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From the August/September 2009 Issue:
Beacon of Light
- Writer: Meg Fox
- Photographer: Patricia Burke
- Designer: Elizabeth B. Gillin
A lighthouse theme guides the remodeling of a bayfront colonial
enlarge | “The lighthouse adds dimension and creates an exceptional placement of natural light,” builder Brian Furey says. Within its quarters is a breakfast nook, second-floor landing off the den, and third-floor observatory. The octagon motif is repeated in the new four-season sunroom, once a square screened porch at left. A new pool, cedar-shake retaining wall, and ipe decking make the transition from the house to the boat dock an easy one.
Situated on a protective cove within walking distance of the beach, the property was anything but ordinary. “Jim O’Brien loved the location and lot size,” says Furey, who helped the couple navigate the redesign and construction process. Interior designer Elizabeth Gillin, who like Furey had teamed up with the couple on previous jobs, was another steady anchor for the project.
“Jim is an avid sailor who developed a love of the water,” in part, from working at a boat company during his college years, Furey says, so he wanted the central theme of this home to be New England lighthouse style. Everyone was on board. “We took a square house and gave it a little shape,” adds Gillin, based in Westfield.
The O’Briens, who have four children ranging in age from 10 to 26, needed more space. Both come from large families, he from seven, she from six. “A birthday party can draw 80 family members,” Furey says. And on any given weekend there can be 16 boarders. Converting the maze-like interior into a more open, spacious layout would help the house live larger and smarter, the team decided. So would ample sleeping quarters, as well as new or upgraded bathrooms to eliminate wait times.
The exterior would capture the seaside sentiment the O’Briens admired most with classic cedar shingles and character-rich details. Working with GRA Architects in Cranford, blueprints were drawn for a 5,700-square-foot retreat that threw some curves: a gazebo-like front porch, a rear four-season sunroom, and a Nantucket-style lighthouse with an octagon at its base joining the west and southeast wings. The renovation would work primarily within the existing footprint, plus the addition of about 900 square feet. This would allow for an expanded family room, a den above it, and the extra elbow-room gained from the lighthouse configuration.
enlarge | Main living areas share a blue-and-yellow palette for mix-and-match simplicity. French doors spill open to the patio and pool. A passageway leads to the sunroom and private guest suite. With such a large family, “seating and comfort were big design considerations,” Gillin says. Between the kitchen, casual dining room, and patio, “you can seat 55 to 60 people.”
Before the renovation could begin, the builder had to shore up the existing structure. “It was out of level about 4.5 inches” from front to back, he says. Remedial work involved stabilizing the foundation with numerous helical piers. “We removed everything down to the top of the first floor” and gutted most of the main level, he says. The second floor was rebuilt to accommodate a new master suite, updated bathrooms, and bedrooms with roomier closets.
A third tier was added to accommodate a lighthouse-like structure that extends upward from the kitchen to the second-floor landing to a third-floor observation room. “The lighthouse adds dimension and creates an exceptional placement of natural light,” Furey says. “It also allows for viewing sunsets in winter, spring, summer, and fall.”
The moment you step into the widened foyer, you’re linked to the waterfront through glass French doors. A compass medallion inlay — centered in the floor — is another nautical nod. While a new mudroom entry off the kitchen catches most of the sand and clutter, the front entry and beyond establishes a barefoot elegance with easy-to-sweep red oak flooring and no-fuss area rugs in summer stripes, sand-colored sisals, or other beachy themes. “It’s nice to just roll up the rugs” and shake them free of sand outdoors or have them cleaned at summer’s end, Gillin says.
Main living areas — formerly cramped and divided by walls or narrow hallways — now flow into each other in an open plan allowing easy movement between spaces. Columns, generous moldings, or ceiling details serve as visual transitions. Besides sweeping waterfront views, all rooms share a unified color scheme. “Judy wanted a light and airy feel,” Gillin says, and gravitated toward a blue-and-yellow palette. Even on a cloudy day it’s hard to feel gloomy in the dining room when enveloped by a cheerful wall color named “You Are My Sunshine.”
However, the sun can wear out its welcome, especially when it sets about 6 p.m. off the family room. “You have to do something quick” at the risk of being blinded by sun glare, Gillin says. Remote control blinds are the solution. “Otherwise, it would take forever” to manually close the blinds in the window-wrapped room, she says. Windows have a film coating to prevent the sun from damaging furnishings and fabrics. As an added precaution, Gillin covered the pillow backs along the window seat with Sunbrella fabrics. “Blue tends to fade faster than other colors,” she says.
enlarge | The third-level observatory was designed as efficiently as a ship’s cabin, it has its own bath, wet bar, and dishwasher drawer tucked into the cabinetry. Every inch is used, from the custom maritime bench to sofas that follow the curved quarters.
