Design for outdoor living
Instead of choosing the typical beach theme for a waterfront guest cottage, interior designer Anne Cowenhoven of Accent and Design Inc. in York, Maine, created an unexpected garden getaway. The guest cottage sits at the base of Secret Cove, a property overlooking the Piscataqua River and site of the Museums of Old York’s 2013 Decorator Show House. Cowenhoven was one of 16 designers who participated in the fundraiser, located in historic Kittery Point.
Minimalist in its design but bursting with fun colors, the cottage Cowenhoven refurbished is an inviting, summery retreat ideal for outdoor living.
“I wanted people to expect that the cottage was going to be water themed,” she says, “but I really wanted to give it a tweak. That’s why I brought it to the garden instead. I wanted it to be memorable, and the garden had so many wonderful colors.” Surrounded by the serene blues of the river and the lushness of the mature gardens surrounding the main house, the cottage’s pink scheme and lime-green and white accents are a refreshing sight.
Both the house and the cottage are oriented toward the gardens. In fact, guests weave through the beds to reach the cottage and enjoy the coastal scenery. Giant butterbur (Petasites japonicus ‘Giganteus’), with its huge leaves, and clumps of yellow and orange daylilies (Hemerocallis) sprawl beside the cottage. “I thought the gardens were a very important part of the house,” Cowenhoven says. “They really were the majority of the land, and the homeowners had obviously spent a lot of time picking plants. It almost seemed like the garden was more important to the homeowners than the river.”
Cowenhoven saw the cottage as a peaceful escape for honeymooners or guests on an extended stay. She wanted to create a warm and welcoming place appropriate for two people, allowing guests to feel like part of the family without needing to go up to the big house. With the gardens as her inspiration, she found a drapery fabric that became the starting point for her design. She made custom fabrics through Stroheim that incorporated colors almost identical to those in the garden, including orchid pink, lily pad green, dahlia orange, and a hint of hydrangea blue.
The biggest determining factor of her color palette, however, was the whitewashed beams across the ceiling, which the homeowners asked her not to change. Aesthetically, Cowenhoven saw the woodwork as one of the most interesting original features of the cottage, but it had a very pinkish cast to it. Blues did not match the wood at all and although sand tones would have worked, she knew early on in her planning stages that she wanted to avoid an ordinary seaside décor.
One of the trickier parts about the design for Cowenhoven was working around the U-shaped layout of the cottage. Guests immediately step into a long, narrow hall, off of which is the bathroom, before entering the living space. She considered a few different floor plans but decided to place the bed along the bathroom wall, facing the view, and to create a desk area and a two-person sitting area.
In keeping with a light and airy summer space, Cowenhoven knew first off that she wanted to paint the floors. Originally, the cottage was in messy condition with wall-to-wall polypropylene carpeting. When Cowenhoven pulled up the carpet, she found not just subfloor but tongue and groove boards. Hopkinton, New Hampshire-based artist Judy Dibble of Brookwood Designs painted the floors using the splatter technique. Over top the pale pink floor paint, there were speckles of three other colors: a white, a medium pink, and a dark pink.
“We decided on a splatter floor because I really wanted that old New England, cottagey feeling to go in there,” Cowenhoven explains. “That type of floor was often done in farmhouses and beach cottages—they were painted. The speckling gave it a lot of neat, fun texture.” The splattering took a long time, but the designer says the technique hides lots of dirt and holds up well while adding flair.
Cowenhoven accessorized the cottage by bringing the outdoors in, without competing with the view. “The view was so spectacular, it stood on its own. It’s like another piece of artwork in the room,” she says. Paintings of swimmers and marsh birds are mostly in the same blue tones as the Piscataqua. The artwork, painted by local artists, came from George Marshall Store Gallery in York. Instead of covering the windows, Cowenhoven simply framed them with the draperies. Accents including bathrobes and colorfully packaged presents suggest that this could be a honeymoon cottage. All the details complement the gardens—vases filled with silk flowers, birding books on the coffee table, and a rabbit doorstop.
The cottage has two porches: on the small front porch that faces the gardens, she placed a simple bench, and on the back porch, she set out two rocking chairs and a metal table where guests could sit down and take in the water view.
Linda Zukas of Nunan Florist & Greenhouses in Georgetown, Massachusetts, designed three large planters, one for the front porch and two for either end of the back porch. Cowenhoven showed Zukas samples of the fabrics she had picked out, and they collaborated on colors and materials that would suit the containers’ waterfront environment. “Containers require regular watering and feeding, especially ones in full sun and near the water, but selecting the right plant material for your containers improves your success rate dramatically,” Zukas says.
Fitting with Cowenhoven’s honeymoon theme, Zukas wanted to use showy but easily maintained plants. “I selected plant material that would complement the colors that Anne had chosen for the inside décor of the cottage. I was also looking for plant material that would provide a consistent show of color, make a great impact, and be relatively low maintenance.” She used bold pink Vista Bubblegum petunia and lime-green sweet potato vine for punches of color, along with coleus, alternanthera, and Vertigo Pennisetum, an ornamental grass, for texture.
The containers seamlessly integrated indoors with outdoors using color. “If you are inside and look out and see those planters, you feel like you are outdoors, and if you are outdoors and look back into the cottage, you feel like you are inside,” Cowenhoven says.
To create your own garden retreat, she advises homeowners to “keep it casual, keep your windows wide open so lots of light comes in, and pick a color that you then can build upon, like I started off with pink tones and then found the accent colors. Color is really important in creating a base for good design.”
Container Gardening Tips
from Linda Zukas
• When planting a container for an outdoor living space, first be aware of what sunlight that area receives.
• Make sure your container is large enough to give your plants enough growing room for the whole season. Sweet potato vines have tubers, which require a fair amount of soil.
• When planting a container near the water, select plant material that can take the daily wind and dry air.
• If you want a planter on your patio table, select a low container you can see over when you are at the table. Succulents will thrive in a shallow container on a sunny table.
• Plant the right material for the right conditions. We sometimes ask a lot of our plants and then blame them for not performing when we ask them to cope with extraordinary situations.