Old Friends, New Design

A Massachusetts family designs their new home with the help of an old friend.
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The first time Portland, Oregon-based interior designer and author Max Humphrey met homeowner Greta Kaplan was in the late 1990s, when their paths crossed during a study-abroad program with Emerson College. Years later, a random encounter in a Los Angeles supermarket fostered a reconnection and friendly follows on social media ensued, where Greta, along with thousands of other fans, gawked at Max’s plaid-rooted portfolio of rustic and homey design projects over the years.

modern entryway stairs child table stools bags

Bright, open, and functional—a winning trifecta for the home’s front entry. A couple of sturdy poofs and a modern table offer a tidy spot for putting on shoes or sorting mail.

asymmetrical living room white walls window seats

A wide plush sectional affords enough seating for the whole family, which is why the TV room is a favorite place to hang out. The white brick chimney is a nod to New England style, and the board-and-batten grid treatment breaks up the height of the super-tall walls.

In 2019, when Greta and her husband, Bill, were ready to kick off design decisions for the inside of the 4,600-square-foot home they were building in Wayland, Massachusetts, she knew just where to turn.“Greta’s first email to me had ‘HELP’ as the subject line,” says Max. “And the first sentence read, ‘It’s Greta, from college.’”

After explaining they were in dire need of some design help, Greta asked if he’d be willing to help them long-distance. Turns out, Max is a pro at remote design projects, so having a client on the opposite coast didn’t faze him one bit. Even before the arrival of COVID-19, Max’s approach of digital-based design appealed to busy clients, including Greta and Bill, who at the time had two young children (they now have three). “We basically designed the whole house together over a yearlong group text,” says Max, who turned primarily to American-made products and brands for the interiors. (Fun fact: Max has his own line of rugs with Boston-based brand Thayer Design Studio—see top two images for two of his designs.)

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Arlo (four), Iris (one), and Jude (two) gather with their parents around the spacious island.

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The biggest twist of the process was Bill’s complete buy-in. “I was surprised by how into the whole process I got,” he says. “There wasn’t a day that went by when I wasn’t giving input about something I couldn’t have imagined caring about a year earlier.” Max helped corral Greta’s boundless vision boards for the five-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath dwelling. Because the contractor they bought it from was building all the homes on the block, there was a limited number of floor-plan options—but still lots of decisions to be made. “Max helped to focus our attention and keep things flowing nicely,” explains Greta, who says she didn’t know how overwhelming it would be to build a home almost from scratch.

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Max reworked the kitchen design so cabinetry and storage were maximized and the fridge was camouflaged. “He understood the process so much better than we did,” says Greta. “He was always many steps ahead.”

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“I love the way blue and brass look together,” says Max of the “classic, preppy, almost nautical” combo in the dining room. When paired with the neutral floral wallpaper by Los Angeles design shop Lake August, the room has a playful, sophisticated feel the family loves.

Max also facilitated group decisions that kept the builder and contractor on schedule and kept the clients feeling confident about their design decisions. “We splurged on the stuff you touch every day, like cabinetry hardware, plumbing fixtures, and lighting,” says Max, who sees a benefit to investing in quality accessories from the outset. His mantra: Do it once and do it the right way.

toddler rug playroom cubby organization prints

Good organization makes cleanup a cinch in the playroom. The soft play mat only looks like a rug—it’s from Little Nomad and is much prettier than the standard rubber mat.

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“We try to associate their rooms with sleeping, reading, and other quiet activities,” says Greta of keeping toys out of the kids’ bedrooms.

One shortcut they quickly adopted was keeping certain finishes and accessories, like paint colors and bathroom faucets, similar throughout the house. This made it easy to focus energy on bigger design moments, like built-ins and kitchen cabinetry, and brought a sense of unity to the interiors. “Everything feels really cohesive—especially the first floor, which is all open-concept,” says Greta, who’s been thrilled seeing Max’s influence play out in their home. “I am so glad we reconnected,” says Greta. “Besides making our home what it is today, it was fun to get to know Max again in adulthood!”

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Genius idea: Use an indoor-outdoor fabric like this cheery classic plaid from Pendleton and Sunbrella in spaces that get wet, like steamy bathrooms.

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Natural light floods the art-filled main bedroom, which includes a sweet little seating area to read and reset.

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2021 issue. Get the magazine here.