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Your Home: Do-It-Yourself

A home all their own

Husband and wife physical therapists turn their talented hands to decorating and refurbishing their house in Milton – with professional-looking results.

Photograph by Michael J. Lee Physical therapists Jenny and Colin Highland.
By Estelle Bond Guralnick
October 24, 2010

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Jenny and Colin Highland are a rare pair. They’ve got aesthetic sensibilities as finely tuned as their science-based professions, and they’re ardent do-it-yourselfers. No exaggeration. One peek inside their 1920s Colonial-style house in Milton, and you get the message that something special has gone on. Both physical therapists with postgraduate degrees, they met in 2002 when he hired her to work at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. They married in 2005 and have a 10-month-old son, Griffin.

Three years ago, they bought their house, delighted that its 1960s kitchen was untouched. “Much more fun to do it ourselves,” says Colin, a Renaissance-type man who’s an artist (landscape canvases), woodworker, carpenter, gardener, and poet. “We both like to play with pattern and color, and we share the same environmental aesthetic. I was pretty confident that we could ultimately design and implement everything ourselves.”

Today, though the house is still evolving, the proof is pretty clear. Eighteen months ago, they embarked on gutting their old kitchen and installing a new one, choosing IKEA cabinets, Carrara marble counters cut and installed by Earthworks Granite of Braintree, glass mosaic backsplash tiles from Tile Showcase in Watertown, and porcelain floor tiles from Tiles by Perfection in Quincy. (A contractor friend, Peter Hughes, offered to teach Colin how to tile, and the pair installed the backsplash and floor over several weekends.) Clean and contemporary – a look the Highlands like – the kitchen gained its distinctive quality when the husband and wife painted the walls pale lilac and added the softness of black-and-white patterned cafe curtains sewn by Jenny.

It’s the Highlands’ bold, often unexpected but always steady hand with color and pattern that sets their decorating style apart. “What we do is a distillation of what we’ve seen, where we’ve traveled, and what we’ve learned from books, magazines, even catalogs,” Jenny says. “There’s a lot of inspiration out there, and we’re always soaking up something.” One of her favorite resources is fabled London designer Tricia Guild, the latest of whose many books is on their sunroom coffee table. “Ours is always our own interpretation,” Jenny says, “and invariably it’s an interesting learning experience.”

The summer Jenny was pregnant, Colin painted six important spaces. Among his color choices was bold garden-green for the front entry, “the stem of this center-entrance house,” he says. In the adjoining spaces, walls often serve as backdrops for his paintings, and the radiating palette ranges from dark to light. Pattern is reserved for things like area rugs and chair seats – the fabric on their dining room chairs started out as a comforter from Target’s “Liberty of London” collection. They just cut it into squares and stapled it into place. Chandeliers are sprinkled throughout – one was original to the house, the rest are affordable pieces that the Highlands found online or at Marshalls or IKEA.

These days, husband and wife both work as home physical therapists through the Visiting Nurse Association of Boston. “Our patients range from pediatric to geriatric, all with varying traumas, from car accidents to surgery,” says Jenny. “We like the human-service aspect of the medical field.” But it can be a stressful job, which makes their home all the more important.

“Basically, we all have only a small piece of the world where we can reign supreme and have control,” Colin says. “For us, our home is that sanctuary. At work, we do as much as we can for others; home is where we do things for ourselves.” Jenny echoes Colin’s philosophy: “I think we have a little gem here, where each room is different, but they’re all cohesive. It’s comfortable, beautiful, and spirit-lifting. It’s where I want to be.”

Estelle Bond Guralnick is New England editor for Traditional Home magazine. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.

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  • October 24, 2010 cover
  • Your Home: Do-it-yourself