Shades of gray lay the base for an artful blend of rustic and midcentury modern, turning a drab builder home into a soothing retreat.

By Carrie Waller

For their weekend getaway, New York interior designer John Willey and his partner, Frederick Aronstein, aimed for something of a palate cleanser. That meant changing their 1990s Colonial-style cottage's palette of buttery yellow and dark brown to the cool, tonal neutrals John favors. Sleek but warm furnishings and bold modern art energize the rooms and balance the home's rustic bones, as well as showcase John and Frederick's personalities.

Black and Beige

Flipped vertically, the black paneling makes a striking accent wall in the light gray living room. A mix of deep and light neutrals keeps the space relaxed yet bold. White beams on the ceiling add visual interest and emphasize white trim. The living room is a study of the home's decorating dichotomies: a little cottage charm, a little clean-lined modernism. Low ceilings and windows look taller thanks to shades hung over the frames. 

Midcentury Industrial

Midcentury walnut chairs, an Adrian Pearsall lamp, and a Sputnik-inspired pendant add sophistication to the dining room. The brushed metal shelving unit gives a the space a modern rustic vibe, and bulked up trim around the doors brightens the space. Light floors compliment gray shiplap on the walls.

Bold Black

In the kitchen, the existing cabinetry traded its chocolate brown finish for high-gloss black. Granite countertops with gray and cream tones replaced green laminate and blend with the butcher-block-topped open island. Slate gray floors bring more shades of gray to the space.

Whitest White

Whitewashing the wide-plank wood floors modernized and brightened the spaces. The homeowners introduced shots of color in the neutral spaces with modern artwork. Natural pine stools give a modern look with white-dipped legs.

Sunny Yellow

In addition to artwork, color comes into the house through accents like their collection of vintage yellow glass bottles. Yellow can be found throughout the space as a warming accent color.

Woven Details

For the breakfast nook, John chose a rope-wrapped fixture and cane bistro chairs for a casual vibe. A backed bench for seating against the wall saves space and adds to the coziness of the nook. Cane-back dining chairs are reminiscent of midcentury style, but look modernized with clean black paint on the wood base.

Neutral Combo

The staircase shines with its statement light fixture, white spindles, and glossy black rail. A vintage map of New York adds worn texture. The mix of natural wood, black, white, and light gray makes for an interesting visual vignette.

Paneled Texture

Upstairs, the wood ceilings were left unpainted to warm the spaces. Otherwise, the gray palette flows through, tying these rooms to the rest of the house. A few yellow accents emphasize the warm undertones in the wood ceiling.

Accent Grout

Floor-to-ceiling white subway tiles with black grout add varied texture to the master bath. Slate tiles are the inverse of the walls with white grout. The vanity and side table provide plenty of storage for linens and toiletries without overwhelming the small space.


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