After buying her parent’s house, Molly Torres Portnof of DATE Interiors created a home of her own:
My husband and I are high school sweethearts, the rare unicorn of modern relationships. We grew up in Long Beach, a barrier island on Long Island’s South Shore, an hour outside of New York City. We had lovely childhoods in this idyllic beach town with lots of time spent on the water. After graduating from college, we moved to Manhattan first, Brooklyn second and stayed put for a decade, while spending as much time in Long Beach during the summers as possible.
At the end of high school, my family moved to a new house in a neighborhood called ‘The Dunes,’ a charming seaside area with private beaches. The house was originally built in 1991 and while it has many amazing features, like a roof deck, pool and spacious backyard, the interior hadn’t been updated in 30 years. And it shows. There’s plenty of shiny, curved door handles, arched, Palladian windows, vaulted ceilings, awkwardly angled walls, a very conspicuous, double-sided and oddly placed fireplace and a floor to ceiling marble primary bathroom with glass blocks and mauve sinks (and yes, I know marble and mauve are both in right now, but I promise, this marble and these mauve sinks are not it). Oh, and the best part is the popcorn ceiling on the entire downstairs floor. A popcorn ceiling wonderland if you will.
When my parents announced they were retiring in 2022 and decided to downsize, my younger sister and I were devastated at the thought of them selling the house. We hadn’t grown up there, but we felt so strongly tied to it. It’s a home we loved coming back to, with a big, open layout perfect for large gatherings of friends and family in a gorgeous beachfront neighborhood unlike any other. But when my parents asked me and my husband, Harry, if we wanted to buy the house, my first reaction was ‘absolutely not.’ We loved our Brooklyn apartment. We don’t have kids yet. Most of our friends still live in the city. We’re not real adults. But… we always knew we’d want to raise our (future) kids in a beach town. And there’s no other beach town we love as much as Long Beach. And there’s no other house we love as much as my parents’ house. So, after much discussion and a newfound willingness to do something we didn’t feel 100% ready to do, I went back to my parents, with my tail between my legs, and said yes.
It’s been said that buying a house is one of the most stressful life events and I can attest that this is true. But I want to acknowledge how lucky and grateful Harry and I are that we didn’t have to deal with house hunting in this market, in this economy. It really was a dream scenario, especially for two millennials. But what happens after the fairy tale ending? There’s a big dose of reality that hits right after riding into the sunset. Mine happened to be waking up in my thirties in a house that felt very much like my parents and very little like Harry and me. This might seem dramatic, except for the fact that we’re both creatives who are deeply impacted by our surroundings. I’m an interior designer and Harry is a record label head, so art, design and music are intrinsic to our lives.
It’s funny how the instant the house became *mine* all the things I hadn’t paid much attention to before crystalized and became glaringly obvious. The popcorn ceiling suddenly took on a technicolor hue. The weird fireplace and builder grade mantel had giant red arrows pointing to it from every angle. There were dark wood blinds everywhere I looked. And I do mean everywhere. I can still see them sometimes when I close my eyes. Cue Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’. Luckily, this is what I do for a living, so I started making lists. One list was for long-term, ‘big picture’ goals, including a major interior and exterior renovation. Because we’re financially unable to embark on a major renovation for a long, long (I cannot emphasize the word ‘long’ enough) time, I focused more on the second list of short-term, immediate goals. These included ways to transform the house with space planning, paint, wallpaper, furnishings and art without structurally changing anything. Luckily, we weren’t starting from scratch. We had some furniture, rugs, art and decor from our Brooklyn apartment and several pieces my parents couldn’t fit in their new condo, including a few heirlooms that I was attached to.
We began with painting the entire house, replacing door hardware and removing the popcorn ceiling from the downstairs floor, an incredibly messy, but worthwhile endeavor. Then I honed in on each space. A big part of my firm’s design ethos is incorporating custom and vintage pieces, no matter the scale or scope of the project. There’s a lot of myths and mystery around custom and vintage, mostly because people (including many of my clients!) think they’re unattainable, but that’s truly not the case. Follow along as I share tips and break down the design process.