Text by Paula M. Bodah Photography by Bruce Buck Produced by Stacy Kunstel
In retrospect, it was one of those blessings that seem to come in disguise. The infamous Superstorm Sandy of 2012 wreaked havoc on the Saugatuck Island house interior designer Olga Adler and her husband had bought just three months earlier. Flooding devastated the first floor. Showing a bit of mercy, the storm spared the second floor, which Adler had just begun remodeling.
Not one to dwell on the negative, Adler surveyed the damage and saw the opportunity for a true transformation, one that would turn the 1960s beach house into an all-season home reflecting her signature style, which she calls “global chic with a twist of Bohemia.”
The house, she says, “suffered from multiple-personality disorder. It had walls where there should have been open space, windows in all the wrong places, and was missing light where you would want it most, like in the kitchen.”
The designer called on architect Peter Coffin and builder Neal Hicks, two pros she knew from experience could help her achieve her vision. “I know Peter’s work from many amazing projects he’s done,” says Adler. “We also worked together on a project in Westport.”
Hicks, her collaborator on several projects in the past, was her choice because, she says, “he’s known for finishing projects on time and for the great quality of his work. He also has the ability to work on a tight site and in a coastal environment, which poses its own unique challenges.”
The first of those challenges was ensuring that a future storm doesn’t cause quite so much damage. “The entire house was lifted by five and a half feet, and brought above the FEMA-required level,” Adler explains. In front, a raised terrace bordered by a stone wall gives the impression that the first floor is firmly anchored to the ground. In the rear, the raised part is wrapped with cedar strips painted pale gray to match the shingles that cover the rest of the two-story house.
Adler and her family live here year-round, but she wanted the casual vibe of a summer house. The simple front facade gets subtle interest from board shutters, an understated eyebrow that juts out just a bit above the first-floor windows, and a curved portico with shingled brackets.
The classic gray and white of the exterior continues inside, where the laid-back tone is elevated with a layer of elegance. A heated floor of gray porcelain tile—“the most practical choice for a house where there’s tons of sand brought in from the beach,” says Adler—meets an Asian-inspired Chippendale-style staircase that echoes the outside stair and deck railings. A gray tone-on-tone zebra-print area rug and stair runner are composed of ecofriendly recycled wool. “I love animal prints,” the designer says. “To me, they are a neutral.”
Light floods this new first floor from all directions. The only interior doors on this level are two wide sets of barn doors that can close off the media room from the foyer on one side and from Adler’s office on the other.
Gray also prevails in the media room—an expansive space with two mirror-image seating arrangements that can easily hold as many as twenty people for a movie night. The linen draperies, the two nine-foot-long, single-cushion sofas, a quartet of Asian-inspired armchairs, and the plush carpet are all various shades of gray. Despite the predominance of that serene hue, Adler says the inspiration for the room’s decor actually came from the trellis-pattern cut-velvet fabric in orange, chartreuse, and fuchsia she used for the room’s toss pillows. The vivid pillows, and the bright orange oversize cushions that double as seating, infuse the space with energy.
Adler’s office, too, is a study in gray, with a hefty dose of white in the shelves and trim as well as the few pieces of furniture. “In my work I’m surrounded by pattern and color all day long, so I wanted my studio to be a clean, white canvas,” she says. The round Saarinen table that serves as a desk can be moved around easily to let the designer bask in—or avoid—the sun in the west-facing room.
Back across the entry, opposite the media room, the open kitchen and dining area form an airy space outfitted, again, in shades of gray and white, with a cool splash of watery hues in the mosaic glass backsplash behind the stove. “I cook every day,” says Adler, “but only if I work in a well-designed kitchen.” This one meets all her needs, with its caterer’s oven, two sinks (one a forty-eight-inch-wide Kallista prep sink), and plenty of storage.
“There are no formal spaces in our house,” the designer says. “We are a barefoot kind of family.” Any doubt that she speaks the truth can be dispelled with one look at the dining table—a glass, regulation-size Ping Pong table.
The dining room leads to a sitting room that looks out across a deck to the backyard and swimming pool. Here, a wall of navy blue makes an easy-on-the-eyes backdrop for the TV and, along with a luscious, deep-blue sofa and rug, grounds the sun-washed, white-trimmed space.
Adler outfitted the second-floor master bedroom with a woven raffia bed and a soft carpet of New Zealand wool. A turquoise nightstand cozies up to the bed and an orange Cameroonian juju hat hangs above the headboard. “The thought was to wake up to feel like you’re on a tropical vacation,” Adler says.
Given the casual, elegant ease of this home, life here must always feel like a bit of a holiday. •