Living Room Design

Inspired by Ocean Home magazine’s recent inclusion of Wilson Kelsey Design in their 2016 Top 50 Interior Designers list, we decided to enter Traditional Home magazine’s New Talent Search. Preparing the entry was much harder than I expected, particularly selecting 10 images that visually tell the story of our firm. It was much like answering the question we ask of ourselves when designing a project for our clients. “What is their story and how do we artfully tell that narrative?” Seeing pictures of a finished room or project doesn’t always relate the full story of transformation. With that in mind I assembled before/after pictures of the ten images we submitted.


French Style Dining Room, After photo by Laura Moss

 Before/After French Style Dining Room ; Wilson Kelsey Design

 French Style Living Room, After photo by Laura Moss

French Style Living Room; Wilson Kelsey Design

French Style Master Bath, After photo by Laura Moss

before/after French Style Master Bath ; Wilson Kelsey Design

French Country Kitchen, After photo by Sam Gray

Before/After French Country Kitchen ; Wilson Kelsey Design

Belgian Influence Kitchen, After photo by Michael Lee

Before/After Belgian Influence Kitchen; Wilson Kelsey Design

Antique Colonial Dining Room; After photo by Michael Lee

Before/After Antique Colonial Dining  Room; Wilson Kelsey Design

Belgian Influence Living Room, After photo by Michael Lee.

Before/After Belgian Influence Living Room; Wilson Kelsey Design

Transitional Living Room, Back Bay Boston; After photo by Eric Roth

Before/After Transitional Living Room ; Wilson Kelsey Design

Casual Beach House Dining Room; After photo by Michael Lee

Before/After Beach House Dining Area; Wilson Kelsey Design

Contemporary Show House Vignette; After photo by Eric Roth

Before/After Contemporary Show House  Vignette; Wilson Kelsey Design

You can see our submission here. There is so much talent out there. We appreciate your consideration.


John Kelsey, Wilson Kelsey Design

Every home has a story to tell. We’d love to help you tell yours. Please contact us here.

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This past weekend, four generations of the Wilson/Kelsey clan gathered at the Inn at Castle Hill in Ipswich for a weekend of fun and relaxation.

inn at castle hill, source unknown

 The weather was so delightful, much of it was spent on the Inn’s large wrap around porch that overlooks the backside of Crane Beach and island.

four generations; photographer, John Kelsey

While many of you may have visited Castle Hill to see the beautiful summer home and grand allée designed by David Adler for the Crane family, on this visit my objectives were different – jettison the car and walk.

But before we walk together, let’s spend a few moments at the Inn. The Crane family purchased the property in 1910, ultimately accumulating 2,100 acres of land including Choate Island, located in the salt marshes behind Castle Island. The family lived in the inn (known as the Brown House) while the estate was being built on the top of the hill. Two structures were actually built, the first being done in the Italianate style. David Adler was retained to design both the exterior and interior of the second English style structure we see today. The family continued to occupy the inn thru the 1950’s. Ultimately, much of the property was deeded to the Trustees of Reservations. In 1998, the Ipswich based architectural firm, Carpenter MacNeill, was retained to help guide the renovation and conversion of the Brown House into a small luxury inn. It’s accommodations are wonderfully warm and elegant. Listen carefully, you can hear echoes of the house’s rich history.

The cozy lounge. We would all linger here in front of the warm fire after returning from dinner.

Inn at Castle Hill Lounge; photographer, John Kelsey

It’s welcoming foyer.

Inn at Castle Hill Foyer; photographer, John Kelsey

The view toward the sunny breakfast room.

Inn at Castle Hill view to breakfast room; photographer, John Kelsey

The breakfast room.

Inn at Castle Hill breakfast room; photographer, John Kelsey

But as I said, my objective was to walk slowly to see what the grounds revealed. Honestly, I only scratched it’s surface…

I began by following the resident flock of turkeys as they crossed the yard in front of the Inn.

Turkeys at Castle Hill; photographer, John Kelsey

When you follow a flock of turkeys, you definitely slow down…

I found myself admiring the root structure of  several old, old beech trees, thinking, “There’s a custom rug here.”

beech tree roots; photographer John Kelsey

The tree’s folds of bark reminded me of the skin of a wise old elephant and I thought,”If this tree could talk, the stories it could tell.”

beech tree bark; photographer John Kelsey

I found myself on my hands and knees, admiring tiny fall asters in all their glory.

fall aster: photographer John Kelsey

The counterpoints to the detail and intimacy were the vistas that would slowly unfold before my eyes, the change in scale making them all the more beautiful and breath-taking.

Inn at Castle Hill vista: photographer, John Kelsey

Fox Creek behind the Hill. (I’ve had some amazing striped bass fishing in this little creek in the spring.)

Fox Creek behind Castle Hill; photographer John Kelsey

Overlooking the old garden plot and farm buildings.

Castle Hill Garden plot and farm buildings; photographer, John Kelsey

The garden called to me and I heeded it’s call. Aspects of the garden reminded me of Ashintully Gardens and Naumkeag, other Trustees of Reservations properties Sally and I had visited earlier in the summer. Note the trellis on the right and small tower structure in the far right corner of the garden.

castle hill garden plot; photographer John Kelsey

Loved the rustic stone cobble columns!

castle hill garden trellis, photographer John Kelsey

The trellis was made of cedar trees, carefully trimmed to fit. Note the copper cap on the column. Such attention to detail!!!

trellis detail; photographer John Kelsey

The small niche in the top of the back wall receive/hold the cedar logs in their proper place.

trellis detail; photographer John Kelsey

Of course, there is a fountain!!!

