Creating Casual Elegance at Apple Trees

05/16/2024  |  Deborah Hood
Creating Casual Elegance at Apple Trees
Creating Casual Elegance at Apple Trees


Two separate referrals brought this special project to Kathy Marshall Design in the autumn of 2021. An American couple relcoating from London was in town looking at properties that might become their new year-round residence in scenic Manchester-by-the-Sea. A leading candidate was the stately Colonial Revival built in 1896 known locally as Apple Trees. One of forty such houses built as “summer cottages” from Industrial Age wealth, the home is known for its formal gardens and soaring nineteen-foot Corinthian columns flanking the front entry.


Apple Trees


Today, on the exterior, the grandeur still felt appropriate, given the setting on a prominent rise of land looking out to the harbor beyond. Inside, it was hard for the clients to picture how a more casual, modern family could be comfortable in the ornate, formal spaces.  





It’s at this point, before the closing, that we were brought in courtesy of the real estate agent - and also the client’s sister - who both knew of our experience and expertise with antique homes. Could we help assess the house and create a plan for restoring a more casual elegance to Apple Trees?


First up, were the assessments with contractors and specialists evaluating the structure, systems, wiring, and windows. We also spent time wandering the house, at all hours of the day, looking at the light conditions, ceiling heights, traffic patterns and existing finishes.



And it started to become clear where the house was stuck, and how to fix it.


The back entry led to the everyday spaces: a powder room, mudroom, and kitchen that had all been updated over the years, but in a way that felt disconnected stylistically from the rest of the house.



Meanwhile, the front of the house was largely in tact, with four beautiful, original sets of French doors across the South elevation, (the side that faces the ocean) –  but they had cremone bolt hardware in need of repairs, their original screen doors had been removed, and they were all sealed up with large, heavy plate glass panels (most likely for energy efficiency) that could only be removed when needed by professionals. The access to the outdoors, and to the cooling summer breezes off the water, had been completely lost.



Further, to get from the back of the house to the front, traffic was currently being directed from the kitchen to the front family room via... the dining room. We could see there had clearly been a set of pocket doors joining these two spaces that had also been sealed shut and paneled over, again, most likely to control which rooms had to be heated for energy efficiency purposes.



Our plan would be to restore flow to the first floor by bringing back the pocket door connection, to rehabilitate the French doors to they could be used, and to elevate the aesthetics in the back of the house to better integrate with those in the main house. Lastly, we’d unify and tone down all of the ostentation down with a grounded, neutral color palette that would let some of the heavy ornamentation recede and relax a bit, while creating a subtle connection to the natural surroundings outdoors.


BEFORE: Carpenters gently deconstructed the mouldings and paneling on both sides to expose the framing studs to they could be removed. The pocket doors had thankfully been stashed in the basement, so all they needed to be back in business was a light refinishing, new hardware, and a modern track for easy operation.  



AFTER: Pocket Door and Flow Restored


For the exterior, we found one set of French doors on the second floor that still had its original screen doors. This gave us the template to have four new custom sets of screen doors created that would also have custom storm panels that could be easily installed to keep the cold winds out in winter months. We brought in restoration carpenters to fabricate and install the new mahogany doors that would stand up to the weather – they also made needed repairs to the floors and thresholds from earlier water damage.





In the Family Room, for another needed modernization, we modified a large built-in bookcase to tastefully accommodate a flat screen TV and speakers.




On the flooring,  to address the worn and yellowing wood thorughout most of the house,  we advised refinishing and stain with a rich medium brown tone to ground and unify the spaces, while highlighting the beautiful wood grain. 



In the kitchen, we did a light refresh - replacing the dated tile backsplash, selecting more suitable lighting and hardware, and trading the stark whites paint colors for more sophisticated neutrals in the same palette as the rest of the house. The red oak floors had too much graining to look right when stained, so in a period-appropriate manner for a back-of-house space, we painted them.



For the Butler’s Pantry, which had also been a stark white, we chose to paint the millwork in Light Blue by Farrow & Ball with creamy off-white for the cabinet interiors. Appropriate polished nickel hardware and lighting paired with the existing antique zinc sink makes this a truly special space that’s a delight to glimpse from the adjacent rooms. 



As for paint colors on the rest of first floor, the existing colors were, again, more of that very stark white and other colors applied in ways that lacked consistency. And the abundance of ornate millwork - from columns to crown mouldings to mantels, pilasters, window seats, and paneling – could become a cacophony if not properly addresssed. 



We also considered light conditions – with the large open stairwell and connected living rooms, every room had two to three sources of light that would change throughout the day, and of course colors and sheens would look very different on the different surfaces such as millwork versus plaster.


For clues on where to go, we came back to our clients’ request for a relaxed, understated elegance. We came to know the collection of antiques and artwork they’d be bringing in, and that they’d be coming with college-aged kids and large dogs and a love of textiles and patterns and comfortable furniture.


With the gorgeous grounds and vibrant views outside every window, we knew the new color palette wanted to be calmed down, casual, and quiet. We’d optimize the colors in each room for the time of day the family would most likely be in those spaces. We’d apply the colors in a consistent manner, and to make the rooms feel cozier and more enveloping.  



After multiple rounds of tester pots and tester paint swatches, we settled on several custom color combinations that would support both the use of faded blues and reds in our textiles and also work with the aged mahogany interior doors. We layered in grass cloth on the walls of the Entry Hall and Main Stair, to give a subtle texture, warmth, and sound attenuation. The results were hushed enough that even the flamboyant chandeliers were allowed to stay.






And all of this work was before we added any furnishings (or drapery or art and accessories - that work is still ongoing) and only what we did in the most public of spaces on the first floor. Elsewhere in the house we designed and executed several other beautiful updates that we’ll explore in future posts including a laundry room renovation (featuring a dog wash station!) converting a former bathroom into a walk-in closet, reconfiguring the primary suite, creating a third-floor home office, renovating bathrooms, adding wallpaper to bedrooms, and of course all those sumptuous fully furnished “after” images that are in the works.


Three years in, our relationship with the new owners of Apple Trees is a cherished creative partnership that is evolving and ongoing -  just like their continued stewardship of this special historic property. We look forward to working with them to dream up and execute all of the exciting improvements yet to come.



Project Team

Interior Design: Kathy Marshall Design

Builder: Covenant LLC

Carpet: Stark Carpet

Drapery: MRV Exclusives

Drapery Fabric: Schumacher

Paint: Farrow & Ball

Rugs: Vandra Rugs