Artisans revamp a former summer home
A marine welder in Maine. An art show held after hours at a gallery in Portsmouth. A New Hampshire fabric designer. A store dedicated to decorative plumbing, another specializing in building custom staircases. It took a team of Seacoast creatives to turn a summer home in North Hampton, New Hampshire, into a year-round residence.
The project began with interior designer Frances Hodges, former manager at Portico Fine Tile and Design, who met homeowners Richard Clark and Tom Murphy when they came into the store seeking assistance with their bathroom tile and backsplash. “They were looking for help with other things and they really clicked with me,” she says. The influence of Portico is all over the house, from a tile floor that looks like wood in the mudroom to multiple tile selections adorning the downstairs bathroom and the new backsplash in a partly redone kitchen.
Formerly of Ipswich, Massachusetts, Clark and Murphy had owned the North Hampton house, which is a block from the beach, as a summer place for several years before moving there full time. “I think our intent originally was that someday we’d retire here,” Murphy says. With their youngest child approaching middle school, the lure of the town’s charming combined elementary and middle school provided an added incentive.
Hodges appreciates how work with the couple progressed. “They’re fantastic people and they gave me so much artistic license. Looking back I feel really humbled,” she says. Clark and Murphy did give her one specific direction. “They said they wanted to see three options for everything.” They told Hodges to suggest one thing she thought they would like, another that was fairly safe, and something else that pushed the envelope. “Almost every time they chose the one that pushed the envelope. Really early on they let me take the reins.”
The most striking feature of the renovated home is the entryway, a two-story space that showcases many of the contractors with whom they worked. “It was much more colonial when we bought it,” Murphy says. “You walked right into the stairway before.” The former staircase was replaced with one made of Brazilian cherry, which leads to a curved balcony overhead. Bradford, New Hampshire-based Colonial Woodworking did the balusters and staircase. “The balusters correspond with the three large pendent lights,” Hodges says. “It was this really fantastic creative collaboration. Tom and Richard were so eager to play; I really tried to brainstorm ideas.”
Lights from Rockingham Electric are inset into the entryway’s coffered ceiling and in diamond-shaped pendants that are suspended over the entrance. Bead board lines the walls and elegant curved benches provide seating space on the first floor. Most eye-catching, however, is the dramatic metal sculpture covering two stories of the entry wall.
“The sculpture in the foyer was super fun,” Hodges says. “It was so difficult to come up with something that wouldn’t disappear on that wall. They [Richard and Tom] were so open to it.” With Mike Dumas, a marine welder from South Berwick, Maine, she worked for months designing a wood mock-up of the piece. Hodges wanted the sculpture to be made of stainless steel, which she says is hard to work with, and Dumas’ background in marine welding helped the project succeed. “He’s incredibly talented,” she says.
From morning to night, the changing natural light in the room and the various electric light options transform the sculpture’s appearance by casting rippling effects and varying shadows. Every light is also on a dimmer, adding to the variety. “It gives us the feel of waves and sails,” Murphy says.
At the top of the stairs are oversized framed photographs of Murphy and Clark and their three children. Hodges, who once worked in framing, put them together. “I am really, really proud of that foyer,” she says. “I feel really connected to that space because it was such a problem. It would keep me up at night, ‘What am I going to do with that space?’”
Art throughout the house is original and local. The owners brought very little with them from Ipswich, so the designer went to work looking for pieces. “I worked with Nahcotta Gallery closely,” she says. “They really bent over backwards. Nahcotta was willing to take down a show and hang another after hours for Tom and Richard to come in and see the artwork.” Out of that exhibit they chose pieces by Amanda Kavanagh, Rose Umerlik, and many others. “There’s such a great creative network in the area.”
Clark and Murphy have a tremendous love for the beach, where they spend many hours, and for the ever-changing tidal nature of the water, including the marsh that flows through their backyard. Despite this passion for the sea, they wanted to avoid the traditional coastal décor that features pillows reading “Welcome to the Beach.” Hodges understood their need. “My goal with that whole place was to combine their really modern aesthetic with the beachy quality of the location,” she says.
The homeowners put in a patio on the right side of the home with the help of landscape designer Jennifer Benjamin and Piscataqua Landscaping. “She laid out all of the pavers and the plantings,” Murphy says. “I worked with her on that. We thought it would be a good place to make it pop when you come in from the street.” Hydrangeas, ornamental grasses, and lady’s mantle help with the show. The patio, made of Tidewater Stone by Genest, connects to an outdoor shower with a handheld showerhead, so that the couple, as well as their children and guests, can easily clean up.
Both patio and outdoor shower are steps from a door to the downstairs bath, which shows off Portico’s tile work and the skill of carpenter Jamie Gowing, who is based in Hampton, New Hampshire. The shower is covered on the walls and ceiling with slender, vertical tiles in natural shades of blue and brown; the floor was designed to have the appearance of large pebbles. The customized vanity done by Gowing has a drop-down front in the style of a desk.
On the first floor, there is also a mudroom that connects to the garage, as well as a den and a guest bedroom. Colors throughout the house are soothing shades of taupe and beige, and much of the furniture comes from Cabot House in Portsmouth.
Up the custom staircase, the kitchen opens onto a living area and an outdoor balcony. Though the footprint of the living area stayed mostly the same, a large window was added on the back wall to create a broad view of the marsh and grasses beyond. Furniture in the living space is tan and cream, while a blue, leather-topped ottoman and original paintings on the walls add color accents and individuality to the room. Against one wall stands a cabinet that Gowing designed to look uncomplicated until you push a button and the television rises up and out of it.
Gowing refaced the cabinets in the kitchen and added a tile backsplash of slim vertical tiles in blues and grays. He also changed the island from its former kidney shape into a two-level semicircle. JRenee Design Center upholstered metal barstools in a striking blue and gold fabric, and the jute and suede rug sitting under the kitchen table matches one in the living room. A glassed-in propane fireplace that partially separates the kitchen and living spaces is original to the home. The combined living and kitchen area with the adjacent deck is the couple’s favorite space, in part because of the tidal views. “We use this space a lot,” Murphy says. “We use the deck a fair amount. From spring until fall, it [the landscape] is constantly changing.”
Down the hall past the family photographs, the living space was bumped out to create a full room for their school-aged son, as well as a larger master bedroom. Their son’s room got a new bathroom, and a hall bath was redone with new bead board and original paintings. The spacious master bedroom now overlooks the marsh for dramatic, floor-to-ceiling window views of the changing tides; clean lines within the room, carpet, and elements from nature make the space feel peaceful. The master also includes two walk-in closets.
In the reconfigured master bathroom, a pocket door separates the toilet from the rest of the bath; tiled walls in the bathroom and shower have the flowing appearance of waves. The new shower, designed with help from North Hampton, New Hampshire-based Taps Decorative Plumbing, offers almost anything a homeowner could want: steam shower, faucets both overhead and on the side walls, body sprays, and a hand-held showerhead. A bench is placed along one wall, and the floor imitates the look and feel of beach stones.
A staircase tucked into one side of the master leads upward, where a former attic is now an elegant office. Clark, who works from home much of the time, has a large desk built by Gowing in front of a window with sweeping ocean views.
Hodges considers this project special because of the homeowners’ openness and the ingenuity and vision of the artisans involved in the home’s design and construction. “This house really articulates the creative enthusiasm we had about it,” she says. For Clark, Murphy, their family, and guests, they have crafted a home to love.