Tweaking Tradition: Sprucing Up A Vintage Sears Colonial
It’s a Leave It to Beaver house with a Queer Eye sensibility.
The couple who lives full-time in this 1930s house are both flight attendants with American Airlines, the sort of guys who you’d expect to live in a luxury high-rise within commuting distance of an airport. But after years of living in San Francisco and New York City, Alex Mulens and Leo McLaughlin wanted the stability, security and serenity of living in a conventional center-hall colonial in a small country town—even if they have to drive over two hours to get to work. “We still fly out of JFK,” says McLaughlin. “We try to work the same flights so we can drive to and from the airport together.”
Over the past two years, the couple has started to spread their wings by moonlighting as antique dealers with a company called Mix Furnishings that has two rooms at the North Main Street Antiques Center on Route 7 in Sheffield, MA. And so their vintage Sears Roebuck mail-order house—the catalog company sold hundreds of house plans in the early 20th century—has become a design laboratory where they’ve deftly mixed antiques, artwork, and flea market finds to make a home that tweaks traditional style by being both modest and modern..
Recently, they decide to push the envelope by painting their living room black. “The paint color is called ‘Jet Black,’ which is appropriate,” says Mulens with a hearty laugh. “I got the idea from a book about David Hicks, but his black walls were lacquered.” With snow-white moldings and bookshelves as well as several windows, the room is surprisingly bright and airy during the day. At night, the room seems to glisten as the light from the fireplace reflects off brass tables and the mirrors that line the top shelves of the bookcases. In the dining room, which is still evolving, their bar cart sparkles with an assortment of silver and crystal arranged like objets d’art.
When they have layovers between flights, they often head out to antique markets and consignment shops. Since meeting in 1999 on a New York subway at 5 AM (“We were both in uniform and heading to work,” recalls McLaughlin), they have started several collections, including some two dozen busts that they keep on a bureau in the guest room and a series of portrait paintings that line the staircase and upstairs hall. Even though they fly for a living, they live to take vacations, which have now turned into busmen’s holidays. “Wherever we go, we’re always shopping for antiques for our business,” says McLaughlin.
The top shelves of the bookcases are mirrored to reflect light in the “Jet Black” living room. A ceremonial African mask is on a stand in the window. The men like sisal rugs because they create a neutral backdrop for their furniture and they don’t show dirt. “We had a big Christmas party and people came in with the snowy boots and the rugs looked perfect the next day,” says McLaughlin.
The Italian chrome and glass bar cart was the first item the couple purchased together. “We bought it even before we had a car,” says McLaughlin. The light fixture is gilded iron that is cut to look like acanthus leaves. “We got it in Hartford,” says Mulens. “We think it might have come from a dress shop or department store.”
The portrait collection lines the staircase and upstairs hall. Most of the paintings, which date from the 1930s to the 1970, were purchased at flea markets and were selected because of the colors and the subjects’ gaze.
One of the reasons the couple bought the house was the size of the master bedroom which is as large as the living room. “But our twin closets are not large enough,” says McLaughlin. The French Smoking Chair is for sale on their website.
When shopping for marble or plaster busts for their collection which resides in the guest room, they look for pieces with great detail. They bought the rattan sunburst mirror on a shopping spree in Florida.
A vignette of Mix Furnishings merchandise at the North Main Street Antiques Center on Route 7 in Sheffield, MA. 413-229-8198.