Names: J. Sybylla Smith and Eric Luden
Occupations: Owner, Go To Design Studio; Owner, Digital Silver Imaging and The Griffin Museum @ Digital Silver Imaging
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Size: 2,900 square feet
Years lived in: 4 years
Some say the best things in life are worth waiting for. That was certainly the case for Sybylla Smith, who first saw the 19th century Queen Anne she now calls home nearly a decade ago. At that time, not only was the house beyond her reach — it wasn't even on the market. Most people would have moved on. But Smith isn't most people. During a recent tour, we discovered that the sought-after stylist is as warm, colorful, and charismatic as her decor.
In a neighborhood full of stately homes, the designer made a few bold choices that give her historic house a fun, fresh, and urbane feel. Instead of polishing the wood floors to their former glory, Smith painted them a rich brown-black that completely obscures the grain. Instead of limiting her palate to heritage colors, she forged unconventional alliances between chartreuse, royal purple, festive orange, and sky blue. Instead of restoring the original kitchen, she swapped it out for a functional white IKEA suite that perfectly complements her most enviable find: a vintage, working 1930s stove.
Neither did she strip the home of its character, choosing to preserve a host of original details like the terrazzo floors in the bathrooms, the coffered ceiling in the living room, and the quirky fold-down ironing board she carefully relocated to the new laundry room. To these she added modern touches like the Duravit sink in the master bath, the mid-century stools in the kitchen, and a mix of sleek, contemporary light fixtures.
As a stylist, Smith knows that good design isn't about having a lot of things; It's about having the right things. To that end, she's content to build her personal collection of furniture and objects over time. Given her track record, we're pretty sure the end result will be worth the wait.
Apartment Therapy Survey
My style: Idiosyncratic
Inspiration: Blending family heirlooms with pieces of mid-century design and the occasional outrageous piece we love.
Favorite Element: The coffered ceiling, hefty moldings, large scale windows and glass doorknobs.
Biggest Challenge: Bringing modern sensibility to an antique structure. Dealing with the change is scale form our previous loft.
What Friends Say: "Great house", "Beautiful", "Gracious and sunny"
Biggest Embarrassment: Lack of window treatments
Biggest Indulgence: The house! Radiant heat on first floor, dual shower system, 4 Velux cube-shaped skylights for studio.
Best advice: Renovating zaps your decorating budget. My dream of dining on ghost chairs is bumped by updating all the systems you don't see. Patience, decisiveness, flexibility, and a sense of humor are as necessary as a budget. Mistakes and limitations make for serendipitous design decisions. My favorite line that got me through this and previous renovations came from our friend, architect Tim Techler: "You'd be crazy to do it and crazy not to."
Dream source: We live in walking distance of fantastic home stores including Didrick's, Abodeon, and Reside for furniture, accessories, and lighting. Love Zimman's for fabric and interesting furnishings. Wolfer's lighting for recessed heads, sconces, table lamps, and chandeliers.
Resources of Note:
- • Cabinets from IKEA
• Saarinen Stools from Abodeon
• Spice containers from Abodeon
• Satin nickel and milk glass ceiling lamp from School House Electric
LIVING & DINING ROOM
- • Art deco cabinet and dictionary stand are antiques
• Glass candlesticks from Didriks
• French metal and crystal chandelier and round dining table (expands to seat 12) from Mohr and McPhearson
- • Built-ins by contractor Justin Kelley
• Four-poster bed made as a wedding gift by woodworker Matt Connorton
• Belgium Linen from Didriks
BATH & LAUNDRY
- • Original sink, clawfoot tub, and mirrors
• 'Happy D' sink by Duravit
• Bosch front-loading washer/dryer
• IKEA attached tabletop
• Stacked IKEA kitchen cabinets for wall of storage
Images: Ronee Saroff