A PLACE TO STAY: Sairanen rents this room out through the website airbnb.com and has regular guest in town for special events. Here, the walls are randomly stenciled with ferns with a pearl glaze.
A PLACE TO STAY: Sairanen rents this room out through the website airbnb.com and has regular guest in town for special events. Here, the walls are randomly stenciled with ferns with a pearl glaze.

Archived Story

FAUX FINE: Market Street home a designer delight

Published 8:32pm Thursday, June 26, 2014


Karen Sairanen is an artist. The moment one steps into her home on North Market Street, one can see her work decorating the walls. These are no portraits of angelic babies, nor idyllic countryside scenes. Sairanen’s work is, rather, the walls themselves.

An interior designer, Sairanen’s focus is on finishes: using paints, glazes and plaster finishes to transport a room from a turn of the 20th century eastern Carolina home to a villa in Tuscany or an English cottage. Her spacious Market Street home serves as both her residence and a showroom for those in the market for sprucing up their own interiors.

“A lot of times people don’t know what they want until they see it,” Sairanen said. “I’ve sold my kitchen about five or six times. … There’s a lot of paint holding this house up because I’ve painted all the walls about three or four times,” Sairanen laughed. “There’s not an inch of this house that hasn’t been painted.”

One would think that the different styles would lend a discordant note to the home’s decor, but the exact opposite is true. Colors and rooms flow into one another — each room, a new experience, winding through the spacious rooms of a plantation home to the simplicity of a farmhouse to the coziness of an English cottage. Sairanen’s work both stands out and blends in at the same time; her particular brand of art is the type that lures one in to take a closer look.

Sairanen is only the fourth or fifth owner of the house at 401 N. Market Street. Built by the Hodges family sometime between 1895 and 1900, it boasts five rooms downstairs and five rooms upstairs, both off of wide central hallways. The home had already been rehabbed before Sairanen bought it in 1996, so her own additions —besides the lustrous paint — have been minimal. The few changes she has made are both elegant and practical: upstairs, she tied the master bedroom, a room thought to have once served as a nursery and bathroom together into a master suite, complete with separate shower and tub, a sauna and a walk-in closet. Downstairs, what was once a small backyard has been transformed into an English garden: a brick terrace with outdoor seating centers beds of brightly blooming flowers.

Sairanen’s travels have influences her home — she lived abroad for many years before coming to Beaufort County to run a bed and breakfast in Belhaven. In effect, she still runs a bed and breakfast: her home is listed on the website airbnb.com, a website that brings together people with rooms to rent and those in need of accommodation. Locally, that means for weddings and graduations.

“It helps pay the utilities,” Sairanen laughed. “It’s a great way to make use of an old house and not actually be tied down to a bed and breakfast.”

Sairanen was drawn to the Market Street home by its high ceilings and big, light rooms, with little nooks and crannies that are hard to come by — space for her English pot rack and the sauna upstairs, an office on the upstairs landing and a small balcony from which she can watch fireworks displays downtown.

“There’s just a lot of unexpected space that you don’t find in modern homes,” she said. “I think it’s lovely to have the elbow room.”

As lovely as it is, Sairanen has decided to make the transition to a little less space: it’s a lot of house for one person, even with an airbnb.com guest. The combination of Greek key bordered oak and walnut floors downstairs, as well as a front hall that is a masterpiece of inlaid parquet, with Sairanen’s stamp — and stencils and opal gold and pearl glazes — this home is bound to draw someone with a eye for design and city living.


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