What's Old Is New

Heather Garrett breathes new life into a decade-old home with a perfect mix of new and repurposed.

You may recall the classic children’s song that encourages children to “make new friends but keep the old.” Though just a children’s song, its layers of meaning may resonate with Dr. Cynthia Shortell these days, whose incredible home renovation has her singing the praises of notable interior designer Heather Garrett.  “What’s particularly great is that Heather takes a few pieces from your existing setup and reintroduces them to the new one like old friends in a new place,” Shortell explains. Examples abound.

There are the Victorian chairs, passed down from previous generations, which were refurbished and recovered; the heirloom painting in the dining room that takes its place alongside new furnishings; and new ceiling beams melding seamlessly with the originals. After ten years in their Hope Valley Country Club home in Durham, Shortell and her husband, Bruce Peyser, knew it was prime time for a makeover. The home was originally designed when the couple was raising young children, but it didn’t fit their current lifestyle of two individuals who like to work, entertain, and host their grown children. 

“As physicians, they spend their days taking care of people, but when they came home in the evenings, the home no longer felt great to them,” Garrett explains. “They wanted to create a place that would feel nurturing and cocooning when they arrived home.”  To create such a space, Garrett repainted rooms with creamy washes of color; she incorporated ethereal wall coverings; and she lightened up the overall palette while matching it to existing rugs and furnishings to maintain the original tone of the interior. And since the couple loves fire and candlelight, Garrett added fireplaces and subdued the lighting, installing two-dozen sconces. All of the lighting is on smart switches so that when the couple returns home from work – usually well past daylight hours – everything is already softly lit. “Warm, embracing colors and soft, natural light were absolutely, critically important,” Shortell says.

Indeed, warm hues and light fill the dramatic foyer. Occupying pride of place is the custom, hand-painted Gracie mural. There was much back-and-forth communication between Durham and the New York-based Gracie studio until the meticulously created finished product arrived from Europe. “It came in pieces with diagrams, and our wallpaper installer was terrified, but he did a great job,” Garrett says.  Meanwhile, the rich wood tones of the entryway’s floor nicely contrast the white crown molding and balusters of the grand staircase. Originally, one walked into the home and could see all the way to the back of the house, creating an odd visual perspective. Today, a back wall forms a cozy niche, complete with treasured pieces from the couple’s original collection: an antique rug, a Stickley table, and intriguing artwork. 

The foyer’s airy ambiance travels through the adjacent dining room. The walls are swathed in a polished plaster and topped by an English wallpaper border with added shine to reflect maximum light. The light illuminates the custom-made table, which rests on a sculptured base. Garrett found the distinctive dining chairs through 1stdibs, and she covered them in custom skirts. The fabric of the original draperies was cut and repurposed for new valances.  One of the room’s unique elements is the ship replica that Peyser had commissioned for his wife. “There is a series of novels by Patrick O’Brien that I love dearly,” Shortell explains. “The ship, the Surprise, is Captain Aubrey’s ship. Bruce got it for me for Christmas one year.” While the ship is a favorite piece, the room she likes to spend the most time is the family room. “It is an incredibly beautiful but warm, embracing room with lots of very soothing spaces and a lovely view,” she says.

The room contains a reading nook, television viewing area, and window seat. The coffered ceiling and beams were repainted – including the trays in wood veneer – to maintain the homeowners’ preference for the feel of a paneled room without the darkness of the original. Garrett added decorative sconces to showcase the curio cabinet, which has its own interior lighting and contains souvenirs from the couple’s many travels.  “We also used their rug that was previously in their dining room and got all new fabrics and upholstery pieces, but again, it was still a familiar palette to them,” Garrett says.  While the kitchen proper is still a work in progress, the adjacent hearth room is an inspired addition to the home and serves as the perfect complement to the kitchen space. Garrett installed a cozy fireplace, antique rug, and a stained glass Tiffany-style lamp alongside a custom-made table that can seat up to twelve people, so that kitchen activity can easily spill into this space. 

The master bedroom and adjacent sitting room is a luxurious retreat, complete with fireplace, a wall of built-ins, a chaise lounge, and a garden right outside the windows. Garrett created paneled molding squares and papered them in thin, wood veneer paper for walls that look fresh and light yet also sophisticated. A chandelier that was previously in the dining room now lights the master bathroom, which is wallpapered in a fun pattern. All of the bathroom surfaces received an upgrade so that the result is a sanctuary of rest and relaxation.     The homeowners couldn’t be more pleased with their renovated residence. “It is very eclectic, blending different colors, styles, and fabrics in a really interesting way,” Shortell says. Not only that, it seamlessly blends the old and the new, just as the song says.