Memories of summers at the beach have a way of sticking with you, like sand after a dip in the ocean—only you don’t ever want to brush them away. It was this persistence of memory that compelled Jim Gauthier to find a house where he could re-create the lazy and blissful days he’d spent on the New Hampshire coast as a kid. “I grew up vacationing on the coast and it was wonderful,” Gauthier, a co-owner of the Boston design firm Gauthier-Stacy, remembers. His family’s three-room cottage was cramped, though, and he wanted a place spacious enough for extended family and friends. Plus, says the interior designer, it had to look “cool and great.”
He found a house he liked in Hampton Beach, but he was wary of its location. “The town has a reputation for being ‘honky-tonk,’ so I hadn’t really been considering it,” he says. Then there was the matter of curb appeal: the house had none. But the beach, being gorgeous, held sway. And the house had three things going for it: affordability, six bedrooms and the forty-five steps it takes to set foot in the sand.
Gauthier bought the property in 2000, and for seven years he and his parents, siblings, nieces and nephews happily came and went, while he made slow and steady improvements to the interior. But he admits that the home’s cobbled-together facade didn’t exactly thrill him.
He finally called in an architect, choosing Bruce Miller, with whom he’d worked on his Boston loft. Remembers Miller: “I got what Jim was trying to do. We had to make it as charming as possible. He gave me a lot of images of houses he liked and I combined them with my memories of traditional summer homes.”
Miller carried off a transformation so complete that “people hardly remember what it used to look like,” says the elated homeowner. The roofline was changed, the fenestration thoroughly reconfigured and the vertical siding replaced with gray shingles. The open second-story porch is now enclosed (a gaudy balustrade gone), and the unsightly garage replaced by a sheltered ground-floor porch and proper entry. A tidy lawn, picket fence and boxwoods complete the now-pretty picture.
“I wanted a front door and a porch,” says Gauthier. “I love what ‘porch’ means in our New England vocabulary. It sets the mood for a house. A porch makes a home gracious and inviting. Here, it’s where we greet our guests, cocktails in hand. It’s part of the ritual of the house.”
Reclaimed brick pavers here and in the foyer foreshadow the home’s casual decor. “You walk in the door and instantly you know it’s not going to be stuffy at all,” says Gauthier. “The bricks hide the sand, too.”
This is a quintessential “high-low” family house with the advantage of having been decorated by someone who knows elegance—and how to make even a breezy, beachy gathering place look sophisticated. And yet: “I wanted the house to be super comfortable, so no one would ever worry about putting a glass on a table. Nothing is precious,” says Gauthier.
The walls in the foyer are swathed in bold, chocolate-brown stripes. The space is furnished simply with a framed mirror, vintage trunk and weathered bench, on top of which sits a large bowl filled with sea glass gathered over the years.
On the second floor, an open-plan kitchen (with chocolate-brown walls, high-gloss white beadboard ceiling and wide-plank floor) and dining room dominate. At the heart of the kitchen is one of Gauthier’s best finds: an antique shop counter discovered in the Berkshires. Pressed into service as an island, “it really is our gathering place,” he says. “It’s where we all hang out. I made sure that it would seat up to ten of us at a time.”
The wide center hall makes a perfect segue to the screened porch, Gauthier’s favorite spot. “I wanted to make the porch into a true room, with lots of seating,” says the designer, who generously layered the all-season space with texture and cottage-style comfort. In winter, when the screens are switched out for glass, the sun can warm the porch to 75 degrees, making it an ideal spot for reading or dining. In summer, though, “I just love it,” says Gauthier. “I love napping on the swinging bed. There’s always a little noise in the background, from the street, or a baseball game that’s on in the house...it’s perfect. The room just makes me happy.”
On the third floor, Gauthier turned the living room and three bedrooms into airy retreats. He had the open-beamed ceiling and walls covered with batten board and painted a cool white. A sisal rug over the painted floor grounds the living room, where sofa and chairs are done in dove-gray slipcovers. (Gauthier switches to black-and-white ticking stripe in winter.)
Throughout the house Gauthier’s signature orange serves as a clever punctuation mark to an overall neutral palette. He’s dipped pillows, throws—even two wicker chairs on the porch—in the happy color.
“On the outside, we worked with classic colors—dark gray with white trim,” he says. “Inside and out, I used accent colors of red, white and green, but I love orange. I always have. I had an orange room as a kid,” he adds. “I have touches of it in my apartment, but I really turned up the orange in this house.”
Although it has a small footprint, the house never feels crowded. Gauthier’s mother, Barbara, is living there full-time while her own home is being renovated. “When I am here by myself, I’m very comfortable,” she says. “And even when the house is full of people, it feels just as comfortable. It’s incredible. When Jim bought it, the house was suitable, but it was dark. It didn’t feel like a beach house. Now it’s bright, open, comfortable and friendly.”
Gauthier smiles when he thinks back to the plain Jane his home once was. “I remember wanting it to look nicer, so I would enjoy pulling up to it. And now, well, I can’t help myself. I drive up, and I can’t stop smiling.” •
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New England Home showcases the unique architecture and superior design and building that define the luxury home in New England. From cutting edge lofts to historic dwellings, New England Home is your guide to the very best of New England style. Each issue includes beautifully produced images of our area’s most amazing homes, along with profiles of artists and artisans and all the latest resources and design trends.