When three generations share it, even a once-perfect Shore house eventually needs a bright, smart update.
Text by Leslie Garisto Pfaff
Design by Sheila Rich
Photography by Lauren Hagerstrom
The big house on the dunes was born of a dream. Long before its construction in 2004, back when the owners were young marrieds, they’d vacationed on the Jersey Shore and fantasized about owning a home there. When the fantasy finally became reality, the house welcomed not just the couple but also their growing family, who convened there for 15 years of happy summers and bustling holidays. Today it hums with the energy of three generations: the owners, their grown son and daughter and their 11 grandchildren.
But dreams change, and even dream houses can fray around the edges. Two years ago, the owners surveyed the house and realized it was looking tired and no longer functioned as well as it might. Thanks to Monmouth Beach-based designer Sheila Rich, the dark, outdated interior has now been transformed into a space filled with light, equally suitable for elegant dinners and energetic children.
A challenge for Rich was to imbue the owners’ traditional aesthetic with what she calls “a sense of freshness and vitality.” She did that in part by introducing a palette of whites and pale grays, enlivened by pops of navy, installing a pale gray grass cloth on the living room walls, for instance, but keeping intact the original walnut millwork—including the living room’s lavish wainscoting and built-ins. The intricately laid walnut floors were refinished, and also brightened with white and pale gray area rugs throughout.
All the surfaces were chosen to hold up to sticky hands and sandy feet. Rich used stain-resistant performance fabrics such as Crypton and Nanotex on virtually all the upholstered furniture, including the living room’s luxurious pale gray sofas and a pair of wing chairs, recovered in a gray-and-white patterned Scalamandre fabric that’s water- and stain-repellent. Today’s performance fabrics, the designer notes, are a far cry from the rough-textured synthetics that prevailed a decade or two ago. “Even to the hand,” she says, “they feel beautiful.” A pair of custom ottomans in the living room provide a perfect example; covered in a navy vinyl that has the look and feel of rich leather, they can easily stand up to spilled drinks and damp swimsuits. Virtually nothing in the house is “look but don’t touch.”
Rich not only made the seating tougher; she also made it work more efficiently. A small sectional sofa in the living room, for instance, was moved to the more intimate family room and replaced with a pair of sofas that can accom-modate a crowd. And she created a kitchen island with a rounded outer edge, she explains, so that diners there no longer need to feel as if they’re “sitting on the subway.” When the homeowner suggested replacing the chairs around a large circular dining table because she disliked the reddish hue of the wood, Rich recovered them instead, in a gray-patterned fabric that swept away the red. Why not replace them? “They were the perfect size and shape to allow 12 chairs around the table,” she explains.
An extensive kitchen renovation was critical to increasing the functionality of the home, which is frequently the scene of large catered dinners. The new cast-iron farmhouse sink, for instance, is flanked by two garbage rollouts—one for trash, one for recycling. There are two full-size refrigerator/freezer units, a dual fuel range with six burners and two ovens, a drawer microwave set handily next to the stove, and a pot-filler positioned for both the range and the coffeemaker. Increasing the kitchen’s utility are an 8-by-8-foot pantry and a designated baking area with a marble counter for rolling out dough.
To maintain a traditional look, the design team “hid” the refrigerators behind panels that matched the white cabinetry and incorporated the home’s original sconces and pendants. The old ceramic tiles were removed and replaced with walnut flooring that blended seamlessly with the wood abutting it, thanks to a skillful refinishing of all the home’s floors, old and new. The new design deftly incorporates beloved elements from the old, including a series of antique pieces such as a graceful Biedermeier armoire in the dining room. Rich recovered and repurposed a pair of beloved wing chairs, setting them next to a custom table that can be used for a board game or an intimate meal. To elevate the seats to the correct height for dining, she added an extra layer of upholstery; the small table between them has a pedestal rather than legs to accommodate the outsize chairs.
That table, with its sleek curvilinear design, is one of a handful of contem-porary pieces that feel perfectly at home in the classic interior. A similar custom end table creates a counterpoint to the living room’s sectional sofa, and two super-slender, barely-there standing lamps add illumination without bulk to the family room. They’re functional as well as attractive, providing, says Rich, “a beautiful linear light source for reading.” Those lamps are just two of many small touches and sweeping improvements that make the family home exactly what its owners dreamed it could be: a place to leave work behind and embrace the simple pleasures of sun, sand, and—most important—one another.