Color Continuum

Interior designer Susan Tollefsen infuses her vibrant flair into a builder’s own modern farmhouse.

They say two is better than one. For builder Allen Wells, who tore down one downtown Raleigh home and built two in its place, two has proven to be a good number indeed. Infill projects such as these can be tricky, but Wells was able to complete the project with limited impact, and the result is two homes that honor the heart of the original structure and embrace today’s modern amenities. It’s the best of both worlds, and Wells liked it so much, he and his wife, Jen, moved into one of the new homes.

For the interiors, the couple called on interior designer Susan Tollefsen to take their classic farmhouse with its neutral palette layered with natural wood tones and give it a contemporary flair. With a penchant for color, Tollefsen infused eye-catching hues and intriguing textures and patterns to add visual interest.

“Both Allen and Jen are big color people, and I’m a big fan of color and anything that can make a house look interesting and soulful,” Tollefsen says. “That’s why you see the bright blues, navy blues, and chartreuse greens.”

Case in point: The entryway has a shiplap wall painted a dark, distinctive hue, which juxtaposes nicely against the warmer tone of the mahogany door, wood floors, and wallpaper hanger’s table. Two modern lamps illuminate the antique table, as well as the hoofed leather stool sitting beneath it. “I love the idea of old mixed with new,” Tollefsen says, who partnered with Tony Frazier of Frazier Home Design on the project.

The living room continues several of the themes: wood tones, navy shiplap, and a historical ambiance with modern touches. The latter is Wells’ signature look for many of the downtown homes his company, Hayes Barton Homes, works on. The blue shiplap – Hale Navy from Benjamin Moore, chosen by Frazier and repeated on the exterior shutters – is more dramatic than the traditional white-on-white shiplap, and the wood tones lend a rustic element to the room.

“Allen likes to see wood tones and natural elements, and I try to twist it around and say, ‘I know you want a barn door, but how about a barn door with a modern color to it?’” Tollefsen laughs. “It’s good to make it a little different, so it’s not like all the other farmhouses with just white and wood.” Moving into the kitchen, the tongue-and-groove ceiling is old, distressed wood that Wells painted in such a way that it still shows some cracks; he salvaged the wood from an old house. For the modern touch, marble countertops and backsplash in a herringbone pattern provide a serene backdrop, while dark window trim adds punch. The kitchen opens up to the adjacent banquette and bar, which Wells considers among his favorite spaces in the home. The black-and-white Schumacher Queen of Spain wallpaper creates visual interest in the bar, as the upholstery does in the banquette. “The fabric pulls in all the colors used throughout the house: pink, black, navy, and greens,” Tollefsen says. “And the chartreuse pleather seat bottoms of the chairs are easy to clean and care for.”

Bright colors continue in the dining room, which Wells says was inspired by a photo of racecar driver Jimmie Johnson’s dining room. Bright aqua walls and trim contrast nicely with the chartreuse curtains and Worlds Away light fixture. Tollefsen covered the ceiling in handprinted Galbraith & Paul wallpaper. “They always do great, intense colors,” she says. The chinoiserie Bungalow 5 dining room chairs lend an Asian flair to the room while the painting by local artist Adam Fester pulls all of the colors together.

The master bedroom is a bit more subdued than the rest of the house, the better to get restful sleep in, though there are matching Mr. Brown lamps with bases composed of etched-out glass. “It’s like mercury glass but reverse painted,” Tollefsen explains. “They’re interesting, sort of a deep purple and silver.” The dark shiplap continues behind the tub in the master bath, and Wells opted to install wood floors. The wood planks work because they’re warm versus cold, as tile would be.

Finally, the home’s exterior continues the theme of an older home mixed with modern touches, featuring timber porch columns, a gas light, and exposed rafters under an overhang. The painted brick, although light, continues the theme of using color.

Tollefsen acknowledges that neutral colors such as gray, which she refers to as the “uncolor,” are on trend today, but says, “We are also working in a lot of that marigold yellow. And we love peacock blues and hot pink. Basically, anything that makes you smile when you look at it is fun!”