By Jim Winnerman Special to the Post-Dispatch
When Paula Roberts and Ed Merkel moved into their 80-year-old Cape Cod bungalow 18 years ago, they knew they would have to tackle a complete redo. At first they thought they would tear down a wall or two, maybe add a room and make other structural changes.
These improvements never materialized, and instead they proceeded to remove the carpet and expose the original wood floors, fumigating and removing layers of wallpaper displaying patterns of pink, blue, and yellow. “The whole house was covered in wallpaper,” Merkel recalls.
Then they repainted the walls in neutral colors and decorated with original artwork.
Another immediate challenge was how to use every inch of the 1,600-square-foot dwelling for their family of two adults and four teenage girls. Roberts has put her talent for organization and creative use of space to work, and it has paid off. The residence looks tidy, yet inviting and comfortable, all the while using every square inch of space for storage.
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Family heirlooms are proudly displayed, but they also add seamless storage. In the kitchen, which the couple upgraded several years ago, the tiny island is actually a sideboard from Robert’s mother, updated with a marble countertop. It provides plenty of storage space without a prescription.
Roberts may not have been a skilled carpenter, but when you point out the benches, patio table, and fire pit she built, and how she redirected waste lumber from a neighbor’s fence into shelves inside the kitchen cabinets, you begin to wonder how easy it was to use them. He is.
“Growing up I had my own work bench next to my dad,” she volunteers. “All power tools were and still are mine.”
The house is perched on top of a small hill overlooking neighborhood street, and Roberts’ favorite room is the glass porch at the front of the house. Once opened on two sides but covered, Paula and her dad checked it out themselves several years ago, including two bulkhead doors that provide access to the front door.
“It’s become a room we use constantly,” Roberts says. “We love watching storms approach from the west, and on summer nights we project movies on the wall.”
Another father-daughter project was to replace the back wall of Breeze Road and add large windows to the space.
Although she grew up in Kansas City, Roberts and her husband have always shared a love for the beaches of Florida. To keep the memory of the seaside fresh, several pieces of coral and shells are displayed in many rooms of the house.
In the hallway, there is a mirror framed in rows of bleached white oyster shells, but they are of local origin. “I called Broadway Oyster Bar downtown and asked if they’d save some for me,” she says. One evening after they closed, they gave us boxes and boxes of stinky shells, and I cleaned them up and made the frame.”
Repurposing items in thrift stores and online into somewhat interesting vintage decor is a theme. Floor-to-ceiling curtains cover the window behind the bed in the master bedroom. Large wooden beads taken from an antique counter have been restored and displayed.
“I want people to come and feel comfortable sitting anywhere in my house,” Roberts says. “There is nothing precious here, everything has a purpose and is meant to be used and enjoyed.”
Paula Roberts and Ed Merkel
ages • He is 60 years old, she is 57 years old.
Job • Merkel is involved in the energy efficiency industry. Formerly a graphic artist, Roberts is now a freelance interior designer.
family • They have four daughters, all in their twenties. Morgan and Jessica live in St. Louis, while Lily and Hadley live in Colorado. Josie, a 17-year-old white rescue dog, blends in perfectly in the living room sofa. Mina is a shy boston rescue terrier.