Although she tried to resist, Indianapolis, Indiana-based Whittney Parkinson could not unhear the calling to become an interior designer. Teenage Whitney, the child of an architect and an interior designer, rebelled with a college major in Illustration before realizing that “interior design and architecture are ingrained in my DNA,” Whittney says. Later, she went on to earn her second degree in interior design. “The rest is history,” she says. Today, Whittney is the principal of her own eponymous firm and firmly established as the Midwest’s go-to designer for her self-described “fresh, modern take on traditional with a nod to English décor.” She specs Circa Lighting frequently in her projects noting that our products “play well with classic architecture, but often bring an unexpected edge.” Here, Whittney opens up the doors to a recently completed Colonial-style renovation for a pair of empty nesters. They spent 28 years raising five children in this home, and it needed a cozy modernization to host their growing fleet of grandchildren. Here’s how Whitney pulled it together with ease.
Every project has that a-ha moment that everything else spins from and this moment came right inside the front door. “My client actually thought of this game changing idea,” admits Whittney. “The original entry was a 2-story cavernous cathedral ceiling that we lowered it to 9-feet. It makes the entry more intimate upon arriving.” Cladding the ceiling with tongue and groove also reinforces the Classic Colonial’s architectural bones with guests right from the start.
“Think about your main vantage points in open floor plans,” advises Whittney. “When you can see multiple rooms from one position, it’s vital to choose lighting fixtures that work together with similar finishes and different shapes.” For instance, mixing a glass cylinder with a shaded cone and a milk glass sphere all in the same room allows each one to have their own identity, but the black finish on all three unites them.
“The owners first design request was black and white,” says Whittney who interpreted what they wanted with a lighter hand. “We softened that contrast through hand-hewn ceiling beams, unlacquered brass hardware and white oak cabinetry,” she explains. "It’s a subtle, but necessary balancing act that keeps black and white spaces from feeling sterile.”
This family was growing (and quickly!) with grandchildren and much of the kitchen layout’s inspiration came from how it had to function. Whittney states, “We needed every square inch of space to make the kitchen work all year long.” Realizing that the formal dining room was only used several times a year, it was demolished to make way for a butler’s pantry. Equipped with two full-size refrigerators, a wall of built-ins, and a sink for washing and drying, this hardworking space frees up the main kitchen as the area for cooking, hanging out, and dining.
“I don’t typically use a lot of store-bought décor,” says Whittney who prefers pieces that have some significance to the homeowners even if they take longer to collect. In almost every project, she leaves her own quiet calling card behind with a custom piece of art. In this home, it is the abstract painting over the living room sofa.
“My goal for all cabinetry in a renovation is to make it feel as if it was always there rather than newly added,” says Whittney. Because this home is a classic colonial, there are a lot of design nods to classic New England cabinetry like inset doors and drawers, latched hardware and exposed hinges. Traditional marble and soapstone countertops and unlacquered brass fittings age beautifully over time. Small details make all the difference.
The main key to combining finishes is to keep it edited Whitney’s method: “If I mix an unlacquered brass and a black metal, I keep it to just those finishes, and I repeat only those two throughout the entire design creating a subconscious unity in the home.”