Big Changes on Little Harbor
Cape Cod Home / Autumn 2021 / Home, Garden & Design
Writer: Larry Lindner / Photographer: Dan Cutrona
In a high-style redesign, a home finally takes advantage of its views.
The stately home across from Cohasset’s Little Harbor had potential for tremendous views out to the water. But it wasn’t taking advantage of them. Sightlines in the house consigned its owners to catching a sliver of blue here and there, kind of by accident. They wanted more.
It was also time for an interior design overhaul. “Robin first decorated the house in 2007,” says homeowner Helen Arnold, referring to Robin Pelissier, principal of Robin Pelissier Design. “It had been 13, 14 years. We wanted a refresh.”
Additionally, Arnold and her husband, Ethan, wanted to re-envision the house to some degree, with more space in the dining room, an attic office, another bathroom on the second floor, and the conversion of an octagonally shaped screened-in porch into interior space that flowed seamlessly from the family room.
To make the changes, the couple, who have been together since they were high school sweethearts, and today have three children in their 20s, brought in Pelissier and architect Sally Weston of Sally Weston Associates.
For Weston, one of the first orders of business was creating a sightline out to the water from the mudroom at the back of the house. “You had no sense of the view before,” she says. “You entered the mudroom and looked at the stairs. There were transom windows in the front door, but they were too high up to see out of. It was also all at a very odd angle.”
Weston not only corrected for the problem by putting in a large door filled with glazing and bordered by side lights, but she also opened up the space by pushing one of the walls to the side a little and thereby expanding the width of the hall. All that was lost was a little space in the entryway powder room, which looked too long and narrow before, anyway.
There were also what Weston calls “jigs and jogs” in the entryway space “that didn’t make a lot of sense. We were able to make a huge pantry out of it,” she says. With cabinetry designed by Weston and built by Faneuil Kitchen Cabinet of Hingham, the new pantry provides both extra storage and great circulation from the kitchen.
Pelissier worked her magic in the newly created spaces by keeping things light, delicate. “The house has a sturdy, hardy, well-built feel,” she says. “It connotes strength—the beautiful heavy columns, the weight of all the board and batten and other wood details, along with combinations of stone and wood. Even the landscaping details are relatively heavy, with bountiful, blooming trees. My aim was to offset a lot of the heaviness in order to complement and serve as a balance to what was already there, to soften the bold build. The house also has almost an arts and crafts quality to it, which I wanted to pay homage to.”
With that in mind, she chose an easy-on-the-eye wallpaper for the front hallway called Pure Dove & Rose by Morris & Co. It has a William Morris design but with lighter and brighter colors. “I felt this choice would be more complementary to its surroundings,” Pelissier explains. Pelissier also livened up the front hallway with Benjamin Moore’s Wedgewood Gray for the door and, for a strikingly shaped settee, a scene-stealing blue fabric from Latimer Alexander. For the overhead light at the door, where she says one might typically expect a black lantern, she went with “a little bit of jewelry, a bit of bling,” in the form of an Yves Flushmount fixture with polished brass from Urban Electric.
In the pantry, Pelissier painted the cabinets in Benjamin Moore Dartmouth Green and the wood floor a diamond pattern of Benjamin Moore Edgecomb Gray and Dove White.
The kitchen, too, received an update with new cabinetry designed by Weston and built by Faneuil, along with eye-catching pendant lighting from Urban Electric. Across from the kitchen, Weston enlarged the dining room by removing some built-in cabinetry and a bar (which was relocated to the new pantry). Pelissier tucked new storage space in a corner by way of sourcing a perfectly sized and spectacular free-standing antique mahogany glass-front bookcase transformed into—voilà—a china cabinet.
Weston opened up the view to Little Harbor in the dining room by removing a door that she says served to “cut things down” and replacing it with a 12-foot glass expanse. She also widened the porch just outside so that a dinner party as well as more casual hanging out can move back and forth from the table to the fresh air. “It had been so narrow it was almost useless,” she says. “Now you can actually put some chairs out there.” The glorious view created by the new panes even allows the cook to see out to the water while prepping in the kitchen.
Just past the kitchen and dining room, Pelissier outfitted the family room with furniture sporting resilient, durable fabrics that would serve the household, including the dog. “There’s nothing too precious or delicate that needs to be dry cleaned,” Pelissier says. “They can really use this room. We approached it as, ‘Put your feet up; don’t worry about a coaster.’ They’re people who really live in their home. Every house they have owned has had a very happy, family-friendly vibe.”
With that vibe in mind, Pelissier took the television out of its dated TV cabinet next to the fireplace. “I like to operate around a television more than other designers,” she explains. “I want to celebrate it. You have a room where you’re going to watch the TV. Why hide it?”
She also chose not to put the television above the fireplace, but retain its lower-down position next to the hearth. “A fireplace often fights for being a focal point in a room,” she offers, “so a lot of people choose to put the TV over it. But that creates a lot of neck strain. Better to keep it more at eye level from comfortable couches and chairs.”
In the designing, Pelissier heeded Arnold’s appreciation for a straightforward look. “Helen doesn’t like fussy curtains,” she says, “no tassles. She prefers it all to be uncomplicated, with no extra curlicues.”
