Let’s just admit it: New-construction houses often lack the je ne sais quoi charm found in older homes, where the decor has been futzed with and fabulized over many decades. But there are ways to bring a historic feel into a newly built abode, as Nashville designer Jessica Stambaugh proved when designing a residence for one family in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Her first step? Salvage just enough of the original fittings and antique pieces to give the house a timeworn touch.
“This was basically a new construction project—there was an existing [1940s Colonial Revival] residence on the property that was mostly torn down, although some of the foundation and the basement was kept,” Stambaugh says. The new house is a 4,500 square foot cedar-shingled, Colonial-style home with a slate roof—and a few remnants from structure, chosen for their timeless good looks, including the original oversized brick fireplace mantel and the powder room’s old faucet, its hardware now plated in unlacquered brass.
Because these clients own a buzzing local coffee shop, it’s no surprise that Stambaugh also injected their home with quietly percolating energy. It comes in the form of diminutive patterns and layers of unexpected finds, such as a Danish wall sconce with an accordion arm unearthed by an antiques dealer in Brooklyn, or wallpaper made from old newspapers. “Nothing is overly fancy,” she says. “And that’s kind of carried through the interiors. I wanted it to feel relaxed and casual and not too decorated.” Take the table she chose for a game corner in the living room: the classic “tulip” designed by Eero Saarinen in 1957. “I will put a Saarinen table in any room,” Stambaugh says. “We’ve seen them a million times, but it’s just so elegant and almost subtracts energy from the space. It’s like this breath of lightness—the perfect solution for someone that’s open to modern furniture where you need it, but you don’t need it to scream.”
That lack of a heavy decorator’s hand is especially evident in the absence of window treatments, which could read as too fussy, says the designer. “Anywhere we didn’t need them, we tried to keep it minimal,” she explains—plus, with many of the windows overlooking Chapel Hill’s thick, deciduous trees, privacy wasn’t an issue. The landscape also helped kick off the house’s calm palette. “I think that that was a jumping off point—how to bring some of that nature and earthiness into the space while still keeping it quite clean,” says Stambaugh, who begins every project by zeroing in on fabrics. Here, the natural world outside inspired “a common theme of burnt reds and yellows and ochre greens—classic colors,” she explains, with subtle patterns that are quiet but have enough dimension to encourage your eye to travel.
Because these clients have three elementary school–age children, Stambaugh tried to keep the room layouts as flexible as possible. “They don’t know yet if there is going to be a drum kit in the living room,” she says with a laugh, “so not having a formal living room was important.” Case in point: Rather than installing built-in bookshelves, the clients opted for a Vitsœ system they could easily move in the coming years.
One of the most delicious spaces in the house is the kitchen—an antidote to slapdash farmhouse style, thanks to its specific throwback details, including hand-blown glass beehive light fixtures, a drain board in the concrete countertop, and acidic coral-hued chairs that act like a jolt of espresso in the otherwise serene space. “It has a little bit of an Americana undertone,” the Stambaugh says. “We arrived at concrete because they were really into the idea of things that evolve over time. Concrete is a material that can really weather and wear, and they’re the kind of people that aren’t afraid to have stains and see that patina.” In other words: They have the perfect personalities for a new old house.