Text by Lauren Eberle
When designer Lesley McRae purchased her 1960s ranch, there were a few things she was certain of: the floor plan should be opened, the kitchen and bathroom needed renovation, and the avocado green had to go. What she perhaps didn’t anticipate was how healing the process of infusing her signature style into this cozy cottage could be.
Seeking a fresh beginning for her family following the loss of her husband, Lesley desired a happy and bright haven to make new memories. “With any home project—a client’s or your own—you must first see what the architecture is asking for,” says the owner of Lesley McRae Design, who studied architecture at Princeton University and continued her training at Parsons School of Design.
For this home, that meant a few initial adjustments to enhance the cottage’s flow between the family room, kitchen, dining room, and formal living room. In some spaces, she brought down walls; in others, she simply expanded the openings. Coupled with coats of fresh white paint, the rooms quickly felt larger—an ideal canvas for Lesley’s sophisticated style.
“I love a look that blends pale and subtle with modern elements and patina,” Lesley explains. This aesthetic is quite apparent in the kitchen, where a butcher block island became the focal point of the gathering space. “Here, I wanted the modern vibe of a waterfall island accompanied by the classic look of subway tile,” Lesley says. “I also found that the warmth of the wood was a nice balance to the stark granite counters.” The mixing and matching continued on the side of the refrigerator, where planks of distressed barnwood added a casual feel to tie in the whitewashed beams of Lesley’s adjacent studio/sunporch.
For the dining room, Lesley selected a pair of distressed cabinets that were such a perfect fit that they gave the illusion of being built in. Inside, she lined the shelves with collections of etched crystal, wedding china, and delicate Annieglass. A painted shabby chic Victorian table—a gift from her husband’s mother—anchored the sunlit space, which flowed to a welcoming deck overlooking the wooded property.
Serene spaces continued in the bedrooms, where, for Lesley, details like a custom bolster, whimsical crystal lamps, and an 1880s French sewing table added refined style without detracting from the room’s comfort. For art, she chose a quartet of botanical photographs as a modern interpretation of traditional botanical prints. In her daughter’s room, mixed pink floral linens and a “frilly chandelier” provided feminine touches sure to delight a teenager.
“This home loved openness and sunlight, and I found that as I immersed myself in this project, it spurred me on,” says Lesley, who sold the home after four years and has gone on to do multiple other investment renovations. “This was not only where I reinvented my business. It’s where I was able to reinvent myself.”