Timely Turnaround

Armed with a bevy of antique finds, Phoebe Howard gives a young family the home of their dreams—in a flash of decorating dexterity

To decorate an entire home, top to bottom, with new pieces in five weeks would have seemed like a tight turnaround for some, but for Phoebe Howard, the timing couldn’t have been better. Her clients, a family with young children, called upon her when their home sold more quickly than expected, and they needed to move into their new residence almost immediately. To complicate matters further, they also wished to start anew with a fresh look and virtually all new furnishings.

But in a stroke of serendipity, Howard had just returned from one of her twice-annual buying trips to Belgium, England and Holland with a stockpile of antiques and vintage pieces. To put them all in one place was a dream for the decorator, who often has to divide her most treasured buys among various clients’ homes. “Every piece is thoughtfully purchased by me, and I always hate to split them up,” she explains. “I felt really happy to put them all together, because that’s how I always intended them to be.”

And thus, happily, the decorating began, with Howard’s favorite new find: a painted English linen press that resides just outside the breakfast area. Coupled with creamy walls, the cabinet’s soft blue-green finish inspired the quiet, cloud-like color palette throughout the house—from the kitchen’s slate gray island to the cool blue of the printed linen drapery panels in the living room and toss pillows in the master bedroom. For a touch of warmth, walnut-stained woods ground the cool colors throughout.

“The way the house is laid out, it’s very nice for a family, with the master bedroom at one end and the children on the other,” says Howard. “For a couple with young children, you want a place to retreat. It needed to be beautiful, yet comfortable. They didn’t want formal spaces; they wanted to live in and occupy every square inch of the house. Even the dining room has a casualness to it.”

The soft, airy look Howard captured was not without its challenges. “It’s a very shaded lot, so the light was already low,” she says. Architecturally, long, skinny rooms with low ceilings and few windows gave the effect of aperture lighting—most noticeably in the living room, kitchen and dining room. To decrease contrast and enhance width and height, Howard employed lots of neutrals. In the dining room, a chandelier is hung higher than normal to give the illusion of height, while window treatments are hung very high to lengthen the lines of the room.

A floor-to-ceiling window in the living room presented its own challenges. Howard chose two delicate English pieces—a mahogany table and Moroccan-style bench—as well as a pair of English bamboo chairs and modern glass lamps to fill the awkward space, but they’re airy enough to let the light flow through unobstructed, silhouetting the strong lines of each.

This lightness also serves to amplify the collected look of the room, which is punctuated by framed antique watercolors and an uncommon collection of luxe brass pieces—an unusual solid brass coffee table, a shiny brass table lamp and a brass floor lamp that Howard picked up on her recent trip. “To see all three of those pieces go into such a good home just gives me a thrill,” she says. “The homeowners were so pleased. They were able to move in the very night of our deadline.”