Pushing Boundaries

Edgy, elegant and undeniably atypical, the interior of this Newton colonial bursts with distinctive appeal.

Newton photographer Sarah Winchester customized images from her Versailles series in blue tones pulled from the drapes. 

The kitchen island is painted Benjamin Moore Summer Blue, the color was also used on the interiors of the glass front kitchen cabinets. 

Atop the dining table, glass cloches contain miniature worlds made by Michelle using tiny painted craft store figures nestled in moss.  

Pauline Curtiss created the tryptich on the wall behind the couch in the master suite sitting room.

In the adjoining bedroom, the pattern on the Lulu DK for Matouk Poppy duvet has a painterly quality that echoes the wallpaper, which is based on Lindsay Cowles’ abstract paintings. The brass leaves of the Ro Sham Beaux Anas bedside lamps plays off the brass legged stools at the foot of the bed.  

With the carved lion mantle, Arts and Crafts-style surround, copper chimney and oak paneling—not to mention the brown furniture—David’s study called out for a strong, playful element: wallpaper. The doughnut pattern is based on the dress worn by the drummer in the band Phish. 

In the foyer, a Louis XVI-style chair from Michelle’s grandmother was reinvented with white leather upholstery and painted graffiti-style markings depicting a pick-up line David used when they first met and their kids’ birthdays.  

Walking into Michelle and David Freibaum’s Newton home, which they share with daughter Simone, 7, and son Bear, 4, is a bit like stumbling into Alice’s Wonderland. Bedecked with unexpected colors, dramatic patterns and whimsical accents, this seemingly staid center-hall colonial is testament to Michelle’s artistic, quirky style, which she describes as “Marie Antoinette meets Alice in Wonderland meets Christian Lacroix.”

The six-bedroom house, built in the early 1920s, is the first home they’ve owned, and Michelle wanted it to be perfect. That meant elegant yet colorful and edgy. And anything but typical. “It’s an old house and very Boston; I wanted to rock it out,” Michelle says. “It was important to be true to the house and true to myself.”
Interior designer Elizabeth Benedict, known for a spirited approach to color and pattern, and a knack for family-friendly interiors, was an enthusiastic collaborator. The pair settled into a groove whereby Michelle, who is a former children’s clothing designer, would throw out crazy ideas, and Benedict would rein her in. Michelle says, “Elizabeth never strayed from my vision. When she said no, I trusted her.”

They started in the black-and-white marble-tiled sunken family room, which had to be as appealing for adult gatherings as tween dance parties. Benedict chose a giant sectional upholstered in dusty-lilac chenille to define the seating area. To round it out, she added side chairs, from David’s parents, reupholstered in velvet with a cracklelike pattern, as well as a studded leather stool and an amoeba-shaped coffee table.

Then she layered in the accessories. Pierre Frey drapery fabric based on paintings by a French artist influenced by street art satisfied Michelle’s penchant for graffiti. Benedict hung them on simple rods just below the room’s substantial dentil and egg and dart moldings. Bright pillows, saturated photographs, a starburst chandelier and a crosshatch area rug amp up the scheme. “The major elements are quite neutral,” Benedict points out. “The accents broadcast Michelle’s love of romance and drama.”

Unlike the family room, the dining room lacked architectural detail. Michelle balked at the idea of adding molding (“Too traditional!”), so Benedict commissioned decorative painter Pauline Curtiss to render faux woodwork in paint. Working from Benedict’s prompts to channel the surreal style of Salvador Dalí, Curtiss created fanciful French designs that deliberately don’t quite make sense. There are panels with shells, and others with medallions. Some areas look as if they’ve been erased. “I love to explore how rooms evolve over time,” Curtiss says. “This looks as though it’s disintegrating.”

Despite Christian Lacroix floral drapery and cheetah print dining chairs (compliments of David’s parents, along with the table), David wanted more pizazz. So, Michelle went at the fireplace with neon green. Curtiss created the artwork above the mantle—a Victorian-style landscape punctuated with a tattooed Alice, the White Rabbit and a Moulin Rouge-esque marquee festooned with a line from a song by Phish (David’s favorite band). A trio of black crystal chandeliers—chosen after Michelle conceded they worked better than the six crystal chandeliers she had initially envisioned in hopes of emulating Versailles—ties everything together. “The room became a metaphor for the Mad Hatter tea party,” says Benedict.

The color scheme is softer in the kitchen, where stools with lavender cushions line one side of the periwinkle island. To keep the combo from skewing preppy, lanterns were painted neon green. Hits of the color also turn up in the breakfast room, on the legs of vintage dining chairs with Quadrille seat cushions that Michelle deems “fabulously Golden Girls.” In a rare role reversal, Michelle felt Benedict’s suggestion of using tie-dye fabric for the Roman shades was too edgy. “I thought it would clash with the prettiness!”

A moodier version of purple-blue envelops the master suite. Painterly wallpaper creates a dreamy backdrop for the curvy upholstered bed. “It’s fit for a princess,” says Michelle. When the adjoining sitting room failed to impress, Curtiss splattered metallic gold paint on the walls. The glam embellishment strays over moldings and even onto the ceiling in a manner Curtiss likens to a “controlled explosion.”

Michelle is thrilled with her house, which continues to evolve. Recently, Curtiss painted exuberant flowers on Simone’s bedroom walls, then bedazzled them with rhinestones from Michelle’s collection, taking put from mother and daughter. “Michelle is fearless,” says Benedict. “We helped her get where she knew she wanted to go.”


Single-family home
Elizabeth Home Decor & Design
Patina Designs


Master bedroom bed

Black Edition
Kitchen shade fabric 

Circa Lighting
Kitchen lanterns

Designers Guild
Dining room drapery fabric and head chair upholstery

Lindsey Cowles
Master bedroom wallpaper

Pierre Frey
Family room drapery fabric

Family room side chair fabric

Solaria Lighting
Foyer chandelier

Foyer console table

Williston Weaves
Stairway runner