Big on Style
Downsizing without sacrificing charm
By Carolyn Rundle Field
Styled by Sommer Volpe of the The Style Studio and Phyllis Lindland
Photographs by Hulya Kolabas
Walking into Phyllis Lindland’s house, you would never figure her for a woman who raised eight children or failed art class. First, because antiques and white furniture rule, and second, because the rooms—eclectic, sophisticated, yet inviting—could only have been put together by someone with a highly creative sensibility. Phyllis lives with her husband Tom in an 1,800-square-foot, three-bedroom antique, circa 1790, that once served as the barn for house next door. They bought the house five years ago, downsizing from a much larger home about a mile away, filled with 35 years of memories. “I told my realtor I couldn’t move until I found the right house,” laughs Phyllis. Thirteen years ago, the property came on the market and her broker called and said, “You have to come see this,” but the Lindlands weren’t ready to move.
Eight years later, Phyllis noticed a For Sale sign outside the house again. This time, she called her realtor, who took them to see it the day before the open house. They made an offer that day. Unfortunately another couple had also put in an offer and a bidding war ensued. The Lindlands realtor suggested they write a letter to the owner, who was very attached to the house and wanted to sell to someone who would appreciate its pedigree—so attached that she had her realtor take her to the Lindlands’ home to see how they decorated and lived. “She apparently felt her house was a miniature version of ours,” recalls Phyllis. That, and the fact that the Lindlands had the highest bid, tipped the scale in their favor.
Despite its age, the house was in excellent condition. The seller had renovated the bathrooms and the 1950s kitchen, replacing formica counters and orange stove with stainless steel appliances, white marble counters, white exposed shelving and cabinets and a white porcelain farm sink. The Lindlands enclosed and renovated the side porch to add more year-round living space. Their contractor cut down trees, removed the bark, and left the logs outside to weather before installing them, so the new beams look as authentic as the original ones throughout the rest of the house. In the newly enclosed space, which is now an airy, light-filled sitting room, they built stairs leading to a lower level entrance and mudroom. “Otherwise, the only way you could get to the basement was down a narrow staircase adjacent the living room, or from the outside of the house,” explains Phyllis.
The original structure was built with wooden pegs instead of nails. Many pegs are visible in the interior; Tom likes to hang his coat on one just outside the kitchen. Wrought-iron hooks and loops on several walls recall the property’s days as a working barn. Other antique details include the massive central stone fireplace, with an opening that allows heat to escape and warm the entire first floor, the slate floor in the front hall and built-in cabinets in the dining area.
The Lindlands biggest challenge in their move involved editing their furniture and Phyllis’s extensive collections, ranging from white ironstone china, Staffordshire figures, and vintage ornaments to antique trophies. They brought just enough from their former home to furnish each room comfortably, and sold the rest in a tag sale or gave pieces to various children for their own homes. Asked how she was able to keep her white sofas and chairs clean over the years, with so many kids underfoot, she says, “I’ve always had white furniture. I just taught my kids to respect their surroundings. Almost every piece is slip-covered, so I could wash them periodically.”
Details such as a grouping of Staffordshire dogs above the living room bookshelves, and a zebra rug paired with an antique pine table, reveal Phyllis’s flair for interior design. Despite her teacher’s assessment of her artistic ability--“she made us draw specific things and I just couldn’t”—Phyllis discovered her creative side out of necessity. “When Tom and I were just starting out, I didn’t even know I could create things. We didn’t have much money so I had to make what I wanted to decorate my house. And with eight kids, if I was going to keep my sanity, I needed to do something for myself every day,” she explains. She sewed curtains, learned how to refinish and decoupage furniture, and repurposed items she found at flea markets, thrift and antique shops and Minks to Sinks. She worked on projects at night after her kids went to bed. “I have a lot of energy,” she says with a laugh. “I’m Italian.”
One of the pieces that made the move was a dresser from her childhood. “I was going to throw it out, but decided to cover it with wall paper instead. I didn’t have a book on how to do it, I just figured it out,” Phyllis explains. Because she has trouble finding lighting fixtures she likes, she has converted sterling silver candlesticks, a coffee urn and a pair of Staffordshire dogs into lamps. “You can do something with anything,” she claims. Unafraid to mix high-end pieces, such as a chair from Dovecote, with a lamp and shade purchased at Target, her decorating philosophy is refreshing. “I don’t think everything should be new or old. You need a mix. And you can use inexpensive pieces as long as you have some good pieces, too.”
Her children—now grown, many with families of their own—affectionately compare her to another more famous doyenne of do-it-yourself home décor. But unlike that celebrity decorator, Phyllis was the kind of mom who gathered her children around the piano and played while the whole family sang. It’s clear that her previous home was a happy one, and this one, although much smaller, is just as happy.
“I have no regrets about moving,” she says. “In my previous house, I had to put interesting things into it to make it interesting. This place has so much character I don’t need to add much.”