a very deep section into the old casement, backed with a mirror, and then lots of long shelves along the wall. It can become a serving area or bar for the dining room. Below are drawers for flatware and linens and two more large doors, where I store my many cookbooks.”

The pendant is from CB2. “We call it ‘the ghost’ because for something so monumental, it just disappears. I really love the tension between the oldness of the house and the modern light fixtures.”

the living area in shades of white. the interiors (except for the bathroom) are 15
Above: The living area in shades of white. The interiors (except for the bathroom) are painted in Benjamin Moore Super White in matte finish (walls) and high gloss (trim). “I really loved getting to put in all the molding and trim work,” says Krissy. “My most favorite place ever is Anderson & McQuaid in Cambridge, MA. They stock thousands of types of molding and trim. It’s my version of Christmas morning every time I go there.”
the cottage has one bathroom, which krissy gutted and fitted with an antique ed 16
Above: The cottage has one bathroom, which Krissy gutted and fitted with an antique Edwardian dressing table turned vanity and a Kohler sink and wall-mounted faucet, to save space. “The building inspector gave me such a hard time because the plumbing is all concealed on an external wall in New England, but it’s probably the warmest room in the house because of all that extra insulation we needed to put in,” Krissy says. The bath is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Wevet.

In the background, a glimpse of the Victorian newel post that inspired the whole project.

into the front hall. 17
Above: Into the front hall.
the bed frame in the main bedroom is &#8\2\20;a little ikea hack,&#8\2\ 18
Above: The bed frame in the main bedroom is “a little Ikea hack,” Krissy says: It’s the Gjöra bed frame, stained black. “I loved it for its Shaker-esque lines: very New England but modern with its slightly bulbous feet.”
krissy and sean&#8\2\17;s son&#8\2\17;s room has a little note of red.  19
Above: Krissy and Sean’s son’s room has a little note of red. “I like using pieces that are already out there,” says Krissy. Her favorite sources? “Antique shops, auctions and estate sales, reclaimed building shops, and lumber yards.”
A Game of Clue A Stylists Redone Victorian Cottage in New England portrait 4 20
Above: The nursery.

For more projects we first spotted on Instagram, see:

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