Updating a Historic Home—Melding Original Quirks with Modern Livability

Yellow Rose Cottage in Rye Beach, NH

Interior Designer Kay McKallagat breathes new life into the Rose Cottage in Rye, NH

Historic houses tell stories. The Rose Cottage, also known as the Simon Jenness House, in Rye Beach, New Hampshire, is no exception. The charming yellow house with its detached barn stands as a nod toward history yet remains warm and comfortable for everyday living.

Built around 1729, the Rose Cottage once belonged to the estate of the prominent Jenness family, who were among the Seacoast’s first settlers. It is believed that the house was formerly two small tenant cottages joined together with a unique bow-tie joint, which is still visible in the formal living room. Colonel Simon Jenness lived in the house from about 1785 to 1840 after inheriting it from a family member. The property may have also served as a tollhouse.

Historic Home Living Room with Original Fireplace
Original ceiling beams are visible in the living room, which also features one of three original fireplaces.

“We appreciate the historical significance of the house, especially the wooden beams and the wide pine floors. The house just kind of fits our lifestyle—cozy and comfortable,” Lynde says.

Now the Rose Cottage tells the story of its current owners, Lynde and Mike Karin. Filled with family photos and antiques that the Karins have inherited or collected over the years, this old home has a fresh purpose. The original details and quirks meld seamlessly with modern livability. “We appreciate the historical significance of the house, especially the wooden beams and the wide pine floors. The house just kind of fits our lifestyle—cozy and comfortable,” Lynde says.

The Karins were originally looking for a newer, one-story home where they could retire, but their requirements no longer seemed to matter when they saw the Rose Cottage in 2013. They instantly fell in love. Although the house was in “excellent condition,” Lynde says, she and her husband decided to make some cosmetic changes to suit their personal preferences, including a renovation of the kitchen.

Historic Home Narrow Black and White Staircase and Wide Plank Flooring
Tucked into a corner of the front hall, the narrow staircase has short runs of steps and a small landing.

To help with the updates, the Karins consulted interior designer Kay McKallagat of Newburyport, Massachusetts, with whom they had worked on a previous renovation. “The goal was to respect the architecture, respect the history, and make it work,” she says. The previous owners had taken the floral theme of the Rose Cottage to an extreme; every room was papered in a different flowery pattern. Instead, the Karins and McKallagat agreed to “honor the sentiment” of the home’s past while improving its functionality.

McKallagat accomplished this by picking up the “rose” theme. The kitchen walls are painted a custom rosy pink, which guided the color choices throughout the Rose Cottage. “This is an antique house and very traditional. I wanted to breathe a little fresh air into the rooms and selected unexpected florals and colors, such as raspberry pink, orange, and lime green, to liven things up,” she says. She picked new wallpapers that are evocative of the past but are current to today’s design schemes.

In addition, the designer maintained the small footprint of the kitchen rather than making structural changes. By repositioning appliances and cabinets and incorporating a slightly larger island with better storage, she was able to improve traffic flow and make the kitchen more spacious without changing the dimensions. “A historic house still needs a functional kitchen. The cabinetry is traditional and the countertops are quartz for easy maintenance. Subway tile is classic, but the appliances are all state of the art. Original wide plank floors add warmth and provide continuity throughout the house. It’s not smoke and mirrors, but it is about blending elements for the best possible function while retaining the style of the rest of the house,” McKallagat explains.

Historic Kitchen with Fireclay Farmhouse Sink and Pink Paint
McKallagat retained the kitchen’s original footprint but improved the layout for traffic flow; Lynde wanted a farm sink, so the designer chose a Rohl fireclay sink and two-lever Rohl faucets in polished nickel.

Much of the furniture and decor are pieces that Lynde inherited from her grandmother and great-grandmother. In the dining room, a built-in cabinet is filled with English Coalport porcelain from the 1830s. McKallagat was able to make use of all the Karins’ antique furniture, but many of the sofas and chairs were reupholstered. Some newly made furniture was designed especially for the home. Walls, side tables, and bookcases are brought to life by family photos and mementos, each with a story to tell.

Surrounded by all this history, the Karins now have their ideal home. Not just an antique, the Rose Cottage is a fresh take on history, and it harmonizes with its homeowners. “The home is anything but a restoration. It is a historic home that has been repurposed to fit the current lifestyle of the Karins,” McKallagat says.

Historic photo of grandmother on floral wallpaper and wide plank flooring
Wide-plank pine flooring is in the upstairs hall and throughout the house.

Designing with Wallpaper

Interior designer Kay McKallagat used wallpapers to bring the Karins’ historic home to life. “I have to admit I love wallpaper! Old houses, new construction, contemporary condominiums—all benefit from the nuance of color, texture, or pattern added by wallpaper,” she says. Here she offers some suggested sources and tips for incorporating wallpaper into a historic home.

  • Farrow and Ball is an automatic “go to.” They produce handcrafted, block-printed papers using their own paint instead of ink. Their patterns are inspired by historic and archival designs that play well in most any setting.
  • Morris and Co. is another firm that produces block-printed papers based on the designs of William Morris, which resonate especially well in an older home.
  • Adelphi Paper Hangings is one of many sources that specializes in historic wallpaper. However, McKallagat prefers not to use historically accurate papers because she does not restore old homes; rather, she updates these homes to make them comfortable and relevant to today’s homeowners.
  • Most wallpaper manufacturers today base their designs on classic, old patterns that have been rescaled and recolored to contemporary standards. This makes it easy to incorporate wallpaper into a design scheme that feels fresh and current while still firmly rooted in tradition.


Project Credits:

Produced by: Marsha Jusczak

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