The co-owner of a home furnishings shop dives into designing her own home while keeping costs downBy Jennifer Kain DeFoe | Photography by Dan Cutrona
Kate Ross is not a licensed architect or a professional builder. But with her self-professed “love, love, love” of design that dates back to high school, she had the confidence to draw up a house for herself and then oversee its construction.
Ross, a fine arts and art history major in college, co-owns Dean Ross Home, a home furnishings shop in Marion, Massachusetts, the South Coast town where she lives. Yet, she says she’s not “artsy-fartsy” when it comes to working within her chosen field. “I have to do something practical, so that translates into this [house].”
Starting with the right team
Immediately after closing on the property in February 2011, Ross began working on the designs for the new house, which Stone Bridge Associates architects put into formal drawings. A cottage on the property came down that May, and she jumped right into the construction phase as the project’s general contractor – with some help, she’s quick to point out. Ross calls Tom Denney, who works with The Hanover Company, a construction company in Boston, her “coach and co-G.C.” and notes as well the great work and invaluable input of finish carpenter Paul Bradley.
Ross was also delighted to find inspiration and assistance where she didn’t necessarily expect it.
“Working with National Lumber and Lee Head, my salesperson, was really good,” Ross says of the company that provided the house’s rough lumber and Andersen Windows. “So was Mark Farrell, my electrician. I like how he does business. He’d walk through the house and really look at the others subs’ work.”
Creative budget solutions produce stylish results
Given the scope of the project and Ross’ high expectations for the 3,800-square-foot, two-story house, it was particularly challenging to work within tight cost restrictions. “I was on a major budget, which ended up making [the process] more interesting. It made me problem-solve,” she says, pointing to the floor-to-ceiling fireplace as an example. “Everyone uses marble or stone on a fireplace – which I didn’t really want – so when we were pouring concrete for the base of the hearth, I asked if we could simply tint the concrete and give it a smooth finish for a sleek, modern/rustic look. It saved the expense of a stone slab and gave me the exact look I was trying to achieve.”
The bulk of the first floor is taken up by a wide-open space that incorporates the living area, dining area and kitchen, where a 15-foot-long island provides a sense of separation between the spaces. On stools purchased from overstock.com surrounding the island, Ross custom-covered the seats with pieces of one-dollar burlap bags from Building 19. She didn’t want any upper cabinets in the room, so the island has several built-in storage cabinets, and there is also a pantry adjacent to the kitchen.
Burlap shows up again covering the walls of a powder room just inside the front door, where there is also a cozy dining room featuring a striking ceiling arrangement of branches and dangling lights.
The main-floor master suite has French doors opening out onto a patio. Inside, a king bed with a linen-covered headboard is flanked by two big windows finished with floor-to-ceiling silk drapes. With a deft touch, Ross incorporated these luxurious cast-offs from a friend into her design scheme. The master bath features a soaking tub, glass-enclosed shower and a marble-topped dual vanity. A walk-in closet with built-in shelves and drawers completes the master suite.
Leading from the main living space to the master suite is a sitting room with a TV on a large console, comfy, slipcovered furniture and floor-to-ceiling shelving for books and curios. Ross used a cohesive color palette throughout the home – the walls and trim are the same color, Benjamin Moore Sail Cloth, in all of the rooms – and then gave the home its personality through her selection of furnishings and accents.
“Ninety percent of the details, such as the ceiling beams in the living room (which are not structural), we designed as we were going,” Ross explains. “I like working with the juxtaposition of old and new, rustic and modern, smooth and rough.” Another make-it-up-as-we-go feature is the industrial-chic staircase at the center of her home that sports treads of rough-sawn pine. “We had the risers fabricated out of metal and used vinegar and peroxide to rust them . . . then clear-coated them,” says Ross. Using standard plumbing pipe for a banister carries out the look, a look she achieved through creative ways to stay within budget.
Upstairs there is a second bed/bath suite, a pair of guest bedrooms that share a bath, and a small library. Unexpected design elements carry Ross’ aesthetic from the first floor to the second. For example, hallway wall sconces are actually outdoor industrial light fixtures, and a trough sink in the second-story master suite lends an urban edge to the decor.
This was not Kate Ross’ first stint designing and building a home. She’d done the same with her former home in Buffalo, New York, on the shores of Lake Erie, a much larger house that she describes as “very formal.” This time, she says, “It was about building a place where I could cook and have people over. It’s a place that’s dog-friendly and where people can put their feet on anything.”