Decorator Lisa Ehrlich turned her 1980s New England saltbox into a contemporary mountain house without losing its original charm.

By Laura Fenton and Stacy Kunstel
November 23, 2020
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No matter where you sit in designer Lisa Ehrlich's Vermont living room, views of the trees draw your eyes outside. "We call our living room the snowglobe; it's a magical space when it's snowing," Lisa says. It wasn't always that way. Before a 12×20-foot addition with floor-to-ceiling windows connected the house to the outdoors, people would have opened the front door to a quaint but cramped wood-paneled space.

Credit: Michael Partenio

Over several years and a two-part renovation, Lisa transformed the vintage saltbox without stripping its alpine feel. Out came the wall-to-wall carpet that was ill-suited to the muddy locale; in went wipeable porcelain tile that looks like wood. The narrow staircase stayed for its farmhouse charm, and Lisa tweaked the kitchen layout for better flow. A new Douglas fir portico prevents leaves and snow from piling up at the front door.

To steer the 100-year-old barn wood walls and hand-hewn beams in a contemporary direction, Lisa avoided additional wood furnishings. Instead, she opted for upholstered furniture and a chalky, nature-inspired palette of browns, creams, and grays peppered with black and white that feels fresh against the antique wood. "I wanted the house to look almost like a rock found while hiking," she says.

Credit: Michael Partenio

Channeling the rustic spirit of the forest and nearby mountains, Lisa stuck with the idea of natural elements by working in sheepskin, leather, and even shed antlers. But she did so with restraint: The house never veers into kitsch thanks to unexpected touches like Lucite consoles, a midcentury-style light fixture, and graphic punches of black-and-white photography (appropriately featuring wildlife).

Lisa slides accent stools like these covered in sheepskin beneath consoles and side tables so extra seating is always at the ready.

Credit: Michael Partenio

The result feels polished but suits the rugged Vermont mountains and stands up to the outdoorsy lifestyle she and husband Randy embrace with their kids, Ella and Daniel, and two dogs. "Family life and the way we live took priority in all my design decisions," she says.

Lisa selected windows with a black finish and painted the trim dark gray to frame the scenery. Low-back pieces upholstered in soft gray keep the focus on the view. A new fireplace surround and glass doors mimic the lines of the windows. When lit, the chandelier crafted from leather strips practically glows.

Left: Credit: Michael Partenio
Right: Credit: Michael Partenio

Lisa brightened the narrow kitchen with silver-finish hardware and fixtures, plus floor-to-ceiling subway tile that adds easy-clean shine. She then paired a reclaimed wood table with a bench and built-in banquette to accommodate large family gatherings. Throw pillows and a flokati keep it cozy, while a Sputnik light gives this corner the right amount of modern edge.

Credit: Michael Partenio

To keep her and Randy's bedroom from feeling cramped, Lisa used slim Lucite consoles as bedside tables.

Credit: Michael Partenio

Yellow makes a rare appearance in this kid's bedroom. Lisa cut up a duvet cover for the Roman shade and used the leftover pieces to sew throws. Cable-knit blankets on the kids' beds channel a warm, comfy sweater.

Credit: Michael Partenio

In the shared Jack-and-Jill bathroom, graphic cement tiles, a wood-and-chain storage shelf, and an industrial-style steel vanity provide style and durability.

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