Phoenix From the Ashes

“Please try to prepare yourself” my friend warned me as I was on my way to walk through her beloved home in Hingham that had just recently been destroyed by fire. No one can anticipate such a disaster, and this house fire was particularly shocking. My friend had just come home from a trip into the city with her husband to find her home swallowed in flames, with a swarm of firemen and fire engines working mightily to put out the electrical fire that had been caused by a lighting strike. The lighting had hit the ground–travelling straight through the earth to then spark an electrical line within the office space of the house. The fire traveled quickly, gutting the office, but then (thankfully) getting put out before devastating more of the structure. However, despite the fire having gutted “only” one major room, the smoke damage was extensive–even reaching the walls of the second floor. Essentially, the entire house was destroyed, as the best fire remediation and cleaning in the world was not going to undue the incredible, greasy smoke damage to everything. All the walls, tile, furniture and rugs had to be removed. The house had to become a shell, and we had to start over

The design and renovation process is always a highly detailed and extensive one, but never is it more difficult than when the home-owners are faced with all the normal decision making process, layered on-top of a life-altering trauma. Most homeowners find the dozens of decisions involved in a major renovation pretty overwhelming, which is one of many value-add reasons for hiring a professional designer. Needless to say, my normal instincts and processes as a designer had to also be married with patience, empathy and a heightened sense of the importance of transformation. Not only did I need to transform a house, but also transform heartbreak and shock into inspiration and joy. Having lost all their possessions, with the exception of a minimal amount of dishware and glassware, intentionality with our choices became exceptionally important.

Every design project starts with the idea of concept–what central theme, idea or primary aesthetic is going to shape the final design decisions? Sometimes, a concept can be as simple as finding inspiration from a painting, or a particular landscape, and carrying those colors, textures, and impressions into the design elements of the house. In the case of my friend’s design process, we had to not only rebuild a house and a life, but make every effort to expunge the past and transform the remembrance of a blackened shell into something light, joyful and new.

“Katharine was truly our lucky star helping us navigate through some tough terrain, in every way and at every step guiding us carefully along in the creation of a beautiful new home environment that would bring us joy.

As clients in need, we were deeply grateful for her empathy and patience, her skillful, organic interface between ourselves and the builder, and her marvelous knack for creating a positive atmosphere for all involved in the process.” ~ Quigley R.

Light and joy, with an emphasis on water elements and a cool, airy palette become our concept for the renovation of the house. Never did Marie Kondo’s “does it spark joy?” become more important within the design conversation and process! Every decision, every light fixture, piece of tile, architectural molding, and paint color needed to reinforce the angelic, harmonious environment we were trying to create. 

Ultimately, the brand new kitchen was designed to become a life-affirming, light filled space which allowed the natural outdoors to flow into the visual plane. The gorgeous, movement filled “Blue Fusion” quartzite countertops from Brazil added a dynamic, energized quality to the kitchen and brought in beautiful earth and water colors. We selected white cabinets and hand blown glass pendants (suspended above the island) to complete the feeling of  light, reflection, movement and water.

Our unifying design concept became the “thread” that we pulled through the design selections for the entire home. The downstairs powder room and main bathroom on the second floor were designed with serene, water-spired colors and textures. Glossy white subway tile was highlighted and offset by a crackle glaze mosaic accent tile in mermaid green-blue tones. The vanity countertop chosen was a white quartzite, marbled through with silver, aqua and moss greens. Downstairs, the bathroom radiated harmonious, light-as-air steel blues, white, and soft, dove grey. A marble hand painted mosaic of chrysanthemum blossoms highlighted the shower walls. Once the physical transformation of the house began, I also noticed a shift in my clients. My friend and her husband started to feel their confidence and the pleasure in their home return. The former trauma that had paralized them at the start of our process turned into engagement, excitement and effective decision making. 

window seat

When designing the large built-in window seat, flanked by beautiful built-in bookshelves for their living room, my friends could envision the cozy gatherings with friends by the fire. Joy had been sparked! The beautiful, carefully chosen wall sconces and pendant lights gleamed silver and created a beautiful glow within the living spaces. 

Guiding my clients through a successful design project that not only meets, but exceeds their expectations, is always my goal. In this case, the design process carried the weight of a necessary catharsis. I’m happy to say that my friends are settled into their new home, surrounded by light and the colors they love, with the fire a distant memory.