Unlike the proverbial cobbler’s children who go without shoes, the home that interior designer Skip Carlin shares with his wife Lisa is a testament to the lauded artist’s craft. As the couple has a talent for seeing possibility where others may see pathetic, the two were not intimidated by the sad state of the 1974 ranch in Narragansett they first laid eyes on eight years ago. “We have a penchant for buying the worst house in the neighborhood,” Skip confesses. This home in particular was “badly added on to” over the years, he explains, but he knew he could fix it. “The size of the rooms and the way it was laid out was pretty good, so if you could see past the bad, you would see its potential.”
Surrounded by lush greenery but close to the ocean, the home became a passion project for the couple. But Lisa and Skip knew they had their work cut out for them. “The ceilings were 7.5’ tall so you felt the ceiling was coming down on your head,” Skip explains. So they planned with their builder, Mike Cunha of Providence, to push up into the attic space which allowed them to add a tray ceiling in the dining room. In the living room, where there was an odd slanted ceiling due in part to a poorly executed addition, they renovated the space to create a wide, open room with a dramatically different 11-foot ceiling that can accommodate a pair of impressive chandeliers.
“There were ugly fireplaces; not even interesting... they were the typical six-foot expanse of red brick all the way to the ceiling,” says Skip. To give them visual interest and dimension, his team rebuilt the space, giving it a smooth, sophisticated exterior with detailed trim and molding. They also moved many walls and realigned doorways throughout the home to create a line of sight wherever possible, finishing rooms off with more molding. “The dining room, living room, kitchen/family room – the three principal parts of the house are adjacent to each other, so it doesn’t feel like a small house,” he explains of the approximately 3,000 square foot, four bedroom home.
While in most cases a couple may collaborate on the design process, Skip takes the lead when it comes to décor, albeit with Lisa’s input and blessing. “I always develop a pretty clear idea of what I want to do,” says Skip. But he also finds his better half adds a fresh point of view. “She has a very good color sense. I frequently go to her for advice,” he explains, adding that he seeks Lisa’s approval before tearing down walls and jumping in full speed. Married 35 years in June, she’s grown accustomed to some of Skip’s favorite things. “My taste is pretty consistent,” he says of his preference for the English country house model he’s emulated in Narragansett. “I have had the same light fixtures from more than four houses ago. They just come with me.”
Having owned antique shops through the years and being a collector from the time he can remember, Skip says he loves antique pieces, particularly because of the fine craftsmanship that usually begets older furnishings. “My house is pretty much older things, anything from 40 to 50 years old,” and older, he says. Whether for his own abode or for a client, Skip also frequents local antique shops, including favorites Ferguson & D’Arruda Antiques and Red Bridge Antiques, both on Providence’s Wickenden Street.
Skip applies the same philosophy and approach in his own home as he does for clients. “I really like scale in a house,” he says. “When I look at a project, I look at the architecture and the envelope of the room itself.” While shopping for wall coverings, drapes and furniture is some of the more exciting parts of fashioning a room, Skip says it’s important to deal with any structural challenges needed in the space first.
Next, he advises, start with an arrangement of the key furniture, then consider where things on the wall should go, and finally, talk color. “I would say if you have nice, old things to work with, start with that,” he suggests. Especially in smaller homes, it’s important to lift the eye upwards in a room, Skip says. “Even if you don’t have a tall room, you tend to hang things on the walls that take your eye up. Curtain rods and things hung pretty high have the effect of making a room feel larger and taller,” he explains. Another trick Skip used in many of the rooms in his own home was giving the walls a specialty paint finish called “strie,” a French word meaning striated or striped, combing in which two different colors are “layered” which gives the wall subtle, “combed” finish and added depth.
Sometimes, the most unexpected hue can tie an entire home together. One of Skip’s favorite rooms in the house is the living room, which he describes as a hue of mandarin. “It’s pretty dramatic,” he admits. “It’s very vivid and it makes people look great — [it’s] very uplifting, very cheerful.” Turns out, the room, the house and the people inside are quite uplifting as well.