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Who isn’t familiar with the snowball effect? A minor home improvement project—swapping out an entry door, say—culminates in a stone terrace, a pergola and spruce topiaries. The momentum builds and one thing launches another, often with rewarding results.
The rebirth of this Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, home began innocently enough. Aware that their new address required some remodeling, the owners invited Michael Gray, director of architecture for the nearby Essex design and construction firm Carpenter & MacNeille, to stop by.
Built in 1993, their pretty house was structurally sound, but it needed updated systems and a cosmetic recharge. Ideas swirled back and forth like flocks of birds. Gray sketched some remarkable renderings illustrating how the future could look and—snowball!—clients and architect concurred: a total interior remodel along with a dramatic exterior makeover was in order. With two teenagers and an active lifestyle, the owners envisioned brighter, more comfortable spaces.
Admirers of the Shingle style, which is prevalent in their area, they also wanted the house to reflect a nineteenth-century seaside cottage aesthetic. In other words, “a visually engaging home,” Gray says, “with interesting decorative details seemingly round every corner.”
Working closely with Ian Mentasti, a designer with Carpenter & MacNeille’s sister company, Stephen Terhune Woodworking, Gray led what he terms a “selective demolition” of the interior. Revamped rooms were enhanced with character-giving paneling, built-ins, cabinetry and trim. The staircase in the three-story house took on a more open, gracious appearance and the 6,000-square-foot house gained an impressive kitchen.
Interior designer John De Bastiani took charge of the decor. Having helped the owners with previous projects, the Boston and Los Angeles–based designer knew their tastes. “They’re wonderful, enthusiastic people,” he says. “The wife’s style sense really comes through. I love working with them.”
Many of the owners’ furnishings had gone along with the sale of their old house, so they were starting almost from scratch. Blue and white—a crisp white with no antique-y yellow undertones—is the wife’s favorite combination. With those colors as the theme, De Bastiani wasted no time layering the airy rooms with furniture, art and accessories that conjure thoughts of the sea.
To give the decor a more modern feel, however, the talented designer also introduced an array of ethnic touches. Rather than familiar checks, for instance, living room curtains flaunt a Brunschwig & Fils pattern with a Moroccan flair, library chairs are clad in ikat and pillows wear zippy antique textiles. It’s all wonderfully traditional but with a fresh global spin and a nod to practicality, a style the designer calls “useful traditional” and that he counts as a signature of his work.
“It’s fun taking basic elements and doing something different with them,” De Bastiani says. “We cut striated wall-to-wall carpet for the stairs and ran the stripes across rather than up and down.” It sounds absurdly simple. Yet, installed in that manner, the lines visually enhance the staircase’s grandeur.
The living room escaped major construction, but a new hardwood floor and granite fireplace surround did wonders. Accommodating a host of welcoming furnishings—all blue, white or a mixture thereof—the elegant but unstuffy room contains a number of chitchat-fostering seating arrangements; guests don’t have to look far to find a place to set down a glass or teacup. Clearly, this is a space to be used, not just admired.
The addition of two classic built-in corner cabinets revitalized the dining room. Here, walls are swathed in a Peter Dunham fabric. In a clever move, the designer sliced off the fabric’s border and applied it to the curtain’s edge. A low-key wool rug covers the floor. Host chairs are mahogany, while side chairs are upholstered in subdued blue linen, a deft pairing that lightens the mood. Over the table sails a duo of delicate bell-jar lanterns. And above the antique sideboard, a framed eighteenth-century Chinese engraving lends a hint of formality. “Touches of black ground a room,” De Bastiani explains.
A butler’s pantry links the dining room to the kitchen, where glistening beadboard ceilings delineate the work zone from the breakfast area. Beautifully crafted cabinetry and forgiving Pietra del Cardoso countertops make a hard-to-beat recipe. Adding an inviting breakfast niche with a pillow-laden banquette to the mix ensures a five-star experience. And that’s not taking into account the shapely iron chandelier or the stunning custom table.
Adjacent to the kitchen and extending over the three-bay garage is the library, an appealing setting that De Bastiani has outfitted for relaxation. Again, the blue-and-white theme is enlivened with ethnic-flavored patterns. Huge lanterns amp up the room’s personality, along with accessories like hunks of coral and shells. The wool rug sports a weave “reminiscent of ocean waves,” says the designer. Only in the nearby powder room does the color scheme vary. Here, walls swathed in a raspberry-and-white Carleton V fabric partner with a marble-topped vanity and custom shell mirror.
Given the elegance of the rest of the house, one would expect an equally gracious master bedroom. De Bastiani didn’t disappoint, undoing the couple’s antique bed and reassembling it with a chic upholstered headboard. The serene gray walls are hand-painted with a crosshatch pattern, a soft carpet pampers tired feet and a pair of mercury glass lamps adds a calming symmetry. The adjoining bath is equally luminous—all marble and light.
And the exterior? Totally transformed. After Gray and his team tackled the interior architecture, they wrapped the building in cedar shingles, creating a fully realized Shingle-style home. Their historically inspired design includes any number of eye-openers, including decorative shingle patterns and a unique rope-and-lattice porch window—“a piece of the past,” says Gray. Details are extensive, every one of them highlighting quality craftsmanship.
If ever there was a moment when the owners questioned their courageous do-it-all-at-once decision, it’s forgotten. These days they’re sitting back and enjoying.
Architecture: Michael T. Gray, Carpenter & MacNeille
Interior design: John De Bastiani
Landscape design: Laura Gibson
Builder: Don Tison, Carpenter & MacNeille
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