Lindy McDonough's home is like a cat with nine lives.
Occupying a leafy little corner of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the brick and tile building with the peaked roof and arched windows can lay claim to a backstory unlike any other.
First serving as a polling hall during the early 19th century, the space is one of the city's last remaining wardrooms — a communal hall for naval officers to store valuables and come together over meals. Years later, it was bestowed the title "Henrietta I. Drummond Post No. 50 Hall" honoring its namesake, a nurse and Rhode Islander who served during World War I. It was reimagined, yet again, as a school and eventually, as an American Legion for congregating veterans. By the early 1980s it received a residential rebirth, and was converted into an artist's studio — and not much else.
McDonough's address is 2,500-square-feet of historical significance, a space that served as a kind of town hall during a time when small town governance felt harder to hold onto. The Fifth Ward Wardroom was a place that locals could voice grievances, share ideas, and — ultimately — unite as community.
In a strange twist of fate, McDonough's brick house also holds ties to the Rhode Island School of Design, and has done for decades.
"That's my alma mater," the designer points out.
"Over the past few years, Pawtucket has begun attracting a group of talented creatives looking for an inexpensive space to make music, create art — and brew really good beer," explains McDonough, founder of luxury leather brand, Lotuff.
Nowadays, McDonough's heavenly hall hums at a very different frequency, a space the designer shares with her husband, product designer and engineer Conor MacKean and Boston Terrier, Tux. Three years ago, armed with a conservative budget and a whole lot of creativity, the couple embarked on a total gut renovation, in a bid to redesign the open floor plan and transform what was once a drafty studio into a contemporary family home. They added a kitchen to anchor the space, cut out a slice out of the master bedroom to create a master bath, built a timber guest loft, a laundry, and a half bath. The duo stripped back the floors, lifting what was once tired and scuffed, and coated the dreary walls in layers of Benjamin Moore's Pure White. They utilized Scandinavian-style timber detailing, echoing the kind of aesthetic you might expect to find somewhere lush, enveloped in green, or pinned on a pared-back Pinterest board.
McDonough and MacKean enlisted the help of architectural designers Anastasia Lorenzi and Mike Larsen of Qblique Studios, to execute their vision, a firm with ties to the former remodel. Simply put, they knew the space.
A plywood kitchen, like a culinary cube, sits neatly beneath a mezzanine bedroom and holds its own, under a 35-foot ceiling. McDonough is the first to admit that she never set out to undergo a mammoth DIY project, although in hindsight, the couple are pleased that they did. Like ripping off a band-aid, the duo scrimped and saved to complete the entire renovation all at once.
"When contemplating the major renovations, including moving the bathroom, a chorus of our friends told us to just do it all now," the designer recalls. "They couldn’t have been more right. Knowing we have no major projects down the line allows us to enjoy the space so much more and sleep peacefully. We made cuts and sacrifices elsewhere, to ensure we could do this project, in full."
"Our home was constructed by the city of Pawtucket in 1887, originally serving as a meeting place when Pawtucket transformed from a town to a city," McDonough adds. "The architects were well-known throughout the state for building a slew of historical municipal and cultural buildings — and ours is on the National Register of Historic Places."
Any seasoned DIYer will tell you that there is an added element of pressure, when it comes to restoring a historic home. The heavy burden of preservation is met with endless code restrictions. For McDonough, the former hall brought with it plenty of architectural charm, but not without its fair share of historical baggage — something this accessories designer is well-versed in.
In 2013, McDonough launched Lotuff's Providence Studio, a space to foster a growing team of artists and designers, many of whom operate individually while working collaboratively with the Lotuff founder. McDonough remains instrumental in the design process of each leather backpack, tote, handbag, and accessory, overseeing everything from pattern-making to stitching. The designer takes pride in upholding the old-world craftsmanship of it all, reinstating that little bit of wonder to American luxury leather, in an industry that's fast leaning toward vegan alternatives. With an increasingly busy schedule, McDonough admits the majority of design time is now spent at home, making her surrounds all the more significant.
"We definitely wanted a unique space with character and historical significance that we could renovate or transform the way that we wanted — but on a manageable scale," the designer recalls. "We were broadly looking for unique architectural details, so we were delighted with the slate roof, exposed brick, tall ceilings, and arched windows — we viewed this building as a blank canvas with great bones."
"During the demolition of the previous build-out, we found the original entryway to the backroom, that has a beautiful archway and leads through to what is now the bedroom," McDonough continues. "We also found some indications of care from the previous owner, including glass panes epoxied around the cracks in the internal wood structure, a traditional architectural technique used throughout the historical preservation of Italian churches to indicate moving or settling."