On one side of the family room, Weston enclosed the screened-in-porch to create a wonderful sitting room filled with views straight out to the water, each a bit different because of the room’s octagonal shape. She chose double hung windows that are low to the ground to enhance the outside-in effect. Pelissier gave glow to the space with chairs covered in blue from Burnhardt and accents of yellow on the pillows and occasional pieces. “Blue has a tendency to go cool on its own,” she says. “I wanted to warm up the beautiful blue with goldenrod yellow accents to enliven the room and make it feel homey.” The wicker chandelier from Currey & Company also adds warmth, she comments, as does the Sisal rug.
On the other side of the family room, Pelissier painted the library in a yellow from Sherwin Williams to go with yellow and white shades in a large buffalo check pattern, creating color balance with the yellow accents in the sunroom. “You’re going to start seeing a lot more yellow in homes as well as in fashion,” she says. “It’s such a joyous color.”
On the second floor, Weston added an octagonal sitting room off the primary bedroom right above the newly enclosed octagonal room below, carrying in the bedroom’s shiplap as a unifying segue. “Lying in bed, you can see out to Little Harbor through a space that’s all glass now,” she says.
With a graceful Linden tree out front in the foreground, Pelissier says the view gives “a treehouse feeling.”
That build-out, along with all the other construction, was handled by Colclough Construction, of whom Weston cannot speak highly enough. “Steve [Colclough] is one of the best on the South Shore,” she says. “We’re working with him on two other big projects right now.”
Pelissier went easy on the furniture in the upstairs sitting room with pretty much just a couple of comfy-cozy chairs and a large ottoman. “I don’t like to overcrowd spaces,” she says. “I prefer to give every room a chance to breathe on its own.”
The chairs and ottoman are covered in off white “Presence” by Barrow Industries, with a ribbon of Jim Thompson greens and blues at the bottom of the ottoman for élan. “Those little details take a piece of furniture from being nice to spice,” she describes.
The primary bathroom now has two sinks instead of one, a sumptuous Kohler Memoirs freestanding tub, and a water closet closed off with a pocket door, which was important to the Arnolds. “The whole room feels much bigger now even though new elements were added in,” Helen Arnold says.
For bathroom hardware, Pelissier went with polished nickel—a favorite finish of Arnold’s. It all looks, well, straight out of a magazine, and that’s no accident. “Hotel bath is very much part of my language when talking about a bathroom,” Pelissier shares. “My staff and I talk about beautiful hotels any of us have stayed in and always take pictures—the lighting, the placement of the towel bars….”
Down the hall from the primary ensuite, Weston took away some extra space from a bathroom across from one of the children’s bedrooms to create an ensuite bathroom in the guest room, helping to design a delightful oasis for people who come to stay with the family. She also created a window seat in the guest room—and closets. In a previous iteration, when the children were younger, the space had been just one big box of a playroom. Pelissier beautified the room with Schumacher linens from Matouk and, for the closets, Mountain Mist paint by Benjamin Moore. The sweet-looking blue and white wallpaper is Arlay, by Designers Guild.
The third floor, which was previously an unfinished attic, is now turned into a game room/music room (all three of the children are musicians), with an office off to the side for husband Ethan, along with another bathroom, all designed by Weston. The view from Ethan’s desk to the water is simply fantastic, including a glimpse beyond Little Harbor out to the Atlantic Ocean. He tends to rotate with his laptop from there to the sitting room on the first floor. (How anyone can concentrate on anything but the view from either of those spaces is hard to imagine.)
Art personalizes and adds panache to all the home’s rooms and hallways. “The Arnolds are big collectors,” Pelissier reveals, “and probably one of the most enjoyable things for me as a designer was going through their existing artwork and repurposing it in new places where it would work particularly beautifully.” In one unusual move, Pelissier relocated a world map with pins marking all the places the family had traveled, taking it from a rather hidden spot to a frequently passed wall in the upstairs hall. “It’s a great reminder of the experiences the family has had and a way to highlight them,” she says.
How do the Arnolds feel about the professionals who wrought the changes to their home, almost every inch of which has been touched in the renovation?
“Sally, we wanted to work with her years ago, but it didn’t work out scheduling-wise, so it was nice to have this opportunity to circle back,” Helen says. “We came to find it was worth the wait. Whether it was making doorways larger or adding an arch, she found a way to incorporate everything on our wish list, and within our budget. She’s just so talented, especially with space management—figuring out how to put things in without it feeling cramped.
“And Robin, I’ve done many, many projects with Robin. She really knows our style and what we like. She’s just amazing with colors and lighting and wallpapers. Also, I’ve seen pictures of other homes that she has designed, and I love them. They look fabulous. But it’s not something I would want in my home. A lot of designers, they have one signature style that they keep repeating no matter who the client is. Robin goes with what the homeowner wants, which is really special. She made my home look comfortable. It looks like somebody lives here.
“When we walk around the house,” Arnold adds, “there is not one thing I can think of that I’d want to change. I love everything in every room.”
Larry Lindner is a contributing writer for Cape Cod Life Publications.