Ann Butler and Ellen McDonald could easily go on tour as a mother/daughter comedy act. Joint proprietors since 2005 of children's boutique Rattle & Roll, the two have spent enough time together to perfect their fond eye rolls, quick rejoinders and ability to complete each other's sentences.
But it wasn't until February of last year that they took their relationship to a level that would strike fear in the hearts of most mothers and daughters — they became housemates. "My husband and I always joked about my mother moving in with us," says McDonald, "And I always said it would be over my dead body!"
"But here we are," Butler says as she gestures around the 1962 house in Mooreland Farms. It's home to McDonald and her husband, John, along with their 5-year-old daughter, Stella, with a separate apartment for Butler. It was during the heavy snows in early 2010 that the family truly began to take the idea of consolidation seriously. On the eve of one particularly brutal blizzard, McDonald looked at her husband and said, "Let's go get Mama." At that moment, an idea began to take shape that resulted in the purchase of a larger house right in their neighborhood.
After closing on the home in February, the two had aggressive renovation goals and agreed that the house should be ready for a family wedding in July. Joe Silvus of Bella Construction took on the challenge; he had done great things for the family's river property and was willing to move into the house during the renovation process in order to tackle the project head-on.
Butler cheerfully refers to her basement apartment as her "dungeon," but with a living room, bedroom, master bath, private entrance, brick patio and full kitchen — all illuminated by natural light — it's anything but. Different, but not at odds with the brightly colored décor of the house above it, the space is painted in muted greens, blues and yellows with 18th-century botanical prints and silhouettes dotting the walls.
A custom mantelpiece designed by McDonald balances the living room's off-center fireplace with built-in shelves. Similar shelves line the walkthrough beyond, an area that had once been gray cinderblock. The trick of opening up unexpected spaces to allow some freedom of movement within hallways is echoed in several places upstairs. The effect is one of light and space, transforming what had once been a house full of predictable passages into one where a bright nook lies around every corner.
In an attempt to keep the renovations both economically and ecologically sound, mother and daughter discovered talents for repurposing cabinetry and hardware in different parts of the house — for example, the built-in drawers in Stella's bedroom were salvaged from John's upstairs office. And, though their palettes and preferences differ, the two are both drawn to color. McDonald studied art in college; it's inspired her to feature local artists like Karen Blair and Eldridge Bagley wherever possible. "I've never been afraid of color," says McDonald, as she gestures around her vividly colored living room. "I want it everywhere. I want people to feel happy when they come here, just like when they walk into my store."
A shared respect for history also unites the two different styles. Butler's great-great-great grandmother, captured in an enormous oil portrait, looks over the cozy basement living room from above a chest that once belonged to her. In almost every room of the house, Butler and McDonald point to different antiques and talk about each piece's lineage. The staircase leading down to Butler's quarters is lined with family photos that span decades, and the walls of her living room boast paintings of the residences of past generations — homes that were as cherished as this one is. "This way it feels like the family is here with us," says McDonald, as she points out a grandfather clock in the front foyer that her late father crafted years ago.
At an age where the prospect of living closer to family becomes more attractive with each passing year, Butler enjoys independence while knowing that help is close by should she need it. "A lot of people are like, ‘Gosh, living with your mother and working with her?'" says McDonald. "But I love it. I can go down to her place and grab something from her fridge or borrow a pair of shoes."
"And Ellen is my best friend," says Butler. "I sincerely value her input and I think she values mine."
"When I ask for it," her daughter adds, without missing a beat.
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