Modern Mantra

A good renovation — like a good marriage — should be fun and easy-going.
Local furniture designer Matt Michalec used reclaimed exotic wood sourced from Armstrong Millworks in Highland Township to make the couple’s dining-room table. Linda accessorized with French industrial chairs from the 1920s, lending to the diverse vibe of the open space (above). Photographs by Justin Maconochie


A good renovation — like a good marriage — should be fun and easy-going.

If that sounds a bit aspirational, Linda Kay can understand why. Before reimagining the 1980s quad-level home in Franklin that she shares with her husband, Tom Nathan, Linda heard plenty of people describe the renovation process as “tantamount to divorce.” But the couple, who fell in love and married long after first weddings and children, knew they had it in them to break the mold. One year later, their labors live on as sublimely as their unconventional romance.

“It was just so much fun,” Linda says. “No drag-downs at all.”

The only thing more appealing than her state of joy might be the home itself, now carefully accented with Tom’s pop-art designer-toy collection, which is grounded by Linda’s love of clean lines and midcentury design.

“Eclectic doesn’t do it justice. It’s like eclectic on steroids,” Tom, a bankruptcy attorney, says of the couple’s combined design sensibilities.

But where they may have jockeyed for stylistic dominance, Tom and Linda found peace in sharing the process. They knew what they wanted, and they say you can’t go wrong when you go with what you love. “It’s just so much more interesting when both people have a point of view, when there’s collaboration,” Linda says.

Their collaboration is illustrated by the contents displayed on a single ceiling-height shelf that extends from the kitchen to the open-concept living room. (A wall separating the two spaces was removed during the renovation, and Linda says it was powerful to start to feel the “flow” of the house.) The shelf showcases Tom’s collectible vinyl toys — such as a series of original “fat” Ronald McDonalds by the artist Ron English — and Linda’s collection of handmade pottery in the Arts and Crafts style. “We like to play off of each other, and it all just works,” Linda says.

Closer to eye level, the custom kitchen was designed to be “functional, not just pretty,” in order to accommodate the many friends and family who regularly visit. As a former professional chef — Linda now teaches yoga in her basement studio — she also wanted to channel the unfussy, industrial feel from her Restaurant Duglass days working under noted local chef Douglas Grech. An antique cabinet, which belonged to her grandparents, stands out as a beautiful reminder of a less-organized past.

“My grandparents were clutter bugs; this [cabinet] used to be piled high with stuff,” Linda recalls with affection. “I’ve definitely developed this emotional attachment to my roots.”

In an age of disposable lifestyles, where homes can seem disposable, too, Tom and Linda continue to lay down their own modern roots — with stark contrasts.

It all comes together visually and convivially, particularly on Wednesday nights. That’s when the couple host an informal yoga and dinner party for an ever-evolving group of friends. The newly airy space becomes filled with laughter punctuated by the occasional inquiry into Tom’s penchant for offbeat art.

On the subject of happiness, Linda wondered aloud one time what makes her husband happy. “Coming home,” he replied, and also Wednesday nights.