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Light & Breezy

Architect and designer add just the right touches to a coastal Sandwich cottage

Michele Chagnon-Holbrook

Photograph by Charlie Utz

Crossing either the Sagamore or Bourne bridges from the mainland to Cape Cod induces instant decompression: shoulders drop, one’s breath deepens, and life’s pace adjusts to the rhythm of tides and sea breezes. Not content to leave the beach and boating world outside, many want it represented inside their homes. For some, this means dressing the house in shells, starfish, anchors, and ships’ wheels; for others it means establishing a palette of navy blues and crisp whites.

When Michele Chagnon-Holbrook moved to the Cape, she, too, wanted her home to reflect the seascape, but she preferred to go beyond a literal homage to her surroundings and instead have her spaces reflect its colors and evoke its textures. Not finding what she was looking for, this “business girl by training,” who had worked as a corporate executive in Boston, opened her own shop, Casabella Interiors, in 2011. Located on Route 6A in Sandwich, Casabella sells the kind of things Chagnon-Holbrook had wanted to find: fabrics and furnishings that contribute to what she calls a “sophisticated East Coast aesthetic,” a design approach based on a soft palette of greens, grays, blues, and creams and on coastal textures inspired by weathered docks, marsh grass, and ribbed shells. “The East Coast aesthetic,” she says, “is really about setting a mood. It’s about being light and breezy.”

It quickly became clear that Chagnon-Holbrook was not alone in searching for these things. Not only do customers come to Casabella to buy, they also stop in for her design help. One couple that paid her a visit had just replaced their beach shack in Sandwich with a shingle-style cottage designed by architect Joseph W. Dick of Yarmouthport, and they asked Chagnon-Holbrook to come take a look. Soon, she was helping them choose colors and outfit their home with window treatments, rugs, furniture, lighting, and accents.

Though her East Coast aesthetic means staying within a consistent palette and working with natural fabrics and textures, her “rule of thumb,” she says, “is never to use something twice. The colors may be the same, but the fabrics and artwork are not. What keeps me up at night is figuring out how to keep it fresh and new. You might see a beige sofa, but the pillows, rugs, and side table will be different.” Chagnon-Holbrook’s hunt for variations on this theme is intense, and she reveals that she will spend two weeks at a design show and leave with only a piece or two that has made the cut for her shop, where she sells everything under her private label.

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