The Many Variations of Waterfront Home Design

May 23, 2024

If there were a big book of interior design rules, we’d imagine there’d be an entire section on waterfront homes, and this would be rule number one: if you own a house on the water, it should look like it belongs there.

Text by Kaitlin Madden

There’s just something about a New England waterfront property that begs for a sense of place. In fact, if there were a big book of interior design rules, we’d imagine there’d be an entire section on waterfront homes, and this would be rule number one: if you own a house on the water, it should look like it belongs there.

“Our clients with waterfront property want to be reminded of their location,” says Cristina Johnson of TMS Architects and Interiors, a firm that specializes in coastal home design and lakefront cabins. “There’s something about bringing that lifestyle and texture palette inside that’s important.”

From the historic maritime vibes of a Kittery Point renovation to the rustic allure of a Silver Lake cabin and the contemporary lines of a coastal new build, the Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based firm, has an adept ability to capture the essence of coastal and lakeside living in a way that isn’t redundant or cliché. Here, we’ll look at three distinct properties by TMS Architects and Interiors, each reflecting not only the individuality of the families who live there but the unique sites and scenery surrounding each property.

Artist Retreat, Kittery Point, Maine

Overlooking a cove on Kittery Point, this gambrel-style beach house clad in wood shakes is exactly what you’d imagine when you think of a home on the Maine coastline. The homeowners wanted to keep it that way.

An addition at the front of the home created space for a safer stairwell and elevator for aging in place. A covered porch was converted to a year-round living space with new windows, doors, and insulation.

Inside, however, they hoped to modernize the interior, and worked with TMS on a full-scale renovation. “The client wanted a more contemporary take on coastal home design,” explains Johnson. “It was a little more seasonal and closed-in, but they wanted a nice open kitchen with a breakfast area, where you could see the sailboats outside.”

Careful not to strip the home of its character, structural beams were covered in reclaimed wood, and the pine floors were preserved to make the home feel like it had always been that way.

Inspiration for both color and texture came from beyond the windows. “We did a combination of blues, white, and cream, and the gray tones pick up on the rocks on the shore, which is common on the Maine coast. The texture in the tile has a water look to it. The brass hardware and navy accents have a nautical feel, all of which underscore the location,” Johnson says.

Silver Lake Cabin, Madison, N.H.

A quick peek inside this next home will tell you it’s in a very different spot. Waterfront, sure, but this lakeside cabin in New Hampshire sits back on a wooded site with verdant, rustic surroundings.

“This house is in the middle of the woods, so we wanted to bring those textures inside, with darker beam detailing, and a rough-hewn oak finish that feels more natural,” says Johnson.

Soapstone countertops and sink and slate tiles round out the earthy finishes, while wicker furniture, plaid fabrics, and chicken-wire accents on lighting and cabinetry contribute to the camp-like vibe the homeowner was after.

Again, the color palette was pulled from the scenery: in the kids’ bunkroom, Johnson says green was pretty much the only option. “When there are this many trees, you get a lot of green light bounce. We don’t fight it,” she says.

The home’s water views are reciprocated by those out on the lake, so care was also taken when planning the home’s exteriors. As a result, the new construction feels like a seamless part of the shoreline. The home’s siding mimics tree bark, while green trim helps camouflage it within the site.


Cove Light Project, Kittery, Maine

A short drive from the first project sits a second waterfront home in Kittery, but that’s where the similarities end.

The home, a new construction, was built on a hilltop overlooking a river that runs into the ocean. “The whole home is flooded with light,” says Johnson.

One of the clients, had a career in the Coast Guard and wanted the home’s exterior to be reminiscent of historical Coast Guard stations. TMS accommodated with crisp white siding and a red roof.

Nautical touches abound. There’s a compass star inlaid in the husband’s office, while polished wood accents, brass hardware, and shades of white and blue thread the home together.

Specific attention was paid to tile in the house, too. The backsplash in the kitchen has a wavelike effect, while the limestone in the mudroom is embedded with tiny marine shells and fossils.

From the big picture to the smallest of details, it’s all in the name of creating a sense of place on the water.

TMS Architects, Portsmouth, NH,


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