Hometown Historian

Mary McGuire Lynch has deep roots in Saint Paul and a design business focused on individualized attention.

Interior designer Mary McGuire Lynch feels a strong attachment to the history of Saint Paul. Her family has been part of the story of the city for generations, and that sense of place is always a factor in her work as she transforms homes and businesses in the city.

“I have a love for the history of this city,” says Lynch. And it’s no surprise that she feels so strongly about Saint Paul. She grew up on Summit Avenue just a few blocks from the house her family now calls home. She and her husband, also a Saint Paul native, left for college, but came home to raise their family here. They searched for just the right house and knew as soon as they saw it that it was the one. It needed some work, as old houses sometimes do, but that didn’t worry her. “It was a labor of love renovating our current home,” she says. And, living on Summit Avenue, she is reminded everyday of her family’s history in Saint Paul. Her grandfather George Donovan’s company installed the decorative light posts on Summit that stand to this day.

Lynch is the youngest of eight children, and her mother was one of eight siblings, so all those relatives create a network that she jokingly says makes it impossible for her to step out of line. “I can’t get away with much because it seems every day I run into friends of my parents, my older siblings, and even my teachers!” says Lynch, who attended St. Mark’s Catholic School and Derham Hall (now Cretin-Derham Hall).

As an active member of the community and someone who has always valued historic homes, Lynch served for six years on the Summit Avenue Residential and Preservation Association, working to keep the historical character of the nearly 5-mile boulevard protected.

When she sits down with a residential client, she brings all that knowledge to the project. Lynch can often tell a new homeowner the history of some of the people who lived in their house before them and she can help steer the design project to honor the historic integrity of the home. Knowing, for example, the history of the Sears Kit House bungalows that are so common in some Saint Paul neighborhoods or recognizing the “more is more” aesthetic of the classic Victorian houses brings depth of purpose to her design choices. She loves researching—or, as she says, “over-researching”—a project before she begins to give advice and guidance. And she has found that most clients in Saint Paul want to respect the architecture of their house.

Once the research is complete, the next step is listening. “Listening closely is absolutely essential,” Lynch says. “A lot of people have a hard time expressing what they want. I try to learn how they want to live in the house and then help them make the changes that will make their house the best it can be for them.”

But it isn’t just historical expertise that makes Mary Lynch Design a special company. Lynch has a technical background that gives her an awareness of the nuts and bolts of house construction. She can help clients work around potential structural issues as she works through design and renovation projects with them. She was once able to warn a client about electrical problems she was likely to encounter before the contractor even opened up the ceiling to reveal the old wiring.

The reason all these other skills and talents are folded into her business is that she was in her 40s when she decided to go back to school and study interior design. “I have all this other life experience,” Lynch says, “that is a valuable asset to have when I approach a project.”

That life experience and her commitment to listening closely are both qualities that Danette Andley and her husband have found valuable as they’ve worked with Lynch to renovate their 120-year-old home in Summit Hill. “First of all, she’s just the nicest person,” Andley says, explaining why they’ve worked with Lynch repeatedly on projects in their home. “She acts as a mediator between my husband and me,” she says with a laugh. “We have very different tastes and Mary always brings several ideas to us that let us bridge the gap.” In addition, Andley says that Lynch understands what living with children is like and knows how to suggest finishes and materials that can stand up to the day-to-day wear-and-tear of two boys. “They can run in and drop a baseball bat down on my countertops and it will be fine,” Andley says.

Mary Lynch Design handles commercial as well as residential projects, and Lynch knows that both form and function are important in a restaurant or when you are turning a tattoo parlor into a chiropractor’s office, as she did recently. Knowing how a space will be used is the key to a successful project. In a commercial setting, making sure a space is workable obviously will have a big impact on the day-to-day success of the business. Listening and then helping a business client find the best choices for their particular needs is not that different from helping a family put together a home that makes them all comfortable, she says.

When Mary Lynch went back to school in her 40s to become a designer, she knew she’d found the right outlet for her talents. “My husband asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Lynch says. “That statement released me and I decided I could make a midlife shift and reinvent myself.” Reinventing herself gave her the tools to build a business using her passion and abilities to reinvent homes and work places while sharing her knowledge of the history of the city she loves.

Form & Function

Form and function is what design professionals focus on, whether the project is a new family room or a new commercial kitchen. But not all home design projects need to be complete overhauls. As March ushers in spring, some of us will be looking around our homes and wishing we could hit a reset button and brighten things up a bit. Mary Lynch has some suggestions for ways to get a little spring into your house without undertaking a major renovation.

1. Paint

“Paint is the easiest way to make a big change. Don’t use anything flat—use at least an eggshell finish.”

2. Lighting

You can literally brighten things up with new lamps or even just lighter lampshades. And if you live in an older house where lighting and wiring can be challenging, don’t give up on overhead lights until you investigate. “Some of these older houses have wiring in the walls and ceilings that has just been abandoned and covered over the years. It might be easier than you think to add a chandelier,” she says.

3. Accessories that change with the seasons

“Now that it’s March, maybe that heavy knit or fur throw can be put away in favor of light cotton in a light color.”

4. Flowers

“Flowers are an inexpensive way to really bring some springtime inside. In fact, flowers in the house in any season are a quick, inexpensive way to have a big impact.”

5. New window treatments

“Lighter, brighter, more open windows,” she says. “Let the sun shine in.”