A marvelous mix of modern and traditional styles

A Portsmouth designer transforms her historic home into a comfortable, fun, one-of-a-kind space.

A slate wall with a built-in gas fireplace and a sculptural piece of driftwood sets the coastal scene in interior designer Patty Kennedy’s renovated, light-filled kitchen. Rough-hewn beams contrast with sleek countertops and furnishings. It’s a great place to cook and chat.

A few years before moving to New York City in 2000 to pursue her design career, Patty Kennedy purchased a condo in Portsmouth’s historic South End. The two-unit, three-story New Englander was in a historic neighborhood that Patty loved, and numerous friends lived nearby. Plus, her condo was just a short walk from downtown and all its restaurants, music and art. In the summer, there was the farmers’ market, and always, there was that bright light off the water.

While she kept her Portsmouth condo, Patty’s time in New York was transformative. As a nontraditional “older” student at The New York School of Interior Design, Patty “learned everything from drafting to space planning to color theory,” she says. “It was exhilarating to be in Manhattan and be inspired by so much great design, which was everywhere you looked.

“In New York, I began to hone my preference for more contemporary and modern style,” Patty continues. “A lot of the apartments are plain with floor-to-ceiling windows, and everything is very sleek and more European in its design, especially in the kitchens.”

Blackboard paint and a hopscotch rug set the tone in Kennedy’s entryway. The message comes across loud and clear: this is a place to
relax and have fun.

Yet at the same time, Patty felt connected to New Hampshire. “I’ve got my own New England roots. I think that’s why I’ve become a designer who likes to take traditional elements, and make them new and modern.”

After a stint working as a designer for Maurice Villency in Manhattan, Patty decided she wanted to focus on residential design. “I like one-of-a-kind spaces,” she says, “and the creative process of understanding how a client wants to live in that space.” She has designed very modern vacation retreats and city apartments as well as homes that mix traditional and contemporary furnishings. Her work has been featured in numerous national and international magazines, and her Portsmouth home won New Hampshire Home’s Excellence in Interior Design Award in 2014.

Beginning anew

When Patty returned to Portsmouth in 2007, she met her soon-to-be husband, Gibson “Mike” Kennedy. He bought the condo upstairs from hers, and so they owned the entire house and the stage was set. It was time to remodel and bring the house back to its original single-family home structure.

They began on the first floor and opened up the space as much as they could by removing walls around the center staircase. Windows and doorways were enlarged, enhancing views of the neighborhood, yard and even the Piscataqua River. Custom-made mirrored doors that Patty designed further increased the sense of space. Throughout the day, light now moves from one side of the house to the other.

Then, in a bold stroke that only an experienced interior designer would attempt, Patty painted the walls, ceilings and floors white. “A neighbor came in just after the painter finished and her eyes popped open wide. It looked like a snowstorm,” Patty says with a chuckle. “I tried to explain that when we punctuated it with deep toned furnishings, artwork and accessories, the brightness would tone down and serve as a crisp, clean backdrop for everything.”

In fact, this white canvas welcomed Patty’s bold use of black, gray, cream, blues and bright, saturated colors.

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The kitchen

By creating a white canvas, Patty Kennedy’s color choices become vivid focal points. Touches of silver from inside bold, black lampshades, along with stainless-steel appliances and cabinetry hardware, give the kitchen a pleasing sparkle. The faux marble floors add a warm, natural and easy-care touch.

In the kitchen, a long wall of gray slate tile is inset with a rectangular gas fireplace that uses “beach” stone. One of the driftwood limbs that Patty collects is arched across the wall. All these colors and elements reference the coast and beach without being too literal.

“This wall did have a fireplace at one time with a traditional mantle,” Patty says. “But any time the wind would blow, you couldn’t light a fire because of the downdraft. Now, in the morning, you come downstairs, click on the gas fireplace, and the room is warm and cozy. When you leave, you just click it off. You don’t have to damp it down.”

The slate wall is balanced by two large pendant lamps with charcoal shades whose silvery linings complement the stainless-steel appliances and gray concrete countertops. Contrasting with the rough slate wall and white-painted beams are inexpensive but elegant cabinets from Ikea and smooth, creamy white tile floors that look like marble but are an easy-care synthetic called Marmol. These and the slate tile are from Zenstoneworks in Portsmouth.

“The slate is a wonderful textural statement,” says Lenny Cushing, owner of Zenstoneworks. “It’s very grounded and solid. Patty’s use of it has inspired some of our other clients.”

