From the December/January 2015 Issue:

From Ocean to River

    Writer: Robin Amster | Photographer: Patricia Burke | Interior Decorator: Daniel Ranger | Architect: Robert Rich Associates |

A shore home on a narrow lot—extending from ocean to river—conceals generous spaces and striking style


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enlarge | Top: A covered colonnade featuring classic columns flanks the swimming pool and leads to the main house. Bottom: This view of the pool looks toward the carriage house, which contains a second-floor guest suite and, on the first level, a summer kitchen and garage. Latticework on the colonnade’s windows was owner Daniel Ranger’s idea. Architect Robert Rich says the original idea was to use shutters, but the lattice proved a simpler and better way to provide privacy.
Looking at the exterior of this oceanfront house in the shore town of Sea Bright, it’s not easy to imagine what lies inside. But enter the classic Shingle-style Colonial Revival—sitting on a narrow lot on Ocean Avenue—and you’ll find generous, light-filled spaces and a striking interior design scheme.

On what architect Robert Rich calls a difficult site, the house extends from an oceanfront carriage house to a courtyard with a pool bordered by a colonnade to the main house. Rich says the admittedly “peculiar layout” contains rooms that unfold in a “series of sequences” culminating in a large living room overlooking the Shrewsbury River where it joins the Navesink River.

The five-bedroom property—with four bedrooms in the main house and a one-bedroom apartment in the carriage house—resulted from a close collaboration between Rich and the homeowners, Dr. Gregory Greco, a prominent plastic surgeon with offices in Manhattan and Red Bank, and Daniel Ranger. The couple also have a Manhattan apartment.

“We use our places at the shore and in the city pretty interchangeably; we never close either up,” Ranger says. “The choice of Sea Bright was largely my doing. I always thought the little strip of land north of Sea Bright where you can have a deep-water dock on the riverfront and your own deeded beach on the ocean side was unmatchable. So when an ocean-to-river lot became available we grabbed it.”


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enlarge | The morning room is for watching television, reading and relaxing. An antique Regency drop-leaf table backs up to a sofa. The sofa and chairs wear green slipcovers, the walls are covered in chocolate-colored grass cloth and the floors, like those throughout the house, are high-gloss, dark-stained quarter-sawn oak. Ranger chose a midcentury Tabriz rug to ground the seating area. Gregory Greco set up the Christmas tree—with its gold ornaments and ribbons—in front of double doors leading to the patio and pool.
Kismet
A fortuitous connection led the pair to Rich, owner of New York City-based Robert Rich Associates. The architect had renovated the historic Joye Cottage in Aiken, South Carolina, for Gregory White Smith and Steven Naifeh, co-authors of a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Jackson Pollack. Smith, now deceased, was Rich’s cousin, while Naifeh is Ranger’s best friend.

Ranger and Greco had been guests at Joye Cottage, a sprawling 19th century, 60-room estate originally owned by New York’s millionaire Whitney family. Listed on the National Register, it was designed partly by Carrere & Hastings, the venerable architect of many notable buildings, including the New York Public Library and Blairsden, the Peapack-Gladstone home that was the site of the 2014 Mansion in May Designer Showhouse & Gardens.

Rich has worked on New York City townhouses that Ranger says share some of the same challenges as his Sea Bright home. These townhouses, “little narrow properties” often concealing generous interior spaces, are not unlike the shore homes standing “shoulder to shoulder” along the ocean, Ranger says. “You pull up to our house and think it’s just a beach cottage. But it conceals all this space inside.

“The basic idea for how the house would function was ours. Our idea was to have a carriage house, a pool and a main house, and Robert made it work. We live in a bowling alley,” Ranger quipped, or what he agreed could also be called the ultimate railroad flat.


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enlarge | Top: Daniel Ranger chose oversized subway tile that reminds him of his grandmother’s New York City kitchen for the backsplash and a full wall in the kitchen. The white custom cabinetry, painted twice to give it a vintage appearance, contrasts with the black granite countertops. The kitchen houses two ovens, two dishwashers and a giant freezer, refrigerator and walk-in pantry (not shown). Ranger says he and Greco, the cook of the pair, wanted a “utility kitchen, not one where guests hang out.” Bottom: Glass-fronted cabinets in a corner of the kitchen display china and glassware. The cabinetry hardware contributes to the vintage look.
A Creative Trigger
The challenge of working with restrictions can serve as a powerful catalyst for creativity. “In architecture when you have a difficult site, it often makes for a more interesting solution, whereas with a blank canvas, things can be a little generic,” Rich says. “In many ways the Sea Bright home is the size of a good-sized townhouse.”

The placement of the carriage house facing the ocean allowed it to screen the pool from the street. Inside the main house, the architect created different types of spaces “so you don’t have the sense of going down a long hall, though that’s really what you do,” Rich says, adding that he’s a great believer in homes that offer “a sequence of events.”

“This one is quite a long trail, though you don’t feel like you are trudging down a long corridor,” he says. “What you see doesn’t necessarily prepare you for what is coming next. The house changes in feeling and culminates in the final room.” That 30-foot wide living room features French doors overlooking a deck with views of the river.

Rich faced other limitations in addition to the narrow lot. The height of the building is governed by zoning restrictions, “so we had to play a lot of games to get high ceilings.” The heights vary from room to room with, for example, 9½ feet in the morning room, 11 feet in the master suite and 12 feet in the living room. The architect says the house has “a very traditional beachfront aesthetic.” He also chose a gambrel roof to avoid giving the structure the look of a “shoe box” and to “get as much volume in the envelope.”


