Uncommonly Beautiful

June 28, 2011

Text by Paula M. Bodah    Photography by Sam Gray


The predictable interior for a Shingle-style house that hugs the Massachusetts coastline would call for watery blues, sandy beiges and greens the color of marsh grasses. Predictable, however, doesn’t quite describe the couple who built this North Shore home. Certainly a strong element of tradition shows in the white-cedar–clad dwelling, with its hipped roofs, oval windows flanking the front door and an eyebrow window perched at the center of the second floor. Other aspects of this classic exterior, though, hint at surprises lying behind the inviting arched entryway.

Where most Shingle-style houses are trimmed in bright white to show off the details, this house wears black trim. “The dark trim is intended to emphasize mass as opposed to detail,” says architect Douglas Dick, whose firm, LDa Architecture & Interiors, worked with the couple on the house inside and out. “There is a precedent for darker trim,” he notes. “At the end of the nineteenth century the Shingle-style houses that dotted the shoreline often had a darker trim motif—deep green or deep red. I’m not aware of any that went to the extreme of black, though. It’s kind of a more subtle overall exterior look.”

Dick’s design took into account the neighborhood, which consists mostly of houses that, no matter their size, present a genteel, almost modest, face. His clients wanted their house scaled to take its place quietly and comfortably among its neighbors. Indeed, from the front it does just that, thanks in part to low rooflines that reduce the vertical massing. Rather than stretch the house horizontally across the lot, Dick bumped two sections forward. The one-story, hip-roofed sections hold the garage, to the left of the driveway, and a guest suite. The lot slopes precipitously in back, Dick says, so the garage had to be at the front of the house. “It was a challenge, because you don’t want your house defined by the garage,” he says. “We used it as an element to help frame a view toward the arched entryway.”

That entry is warm and welcoming, not ostentatious. But once the doors open, the true nature of the house begins to reveal itself. The first surprise: a breathtaking view of the ocean. The front doors open onto a double-height foyer that ends with a wall of windows overlooking the water some twenty-five feet below. The house, so firmly anchored from the front, seems from the inside to float on air. “We wanted there to be a sense of a reveal as you enter the house,” the wife says, “so you wouldn’t know how fantastic the views are until you stepped inside.”

Although this level looks like the first floor from the street, the back elevation shows that it’s actually the second floor. From the foyer, the home’s main living spaces—kitchen, living and dining rooms and a study—unfold. A sitting area the homeowners have dubbed “coffee talk” stands just off the kitchen. Bedrooms, including the master suite, occupy the top floor, and the lower level holds a workout room, the husband’s office and space for relaxing and casual entertaining.

The interior design, beginning with the color scheme devised by the homeowners and LDa interior designer John Day, is as unexpected as the view. No aqua, sand or sea-foam green finds its way into the sophisticated, subtly masculine ambience. Instead, charcoal gray, black, white and caramel fill rooms awash in sunlight from nearly every angle. “Instead of the typical beach house, the palette speaks more to the rocky cliff,” Day says.

“My husband and I both like the sharp contrast of dark against white,” the wife says. “By keeping the colors in the house neutral with an emphasis on gray, cognac and caramel, the constantly changing colors of the ocean and sky set a dramatic backdrop.”

In the living room, white walls surround a mix of casually comfortable furniture. An ottoman coffee table outfitted in white ostrich leather tucks into the corner made by a sectional sofa covered in soft caramel-colored mohair. The only hint of a non-neutral hue is in the cushions of the spindle armchair, which wear a blue-gray reminiscent of gathering storm clouds. Next to the chair, a bronze drum serves as an occasional table. “The direction of the room was an informality and eclecticism driven by the wife’s taste,” Day says. “She likes things with an organic shape and a bit of texture and pattern.”

The contrast between dark and light continues in the dining room, where a custom-designed ebonized mahogany table coexists with the white walls. Guest dining chairs are covered in charcoal linen, and Day mixed things up a bit by adding leather captain’s chairs at the table’s head and foot.

The kitchen emphasizes utility and efficiency. “It’s definitely a cook’s kitchen,” Day says of the open space, whose appliances are set up in the traditional work triangle. The handsome, no-nonsense kitchen has cabinets painted in a low-sheen iron-gray varnish. A stainless-steel backsplash runs behind white Caesarstone counters, and black marble tops the island. Hanging lights above the island offer a subtle nautical nod to the home’s location. The couple enjoy each other’s company over breakfast in the plush gray leather chairs of “coffee talk.”

The inspiration for the study came, says Day, from the owners’ interest in and flair for fashion. Here, low-sheen black paint covers paneled walls. A hand- tufted silk-and-wool carpet with slender stripes of rust and gold brightens the space. This room has a decidedly masculine feel with its swivel club chairs of heathered wool trimmed in caramel leather—“like a 1940s topcoat,” says Day—and a sofa dressed in navy-blue pinstriped wool.

Outside, the house makes the most of its waterfront location with terraces, an outdoor kitchen and an infinity-edge pool designed to look as though it flows right into the ocean.

The homeowners, who live here year-round, never grow tired of the house. They may no longer be surprised at the ocean view beyond their front door, but as anyone who has gazed on the Atlantic knows, the changing sky and water never fail to astonish.

Architecture: Douglas Dick, LDa Architecture & Interiors
Interior design: John Day, LDa Architecture & Interiors
Landscape architecture: Katherine Field and Associates
Builder: Paradise Construction

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