He notes that the slate tiles came in epoxied sheets, which were then mortared onto the wall. Zenstoneworks also fabricated the custom concrete counter by the sink and color-matched it to a choice from the Benjamin Moore fan deck.

“Patty has great energy,” Cushing says. “Her designs are a really thoughtful mix of style and materials.”

The island countertop is Corian, and Mike built its gray, slatted wood base, a coastal reference to old wooden lobster traps. Put a few tomatoes and peppers, or a bouquet of flowers, on the countertop and the colors just pop.  

Family rooms are for conversation, reading and reflection. Here comfortable sofas and creamy white walls combined with warm touches of fabric create an inviting yet sophisticated space.

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Let’s get to work! Patty Kennedy’s home office sets just the right tone. It’s crisp, well organized and set up to communicate, one on one. On the bookshelves, playful wooden artist’s figures intrigue the eye.

Collecting memories

Past a small entryway is the dining room, with a long gallery wall of floor-to-ceiling photographs, prints, paintings and artifacts. These range from a photograph of Mike motorcycle racing while in his twenties, to old tennis rackets, to a photo of men in crazily patterned golf pants, to more serious artworks. The overall effect is warm and personal. It passes what Patty terms the “glass of wine” test.

These midcentury model chairs are a designer’s tools. The artpiece made with samples of FLOR carpet tile references the
use of texture and color, again a touch to inspire innovation.

“I think it’s great for people to corral all the stuff they love and create themes,” Patty says. “It’s become a signature for me. There’s definitely a magic to putting it all together so it isn’t just chaotic. When your guests come over, and you, as the host, are maybe finishing up the salad, your guests can sip a glass of wine and peruse the gallery. The house is more interesting when it’s full of meaning and memories.”

A long harvest table that had been in Mike’s family for generations is the gathering place, and it’s adorned with wrought-iron candlesticks. But the pièce de résistance is a mid-century Lightolier chandelier by Gaetano Sciolari that Patty found on eBay. When lit, 192 glass rods sparkle.

Patty’s guests can also participate in making a wall of memories. She’s painted the entryway in blackboard paint and hung several elaborate but empty antique frames. Using colorful chalks, guests can scribble comments and draw pictures inside or outside a frame. “The blackboard walls have become such a source of enjoyment,” Patty says. “Some mornings, I’ll come down the stairs and someone’s comment will just make me laugh. Our house is meant to be a fun place. It’s not overly serious, although there is a place for that kind of decorating.”

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A gray-painted antique willow settee with oversized pillows whose fabric modernizes the
Blue Willow motif pulls together sun porch elements in a new way.

Elsewhere in the house

On a small, enclosed sun porch, Patty’s collection of vintage plates—many of them thrift-shop finds—creates a shiny, colorful focal point. An antique, gray wicker love seat is plumped up with pillows and covered in a dramatic Blue Willow-patterned fabric that has a striking coral backdrop. “That color adds a bright but warm contrast to all the cool neutrals,” Patty says.

The wicker combined with shiny modern lamps, tables and two cowhide chairs once again create a fresh blend of contrasts, avoiding what could easily have become a fussy arrangement. Pulling it all together is a bold, gray-and-white chevron rug. This lovely, sunlit room opens to a small patio and garden space.

Patty’s office sports the tools of her trade—tidily stored journals along with wooden art figures and a blue-and-white rug she composed by using carpet tiles by FLOR (she’s also used this technique elsewhere in the house). To keep her office feeling roomy, she employed a glass and steel West Elm dining table for her desk.

The downstairs bath is a quiet, monochromatic mix of matte gray tiles and shiny gray lacquer cabinetry. The tiles run upward, lengthening the room and blending with another long piece of driftwood. Again, Patty worked with Zenstoneworks. Stacked, modern acrylic boxes filled with shells, starfish and smooth stones evoke a sense of the beach. The look is spare, and one flower seems just right.

Her own mix

This eclectic mix of modern and traditional in Portsmouth’s South End is exciting. But as a designer, Patty understands the full breadth of her neighborhood. “Portsmouth was settled in 1623,” she says. “This neighborhood has wonderful Colonial homes that have been beautifully restored. Some don’t even have screens in the windows and are very true to form. If I owned an old house with great architectural details, I would certainly preserve it, though I might integrate some modern furniture pieces into the mix.” 

Categories: Architecture and Interiors