To the Rafters
The very first design decision was to remove almost 1,000 square feet of living space from the home. The new owners loved that the late-1940s Cape directly fronted a large sweep of Buzzards Bay. But the upstairs consisted of a warren of small dark rooms with low ceilings, and the couple was envisioning an airy vacation getaway. “What was up there had been used as an au pair suite by previous owners,” the wife says. With two of their three children already out of college, she and her husband were at a stage that they didn’t need the extra square footage. “We wanted to use it as a summer place—open it up and have it be really bright,” she says.
Light pours in
Eliminating the second floor made for a newly dramatic ceiling height on the first. But it also allowed the contractor, Woodmeister Master Builders of Holden, Massachusetts, to install what is essentially a wall of glass along the back side of the house. With almost zero framing and reaching to the rafters, it lets in not only a much more expansive view of the bay but also much more light. The new framing “pockets into the roof rafters,” that is, out of sight, explains Woodmeister account executive Sean Reynolds.
In addition to allowing the glass panels to be much taller than conventional engineering would allow, the minimal framing—called moment framing—makes it so that the middle four of the eight panels can open directly to the view with no obstructions. The effect is something of an Italian loggia that blurs the line between indoors and out.
Woodmeister also let in more light by enlarging the doghouse dormers and their windows on the front of the home. Light now literally pours in from above.
But the couple wanted things more open still. The main living area was chopped up by a fireplace on an inside wall that hid the view to the water. The kitchen was also “really boxed off,” the wife says. “The whole space was cut up.” She and her husband took the entire main living area down to the studs to reconfigure the layout. But how?
That’s where Jill Najnigier, principal of Boston’s JN Interior Spaces, came in. Najnigier wasn’t new to the couple; she had already designed three residential projects for them. But this one was going to be different. Coming in early on, this project allowed her to collaborate on all the interior architectural decisions that gave the home its improved functionality, flow and aesthetic.
The overall style was going to be different, too. The client’s main home is “more traditional,” Najnigier says. “But I felt less traditional would suit this house better. With such a spectacular setting, I wanted nothing to upstage the view but rather to enhance it with a serene, breezy, organic vibe. I wanted it to feel like summer in its cleanest, crispest iteration—unencumbered.” In other words, she knew some of her choices were going to be a bit of a stretch for her client’s design sensibilities.
She also knew that opening up the entire space presented challenges. “How do you create intimacy?” she asked rhetorically. “My goal was for the home to be appropriately scaled not just for when there were a lot of guests but also when it was just the family.”
Her solution was to delineate a separate space for the kitchen, set off with a capacious island, as well as spaces for dining, sitting and reading, along with an area for larger groups that has a new double-sided fireplace positioned off to the side so as not to obstruct sight lines. The fireplace opens to both the main living area and a screened-in porch, inviting groups to gather inside or out.
Najnigier anchored the various spaces with judiciously placed chandeliers, other lighting and thoughtfully placed area rugs. And while she chose a very neutral color palette set against the backdrop of a white envelope, she kept it from looking cold by employing flashes of green and blue, both soft and saturated to reflect the colors in the view outdoors. She also added lots of warm, organic touches: a floating kitchen island top made of reclaimed, rough-hewn wood that Woodmeister fashioned specifically for such use; the large stone fireplace surround; hand-blown Simon Pearce pendant lights above the island, each a little different from the others; a dining table chandelier made entirely of abalone shells, whose iridescence riffs off the opalescence of the kitchen’s backsplash tiles.
The wife was at first resistant to the chandelier, Najnigier says. “It’s not a shy piece, and she just wasn’t sure. But now that it’s in place, she loves it. The pieces you’re most uncertain about—the ones that for you present the biggest risk—often end up being your favorites,” she says. Along with using natural materials, Najnigier warmed up the living area with textures—accents of grasscloth wall coverings, textures and patterns of the wool rugs and artwork selected for particular spots in the home. “I wanted the art to connect to the setting but not in the clichéd coastal sense,” she says. That’s why, for example, she chose a painting called “Uprising” by artist Elsa Muñoz for above the fireplace. “What I loved about it was that the sea was turbulent and unsettled—an element of moody contrast to the serene setting we had established in the home.”
For the mudroom, Najnigier commissioned a painting by Beverly, Massachusetts, artist Morgan Dyer. “I was looking through her portfolio, and I came across an abstract that, like many of her works, was inspired by the sea and the sand. I asked her to reinterpret it in colors that would both accent and complement the home’s furnishings.”
There’s also a vintage map, five-and-a-half feet wide, in deep, alluring blues that details the original proposal for a local golf course at which the husband likes to hit the links. That golf course, in fact, is one of the main reasons the couple started spending more time in the area and ultimately chose a home there. “There’s nothing in the home that says, ‘This was my grandmother’s sofa,’” Najnigier notes, “but the right vintage piece really infuses a residence with the owner’s personality.”
“The map is very special,” she adds. “I love its vibrancy, and it was wonderful collaborating with my clients on where to position it.”
Keeping in mind her client’s pull toward a traditional look, Najnigier chose elements such as stepped Shaker cabinetry for the kitchen and a farmhouse-style dining table and chairs in weathered materials that weren’t too formal for their seaside setting. Some of the seating nods toward the traditional, too. For instance, even though the two chaises have very clean lines, they are studded with nailhead trim. “By mixing classic and modern elements, the home feels both timeless and fresh,” Najnigier says.
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