TOH Editor's Home Is One Colorful Story
While putting the final touches on a seven-year redo, This Old House's editor, Scott Omelianuk, learns to see paint choices—and domestic harmony—in a new light
Heard the one about the magazine editor who spent all day telling his readers how to fix up their old houses, then went home at night to stare at blank walls?
Not that the guy in the corner office at This Old House has made a secret of the problems he's had trying to shore up his family's 1892 Hoboken, New Jersey, rowhouse. The contractor who went missing, the electrician who got away; close readers of Scott Omelianuk's monthly editor's letter may be forgiven for wondering how one seemingly intelligent homeowner could get into so much trouble. A whole-house redo that stretched to seven years—seriously?
"The process was slow. We were always looking for the perfect thing," comes the sheepish response.
Yet all that searching has clearly paid off, as Scott and his fellow perfectionist, wife Cara Dubroff, found the right things in each case, from the unique mix of mosaic and oversize glass subway tile in the powder room to the rift-sawn European-oak matched-grain-veneer slab-front cabinets in the kitchen.
But one thing really stymied them, and it was not the difficult (and, in the end, spot-on) choice of light fixtures throughout, or even the hunt for a sofa for the TV room, a decision known to reduce some couples to tearful squabbling. It was settling on paint colors.
"She has an eye, it's just different from mine," says Scott, recalling Cara's raised-brow reaction the first time she stepped into the house and took note of its all-white walls.
Shown: The entry hall's off-white walls recede, setting off the richly colored runner, the two-tone newel post, and the bright blue alcove at a bend in the stairs.
A former graphic designer who views color as an essential mood enhancer—and may have underestimated the strength of her husband-to-be's views—Cara dismissed the idea of white walls as "ridiculous."
Luckily, perhaps, all those storied setbacks you've read about during the renovation allowed the two to postpone The Paint Talk while also learning to appreciate each other's taste in other things.
Shown: The small library on the top floor was finished with a black-painted ladder, a brown-and-white zebra rug, and white built-in shelves backed with blue.
Call it bonding through nesting. Together they pounced on a group of Spanish-language anatomy posters, bagging them at auction for $11, and then had a good mutual laugh as they spent a fortune on frames. She agreed that the giant vintage clock he had brought to the marriage looked right at home on a dining room wall; he noted that the Eames chairs she found on the street before they met were an oddly great fit for the same space. As the redo bore on, stopping only to make way for baby Luca, now 2, they found ways to enjoy, as Scott puts it, "completely different personalities in every room that blend in a way that's comfortable." The result is a mix of vintage and contemporary, and, yes, muted and bright.
Shown: Colorful toys and furnishings do most of the talking in the white-walled bedroom of 2-year-old Luca. The ornate plaster moldings were stripped and left unpainted; a contemporary pendant light provides a dynamic contrast. Black floor paint warmed up with a hint of brown sets off the blue rug.
Calibrating that paint palette was…a collaboration. And a journey. Cara's first choice for the TV room was a color she calls geranium, but it gave Scott the heebie-jeebies. So as she worked out a scheme she spied while watching Downton Abbey—blue-green walls with the palest yellow trim—he hid out in front of the TV in the kitchen.
Shown: In the TV room, red accessories pay homage to the nixed geranium paint color, and a striped ottoman reinforces the multicolored scheme.
Paint: Sage Wisdom and Butter Cookie; Benjamin Moore
Venetian plaster painting: By Zac Gross; Urban Nesters; 201-942-9333
Window shades: Vignette Modern Roman Shades in 4-inch fold size, in Newport Linen fabric and Cape Cod (J47-621); Hunter Douglas
Pillows: West Elm
Sectional: Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams
Ottoman: Dash & Albert
Wall light: George Nelson Bubble Lamps; Design Within Reach
That was one room where Scott's early aesthetic held fast, long after the rest of the room was done. The couple thought they would back-paint glass for the backsplash, so they put up a dozen test swatches. And then a dozen more. But the only thing they agreed on was that none was quite right. Their cabinetmaker, Robert Wilson, no doubt seeking closure, let himself in one day and put up a big patch of lime green. It may have made his maroon-flecked cabinet finish snap alive, but not his clients, who decided not to decide for another 18 months.
Shown: Cabinets were made with a "closed pore" finish and conversion varnish, and a custom stain with a reddish tint that's picked up by the seating.
