Above it All

June 27, 2013

Perched above a picturesque Massachusetts harbor, a thoughtfully renovated house outfitted in a sophisticated blend of classic and contemporary style is a standout in every way.

Text by Megan Fulweiler     Photography by Michael J. Lee    Produced by Stacy Kunstel

It’s clear no one could have walked away from this parcel of land on the North Shore of Massachusetts. The lofty, almost-up-in-the-clouds site provides outrageous views of a boat-filled harbor below as well as, in a different direction, the blue ocean. There are non-stop gulls soaring by and salty sea-scented breezes ruffling the trees. Still, truth be told, it was the unique late-1980s house that captured the buyers’ hearts. “There’s just something about the place; it’s very reminiscent of a Palladian-style villa,” explains interior designer Starr Daniels, who heads SD Home in Lincoln, Massachusetts.

A testament to the prowess of its original architect—Art Dioli of Olson Lewis + Architects in Manchester-by-the-Sea—the house had aged gracefully. The stucco structure was sound. The only caveat was an outdated interior (think how fashions change: hemlines up, hemlines down). Handsome but too compartmentalized for the new owners’ twenty-first-century lifestyle, the rooms called for a thoughtful modernization.

Having collaborated with her clients on a previous home, Daniels was familiar with their aesthetic. Arriving on the scene as soon as the final papers were signed, she had ample time to acquaint herself with this new abode and help strategize. Architect John Margolis, principal of the eponymous Beverly Farms, Massachusetts, firm, and contractor Michael Doiron of The Housewright Company, also in Beverly Farms, signed on as well. With such an experienced team it comes as little surprise that in a matter of days, a lighter, airier ambience was brewing.

“Basically, the exterior envelope remains the same. We opened the layout and rearranged the flow,” says Margolis. The master suite and living spaces occupy the upper level, with guest bedrooms on the ground floor, so the house functions, day-to-day, as a single-story home for its occupants. Alterations included replacing the existing floor tiles with hardwood and reworking the several steps down to the living room. The real game-changer was Margolis’s deft relocation of the powder room.

Originally, the powder room and pantry abutted the stairs that spiral to the lower level, an arrangement that tended to back up the traffic flow. When Margolis cleverly slid the powder room over to a spot near the entry, it freed up square footage for a generous kitchen expansion and a better unification of the kitchen with the dining room. Clad in a hand-painted de Gournay wall covering, today’s dining room is a sumptuous visual feast.

Of course, one thing always leads to another. In this case, toying with the kitchen and powder room meant the stairway had to also be reconfigured. It was a small price to pay, though, for an enlivened cooking space with a grand island. Surrounded by woven-leather bar stools, the island is a perfect place for casual meals or perching while the cook is busy—but more on that later.

The master suite also got a posh makeover. The bedroom gained three windows, which translates into more heavenly views when the owners open their eyes every day. The bath was given convenient his-and-her sinks, a back-to-back tub/shower and a private water closet. And the wife was allotted a pretty dressing room, while the husband laid claim to a purposely masculine study—with closets—also next door to the bath.

All this skillful reapportioning of space is made even better by Daniels’s decor. Calling on her fashion background, she selected materials, finishes, fabrics and furnishings that pay tribute to the home’s architecture, while at the same time conveying its freshly awakened spirit. Daniels and the wife traveled extensively, to California, Florida, New York and beyond, to unearth elements worthy of the house. The entry, prelude to their sophisticated scheme, includes a Phillip Jeffries metallic linen wallcovering, a custom-colored David Iatesta chandelier and a custom Stark carpet.

The pyramid-ceilinged living room maintains the tempo with the same Phillip Jeffries wallcovering, a silk relief Stark rug and a knock-out custom scholar’s table crafted of yumu wood. The dark table makes a cool contrast with a custom-designed sofa covered in a pale Holland & Sherry fabric. Lucite lamps on the end tables seem to gather light streaming in from the linen-draped windows. It’s all very heady, but obviously also comfortable, the mark of a talented designer who never forgets people must live in these rooms, too, which brings us back to the heart of every home—the kitchen.

“I believe a kitchen should always be as beautiful as the rest of the house,” says Daniels, “that way there’s nothing to hide and no need for closed doors.” Along with help from Donna Venegas, principal of Boston’s Venegas and Company, and Meaghan Moynahan, the kitchen-design company’s lead technical designer, Daniels has devised a room both functional and fashionable. A backsplash of snowy quilted tiles—“reminiscent of a Chanel purse,” says Daniels with a small chuckle—seems almost too chic to also be durable.

Since the kitchen now melts directly into the family room, Daniels maintained a similar palette there where she married custom Chanel-style sofas, a hand-carved Tucker Robbins bangle side table and a custom braided rug from Steven King.

If the location weren’t so unbelievably seductive, everyone would probably be content remaining indoors forever. But in addition to the vistas, the grounds themselves demand attention. Manchester-by-the-Sea landscape architect Lolly Gibson of Laura Gibson Landscape Design has waved a magic wand over the site, removing years of encroaching vegetation that obscured some of the rocky outcropping’s best features. “The design goal,” she says, “was to create spaces for modern living and maximize views.”

With overgrown trees carefully pruned, natural light pours into the home’s interior and the scenery pops.

In keeping with the house, Gibson also excavated land between ledges and installed a dry stone riverbed with a sinuous iron railing at the ledge’s top. The artful railing speaks to the one at the front door where—talk about seeing to details—diamond-shaped boxwood parterres echo the door’s glass pattern. At the heart of each parterre is a lead container holding a fragrant gardenia. What better flower, we ask you, for such a glorious home?•
Architecture: John Margolis
Interior design: Starr Daniels, SD Home
Builder: Michael Doiron, The Housewright Company
Landscape design: Lolly Gibson, Laura Gibson Landscape Design

Find A Resource

Search from hundreds of home services, products, destinations, and real estate opportunities.

View All Resources