Coastal Glam in Southport
October 1, 2017
When a fire destroyed a designer’s home, she revisited furnishings from her past for a fresh—and inexpensive—approach to her new space.
Text by Julie Dugdale Photography by Michael Partenio Produced by Stacy Kunstel
When life gives you lemons… you know how the rest goes. Truer words were never spoken when it comes to designer Mindy Schwarz’s home in the coastal hamlet of Southport. At 1,800 square feet, the cozy house is the picture of sophistication and charm spread across three stories in a mix of English architecture, eclectic repurposed furnishings, and modern-glam flair. A sleek palette of white and gray showcases unexpected flourishes, like bold textured fabrics and cheeky sculptures, which convey a carefully executed aesthetic.
The kicker? It’s all because of a fire that ravaged her previous residence, which she’d just finished clearing out and redecorating. She needed to rent a place to live in, fast, and she needed to make it feel like home quickly, too. “I think my adrenaline kicked in; I did this in two days,” Schwarz says.
She was able to salvage just one item from the ashes, a marble counter that she repurposed as a tabletop in her new kitchen. Most of her current furnishings came from basement storage at her parents’ home. “I resurrected all of these things I had just removed from my house, because everything new got destroyed,” she says.
For instance, the white-trimmed glass accent table above a gray bench in the sitting area? It was part of the decor in her childhood home. The piece changed hands to friends of her parents before Schwarz saw it years later—and wanted it back. “I fell in love with this older stuff all over again,” she confesses.
Schwarz, who has a background in nutrition and no formal design training, began her career almost by accident, starting with her love for antiques. Buying up treasures all over New England, she decided to host a sale and, in the process, accrued a roster of clients, some of whom remain with her today for design and home building services through her Westport-based business, House Warriors. “I’m a very strange creature,” she says. “I don’t draw. It’s all in my mind, and it comes out exactly how I want it to without ever putting a pen to paper.”
Perhaps nothing illustrates this talent more than her new space. Schwarz favors a neutral palette, though she admits she has a thing for rotating funky accents. “I never commit to a color scheme in any place, and I’m always changing my throw pillows,” she says. “Those Bengal tiger pillows in the living room? You might come back another day and they’d be gone.”
Beneath them, the “invisible” chairs from Ikea are a calm presence against the built-ins, which house lamps fashioned from old zinc columns. Designed by Schwarz and made by Cranberry Hill Lighting in Maine, the lamps play off the gray lounge chairs—floor samples from West Elm—which add texture and pizazz to the living space. A pair of 1940s sofas she found on Craigslist look coastal-chic in custom-made slipcovers. “I don’t have anything expensive,” Schwarz says.
They may not have cost her an exorbitant amount, but that’s not to say many of Schwarz’s picks aren’t valuable. Her favorite piece, a seahorse sculpture on the living room coffee table, once served as the top of a fountain. “I’d admired it in a friend’s house for many years, and one day she showed up at my house with it for my birthday,” she says. “The cage on top is from HomeGoods—it’s a $900 seahorse with a $9.99 topper. I love the way it’s put together with three pieces that didn’t start together.”
Some might call that sentiment a metaphor for her entire home. After the fire, Schwarz was forced to work with what she had in storage, what she could repurpose from the old house, and what she could collect from easy-access stores in the span of a few days. Except that nothing about the coastal-slash-glam space seems forced. Somehow the flow is just right—a mélange of old-new, subtle-bold, and indoor-outdoor contrasts (the dining room’s table base and chairs were salvaged from her old patio and garden, for example) that looks effortless despite the less-than-ideal circumstances. “When you have all the things there, you can work magic,” Schwarz says of reacquainting herself with her storage castoffs. “I’m a house warrior—I just keep going till it’s the way I want it. I work frequently with a builder, and he always wants to know how everything’s going to look from the beginning. And I’ll say, ‘No, it’s a story.’ As we go, I’m constantly changing the ending.”