It's Hard to Believe, But This Modern, Elegant Pittsburgh Home Was Once a Textbook Colonial

modern art sketches above blue couch in living room
William Abranowicz

An eye for combining bold, clear, pretty colors is Colleen Simonds' calling card—one that served her well in her previous life as a merchandise manager in J.Crew's New York City headquarters. But in 2010, before her eldest son, John, now 8, was born, she decided to turn her interior-design hobby into a more flexible new career. For Colleen, pulling swatches for rugs and sofas came just as naturally as styling punchy velvet blazers with jeans. And by the time George, now 5, arrived, she and her artist husband, Henry, were comparing Manhattan's sidewalks to the big yards in their hometown of Pittsburgh and plotting a move back.

They quickly zeroed in on Shadyside, the city neighborhood where Henry grew up. (They didn't know each other back then, but Colleen's best friend turned out to be Henry's cousin, and they met at her wedding.) "The hallmarks of Pittsburgh houses are dark wood and stained-glass windows," says Colleen. "Realtors point them out as things you should love, but they're not really my style." In the end, a 1910 Colonial won her over. Yes, it was old and traditional, but well cared for and bright inside, with high ceilings. It also had a detached garage they could build a home office above: "That's what it really hinged on," she says. And so began a major reno, executed by MossArchitects and contractor Jim Marshall of J. Marshall Construction. The plan was to stick to the house's original 5,600-square-foot shell, but thoroughly modernize the interior.

Colleen's holy design trinity: open spaces, warmth, and saturated color. "I love blue," she says. "I wanted to bring the outdoors in." Varying degrees of it—from cornflower to delft to cerulean—flow from the polished yet kid-proof family room, which occupies a full half of the first floor, through the kitchen and down a breezeway leading to her design den. She then mixed in other favorites, like cool pinks and leopard print ("an old J.Crew thing that doesn't die"), which she used to upholster chairs and to carpet halls and stair runners. Upstairs, the couple expanded their bedroom into a true suite and gutted the jack-and-jill bath between the kids' rooms. The result is an expression of her (and Henry's) art that gives their sons free rein to play. "There are no rooms we don't use," Colleen says. "And the boys love coming home." That makes four of them.

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The Before: The Family Room

neutral tones living room with grand piano
Coldwell Banker

Ahead of the renovation, the family room was cold and lacked an element of community—which is why Colleen prioritized zoning the space for all types of do-together activities, like reading, entertaining, and Friday-night movies.

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The After: A Winning Combination

colorful blue pink and orange living room in pittsburgh house
William Abranowicz

The Oly couch is upholstered in dusty-blue Schumacher performance velvet, a smart choice that matches the pair of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams sofas. The peach-toned Natasha Law painting was a wedding gift Colleen and Henry gave each other. She had their ottoman-slash-coffee-table re-covered in hide—a surprisingly kid-friendly choice, since spills wipe up with ease.

Artist's proofs by Henry hang over the other deep-blue Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams sofa topped with pillows made from Rogers & Goffigon Myrddin fabric in Tourmaline. The pinky-mauve of the Joseph Carini Carpets Coco Drum rug sets the stage, and a marble side table from Jayson Home topped with a Handmade Industrials vase accents the room.

03 of 22

The Before: A Drab Dining Room

out of date warm tones dining room
Coldwell Banker

The dining room, while well-lit, felt drab and claustrophobic—and lacked color and individuality.

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The After: Technicolor Dining

colorful Pittsburgh home tour dining room with window
William Abranowicz

So, Colleen covered the space in color. She tested dozens of paint shades before choosing Benjamin Moore Mozart Blue for the new built-in bookshelves in the family room's dining area. "It's a strong middle tone, not navy or too light," she says. As for the books, "they're Henry's—and I guarantee he has read them all." A window seat with a cushion and pillows of Rogers & Goffigon Myrddin fabric, in Grackle, takes advantage of the deep windowsills; Phillip Jeffries Juicy Jute grass-cloth wallpaper, in Butternut Squash, frames the windows in warmth and softness.

The 10-seat Niels O. Møller vintage rosewood table is surrounded by vintage chairs reupholstered in stain-hiding St. Frank Pangden linen. Overhead is a Lindsey Adelman light fixture, and underfoot, a custom Alt for Living hide area rug.

05 of 22

The Before: The Breakfast Nook

out of date breakfast nook before remodeling
Coldwell Banker

"We knew this was where we'd be spending so much time," says Colleen of the breakfast nook. "The kids often play games and do Legos here." Transforming the area into a place where everything and anything—from pre-school cereal to post-school science projects—could happen was essential.

06 of 22

The After: Bright, Casual Dining

bright and cheery blue and neutral tones breakfast nook
William Abranowicz

Colleen opened up a second dining area off the kitchen into an all-purpose alcove for family meals, games, and homework. She decided not to put a rug under the Saarinen by Knoll table and vintage unfinished Circa Who chairs, to make it extra kid friendly; the seats are covered in durable Delany & Long outdoor leather. Shutters rather than window treatments keep the big windows open, and Peter Dunham Textiles Fig Leaf wallpaper on the 10-foot ceiling create a sense of extra height—and fun. "It's one more thing that surprises your eye and is pretty to look at," Colleen says. The overhead light fixture is from Ochre; the one above the window is from Urban Archaeology. The artwork is by Stephen Galloway.

