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For interior designer Jen Dulac, the best redesigned rooms are transformed by a “spark” that is special enough to be a point of inspiration. Finding that one piece of furniture, or an accessory, with elegance and heritage is often the key to successful interiors, Dulac says: “So often, those singular pieces make the house truly feel like home.” Estate sales, online auctions, and out-of-the-way marketplaces are gold to Dulac.

“When I first visit with a client, often they feel like their home just isn’t working for them, whether because of a poorly functioning furniture layout or because they’re lacking the right pieces,” she says. “When the room comes together, often the singular pieces that make the house truly feel like home were there, in front of them, from the very beginning.”  

Her philosophy has found a home with North Shore families who are drawn to clean, modern lines yet want to inject that elusive spark with a piece that has the ring of heft and history. In one project it was a collection of antique muffineers (sugar jars) collected by a client’s grandmother. In another, it was two carved Buddhas shipped home from a trip to Thailand. “When these pieces are thoughtfully and intentionally incorporated into a room’s design, they become that striking piece that makes the room sing. But initially, when I first see a house, these pieces get lost in the noise, or are forgotten about.” 

Her clients, Dulac says, “have embraced the strategy full throttle.” 

Dulac’s own home, a 1927 classic hip-roofed colonial in Marblehead—enhanced by a thoughtful 1986 contemporary addition—showcases the way that mixing old and new in a home can render a beautiful aesthetic.  

Years ago, in Beijing, she and her mother-in-law roamed through the Panjiayuan Dirt Market, where Dulac happened upon a century-old Chinese Ming-style wedding cabinet built of elmwood, lightly suggesting Shaker style. The cabinet now sits in the living room of her home, next to an antique wingback chair that Dulac covered in a Barclay Butera elephant-print fabric. “It’s a point of inspiration; it sparks,” she says of the cabinet. 

Another vintage spark in Dulac’s home is a Persian rug from Singapore, where she had traveled for a teaching job in her 20s. “I’ve often said that travel is the number one thing that influences my work. When you’re stuck in your own environment, you often don’t see what’s in front of you. Traveling brings awareness. Getting out of your comfort zone tunes up your thinking and lifts the adrenaline.”

Design editing—being very particular about pieces to purchase for a special room—is one of the creative threads that has woven through much of Dulac’s life. It started in her teenage years, when she sifted through bins of vintage jeans in the Soho district of Manhattan. Then came years abroad with her husband as she taught overseas. Back stateside, Dulac shifted her professional sights to designing interiors. She was working in Boston when she cofounded Trim Design Co., a boutique online design company. Through the boutique’s remote design—a key for Dulac during the pandemic—she began to source vintage pieces and gravitated to her own décor studio. 

Dulac is currently refreshing the interiors of a Victorian home in Swampscott that began as a bit of a puzzle. She had spied a small room next to the dining room and after some thought, proposed to the homeowner that it be turned into a games room, a pastime of the homeowner’s extended family. Dulac found a Zebrawood games table in an online auction and, for around the table, new black-framed chairs with woven caned seats and backs. Two vintage club chairs covered in ochre velvet sit near the windows, all the pieces adding layers of interest to the cozy room. 

Dulac’s penchant for special vintage pieces reflects another interest: sustainability. “Sustainability is wonderfully enveloped in buying vintage,” she says. “The question is, how might I use it? Will it go to a landfill if I don’t?”  She also considers the craftsmanship of many vintage pieces, and the fact that the high cost of production is moot. “Sustainability wasn’t my draw to vintage, but I’ve always been green conscious,” she says. 

Above all, sentiment can be a beautiful touch to an interior. “It conjures the feel of home: a fire crackling, something cooking on the stovetop,” Dulac says. “It’s the enigmatic feeling of home that you can’t quite pinpoint, but is a such a certainty.”