Castle Hill fountain under trellis; photographer John Kelsey

The old Lion’s head… Such wonderful patina!!!

Lion's head at Castle Hill; photographer John Kelsey

At each end of the Garden were towers built into the garden’s retaining wall. I’m sure back in the day, they afforded spectacular views of the surrounding country side.

Castle Hill Garden Tower; photographer John Kelsey

Tower stair… Elegant in it’s functionality and simplicity.

Garden Tower Stair; photographer John Kelsey

Mmmm, rustic gate and hinges…

Rustic gate and strap hinges; photographer John Kelsey

The trail continued to beckon and tease…

Peak of Castle Hill; photographer John Kelsey

The Italian Gardens are currently under restoration.

Castle Hill Italian Gardens: Photographer John Kelsey

Castle Hill Italian Gardens: Photographer John Kelsey

I was drawn to the play of light and shadow on the trellis.

Castle Hill Italian Gardens: Photographer John Kelsey

Across the road, the Rose Garden awaits it’s return to former glory.

Castle Hill  Rose Garden: Photographer John Kelsey

Take the time to look closely. Close your eyes… Smell the roses…

Castle Hill  Rose Garden: Photographer John Kelsey

Just around the corner, you cross the property’s Grand Allée that leads to the ocean. Look to the right, tucked into the hillside is the restored Casino. Earlier in the summer Sally and I attended the kick off concert for Castle Hill’s resurrected Summer Concert Series in the Casino. Wonderful, intimate, romantic. We will do more next year. Originally, where you see grass in the middle, there was a swimming pool and grass was where the stone walk way is today. The cost of that portion of the restoration was prohibitive… It must have been magnificent!

Castle Hill restored Casino; photographer John Kelsey

I leave you with the beautiful picture Sally took, looking back over her shoulder after walking the same circuit I had done. The sun shining gloriously, fall foliage coming into it’s prime. Food for the Soul…

Castle Hill restored Casino; photographer Sally Wilson



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I periodically post design sketches of the projects we’re working on on our WKD Facebook page. I thought I’d consolidate a series of sketches and mockups we have done on the interior renovation of the living room in an Antique Colonial/Federal Period Reproduction home to show the progression we go thru with a client when we’re working thru the design of the interior architecture of a room with them.

First it’s the ideas and inspiration.

Sometimes it comes from our own work, as in the paneling and mantel surround we designed for a home in Lincoln, MA several years ago.

Colonial paneling and mantel surround designed by Wilson Kelsey Design

Or it can come from from the traveling Sally and I do, as we continue to educate ourselves, learning about our profession and architectural heritage. These are pictures I took in the basement of the Swan House in Atlanta, Georgia last spring. They are of the paneling that was in Philip Trammel Schutze’s apartment, the architect of the Swan House.

Philip Trammel Schutze apartment, Swan House; Wilson Kelsey Design

Philip Trammel Schutze apartment, Swan House; Wilson Kelsey Design

We often turn to our library as a resource. For this project, I pulled Brent Hull’s, Traditional American Rooms off the shelf. It is a fabulous documentary of many of the Federal Period Rooms at Winterthur. I referred to this book recently as I worked on the mantel and cabinetry design for a project we are doing in Wellesley and Charlestown.

The Marlboro Room

Marlboro Room Winterthur

The Hampton Room

Winterthur, The Hampton Room

I reviewed these and other images with our client, went thru their own extensive library with them and began sketching, quickly coming up with 4 ideas.

I call these little sketches/doodles “cartoons”. They don’t communicate much detail, rather they express Gestalt – feel, emotion, a sense of place.

first Federal Period paneling/mantel sketches; Wilson Kelsey Design

Our client pounced on the bottom left because of the mantel. They asked that we keep the door frame assembly simple, as shown on the right of the sketch.

We then moved into more detail and larger scale, reconfirming the selected mantel design in the process.

Yes, the walls will be green – not this intense…

living room mantel elevation, WIlson Kelsey Design

Too leggy…

Federal style paneling and mantel; Wilson Kelsey Design

Next we drilled down to the panel trim.

This shows the panel trim within the confines of the stiles and rails of the paneling. Note how the door trim/assembly has been pulled forward, proud of the paneling, emphasizing it’s verticality, giving the room “lift”. (Lesson learned when visiting Paris last January.)

Federal Period Style Panel; Wilson Kelsey Design

Here the trim sits proud of the stile/rail assembly by about 1/8″. We liked the shadow line created by the difference in height.

Federal Style Paneling Study; Wilson Kelsey Design

We moved on to mock ups and what I call the “eyeball design” phase, confident of the outcome…

Six different mockups were done. I”ll keep it simple.

Here are the two finalists.

Trim proud of stile/rail; Wilson  Kelsey Design

Trim within the stile/rail; Wilson Kelsey Design

We got fooled. What we thought would be best was not. The trim that sat proud of the stile rail called too much attention to itself. You saw a series of picture frames as opposed to an integrated whole, which is what we saw with the trim that sat fully within the stile/rail assembly. it was softer, more delicate – in balance with the room.

Repeat after me.

Pencils are cheap. 2×4’s are expensive.

Mock ups, mock ups, mock ups!!!

Fractions of an inch actually matter – tremendously!!!

And so, the unfinished room awaits it’s final assembly.

federal style paneling and mantel in construction; Wilson Kelsey Design

Take a close look at the flu assembly – how it corbels to the right to pass steel beam supporting the second floor.

I wonder what happens on the second floor…



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If you would like our assistance on your design project, contact us here.