Harmonizing the ocean, coastal colors, and a creative decor, a home becomes a work of art
This is not your typical oceanfront home. The decor is not in seaside hues, nor is the upholstery striped. There are no nautical flags on the pillows. Placid harbor scenes in watercolors, and violent crashing ocean waves in oils are conspicuously absent from the walls. And yet everything about this southern coastal Maine house is informed by the ocean, inside and out.
Originally, a Maine home was not in the game plan for these homeowners. But just one night vacationing by the ocean made them eager house hunters. An innocent casual trip up the Maine coast in 2007 turned into an impromptu weekly rental. “It was late summer, and the windows were open,” the husband recalls of their first night. “The ocean was making wonderful, soothing noises.” Next day, they were at the Sotheby’s office asking to see oceanfront properties available for purchase.
What they found was almost perfect. “It was smack on the ocean,” says the husband of the 1970s house. Not only did it boast a pebble beach, but the house sat on a cliff above the water surveying a truly idyllic view. Another major perk was a unique and seductive walled garden installed by a horticulturally savvy previous owner. Although the garden had been neglected while the house sat on the market for two years, it was salvageable. The house had plenty of allure, but its floor plan was flummoxing. Basically, almost all the windows turned their back on the ocean. The kitchen did look out on the sea, but this couple wasn’t wedded to a kitchen sink facing the ocean, and with no major windows overlooking the water, no upstairs primary suite, and an inconvenient layout upstairs, they knew the house needed to be completely reconfigured. That’s when they called in Robert Reed Associates.
For architect Bob Reed, the project was more than a juggling act. From the get-go, the homeowners had a specific challenge on their checklist. “They needed sufficient wall space to highlight their art,” Reed recalls. It’s a testament to Reed’s sensitivity that he went many steps farther. Not only did he provide significant blocks of blank wall space, but he also designed the rooms to offer as many complementary vantage points as possible for viewing the art from all angles. Thoughtfully displayed and brilliantly paired with the decor, the art steals the show.
Although the owners’ art collection is lightyears away from the oceanscape scenes that generally rule the walls of seaside cottages, the color palette of what is on display was carefully selected to work with the water. Based on his Dutch heritage, the homeowner is drawn to the vibrant hues and pithy expression of the European avant-garde movement. The childlike simplicity of each work combines complex inner emotion articulated in bright, riveting colors with the lighthearted themes that reflect both joy and a sense of humor.
The wall art is just the beginning of the collection. This couple runs a shop in a nearby coastal town featuring an eclectic fusion of antiques and contemporary pieces for the home. In keeping with the items they collect for their customers, their personal design statement is a creative amalgamation of eras and styles. In fact, they both feel strongly that a home is most successful when the furnishings time-travel back and forth between centuries and blur the lines between motifs. Their home is thus furnished with the finest works typical of the inventory featured in their shop. Handcrafted chess pieces express a zany sense of humor juxtaposed to an antique grindstone displayed close by. An African mask hangs on the wall not far from a Swedish chair. A whimsical heron constructed of repurposed cones, brushes, and other bits sits on the drinks trolley in the living room. The hallway is dominated by a vintage Dutch canoe. (“Optimally, we would have hung it from the ceiling, but that wouldn’t leave enough headroom, so we had a stand built to display it,” says one homeowner.) There’s a lot to see, and if you don’t end up smiling at the juxtapositions, you’re not paying attention.
Given everything that is happening on the walls as well as tabletops, the upholstery and furniture needed to be relatively quiet. The homeowner worked with interior designer Marcy Masterson to find fabrics with wonderful textures but harmonious colors that do not command attention. The sofa in the living room combines beige linen with a hem of trim selected specifically to echo the color in the room’s artwork and rugs. The living room rug was custom crafted with a strong blue geometric pattern, but the rest of the room is subdued while the art is rambunctious. Walls are quiet shades of off-white, with the exception of one sitting room. Built-in cabinets by carpenter and cabinetmaker Mike Fernald are painted with matte milk paint.
Reed’s design focuses outward toward the water, switching the living room to the ocean side of the house. Although the ocean view is compelling in all seasons, the homeowners wanted to strengthen and frame the riveting scene with a strong landscape surrounding the house. When they met artist and garden designer Michael Walek of Artscape, an enduring friendship and collaboration was forged. Reed installed a pool on the ocean side of the house and added a garage to the configuration. Walek began by restoring and replanting the walled garden: he removed, redistributed, and pruned the overgrown lilacs, the espaliered fruit trees, and the viburnums, hydrangeas, and boxwoods that were obstructing the flow of pathways. The newly imagined walled garden now features phlox, asters, blue lobelia, and alliums among other perennials.
The homeowners and Walek agreed that the garden views toward the water needed to be focused, emphasized, and framed. Walek intended the moon gate that he designed at the end of the axis along the walled garden to be a work of art. Before he had that gate crafted by Mike Fernald, Walek carefully calibrated its height to frame the horizon. Beyond the walled garden’s central axis, a red lacquered birdhouse also serves as a focal point, accenting a water rill in the backyard. Blue and white perennials cluster in borders near the house, and majestic, fast-growing magnolias provide shade. The rest of the woody plants—primarily pines, winterberry, and roses—were selected to provide privacy while protecting the view. Throughout the property, wind is an issue. The walled garden was a brilliant solution, but the choice of perennials also leans heavily on Walek’s experience with wrestling the elements on other seaside properties.
The way the wind sculpts the plants is art. The flow of the garden plan as it stretches out toward the ocean and frames the horizon is art. The colors selected both indoors and outside are in perfect harmony with the scene. And the architecture and floor plan fittingly and thoughtfully pay homage to the surrounding beauty. Everything is designed to celebrate the sheer joy, drama, and wide-eyed wonder of the coastal milieu. Indoors and outside, these homeowners have incorporated creativity, allowing art to continue to shape their lives.