A Sea Change

July 1, 2013

Accustomed to cruising the world on a yacht, an adventurous couple decides to drop anchor in a cozy, urbane Newport home. 

Text by Maria LaPiana    Photography by Sam Gray

Feeling a bit like ducks out of water, Lara and Craig Wilson were apprehensive when they decided to make a home together on land. After all, the couple, who met on the yacht on which they work—she as chief stewardess and he as chief engineer—had lived at sea, traveling the world for close to a decade. “We’d never had a home before, so we needed a lot of guidance,” remembers Lara, a New Zealand native.

They found a historic property in Newport that had been completely renovated with a modern (but not too modern) sensibility. They loved the home’s location, intrinsic character and curb appeal, so they bought it—but then found themselves adrift. “We didn’t even know what we wanted until he put it out there,” says Lara.

“He” is Boston interior designer Dennis Duffy, who was commissioned to finish the interiors. He won the couple’s confidence, says Lara, because his “offices are beautiful” and because “he got us straight away. We didn’t interview anyone else; we just went with our gut instinct.”

For his part, Duffy was intrigued by the project. “It’s a modest home with three floors, sitting right off the sidewalk, in a neighborhood of similarly plain, wooden structures,” he says. “It was newly renovated, but had no personality.

“For inspiration, they showed me photos of very cool, edgy, chic hotel rooms they’d stayed in,” he adds. “They wanted the home to be sophisticated, but comfortable. Contemporary but not austere.”

At forty and thirty-five, respectively, Craig and Lara say they’re not quite through with their nomadic existence, so they wanted to be sure the house wouldn’t be outdated by the time they are ready to move in for good.

Life aboard a yacht definitely informed the couple’s decisions. Says Lara: “The yacht’s owners have a beautiful concept of interior design. Everything is always meticulously clean, with fine lines and no clutter. We wanted that, but also wanted color and patterns that invited people to relax.”

The challenge for Duffy, who typically designs larger homes, was starting from scratch. “They didn’t have anything at all, and these were small, irregular spaces,” he says.

The renovation was well done, Duffy notes, with architectural details suited to the look the couple was after. They opted for an overall neutral palette with a few colorful surprises and mostly custom furnishings.

The open-plan first floor features wainscoting and wide-plank pine floors; Duffy covered the walls with a textural hemp grasscloth. The living area in front is anchored by a custom sofa, built to fit the snug space and covered in natural linen. The case goods, including a media cabinet designed specifically for Craig’s electronic equipment, are a mix of modern lines and polished woods. Most of the carpets throughout the home are custom, and all of the lighting is new. Duffy kept treatments on the large windows simple with shades installed within the frames.

The designer served up a little whimsy in the dining area by lighting a zinc-topped table with a fixture made of hanging silverware. The dining chairs sport a print fabric on the back for a bit of added dash.

For the L-shaped second-floor master bedroom, Duffy painted two walls a deep shade of purple then introduced lavender and green accents and a silk-and-wool rug to soften the space. Narrow tiered tables of walnut with nickel-finished stanchions, designed by Duffy, fit perfectly in the limited space to each side of the couple’s queen-size bed.

In summing up the home’s vibe, the designer says, “We started with a very vanilla box. I think we gave it personality and individuality, based on who the homeowners are. There’s an urban edge to it, but I don’t think it conflicts with the architectural envelope.”

Lara and Craig agree, emphatically. Lara says they’re pleased the decor is neither a hodgepodge nor too matchy-matchy.

The couple still spends most of their time traveling. “For now,” Lara says, “it’s our holiday home.”

In the meantime, the couple can sail smoothly, knowing their stateside home awaits. •

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