Beach Living with a Modern Touch
A Florida decorator redefines oceanfront elegance
Brian and Cindy Mitchell love their beach home in Rye. The location is perfect—the water is just steps away from the expansive deck that stretches across the entire oceanfront side of the house—and the views are spectacular. "Gazing out the windows of our master suite, there are days when you feel like you could walk to the Isles of Shoals," Cindy says. But as their children grew and their tastes changed, the Mitchells found themselves yearning for a new look. "We wanted a more sophisticated, contemporary feel rather than the traditional, nautical New England beach home look we had." And they knew just the person to render the transformation: California-born interior designer Linda Holman of Lovelace Interiors in Destin, Florida.
Holman was delighted to take up the challenge. An experienced designer, she has created award winning designs for clients across the country and has extensive experience with high-end, beachfront residences. She also knew the Mitchells and was confident she could give them the home they envisioned. "I'm a professional guide. My aim is to read clients and give them the results they desire, rather than impose my vision on a space." Holman had decorated homes for close friends of the Mitchells and had a good sense of the couples' aesthetic.
"Coming from California, I'm deeply rooted in a progressive style—everything in my designs is geared toward clean lines, open spaces, and rich texture. Many of my clients these days are seeking just this sort of modern, contemporary feel," Holman notes. "Our lives are so hectic that people want less clutter in their intimate environments. Cindy has a great eye, and so does her husband Brian. They wanted a home that had clean lines and a tailored look, but at the same time was relaxing and conducive to entertaining."
Holman did not waste any time shifting the aesthetic—she started right inside the front door. "When I first saw the house, it was full of plaids and stripes in a palette of blue, green, and yellow," she recalls, "and as soon as you stepped into the foyer, your eye landed on a huge mural of a schooner. That was the first thing to go. We painted over the entire wall, and then applied a natural linen wall covering. That fabric instantly set the tone for our new palette: a mix of soft tans, creams, and cerulean blues punctuated by darker browns to add character and depth to the overall feel."
Holman complemented this earthy blend of colors with textured materials like linen, raffia, and chenille, which allude to the home's beach environment without being overly cute. The new effect was profound. "At the outset of the project, the plan was not to redecorate the entire house; we were just going to redesign the main areas," Holman says. "But things came together so well that Cindy and Brian decided to redo everything."
Plans to repaint and refresh morphed into a year-long renovation. Since the Mitchells' children were grown and gone, Holman began the transformation by reconfiguring the home's lower level from the children's bedrooms to full-service guest quarters—what had been two bedrooms, a small sitting room, and a Jack-and-Jill bathroom became three bedrooms and two full baths.
Holman also went to work throughout the rest of the house changing wall colors, fabrics, accessories, and lighting fixtures to create a cleaner, more modern feel. The kitchen was another area that experienced a significant overhaul.
"The original countertops were gray-green granite and the backsplash was glazed tiles in a running-brick pattern with a fruit basket inset in one area," Holman recalls. "It was lovely, but again very traditional." To update the space, Holman painted and stained the island; resurfaced the countertops with neutral, off-white quartz that blends into the environment; and replaced the backsplash with iridescent glass tiles reminiscent of fish scales reflecting a kaleidoscope of colors. She also swapped out the traditional, leaded mullion glass in the cabinets that occupy the wine bar area with clear panes, further heightening the space's visual unity. Holman scattered polished nickel splash bowls around the walls to provide an added element of visual interest.
"Redoing the kitchen was a lot of fun," she says. "The underlying design is wonderful, so we just altered the materials and décor to bring the aesthetic in line with the rest of the house. For me, the lighting and accessories are like jewelry in a home—they complete the look and feel of a space. I come up with my concept for the overall design, and then add lights, rugs, pictures, and objects to complete the vision."
Lighting plays an integral role in all of her designs, regardless of a home's style, Holman explains. "I believe it should be unique as well as functional, and the scale of the fixtures must be right." As a case in point, for the Mitchells' soaring entry hall, Holman chose a large, contemporary chandelier comprised of multiple, blown-glass globes suspended on wires and bound together to form a shimmering cluster. Although delicate, the fixture holds the space beautifully and contributes to the environment in an evocative, whimsical way: its soft, curved surfaces describe a pattern redolent of the sea coral common to marine environs. In the kitchen, Holman employed smaller area lamps, giving the space a cozy feel and making it appear more like a living space. For the foyer, she selected a cluster of pendent lights comprised of pearlescent, wafer-thin circles whose soft, warm glow calls to mind an oyster's interior.
Accessories are also critically important to the home's overall look and feel, and in Holman's capable hands, they can be functional as well as decorative. Take, for example, the transom window in the Mitchells' foyer. Although it needed to be shielded in some way, the homeowner did not want to install a window treatment that would block out the natural light. Holman's solution: she filled the windowsill with an array of framed antique maps of New England, thereby mitigating the sun's impact while at the same time adding an artistic element to the space.
The art scattered about the Mitchells' home is another reflection of Holman's ingenuity and keen eye. A giant black-and-white canvas of a jellyfish rendered in clean, simple lines adorns one wall of a guest bath, adding texture and a taste of the sea to the space. Another bedroom is enhanced by an abstract landscape that evokes thoughts of the nearby beach with just a few, simple swaths of brown, blue, and cream. Holman likes to enliven the walls with actual objects as well. A massive floor mirror offers a punch of visual interest in one guest bedroom, while a collection of minerals beautifully framed in shadow boxes adorn the wall above the bed in the master suite.
Customized solutions are also a hallmark of Holman's style. Take the built-in that occupies the bay window in the Mitchells' master suite. Although the homeowners wanted a television in their bedroom, they did not want it to be visible all of the time. So Holman designed a custom built-in, complete with a mechanized stand for the television. If the homeowners want to watch TV, they simply push a button and the set emerges. When not in use, the device disappears back into the cabinet. "Ron Houghton of Houghton Builders built that beautiful piece for us, and also did a lot of other woodworking in the house," Cindy says. "He and his team are really talented artists."
Houghton is equally enthusiastic. "The Mitchells are great people and we really enjoyed working on their home. We spent a lot of time there, doing all sorts of custom trim and paneling in the master suite as well as that lovely bay window built-in for the television. We also redid their deck; they were looking for something beautiful and durable, so we installed an exotic Brazilian wood called ipe, together with an Azek rail system. This gives them a beautiful outdoor area they can enjoy, maintenance free."
Inside and out, the Mitchells' ocean side home is replete with unique features and special touches that, together, make it the contemporary haven the couple envisioned. Holman, too, is very happy with the completed project. "I have many, many resources—that's what a good designer brings to the table," she says. "Resourcing is what makes good design—it enables you to make homes unique and give them character."
The Mitchells could not agree more. "Linda is such a talented decorator," Cindy observes. "Brian and I have strong feelings on colors and fabrics, and we needed a designer who grasped our vision and was willing to work with us. Linda got us, and it was a great collaboration. Brian and I are thrilled with the way our home turned out. It has all the comfort and elegance we sought—we walk in the door and just relax."