When Stacey and Chris Norkun first moved into their home in Salem a few years ago, the historic property was so damaged that it rained inside. Today the house is awash in bright colors and conversation-sparking designs, including skull wallpaper and chairs.
Despite the home’s structural issues, the Norkuns were so captivated by the history of the location — and enticed by the project ahead — that they didn’t hesitate to purchase the Colonial, which dates to 1756. Now nearly every room in the house is a reflection of the couple’s personality, mirrored by the art on the walls and the pieces chosen for each room.
“When we first bought it three-and-a-half years ago, it was in rough shape. It hadn’t really been kept up for a number of decades,” Stacey said. “We searched for a home for over two years. When we stepped into this home, we were enamored with it from the get-go.”
When it came to renovations, there was no master plan for the 262-year-old home. They simply wanted to keep the weather out before it caused more damage, Chris said. Once all of the windows were replaced, and the roof was repaired, they were “able to take a breath,” he said.
Doors and hallways were everywhere, making for cramped living quarters and difficulty moving furniture. Plus, there were numerous structural issues (the door frames needed to be raised because Chris is 6 foot 2 and kept hitting his head) and only one bathroom, which was in dire need of renovation.
“We spent two months [in the dead of winter] without a shower,” Chris said. “The only thing we had was the kitchen sink. And there’s a really gross, disgusting toilet hooked up, but to shower, we had to go down to my brother-in-law’s.”
Fortunately, the couple had experience with a project of this nature and were eager to take it on.
“I think a lot of people shy away from doing, and living in, a renovation of this magnitude,” Stacey said. “We had owned a mid-century home down in Virginia, and we renovated that. That was our first experience, and we really actually enjoyed the process. I’m just really happy that we’ve been able to be stewards to this home and take what was once kind of a crippling structure and make it a gem of the neighborhood.”
They factored in the home’s history when it came to design and renovation decisions, but Stacey said the overall process ended up being “kind of organic,” even accidental.
“Chris and I love this house because it has so much history. It was here before the Declaration of Independence was signed,” Stacey said. “And as we started to kind of pull things from flea markets, some family hand-me-downs, and … things in stores we really like, each room started to take on its own little personality.”
The living room has a Civil War vibe, Stacey said. The walls are decorated with American Red Cross artwork, a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, an image of a Native American man the Norkuns found alongside a road, and other pieces that allude to the era, like throw pillows picked from old ships. The space is defined by contrasting colors, in addition to many textures and materials, particularly leather, wood, and metal.
Known as the “Captain’s Parlor,” the dining room is host to “masculine” and “moody” undertones, Stacey said.
“The best way I could describe it is if a bunch of old, early Colonial sea captains wanted to sit around and have some drinks and share oddities and curiosities that they found on their worldly travels, they would probably do it in this room,” she said.
In the dining area, there are big leather end chairs for the table, a full set of skeleton chairs, an Oriental rug Stacey’s parents gave them — a rug she recalled hating as a child but said works “so beautifully” here — a long, three-tiered glass table filled with items from international travels, as well as bottles found in the home’s yard and walls during construction.
“You don’t go in there just to eat dinner,” she said. “It’s an experience.”
There’s even a portrait of Bill Murray on display in the room, surrounded by a wall of lights largely inspired from a similar set up at Yvonne’s, a Boston restaurant, Stacey said.
Priscilla Weston, a designer for Havenly, assisted with the renovations of the Captain’s Parlor and said the space was one of the most special projects she’s worked on, especially because of Stacey’s willingness to take risks.
“I’ve done a lot of renovation on historic homes,” Weston said. “This was really fun. It was a unique space for me to work on primarily because [it] had such great architecture. I got to push the envelope.”
A Victorian theme emerges in the study, which Stacey said is also her office.
“There was actually a fireplace in that room that was painted teal, and it took us about 60 hours to handscrape all the paint off,” Stacey said. “[It] went from ‘I hated that room’ to now ‘it might be my favorite.’ And the fireplace is just so beautiful to look at.”
Stacey credited the design of the master bedroom, a sort of “glam Gothic” look, entirely to the design team.
“It’s everything that I’ve ever wanted in a bedroom,” she said. “We get this crazy morning sunlight in that room, and I could never sleep. [They] suggested to paint everything black on black, and I was all for it.”
Decorated in colors of black, gold, and green, the room takes on a Gothic look with an Art Deco-style sconce, a zebra-print rug, and a bright emerald green ottoman.
“It’s Gothic, but it’s probably the most interesting spin on Gothic that I’ve ever seen,” Stacey said.
There’s also a guest room dubbed the “George Washington suite,” named after one of the original owners, George Washington Kingsley.
“We became pen pals with a gentleman that grew up in the house, and his great-grandfather was George Washington Kingsley,” Stacey said. “He gave us some old pictures of his great-grandfather that we framed and put in the room.”
The suite also has “really cool pillows” of President George Washington, Stacey said.
“It’s like the coolest early Colonial hotel ’boutique-y’ room,” she said. “That room went full George Washington.”
Usually, when friends come over and get a tour of the house, they look around in “silent amazement,” Chris said.
“There’s always these kinds of jokes like, ‘I can’t believe anyone lives in a house like this,’ ” he said. “A combination of the art and design and everything that just blows people’s minds that this is an actual house and not an oddity shop in Iceland or something.”
Although they have plans to renovate the third floor and kitchen and at some point build a barn in the spring, Stacey said that it’s “inspiring” to live in the home and that there’s nothing else she would change.
“Chris is probably relieved to hear that at this point,” she said. “I know that the decor is kind of unexplainable, but it’s who we are. And the fact that we’re located in Salem makes this house and the decor feel so appropriate. I feel at home in the home. It’s like this home was made for Salem, and I feel really proud that it’s our home.”
The couple awon the Salem Preservation Award in 2018 for their work on the house, which Chris said was especially validating in the face of all the “crazy” looks they initially got.
“I worked for a painting contractor through high school, college, and grad school, and we did historic restoration work. And I always took a lot of pride in that,” he said. “But then at the end of the job, you’d walk away and never get to see it again. To be able to do that work and then live in it and look at it, that is meaningful to me.”
Take a full look at the home (including some “before” pictures) below: