Vintage Vibes

Designer Barrie Benson transforms an architect's traditional home into a classic one full of vintage pieces that stand up to even the littlest of hands.

Lindsay McCullough and her husband knew they needed more space. Having lived in New York City for the last eleven years with their two young children, and with a third on the way, the couple knew it was time for a change. The change was Charlotte, where McCullough had grown up as a child and where the couple decided they would set their roots as a family.

After walking through dozens of houses for sale, McCullough and her husband kept coming back to a stunning circa-1939 Georgian Revival home in Eastover. “It definitely wasn’t one of those love at first sight things,” McCullough says, “but there was something that we were drawn to about this house.” First, it checked all of the boxes for the couple: lots of space for their growing family coupled with architectural details that McCullough, an architect, was smitten with. 

“I love old homes,” she says. “I was drawn to the bones of this house. I loved the original windows, the doors with original knobs. It was very elegant and pretty. Every time we visited, all the fireplaces were burning. And it had a nice, elegant layout that I knew I could work with and make my own.” With a beige-all-over color palette, the home, however, was not the couple’s style. “The house was really lovely, but it reflected the previous owners’ taste,” McCullough says. With a limited timeframe before the arrival of her third baby, McCullough set into motion renovations to the home that would allow for a more open layout and additional natural sunlight throughout. Over the course of five weeks, McCullough made a variety of structural tweaks, including opening up the small kitchen to the adjacent keeping room. The kitchen itself was updated with new Calacatta gold-marble counters and a new farmhouse sink, but they kept the existing cabinetry, save for a few cabinets that the architect removed and replaced with open shelving.

Not one to shy away from adding architectural details, McCullough took plain white sheetrock ceilings and transformed them with shiplap paneling with a nickel gap, a subtle move with a big impact on the overall aesthetic of the home. In the foyer, McCullough added paneling to the walls. “I put the paneling up because it would look like it was always here and seemed appropriate for this home,” she says. In the living room, she added trim to the ceiling to create interest. “It was this big sheetrock ceiling, and I wanted to add something to it,” McCullough explains. “One apartment we lived in in New York City had picture molding on the wall. I loved the traditional, historic feel of that, so I added it on the ceiling here, and it brought the scale of the room down a bit and makes it more intimate.”

Once the renovations were completed, McCullough enlisted designer Barrie Benson to help with the interior design. “I’d come across Barrie’s work years ago and thought to myself, If I could ever work with her, I would,” she says. Benson could also see McCullough’s vision for the home, which included adding architectural details and other design elements where they were needed. “Lindsay knew exactly what the home needed to feel bright where it needed it, to add detail where it lacked it,” Benson says. “She made it very easy for me to make the house look good.” Benson worked her magic, finishing off spaces with just the right amount of color and pattern for her clients. “Barrie is just so talented with using fabric and trim.” Benson and McCullough also share a love of mid-century furniture. “I love furniture design and am especially fond of mid-century modern furniture and collecting it,” McCullough says, whose collection of vintage pieces was found primarily through auctions. “I could tell Barrie had a deep knowledge of it, too, and could help me integrate it into what I already had.”

“Lindsay had some fantastic vintage pieces,” Benson explains. “We gave them new personality by changing some of the finishes and fabrics when needed. We also mixed other pieces in. Vintage isn’t entirely practical for kids, so we added in new work-horse furniture like sectionals, swivel chairs, and even the chairs in the kitchen to make it more livable for day-to-day living.” Nothing, McCullough adds, could be too precious in the home. “I feel that a home needs to be lived in, no rooms off-limits to kids, and Barrie was able to accomplish that.” Through the use of indoor-outdoor fabrics and patterns in high-traffic areas or on heavily used furniture, Benson made the home childproof for the couple’s three young children.

And even though McCullough is talented in her own right when it comes to interior design, the architect knew that she needed another expert’s eye to pull the whole aesthetic together. “Barrie is so talented at what she does,” McCullough says. “She made this home look so much better than I ever could!” Says Benson of the finished project, “It’s classical yet feels fresh and modern and young. It’s simultaneously delicate and strong. It’s also very livable and practical. It really was such a fun project to work on.”