A couple furnishes their 1925 home with pieces that are age-appropriate but given a modern twist.
It can take months, or even years, for a new house to feel like home to its occupants. But that was not the case for Melissa Bolinger and her husband of nearly 23 years, Jon. “We fell in love with our home before we walked in the front door,” she says. “This was home from the first time I saw a tiny black-and-white picture of it on a realtor’s website.” And to hear Melissa describe it, it’s easy to understand why.
The Cape Cod-style house with wood shingles, located in a historic beachside community lined with palm trees and the refreshing scent of the ocean wafting through the air, had seven rooms and two bathrooms. But more importantly for Melissa and Jon, it had character.
“This home oozed personality and charm,” she says with a smile. “It was built in 1925 and has had only two previous owners who had cherished this home. It was apparent by the cheerful paint colors—sunshine yellow and watermelon red—under all the paint and wallpaper we removed. There were toile wallpapers and chandeliers in unique locations: one in a bathroom and a large one in the upstairs hallway. It has wood windows, a two-story rock chimney and a rock front porch to match.”
However, that’s not to say it was in pristine condition when Melissa and Jon moved in. As many historic-home owners can attest, while older homes have inherent character, they often have inherent structural problems. “It was in terrible disrepair. We spent seven years restoring it,” Melissa explains. “Every function of our home had to be replaced. One of the first things to be replaced was the foundation. We had a storybook river-rock foundation, but the mortar holding it together was made with sand from the beach, and the salt had caused the bond to break—which wasn’t a good thing in Southern California.” But after all the time, effort and money was spent on renovating the home to their satisfaction, Melissa and Jon would still opt for a vintage home over a newer model.
“We love the way architects and builders of days gone by trusted their instincts and built from the heart. They were often artists who had a gift for understanding proportion and charm,” Melissa says with a designer’s eye. “In certain new developments, you see faux everything. There are nooks and crannies and archways that add nothing but visual chaos and doors that are too tall for the structure. I don’t think the average builder or architect works from the same place of heart that they did of yesteryear.”
Once the repairs were done and it came time to decorate the rooms, Melissa cites an unusual source for several of her design choices: her dogs. “The dogs have affected many of our decorating decisions. We didn’t train them as babies to stay off of the furniture, so instead, we have chosen fabrics and covers that can easily be cleaned, knowing the dogs will be allover them. We try not to get very wrapped up in perfection because nothing will stay perfect as long as we live with dogs. The pillows in the living room are a battle because my dogs think they are toys to conquer.”
Melissa’s decorating choices were also influenced by the furniture she retained from their previous home, which matched that building’s heavy Spanish architecture and rich and varied paint colors.
“I tried to keep the color variations within a three-color scheme. It was rich and cozy, but I was craving a softer flow of color,” Melissa says. “Initially, I couldn’t wait to live with my current home’s white walls, but eventually I craved the interest and dimension color brings. When I finally decided to paint, I was limited by the color story of the majority of our furnishings, which were moved from our Spanish home. I dreamed of grass green, coral pink and soft golden yellow fabric combinations, but with dogs and major renovations to prioritize, I was forced to work with the brick reds, golds and olive greens that dominated our furnishings. Because our home is airy and cottage-like, I wanted to keep it that way with soft wall colors, but I couldn’t go too pale or the contrast between our furnishings and walls would be too strong for the romantic vision I had. I chose Benjamin Moore’s Straw Hat, which sometimes reads like a golden sand color and sometimes like a buttery yellow, for the majority of the walls on the main floor. I emphasized the living-room fireplace and kitchen range wall with Benjamin Moore’s Sombrero. The powder room and dining room walls were painted in Sombrero, a similar, but deeper shade of Straw Hat. Our ceilings were painted with Benjamin Moore’s Glacier Blue, a soft gray-blue with enough color to be noticed but not enough to be obtrusive. It not only lifts the already taller than average nine-foot ceilings but creates the most peaceful sky-like quality and emphasizes the charming beams and moldings. The colors upstairs are similar to downstairs, except one of the bedrooms and bathrooms have warm pink walls. One of the pink colors used is Benjamin Moore’s Phoenix Sand, which produces a sunset-like romantic glow.”
Adding Personal Style
Melissa describes her design style as nostalgic and romantic, but not fussy. “I decorate from my gut and use the architecture of whatever I am decorating as my guide,” she says. “A modern home can be romantic, but if the architecture is streamlined, ornate moldings will ruin it; almost in the same way a Victorian home would be ruined by minimal moldings and steel windows.”
Among the collections Melissa and Jon added to their home is artwork from the early 20th century that they acquired from trips to flea markets and antiques stores across the country. Some were gifts and others were inherited from their grandmothers. Melissa displays her collection of predominantly green Depression glassware (although she has added lavender and pink pieces to the mix) and several old lamps.
One of Melissa’s favorite pieces is a finely crafted antique that functions in a modern capacity. “We have a beautiful French oak armoire that is several hundred years old. It is beautifully carved and is at the same time very clean-lined. It holds and hides a flat-screen TV in our living room,” she says.
The warmth that Melissa has created in her home extends to those who visit it. “People say it is charming and happy. People like to be here,” she says.
By Meryl Schoenbaum
Photography by Bret Gum
Styled by Jacqueline deMontravel and Valerie Spelman