Living small on the Seacoast
A getaway apartment renovation
A longhorn skull, an Hermès rug, Ikea cabinets, and sleeping space for five: all of these things and more have found a place in the renovated getaway home of one Texas-based couple in Hampton, New Hampshire.
Owner Lisa Gupton is a third-generation New Hampshire native, growing up in Hampton, attending the University of New Hampshire, and living in Portsmouth before moving away to New York City and then Texas. When her parents passed away, Gupton inherited a property they had owned in Hampton since 1982, with a floral shop downstairs and a rental apartment upstairs. At first, the idea of renovating the upper floor was not appealing.
“When Lisa inherited it, it was a pit,” says Richard Page of Richard Page Renovations, who handled the transformation of the home. “It was covered with greasy walls—there hadn’t been anything done to it for 20 years.”
“It had been used and abused,” Gupton acknowledges. In addition, it was tiny—just 600 square feet. The heat of Texas summers, however, inspired her and her husband Ted, an architect, to take a closer look at the house as a getaway.
“This was a new challenge for him [Ted],” Gupton says. “He does work mostly for institutional, corporate, and real estate development clients. But he has always wanted to do a small space.” With tremendous creativity in maximizing the home’s floor plan, plus Gupton’s skills as a former special event designer coming into play in the furnishings and décor, the owners created a space to love. “It’s our little pied-à-terre in the summer,” she says. “For me, it’s wonderful.”
The transformation has been total. The Guptons started by ripping out the ceiling, taking down walls, and removing the carpet and linoleum, revealing beautiful wood floors below. Upper windows were added. Opening the attic created a loft space that now serves multiple roles: storage, library, and guest area. “Ted pondered for the longest time how to make the loft space interesting,” Gupton says. In the end, the homeowners created a sort of “Juliet’s balcony,” with a piece of glass running across the front of the loft, creating a desk that is not visible from below. The addition of a closet and a pull-out sofa turn the entire space into a usable guest room. A knee wall in the loft created a storage cubby, where Ted and Lisa can keep lesser-used items such as skis.
The home “is kind of like a boat,” Gupton says. “You have to be practical with the space.”
In the lone bedroom, the homeowners put two single beds so that sleeping options would be more flexible for friends and family that occasionally use the home. Two closets were added to the bedroom; together with a large coat closet in the living room and the kitchen pantry, they create ample storage in the apartment.
A wall that stood between the kitchen and living room came down. “In 1922, they didn’t do this open concept,” she says, laughing. Despite limited dimensions, full-sized appliances were purchased for the kitchen. A pantry closet hides a washer and dryer; a microwave is tucked under the island counter. “We have no upper cabinets because visually you don’t want to close the space off.” Shelving came from Ikea, and the homeowners put in large storage drawers and cupboards. Oak and pine floors in adjacent rooms were stained so that all the flooring flows together.
The addition of a deck contributed tremendously to enlarging the feel of the house. “The outdoor deck has made a huge difference,” Gupton says. When guests are seated around its table, only trees are visible, she says—it is not until you stand that the parking lot below appears. Gupton was eager to have something green, given the limits she found to gardening in the heat of Texas. “My grandma had an amazing garden at her Rye Beach home, and I love gardening. Even though it’s just a potted garden, it’s a garden.” Out of window boxes spill ivy, petunias, and geraniums, while grasses are placed next to the sofa. For hanging pots, she visits nurseries each spring and buys what looks good that season.
The deck allows more space for entertaining, something the homeowners make work within the 600 square feet. “I’ve had 25 people for drinks and hors d’oeuvres,” she says. “I’ve had 10 for dinner—somehow that little place works.”
Size concerns were not limited to furniture and maximizing indoor and outdoor space. The first floor entry, for example, posed its own problem with local codes. “There was an issue with the boundary such that if the door swung out it was a fraction of an inch over the boundary line,” Page says. “We got a door that was sized small enough that we just barely made it.” The deck also had to be designed to preserve the parking space below. “Everything had to be really carefully conceived and constructed.”
The loft, which gave critical space in the apartment, also had its own logistical concerns. “We needed to be able to store the library ladder because it blocked a first-floor doorway,” he says. “It was definitely a challenge to finish the kitchen and make a pocket for the loft ladder.”
If creating the sense of a spacious home in just 600 square feet was not challenging enough, the homeowners did the entire project from thousands of miles away. “What was pretty tricky was that they were in Texas and I was here, so we were working out the details of the design via e-mail,” Page says. “I would get half a dozen e-mails a day from Ted—it was a collaborative venture for sure.”
Beyond designing the home from a distance, Gupton also picked all of her furniture and décor while at her full-time home in Texas, stored it there, and then eventually moved it across the country. “I furnished the entire apartment from Texas, sight unseen,” she says. “That winter, only from measurements, I collected every single piece of furniture, art, and accessories. That included finding just the right bureau to fit in a small nook, plus the deck seating, table, and grill.”
Furnishing a completely renovated house she had not entered turned out to be one of Gupton’s hidden talents. “We arrived in March of 2014 in a U-Haul truck. We had arranged for three guys to help us move, and we left two weeks later with the place completely furnished, right down to the cocktail napkins,” she says. “We couldn’t believe it all fit. We had so much fun with it.”
Gupton took a coastal approach to the design, using soft greens and blues, blue-and-white stripes, and orange for a pop of color. She is a longtime art collector, with many paintings purchased on Monhegan Island in Maine, where she has visited since she was 17; several hang in the apartment. Home furnishings and décor came from all over, including from One Kings Lane, Pottery Barn, World Market, and Ralph Lauren. Nesting tables in the living room are mid-century vintage Heywood-Wakefield from her parents’ first home, while a coffee table in the living room was formerly a basket given to them by Ted’s mom. “I filled it with giant pinecones and added the glass top,” she says. “The sofa and club chairs were good-quality estate sale finds that I had reupholstered with white denim, but not before I cut the fabric into five-yard pieces and washed and dried it all myself so as to pre-shrink it.” Mirrors and all of the home’s lighting came from Wayfair.com, sent directly to the contractor. A longhorn steer skull and horns are a nod to their Texas home.
As for the apartment’s location, Gupton enjoys the area. “I have high hopes for downtown Hampton,” she says. “We are a block or two from some really excellent restaurants. You hardly need a car. Slowly but surely, it’s changing.” The couple uses their bikes to explore the beach, which is just a couple of miles away; they also joined the Abenaqui Country Club, where Gupton’s parents were members for more than 50 years. When the apartment was finished, they renovated the storefront downstairs, restoring it according to historical research.
Although Gupton lives in a much larger home in Texas, her heart seems to be in downtown Hampton. “We are so cozy in a small space,” she says. “We think our place in New Hampshire is the cutest, coziest space. We are so proud of how it turned out.”