07 of 22

The Before: The Kitchen

pittsburgh home kitchen before remodeling
Coldwell Banker

To completely rethink the kitchen, the couple tore out walls (including an imposing red-brick one with the oven set in it), raised the ceiling, installed new floors, and cut in a wide window.

08 of 22

The After: Five-Star Kitchen

modern dark blue and neutral tones kitchen with bright windows
William Abranowicz

"It feels light even on gray Pittsburgh days," Colleen says of the finished space. To amplify the airy effect, she designed a walnut open-shelving system and installed Workstead pendant lights.

09 of 22

The After: On the Kitchen Counter

kitchen corner with blue cabinets and hanging exposed shelves with cookbooks and dishes
William Abranowicz

Soapstone counter-tops complement the Farrow & Ball Railings paint on the cabinets. The Julien fireclay farmhouse sink and subway-tile wall are classic yet current. Corner shelves opposite the window hold cookbooks and serving bowls from Heath Ceramics and Astier de Villatte.

10 of 22

The Before: The Powder Room

dimly lit dark red powder room before remodeling
Colleen Simonds

This tiny powder room offered the couple a chance to go bold—which is why the dark, flat brown-red walls and unrefined sconces needed to be removed.

11 of 22

A Print-Happy Half-Bath

vibrantly decorated powder room with blue and burgundy wallpaper
William Abranowicz

Colleen ripped out the old floor and stained-glass window, and refreshed the small space with vibrant wallpaper; this pattern is by Hermes. The Waterworks sink is paired with a marble top from a local stone yard, a Newport Brass faucet, and sink legs from Palmer Industries. The mirror is from Serena & Lily, and the sconce is from Circa Lighting.

12 of 22

The Before: The Master

dimly lit neutral tones master bedroom before renovation
Coldwell Banker

Color was also a priority in the master, which had good bones and filtered natural light, but—originally—no personality.

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The After: Symphonic Suite

red, green and neutral toned master bedroom
William Abranowicz

In the master bedroom, framed panels of Gracie chinoiserie wallpaper offset a Work and Sea headboard upholstered in Norbar linen. Lampshades in the red of the print's blossoms pop against antique bases on the Made Goods bedside tables; a Carleton V fabric pillow and Jenni Kayne throw soften crisp Matouk linens and a John Robshaw coverlet. The walls are painted in Farrow & Ball Peignoir—"a subtle beige-gray with pink and lavender undertones," Colleen says.

14 of 22

The Before: George's Bedroom

blue boy's bedroom before remodeling
Coldwell Banker

George was only 3 when the family moved in, so Colleen wanted to design a room "he wouldn't outgrow in five minutes."

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The After: Kid's Kingdom

blue kid's bedroom with tree patterned walls and floating shelves
William Abranowicz

Colleen did just that for her son. The Cole & Son Woods & Stars wallpaper is "whimsical and magical, but not babyish." She also chose flexible furniture, like the Duetto by Flou trundle bed and wall cubes (purchased years ago at Design Within Reach). The birdcage mounted over the ceiling fixture came from ABC Carpet & Home. The dresser is from West Elm, and the wooden deer painting is by local artist Kim Fox. A Schoolhouse Electric sconce illuminates bedtime reading.

16 of 22

The Before: John's Bedroom

pink out of date kid's bedroom
Coldwell Banker

John's one request? To remove the wall-to-wall pink from his bedroom and replace it with dynamic camouflage.

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The After: Lego Land

blue camo kid's bedroom with giant lego box
William Abranowicz

Luckily, Colleen found this elevated (but still cool) Philip Gorrivan print. The Melissa & Doug train table, a Christmas gift from Colleen's mom, accommodates his other current obsession: Legos. There are a Serena & Lily stool and Jonathan Adler leather pouf for perching; the bunny art is Animal Regulation No. 7, by Liu Di, and the geometric light is by David Trubridge. His clean-lined bunk bed is from Oeuf New York.

18 of 22

The Before: The Garage Path

pittsburgh home tour garage and path before remodeling
Coldwell Banker

Colleen and Henry added a light-filled breezeway between their kitchen and detached two-story office-garage to provide much-needed storage and eliminate icy trips to and fro.

19 of 22

The After: Hall of Fame

kids playing in high ceiling hallway with blue cabinets and fern decorations
William Abranowicz

It's the mudroom of every mom's dreams: Custom cabinets painted in Farrow & Ball Railings match the kitchen's, but have a bench with drawers underneath for shoes. The panel by the office door opens onto a dumbwaiter that lifts heavy groceries or luggage from the below-ground garage. Leather Lostine fixtures warm up the shiplap ceiling.

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The Before: The Office

pittsburgh home office under construction
Colleen Simonds

On the other side of the garage pathway was a space bursting with potential—the garage, over which a functional workspace took shape.

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The After: Higher Office

couple sitting in modern office in pittsburgh home
William Abranowicz

Henry and Colleen (who is wearing a La DoubleJ dress) created this workspace for her business. An Anna Ullman painting leans against a cork-paneled wall; the cabinet is custom-made from plywood with a special faux-birch finish painted by Jon Gluck of Gluck Wakefield Artistry. Colleen's "really big, no-frills" desk is from Blu Dot, and Frank Gehry Wiggle side chairs bring whimsy.

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The After: Custom Details

warm tones modern office in pittsburgh home
William Abranowicz

Opposite Colleen's desk is more custom storage painted by Gluck. Container Store baskets on the shelves hold swatches and samples. The artwork is by Lorraine Vullo, and the stool is by Interlude Home.

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