The classic-inspired kitchen echoes the waterfront theme with a dramatic circular arched ceiling painted to look like a late-day sky. Family and friends gather around a cozy, built-in banquette crafted in the shape of a partial octagon that nestles up to a distressed wide-plank table and relaxed woven chairs. Behind the banquette is a curved eat-in island with the primary sink. This way, “the person doing the dishes is always looking out over the bay,” Gillin says.
Once short on amenities, the kitchen is now well-equipped. Meals are prepared with state-of-the-art appliances, and there’s quick access to convenient features such as warming and refrigerator drawers from adjacent rooms, Gillin says. The space also has a 28-bottle wine refrigerator and an antique copper wet bar and sink. “It’s really a great place to entertain,” she adds. Everyone relishes the striking views of the waterfront, and “Judy can talk to her company in the dining and family rooms without feeling trapped in the kitchen.”
The shore’s laid-back lifestyle left no room for anything that was fussy or formal. Take the once-reserved living room off the foyer. “We converted that into a guest suite” with French-door access to the front and back of the house, Furey says, a practical decision should the couple opt to use the private quarters as a master suite in later years.
With a total of six bedrooms and baths, the house can accommodate a steady stream of visiting family members and friends. However, when anyone needs a break from the crowd, “there are three or four areas to escape,” Furey says. Guests may find refuge in the sunroom at one end of the house or a sitting room in another. The third-floor observatory/wine room may be the ultimate getaway zone. With its panoramic bay vista and built-in amenities, it’s easy to feel on top of the world.
Sources: Throughout: builder and all woodwork, Falcon Industries in Normandy Beach and Brick; interior designer, Elizabeth B. Gillin Interiors in Westfield; architect, GRA Architects in Clark; windows, Andersen. Outdoors: landscape design, Cross River Design Inc. in Annandale; pool, J&J Pools in Shrewsbury; gazebo furniture, Laneventure in Conover, North Carolina; white metal bench, O’Brien Ironworks Inc. in Oceanside, California; flagpole, East Coast Flag & Flagpole in Beachwood, Long Beach Island, and Red Bank. Foyer: mirror and decorative shelf, Elizabeth B. Gillin Interiors; stripe wallpaper, Ralph Lauren; chandelier, Visual Comfort & Co. in Houston; wool staircase carpet, Hibernia Woolen Mills in Whittier, California; carpet runner, Bellbridge in Benicia, California. Family Room: glass and rattan coffee table, Ficks Reed in Cincinnati, Ohio; club chairs, Century Furniture LLC in Hickory, North Carolina; chair fabric, Lee Jofa; window treatment fabric, Stroheim & Romann; wicker chair and side table, Mainly Baskets in Atlanta; motorized tortoise blinds; CMI Interiors Inc. in Springfield; fireplace tiles, Monmouth St. Tile in Sea Girt; oil painting, Joseph Dawley. Kitchen: cabinetry, Custom Kitchens by Chuck Van Emburgh in Point Pleasant; custom banquette, designed by Elizabeth B. Gillin Interiors and built by Custom Kitchens by Chuck Van Emburgh; table, Century Furniture; woven chairs, Ficks Reed with fabric by Schumacher; chandelier, Top Brass Lighting in Baltimore, Maryland; lantern sconces, Vaughan and Designs in New York City; backsplash tile, Monmouth St. Tile; granite countertop, Bedrock Granite Inc. in Edison; appliances, Sub-Zero refrigerator, Viking cooktop, Bosch dishwasher. Dining Room: table, homeowners; side chairs, buffet, and mirror, Ficks Reed; chandelier, Hart Associates Inc. in Ruston, Louisiana; window treatment fabric, Scalamandré; wall color, Benjamin Moore (You Are My Sunshine #302); area rug, Bellbridge; floral arrangements here and throughout, Andi’s Plants Plus in Bay Head. Guest Bedroom: bed, Ficks Reed; dresser; Southwood Furniture Corp. through Elizabeth B. Gillin Interiors; chair and ottoman, Century Furniture LLC; bedding, Amity Home in Azusa, California; decorative pillows, Zoe & Co. in Charlotte, North Carolina; window treatment fabric, Cowtan & Tout. Observatory: built-in cabinetry, Custom Kitchens by Chuck Van Emburgh; built-in bench, designed by Elizabeth Gillin and built by Falcon Industries; custom sofas, The Charles Stewart Co. in Hickory, North Carolina; fabric, Ralph Lauren Sunbrella; wicker table, Laneventure. Second-Floor Landing: chairs, Mainly Baskets, round table, Stanley Furniture Co. in Stanleytown, Virginia; nautical lights on stairwell, Brass & Bounty in Marblehead, Massachusetts.Download the complete resource guide with contact information (pdf)