Fresh Start

Designer Susan Tollefsen transforms a dated 90's home into a comfortable and sophisticated modern space..

It was a unique situation for Susan Tollefsen. The Raleigh-based interior designer was enlisted to help a newly married couple overhaul their new home. Only this time, Tollefsen had worked with each spouse separately on their homes before they were married. “It was a project that involved meshing different aesthetics together to create one cohesive look,” she says. “I had helped the wife on three previous projects before I worked on the husband’s townhome in downtown Raleigh.”

That previous experience with both clients on an individual basis proved to be beneficial to the designer. “Most women don’t love what their husband brings to the table in terms of design,” Tollefsen laughs. “But in this case, since I’d previously worked on the husband’s home, it made it much easier to combine things gracefully.”

But before Tollefsen could even start installing any interior design, she had to update a lot of the spaces. The home, which the couple had chosen for its proximity to downtown, was dated and in dire need of updating. “The home was built in the late ’90s, so it had cherry cabinets and light oak flooring throughout,” Tollefsen says. “The goal was to go in and customize the home as best we could without doing anything structurally.” To that end, the floors were refinished and stained a darker color and the walls throughout painted white versus the original beige. Tollefsen also hired Robert Corprew to paint all of the doors and kitchen cabinets in Benjamin Moore White Dove to “make them feel fresh and new.” Elsewhere, Tollefsen removed the chair rail because there was an excessive amount of it, then painted the stair rail. “It gave us a solid foundation to start incorporating the furniture, artwork, and accessories.”

From that point, the design was about combining both the husband’s and the wife’s existing pieces to create a seamless, sophisticated look. “I had always been involved with antiques as an antique collector and dealer,” the wife says. “Slowly, I started to sell off those pieces and move toward a more contemporary look and feel. I like the clean, modern style. Susan was helpful in guiding me and showing me various things that were mid-century modern and how they could work in our home.”

In the main living room, Tollefsen reworked some of the wife’s existing pieces to make the space more conducive to entertaining. “It’s a really small space, so that whole area was tricky,” she says. “But I think the way we laid it out, it’s very cozy and comfortable. It doesn’t feel cramped. The thing most people probably would’ve tried to do is neutralize the color palette to keep the room open. But it is such a small space that I took the viewpoint that you should make it interesting for that very reason.” A vintage coffee table, a Kravet sofa, and a pair of Schumacher chairs were given new life with throw pillows in bold patterns and colors by Schumacher and Manuel Canovas.

Originally a bedroom, the back room was transformed into another den area using the husband’s mid-century modern pieces from his previous residence. “A lot of those pieces had a vintage vibe to them, so that’s what dictated the design we went with,” Tollefsen says. She scooped up the vintage round burl-wood table at auction, and the lamps are from Visual Comfort. The Lucite coffee tables by Interlude Home add a dose of modernity to the space.

By making slight changes to the architectural details and finishes of the home, Tollefsen was able to transform a once-dated ’90s home into a more modern, comfortable space for the couple. “It truly was a dramatic transformation,” Tollefsen says. Adds the homeowner, “Susan is just so talented. She took something that wasn’t great and turned it into something remarkable.”