Transform with color

A lush palette brings updated glamour to a traditional home

Red dining room
Photo: Thomas J. Story

The dining room walls are impossible to ignore: as crimson as the lips of a 1940s movie star. Peek into the kitchen, however, and the mood is fresh and organic, awash in creamy white and cool turquoise-green. And in the entry, deep pumpkin tones exude the warmth and welcome of fall. "I'm so enthralled by the entire world of color," says Francesca Quagliata of the Portland home she shares with husband Keary Knickerbocker and their toddler, Amelia. An artist and designer with a flair for eclectic combinations, Quagliata turned a simple folk-style Victorian farmhouse into the perfect canvas for a gutsy modern palette.

A subtle interplay of textures and hues is the basis for Quagliata's style. In the kitchen, much of the design was driven by her passion for Carrara marble, which she used around the sink and as a tumbled tile accent. "I love the depth and variation, the antiquated look," she says. "It's extremely versatile ― you can make it seem old, or use it in the most contemporary of settings." Counters of Honduran mahogany, another of her favorite surfaces, provide a warm contrast. At the other end of the spectrum is the stainless steel Thermador range, which the couple bought on eBay (hailing from a family of foodies, Knickerbocker had requested "precision equipment and a professional kitchen feel").

Upstairs in the master bedroom, the challenge was to create drama in a small space. "The original room was cramped and awkward, so Keary and I decided it needed a little romance," Quagliata says. Ornate drapes ― hung at ceiling level to add height ― and a majestic sweep of a valance highlight the clean lines of a citrus-painted Pottery Barn metal bed frame. On the landing just outside the bedroom is one of the couple's most prized finds: a set of beat-up high-school lockers that Quagliata unearthed at the town dump. She paid $20, hauled it home on the roof of their car, and invested in $100 worth of materials ― spray paint, doorknobs, rivets, and metal roof flashing. "I gravitate toward old, worn things because it's easy to live with them," she says. "But I'm also drawn to shiny chrome and sexy modern lines."

Constant reinvention is a fact of life in the household. "I get bored with a room after a while," Quagliata admits. For instant makeovers, she stocks quick-change accessories, from lampshades and ottomans to pillows and pottery. Garden stools crop up throughout the house in multiple guises ― as a side table, a piano bench, a pedestal for a candle by the tub. To Quagliata, they serve as a reminder of her mother, who passed on her love for Asian antiques and collectibles. A little old-fashioned, subtly glamorous, and rich with color and personal meaning, they're the embodiment of her style and the ideal finishing touches for the home itself.


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