At the time, the couple agreed that they would remain in their cozy, inhabitable apartment nearby, until the hall's renovation was very nearly complete. After their apartment unexpectedly sold mid-project, the duo "couch surfed for eight weeks," a testament McDonough says, to their supportive network of creative friends.
"We moved in when we had two working water elements — a toilet and a sink," the designer pragmatically explains. "This was our first real project like this, so we took on certain things that we thought, in theory, would be easy but actually turned out to be incredibly challenging. Notably, we painted the 35-foot ceilings ourselves, requiring three sections of rolling scaffolding and creating some serious Michelangelo vibes."
The duo rallied their resources and dug deep to complete the majority of odd jobs themselves. "We were sanding, finishing, and painting," McDonough explains. "As an industrial designer and a mechanical engineer, together, we have access to some pretty cool equipment and tools. For example, we had the ability to custom CNC route all of of our cabinet faces."
The results — from the stripped back factory doors to the two-toned white walls — echo what you might expect to see in an upscale art gallery, an aesthetic that is not lost on the creative couple, who dress their space with oversized artwork by friends and locals. What is ultimately a two-bedroom home complete with a central guest loft, is broken up into dining and lounge spaces on the lower level, with clever placement and statement furniture. A custom dining table, designed by friend Jon Glatt of O&G for ICFF, measures in at a staggering 14-feet. Soft leather dining chairs — vintage creations by Charlotte Perriand — and blond birch stools by Alvar Aalto, are cozied up with wonderfully worn shearling covers. In the neighboring living area, a plush blue vintage sofa receives a design-forward edit, decorated with assorted pillows by the couple's friend and Providence textile purveyor, Muffy Brandt. An Eames lounge chair harks back to the golden era of Californian design, carefully offset with vintage Danish accent pieces.
McDonough isn't afraid of space — and is in no rush to fill it. The designer approaches styling in a considered, careful way, giving every last piece room to breathe. As McDonough recounts a few of her favorite pieces made by friends, it's essentially the who's who of the local art and design scene — namely Jon Glatt, Brian Chippendale, Andrew Mau, Dan Wood, Priscilla Weidlein, Ariela Nomi Kuh, and Jungil Hong. It's abundantly clear that sourcing local, supporting her creative network, and filling her home with pieces crafted by those closest to the couple, is of undeniable significance.
"My home is my quiet space, I do a lot of my design work here," McDonough notes. "Running a small business, my day-to-day is spent... running it. My design time is left to do at home, and a lot of the time, on airplanes."
In the master bedroom, an unassuming space tucked behind the primary living hall, McDonough layers with warmth and color, dressing up hardwood floors with a vintage Turkish rug, a gift from the designer's father. A fringed mirror, designed by the couple's friends and fellow Providence locals Ben & Aja Blanc, brings a tangible quality to the space.
"I like to surround myself with objects made by the people I love, it brings a lot of warmth and joy to our space. We try to not take any of it too seriously, and I am true believer in fewer, better things," McDonough muses. Glide through to the master bath and the craftsmanship is hard to deny. Wall-to-wall tiles date back to the '70s, a gift to the couple discovered in a barn, originally from Mexico and found somewhere in Massachusetts. A clean, contemporary plywood countertop — custom, made by MacKean for the space — resonates with the natural wood used throughout.
"I love the master bathroom," the designer admits. "We made our bedroom slightly smaller, so I love the freeness and openness of the shower as well as the high ceilings and natural light that were a result of this shift. This was a late change to our design, and I’m so glad we made it. It’s my favorite place to relax after a long week of traveling, often for work."
"If you’re renovating a historic structure or building, keep as much of the original architecture in tact as possible," imparts McDonough, when asked to share any inherited pearls of wisdom, now that it's all said and done. "Rather than building into the core, we built a structure within an existing space — and made sure to not compromise the integrity or history of the building. In theory, someone down the road could remove everything we did and still have a preserved, historical space."
As for how the duo make the most of all that hard work? Hosting, and plenty of it.
"We throw a lot of events here at home — a lot of dinner parties — and our friends show their artwork or host performances here, too," McDonough explains. "We’ve also been known to host the occasional dance party."
With an abundance of room and the floors to accomodate, McDonough and MacKean's historic hall once again floods with light and spills with neighbors. The ceilings soar for what feels like forever, while music absorbs into the surrounding brick. For theirs is a home that's always open, a space that celebrates its makers, above all else.