How to brighten up dark rooms with interior design: pro ideas
LAST YEAR, when Julia Kramer and Zachary Kaplan left New York for Los Angeles for Ms. Kramer’s new tech job, they decided to find an old house to do their first. The couple had grown to love the slightly cramped quirk of their Manhattan apartments and weren’t dreaming of big spaces and slick stone countertops. But with two young sons and a contemporary art collection (Mr. Kaplan is an executive at a nonprofit arts organization), they also wanted a home that would meet them in the present. Adapting to that agenda: A 1912 craftsman in Koreatown who just needed a (soft) clarification from local designer Jamie Haller, known for her conservative approach. “Restraint was the most important thing,” she said.
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Dark mahogany details covered many fairly compact rooms in the house, from plank to beam. To bridge the gap between your dark old home and free-spirited modernity, Ms Haller applied an airy palette of white, cream and blush to the main living spaces. The windows were either left bare or draped in a diaphanous fashion. “I removed some non-original items,” she added, including clunky speaker systems and dusty dupioni silk wallcovering. And while she’s got some salvaged fixtures from the early 20th century, none are bulky. Here, how she gave a thoughtful lift to five of the craftsman’s rooms.
Still intact though somewhat obscured, the original kitchen courted Ms. Kramer, a former Bon Appétit food critic. Ms Haller freed the room from the lackluster details she had acquired over the years. She satin-finished the trim, previously painted a matte brown to replicate the wood, with white, but didn’t touch the buttery wood cabinetry. We also invite you to stay: a mirror-lined pendant light and the original frosted glass cabinet front that gives off refreshing and refreshing reflections when tickled by the light. After Ms Haller scrapped all 1980s lighting and gadgets in a “drastic technological simplification,” the room’s original earthy features, like Batchelder tiling and heavily weathered sinks, look welcoming, not dated.
Ms Haller gave the bathroom a weird and romantic feel by hanging Artemis wallpaper from House of Hackney and softening the paneling with Steep Cliff Gray paint by Benjamin Moore. If you look closely, the at first glance William Morris-esque wallcovering pattern is full of almost psychedelic sci-fi details. “It makes the play a little less serious,” Ms. Kramer said. The bright white light fixtures, all original, contribute to the brightness of the new ambience of the room.
“There were two challenges in this room: one was the storage and the other was the heaviness of the dark wood open ceiling,” Ms. Haller said of the master suite. She transformed a corner painted in lavender near the bathroom into a closet whose door reproduced the originals and generously covered everything except the floor and ceiling in white paint. To this cleaner slate, Ms Haller added sparse, almost beachy details, such as sand-colored linen curtains, a simple rattan bed, and a cream throw that is as subtly textured as a fisherman’s sweater. The comfortable window seat became even more alluring when softly upholstered with a bespoke French tufted cushion upholstered in beige ticking fabric. A spartan bare bulb chandelier from the 1930s almost brushes the beams, giving the ceiling a little relief.
In the nursery, Ms. Kramer hoped for a decor that was kid-friendly and acceptable to design-conscious adults. For Ms Haller, that meant the Zeus wallpaper from House of Hackney, whose cranes are chicer than, say, teddy bears. Geometric graphics embolden a soft, sheared-pile Moroccan rug that is mottled enough to forgive any playtime (and coffee) splash. Airy latte, the dark walnut of the Egg Cradle adds just the right amount of non-pastel weight.
The dining room exemplifies the balance Ms Haller found between dark artisan details and airy modernity. From the heavy, beamed ceilings, she hung an elegantly skeletal chandelier from Currey and Company. For the walls, she chose a gray blush paint, the Farrow & Ball Bathrobe. “It acts neutral, but comes to life in soft light and enhances the tone of the wood – a dark, rich mahogany with cherry undertones.” Bentwood and rattan chairs, a plethora of hand-crafted furniture, add a mismatched charm that further dispels formality and shade. Underfoot, an antique wool rug adds comfort and visually balances the weight of the ceiling.
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