A traditional Sunset Hill home is decorated with an eye for the past, but with a firm grasp on living in the present
When you come up the walk of Heidi and Robert Palmer’s home near Loose Park, you can tell by the symmetrical stone façade, the traditional black door and the brass lion knocker that people with refined taste reside here. What you come to learn as you cross the threshold is that it is based in tradition. Echoes of three generations bounce from the walls and it is a joyful noise.
“We bought the house three-and-a-half years ago,” Heidi says as she recalls the need for a little more space to accommodate the blending of her and Robert’s families. “We needed room for Cole, Sophie, Sara, Lilley and Grace,” not to mention Ava, the Italian mastiff, and Kaiser, the puggle. The purchase provided the room, but Heidi crafted the home.
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“We basically touched everything. It took about a year, and we lived here the whole time,” she says of the renovation. The kitchen and baths received complete updates, all in keeping with the style and
age of the house. As is often the case in older homes, the bedrooms and baths were not laid out for modern living; doors were shifted to make sense of the upstairs.
Now the kitchen gleams with white cabinets, stainless countertops and a generous marble island. The southern exposure floods the room, only slightly thwarted by the jaunty black-and-white striped awnings.
This space, which includes a sitting room, is where the family gathers—the whole family.
“We both have big families and we love to get together. Sometimes there are 25 people in here,” says Heidi.
Another major project was turning the sun porch into a library. The room, tucked just behind the living room, now enjoys a long wall of built-in bookcases and a view to the new covered porch and the yard beyond.
New doors were placed between the library and the living room, and their graceful crystal knobs have a sentimental past. “My sister, Leisl McLiney, is the family historian and repurposer. She saved these doorknobs from my grandmother’s house and suggested we use them here.”
The legacy of the women’s grandmother is significant, though it is not a looming, brown mass. Both sisters share her treasures, and the Palmer’s house is graced with beautiful heirlooms. The dining room holds a Chinese screen and an exceptional Oushak rug. The living room is graced with a pair of Biedermeier chairs and a Baccarat lamp. These are just a few of the pieces passed down to the third (and sometimes fourth) generation.
While Heidi treasures these pieces, she has placed them deftly; no one would feel as if he were picking his way through someone’s attic. The rooms are light and fresh and edited enough that each piece can breathe. She decorated the house herself, “but I had [decorator] Lory Childress here a lot to give me her opinion on paint colors and other things.”
Much of the art in the house reflects the influence of Heidi’s father, a former Hallmark executive. The wall in the kitchen contains several pieces of his friends’ original works, including a painting of a lobster by Arthur Kraft, who also sculpted the Penguin Court on the Plaza. The black-and-white engravings in both the living room and stairway were also her father’s. Still, the couple has made thoughtful acquisitions themselves.
“We bought the living room sofa together. Lory and I spent a lot of time last summer gessoing and sanding it in our driveway. She helped select the silver nailheads and the leather. It’s one of my favorite pieces.”
The oil painting above the settee in the living room is also a recent addition.
“I had fallen in love with that painting years ago at Lula Mac,” Heidi remembers, “and I used to mention it to Rick Brehm [the former owner of Lula Mac] when I would go into Hudson & Jane. I’d ask him if he were still holding it hostage. Then a couple of Christmases ago as we were opening presents, Robert said ‘I have one more thing,’ and he came around the corner with the painting. I hadn’t seen her in years.”