In other rooms, the palette grew almost organically from furnishings the couple loved: in the dining room, a complex honey-yellow to complement both the vintage clock and the found chairs; in the living room, a lavender that plays off a mutually admired red rug and those posters with their hand-tinted organs and pricey frames. After testing several pale-purple shades, they hand-mixed two to create a just-right custom blend, the kind of experience that is sure to bring two people together.
Shown: A red rug brightens the floor and balances lilac walls in the living room of Scott Omelianuk and Cara Dubroff's 1890s house. They customized the wall color by blending two off-the-shelf formulas.
Paint: Midsummer Twilight and Brushed Lavender; Valspar
Pottery and coffee table: Urban Nesters, Hoboken, NJ; 201-942-9333
Vignette Modern Roman Shades in 4-inch fold size, in Sheer Linen fabric and Pompadour (Q2-403); Hunter Douglas
Lamp: Surveyor Floor Lamp; Circa Lighting
Coral pillow: Thomas Paul
Chair: ABC Carpet & Home
Agreeing that the shiny orange pine floors upstairs left them cold, they put down paint: white in the hallways and red in the master bedroom, where it is complemented by warm gray walls and by antique furniture painted by a favorite local shop, Urban Nesters. Luca's room ended up with floors painted brown-tinged black to ground the ornate moldings and walls painted what you could call Scott White. They showcase the colorful toys and wall art on display.
Shown: The warm brown-gray walls of the master bedroom, which is on the lower-ceilinged top floor, have a hint of blue to complement the painted furniture and multi-stripe rug.
Paint: Windmill; Valspar
Dresser, side tables, and headboard: Urban Nesters
Rug: ABC Carpet & Home
Brown duvet: Blissliving Home
Coral blanket: Nomad Coverlet; West Elm
Bedside lamps: George Nelson Bubble Lamps; Design Within Reach
Cara's love of color clearly had the edge in other nooks around the house, including her office, where Scott and his brother, Brett, built shelves backed with pungent orange. Bright blue insinuated itself into Scott's workspace via a vintage cabinet that is lined in the hue, which also appears along the backs of the shelves in the adjacent vest-pocket library. Cara ultimately persuaded Scott to paint his office walls pale yellow, an airy counterpoint to the exposed brick.
Shown: In Cara's office, the walls are a yellow-beige, but the built-in shelves are backed in bright orange, one of her favorite colors. Books and collectibles help dilute the powerful shade and keep it from feeling overwhelming.
It was around the time that Luca learned to say purple—seven years into the renovation—that the couple finally hit on an answer for the kitchen. While in a tile store on a different mission, they happened on a glass mosaic with enough texture to give depth to its faint green color. Scott recalls that they agreed, independently, "Yeah, this'd do."
Shown: Pale yellow walls soften the russet brick, red-painted floorboards, and steel furniture in Scott's top-floor office. An antique kilim carpet ties the colors together.
Paint: Buttered Popcorn; Valspar
Window treatments: Duette Architella honeycomb shades in Elan fabric in Journal color and ¾-inch pleat size (#C22-457); Hunter Douglas
Art on mantel and desk: The Frayed Knot
In most households, one person ultimately wears down the other and assumes decorative rule. But here, "there were no unilateral decisions," says Cara. Friends and tradesmen inadvertently solidified the couple's cohesive stance, in one case by walking into the living room midway through its lavender transformation and blurting out, "You're not really leaving this!" As Scott observes, during a project in progress, whether it's picking a paint color or a name for the baby, "People lose their sense of decorum and will tell you what they think."
Shown: The paint choice for the dining room walls came from the much-loved vintage clock and mid-century chairs.
He likes to say that his wife had to talk him into color, "room by room," but it's clear he is pleased with the result.
"What I love about the house, what's special about it, is its architectural details," he says. "And all that color makes more of those details than the white walls ever did."
Shown: Scott built the orange zigzag chair, which sits next to a red 18th-century Chinese chest in the open dining room. The original parquet floors were stained a medium brown to balance the kitchen's dark cabinets and new light floors.
The tiny moss-hued powder room gains presence from an ornate mosaic-tiled accent wall amid oversize glass rectangles and wall-hung fixtures.
Tile: Erin Adams for Ann Sacks; Artistic Tile