The Magic Touch
Text by Cathy Gordon – Pictures by Bookwalter Photography – Village Builders
She had circled past the chair three times, a sweet, timeworn piece with a broken cane back and seat that had been kicked to the curb in this Boston neighborhood. Some household had fated it to the trash, but Michele Cooke was smitten.
“I stopped, stuck it in the trunk of my little Jetta and drove off,” she recalls of her early career days in Boston. “I knew what it could be.”
These days it sits pretty in her daughter Annie’s bedroom, looking charming in a short skirt and cradling a pink flower pillow. While Michele’s finds don’t ordinarily come form the curb, it’s testament to her keen talent for finding that diamond-in-the-rough.
“I love second-hand stuff,” says the homeowner.” I love to hunt and peck and find that special piece. It’s like a treasure hunt!”
Her design style is an interesting mix of eclectic antique and resale finds, beautiful furniture pieces she’s purchased since living in Texas and family hand-me-downs. “Hence, the harpoon on the wall from my father,”
Michele has pieced it all together in a magical way, crafting a casual, comfortable home environment for this family of six that includes husband Alan and daughters Meg, 16, Emma, 14, Sophie, 12 and Annie, 9. Make that a family of eight if you count their two precious Schnauzer-mix dogs, Baxter and Macie.
“It’s quite a brood,” she says.
But the house can accommodate them with five bedrooms and a downstairs floorplan that includes an open foyer, dining room, Alan’s study, family room, breakfast area and kitchen and master bedroom suite. Upstairs, the girls each have their own bedroom and a hallway that links them to a computer station for homework duties. A large gameroom also occupies the second floor.
“It’s plenty of house for us,” says Michele who loves arranging, rearranging and taking on all sorts of household projects, whether it’s bolting something to the wall, painting a piece of furniture or her ultimate love, gardening.
Her green thumb is obvious here with a showstopper yard preening in abundant color. Alan was the man with the plan when it came to the hardscape design. Stepping-stones lead to a gated front courtyard in flagstone and a glimpse of the marvelous garden beyond. The backyard is equally stunning with pool (by Pilot Pools) and pergola.
“I started gardening with the purchase of our very first house back in Boston,” she says. “For me, with the babies and working, it was my therapy. And it still is to this day. It’s where I go to zone out. I like getting my feet and hands dirty! Don’t mind it at all!”
The result is a wonderful outdoor connection. From every window of the home, there’s a beautiful view of the yard.
“I love doing things with the yard and house because it’s not totally self-serving. It’s something the whole family can enjoy!” she says.
Chances are, visitors to this home enjoy it too. And the inside is equally welcoming. Upon entry are a roomy foyer and a dining room to the left with an angled mirrored wall that reflects the décor. “This house has lots of angles,” explains Michele. “It’s an odd-shaped room and when you walk in I didn’t want to just see a wall at an angle. I wanted the wall to pretty much disappear, so we put the mirrors there.”
This space is outfitted with a stunning buffet and hearty wooden circular dining table from Laurie’s Antiques. Chairs from Maggie’s complement the look.
The family room is especially comfortable with furnishings in leather. “I like leather because it’s very forgiving,” Michele says. “I don’t do well with upholstery pieces with as many kids and dogs as there are in this family!”
A coffee table from Laurie’s Antiques topped with a vintage wooden bowl purchased at the Round Top Antique Fair adds warmth to the leather assortment, as do a variety of accessories on an accompanying buffet and fireplace. But most eye-catching, perhaps, is the harpoon on the far wall that belonged to Michele’s father.
“He was in the Navy and loved all things nautical. He was a collector,” she says. “It’s an authentic harpoon. I doubt you find too many of those on people’s walls!”
The breakfast area wasn’t overly inviting for a family of six, so Michele came up with a solution that would provide more seating — a banquette. Between the built-in banquette and chairs surrounding a circular table (Laurie’s Antiques) the breakfast area now boasts plenty of seating room.
“It saved us!” she says of the idea. “That was one of our biggest concerns with the house, that the breakfast room seemed too small.”
The banquette in a fresh white with a bead board back accent looks great with other improvements made to the home including customized molding around windows and archways.
Black granite countertops contrast with rich wood cabinets in the kitchen. A resale shop piece acts as a frame for a chalkboard that Michele installed on one wall. A vintage door she painted white replaced a run-of-the-mill pantry door. She had frosted glass installed in the door to complete the look.
The master suite downstairs is especially lovely with a vintage German store countertop from Laurie’s Antiques taking up one wall. Antique botanicals hang behind the bed, also from Laurie’s. Indeed, this space is about all things sentimental with the couple’s large black and white wedding pictures adorning the walls. “And the first table I ever bought for myself is in this room,” Michele says of the table, flanked by lovely chairs, upholstered in a green floral fabric.
Michele was delighted that the home had a “flex” room accompanying the master suite. “Most people use it for exercise equipment, but it’s the perfect little office space for me,” she says, pointing out a vintage Danish bench in the room, awash in colorful pillows.
Colorful pillows abound in her daughters’ bedrooms as well. Each room has its own distinct vibe, cleverly crafted through a combination of contemporary finds, eclectic second-hand pieces and whatever whimsy has occupied Michele’s designing mind at the time.
“The girls’ rooms were really fun to do,” she says, pointing out the chair in Annie’s room that she once rescued from that Boston curbside. It looks right at home in this room of stuffed animals and all things feminine.
“That chair has been with me from my days in Boston,” says Michele. “All it took was a little upholstery, but I never refinished the arms. They were worn and beautiful. Perfect.”