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enlarge | “It’s hard to make a traditional beach house feel masculine,” owner Daniel Ranger says. But he did just that in the master bedroom with a black, white and ivory palette. A 16th-century Flemish tapestry hangs over the bed while a pointillist painting featuring reapers by Dent Robinson is over the fireplace.
Commit to One Good Idea
Ranger says of Rich’s work, “On this funny lot, he gave us great volume, detail, proportion and surprise. If you start with a good structure, let the house do all the work. The décor just becomes a supporting player.”

However, Ranger underestimates his contribution. Without training in design but with an interest in architecture and residential spaces, Ranger undertook furnishing the interiors. “I’m the guy who picked all the stuff” is his disarming assessment of his design scheme.

The principles that guided him include:
• “Often what you don’t do is more important than what you do.”
• “It seems that people often try to use every idea they’ve ever had, so they end up having a house with multiple personalities. I like a house that commits to one big good idea and executes it well.”
Given his partner’s stressful life as a surgeon, one of Ranger’s goals was to create a home that would visually eliminate that stress. “I wanted the house to have zero energy,” he explains. “I found that by limiting color (the upstairs is all black and white), I could still have complexity without being complicated.”

Ranger’s design combines traditional with eclectic, transitional style. It also has a masculine aesthetic and even elements of the “homey, from things our mothers loved.” A major feature is Ranger’s integration of prodigious amounts of artwork and antiques.


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enlarge | The library on the second floor is the perfect spot to leaf through Ranger’s numerous art books and gaze out at the ocean. The desk is new, dictated by function because antique desks don’t have file-size drawers, Daniel Ranger says. The ebony “supper” table, however, is mid-18th century English. It sits at the center of a Victorian-style sofa and chairs uphols­tered in black-and-white hounds-tooth wool.
Buy What You Like
As an enthusiastic art collector, Ranger is a devotee of New York City auction houses, but his approach to collecting is unpretentious and practical. “The adage ‘buy what you like’ is really true,” he says. “The market tells you what’s expensive, but not always what’s good.”

Ranger and Greco’s collection ranges from traditional oil paintings to a Japanese graphic to a large-scale geometric abstract. “Even though we don’t have some deeply thought-out collection, one’s personal taste is more consistent than you’d think,” Ranger says. “So when you wonder what all these things have in common, the answer is that you liked them. Somehow they all just end up fitting together.”

While Ranger is the driving force behind the pair’s art collection, Greco is primarily responsible for the home’s Christmas décor. “He believes that when you have too much you don’t see any of it,” Ranger says. “He keeps it simple and likes natural objects referencing the shore, including star fish, for judiciously placed holiday decorations.

The design scheme and the holiday décor add up to what Ranger calls “simple traditional spaces that will never become irrelevant.”

Robin Amster, a regular contributor to Design NJ, is a Madison-based writer and editor.

The homeowners, who are active in numerous charitable causes, opened their home to visitors as part of the 2013 Holiday House Tour sponsored by the Visiting Nurse Association Health Group. The 2014 tour, which benefits the organization’s hospice program, will be held on December 5. It will feature four homes in the Two River Area of Monmouth County and will include a gift boutique. For details, vnahg.org.


The owners named their shore home Reckless Cottage in a nod to a prominent 19th century figure in the area, New Jersey State Senator Anthony Reckless, whose name appears on an early deed to their property. Ranger says the name also can describe the home’s vulnerable location between two waterways as well as the fact they built it without a budget. Whatever the meaning, Ranger jokingly cautions other homeowners about giving their residence a name. Friends and family continually shower the couple with gifts bearing the name Reckless. This needlepoint throw pillow which sits on a 17th century tavern bench in the second-floor hallway, is one example. “But they’re [the gifts] always appreciated,” Ranger hastens to add. “We’re never not touched.”


Sources

Overall: interior decoration, homeowner Daniel Ranger; architect, Robert Rich Associates in New York City; contractor, Peak Construction & Design in Navesink; hardwood flooring, Top of the Line Hardwood Floors in Belmar; artwork, Bonhams, Christie’s, Sotheby’s and William Doyle Galleries, all in New York City, plus gifts and finds; antiques, New York City auction houses, Charlton Hall Galleries in West Columbia, South Carolina, and various finds. Living Room: sofa and chairs, Room & Board; coffee tables, Scully and Scully in New York City; rug, Stark in New York City; table, Charlton Hall Galleries; sculpture, John Belardo. Morning Room: console and rug, William Doyle Galleries. Dining Room: table, reproduction from Mill House Antiques in Long Branch; chairs, Chinese Chippendale, a gift; rug, Stark; chandelier, antique from Vidal Chandeliers in New York City. Kitchen: backsplash and floor-to-ceiling subway tile, Artistic Tile. Master Bedroom: bed headboard, Mitchell Gold for ABC Carpet & Home in South Hackensack; side tables, Safavieh Home; wing chairs, Lillian August in New York City; rug, Carpet Depot & Flooring in Ocean Township; tapestry, William Doyle Galleries. Library: antique “supper” table, Christie’s; sofa and chair fabric, Zarin Fabrics in New York City. Twin Guest Room: twin beds, Christie’s. Guest Room: bed, Martha Stewart; bedside tables, Christie’s. Carriage House Living Room: sofa and chairs, Raymour & Flanigan; dining table and chairs, CB2. Carriage House Guest Bedroom: bed, Crate & Barrel; chest, Christie’s; watercolor near dresser, Sondra Freckleton.

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