Bright gathering spaces and moody nooks for study and work

Jacquelyn Burke and Jeremiah O’Connor finished reading the Harry Potter books to their son and daughter, ages 7 and 8, during the COVID-19 shutdown this spring. The 18-month marathon took place in the tucked-away space at the top of the stairs (no, not underneath) next to the kids’ craft table. The 42-square-foot reading or “nap nook,” as the family calls it in honor of its somniferous effect, boasts a window seat made from a twin mattress wrapped in tweed, built-in bookshelves, and soot-colored shades. It’s painted in Sherwin-Williams Basil, a cozy shade of saturated green. “We’re a family of readers who love to be home,” Burke says. “It was important that the rooms be comfortable.”

a living room with a fireplace and a large window: Blush velvet chairs from Room & Board add a feminine touch to the moody tone-on-tone living room. Gus Modern sofas from Lekker Home are different styles, but upholstered in the same fabric for consistency.

© Sarah Winchester
Blush velvet chairs from Room & Board add a feminine touch to the moody tone-on-tone living room. Gus Modern sofas from Lekker Home are different styles, but upholstered in the same fabric for consistency.

Burke, an attorney who traveled frequently pre-pandemic, also wanted their Milton home to be stylish and clutter-free. She hired interior designer Sarah Scales to pull it together. Absorbing ideas from images of rooms imbued with dark, moody colors that Burke admired in British design magazines, Scales presented a concept that encapsulated it all. The gathering spaces in the core of the home would be bright and light, punctuated with brief moments of color that echo those in the retreat spaces, which are done in deeper tones. “She loved the idea of going from bright white spaces to darker adjacent rooms,” Scales says. “We repeated colors for visual connection.”

The entry and dining room are crisp and spare, but polished. “It looks elegant but not untouchable,” Burke says. That the room sits at the heart of the house is not by happenstance. “We wanted one central table, not a formal dining room off in the corner,” Burke says. By that reasoning, the couple also skipped the ubiquitous breakfast nook. Architect Diane Lim, who designed the New England-style farmhouse on a lot ceded from the property of Burke’s childhood home, where her parents still live, says the couple’s concerns were about family and balance.

The dining room opens to an intentionally modest-sized kitchen. “We were careful not to overestimate how much cooking we’d do,” Burke says. They went luxe with the backsplash — marble tile set in a herringbone pattern at 45-degrees runs to the ceiling — but opted for white quartz countertops, kept clear thanks to plenty of cabinetry. The pale gray palette carries into the family room, where a clean-lined sectional sits opposite built-ins that house toys and the television, while the dark blue island references the living room on the other side of the house.

Cocktails, reading, and lounging by the fire happen in the living room, a grown-up space that’s a little bit sexy but doesn’t try too hard. The walls, woodwork, and ceiling are painted Benjamin Moore Hale Navy, making it cozy but not cave-like since lots of sunlight streams in. Still the effect is enveloping, and like the reading nook upstairs, the living room is a place of refuge.

When it comes time to work, O’Connor doesn’t have to go far, even in non-COVID times. Lim designed the house to accommodate his financial services business. As with the home’s other quiet enclaves, Scales used color on the walls but with a lighter touch. In response to O’Connor’s request for a client-friendly green, Scales chose Sherwin-Williams Contented. “The calming shade plays off the moody nook,” she says. “It’s a simple room conducive to working.”

The couple’s son likes to do his schoolwork there, reports Burke, who is thankful for the extra office space. Though that’s not all it’s used for. “My husband enjoys it for fantasy sports drafts and beer,” she says. “It’s his version of a man cave.”


Architect: Lim Design Studio,

Contractor: Cambridgeport Construction,

Interior design: Sarah Scales Design Studio,

Millwork: Salmon Falls Woodworks,


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