From the August/September 2010 Issue:

Clean & Simple

  • Writer: Meg Fox
  • Photographer: Peter Rymwid
  • Designer: Sheila Rich

Streamlined shapes, pared-down possessions, and a quiet palette freshen a dated beach house

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enlarge | Designer Sheila Rich created a minimalist design scheme with clean lines and a hushed palette. Touchable fabrics in a linen-like weave lend warmth and depth. Contrasting wood frames assume a graphic quality. Repainted the same shade of white as the walls and trim, the fireplace blends into the backdrop. Physical and visual obstructions are limited with such features as curved armless seating and open nesting tables.
Few towns can rival the charms of Spring Lake, where the sea is a backdrop to tree-lined streets, turn-of-the-century homes, and quaint cottages. So when a busy banking executive purchased a vacation home there in need of updating, her goal was twofold: preserve the exterior’s timeless cottage look, but release the interior from its 1950s time warp. She called on designer Sheila Rich, principal of Sheila Rich Interiors LLC in Monmouth Beach, for help.

It was important for the house to look like it belongs on the street, Rich says. So changes to the exterior were primarily cosmetic: fresh paint, new hurricane-proof windows and doors, and a beachy stripe awning across the front porch.

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enlarge | Furnished with a queen-size sleeper sofa, pocket doors, and room-darkening Roman shades, the double-duty family room functions as an extra bedroom when the need arises. Built-ins jut out about a foot, but “there is a place for everything and everything in its place,” the designer says. Tucked inside the easy touch-latch doors are a computer, fax, and copier/printer.
Bygone Days

The interior — with its original kitchen and baths, worn carpeting, and dark paneling — was ripe for a makeover. “We took it down to the studs,” says Rich, a state-certified designer, professional member of the International Interior Design Association, and allied member of the American Society of Interior Designers.
Staying within the existing footprint (1,760 square feet) Rich squeezed function out of every inch. “My client comes from a family of five siblings, some of whom are married with children” who would be spending weekends and holidays here, Rich says. Spaces had to be “flexible or versatile enough to accommodate multigenerational family and friends with a broad range of abilities.” And all had to be wrapped up in a classic, contemporary aesthetic using natural materials and a quiet palette.

Easy Transition

On the front porch, Rich set the transition from outside to inside with retro-inspired furnishings that echo the home’s midcentury roots, Rich says. Outdoor-friendly sisal rugs ground two seating areas. All seating — here and indoors — is covered in Sunbrella fabric, chosen for its beauty and resiliency against wet bathing suits. “You shouldn’t have to replace fabric because it’s worn,” she says.

Indoors, all walls were painted Decorator White by Benjamin Moore to instill a sense of calm and continuity. Wide custom molding around the windows and doors and for the base trim make a quality statement, especially six-inch crown molding at the ceiling. “Some people feel it’s too thick for an eight-foot ceiling, but I think it makes the room look bigger,” Rich says. Hardwood floors were added in any room that didn’t already have them, and all floors were refinished in a deep Jacobean stain for consistency.

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enlarge | A cozy built-in banquette upholstered in no-fuss Sunbrella fabric makes efficient use of compact quarters. “You can easily pull a high chair and wheelchair up to the table,” says Rich, a factor of consideration in a three-generation household. The custom granite-top table coordinates with the kitchen countertops. Abstract artwork provides a mesmerizing dose of color.
Keep it Quiet

“I wanted nothing to call out to you,” Rich says of the hushed palette and minimalist design scheme. Repeating various design elements establishes a rhythm throughout, from the barely there Roman shades that dress every window and sisal area rugs that ground every room to the toasted almond granite chosen for the kitchen countertops, custom breakfast table, and base in front of the living room fireplace. “When you keep materials to a minimum, they become part of the whole instead of greater than the whole,” she says. Otherwise it would be too jarring.

In the living room, well-scaled furnishings create coziness without crowding. Upholstered in solid neutrals, the “pieces themselves are architecturally beautiful,” with clean lines, soft curves, and contrasting wood frames, she says. Comfort was never sacrificed. When it comes to choosing sofas, “I like to shop with clients so we can sit on the furniture to test the comfort level, she says. Once Rich and the homeowner found various pieces at the Kravet showroom in New York City, “we were on a roll,” she says.

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enlarge | To maximize space in the kitchen, designer Sheila Rich claimed space from a former step-down porch. Natural light pours in through new windows. Just nine feet wide, the kitchen lives large with timeless, storage-smart Shaker-style cabinetry. Glass-front cabinets allow for quick visual inventory, and open plate racks keep dishes at the ready. A mini workstation (at left in photo) provides needed work-at-home space. Stackable washer and dryer units are tucked in an alcove between the desk and fridge. Before: The original dark and dated kitchen, which spilled into a step-down porch, once housed the refrigerator next to the washer and dryer.
Keep it Interesting

What keeps the neutral scheme from becoming dull? A variety of textures — from a linen-look weave on the living room sofas to the nubby-textured sectional in the family room — adds warmth and depth, and “if pieces have depth, they are never boring,” she says. Natural woods also appeal to the senses, including light-oak wishbone-style chairs around the long, linear walnut table in the dining room. “My client wanted furniture that was solid wood with no veneers,” Rich says. This includes new solid wood doors that were painted white to blend with the interior.

With color and pattern kept to a minimum, the eye is drawn to abstract target-like paintings that supply a color splash here and there. The homeowner owns half a dozen Peter Gee paintings, each one a little different from the others. “I always tell clients that if they see work by an artist they like, there is always a place for it,” she says. The homeowner’s metal and blue glass chandelier above the dining room table is another colorful accent.

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enlarge | A built-in window seat with sliding panel doors boosts seating and storage capacity in the dining room, which is directly across from and open to the living room. Light wishbone-style oak chairs are a pleasing contrast against the dark table’s long linear lines. The homeowner’s metal and glass chandelier suggests a clear blue summer sky. “I loved that she wanted to use that. It’s so retro,” designer Sheila Rich says.
Turning the Tide

The kitchen and bathrooms were completely transformed. Upstairs, a half bath was converted to a full bath and relocated from the master bedroom to the hallway where it would be accessible by everyone. In the downstairs bath, a tub was eliminated to make room for a spacious glass-enclosed shower. In lieu of a bulky cabinet, Rich chose an open-base sink with towel storage: “I love the openness with the pipes showing.” Rich also touted the sink’s universal design benefit — a small child or someone with impaired vision or in a wheelchair can more easily use the sink or grab a towel without reaching inside a cabinet, she says.

The remodeled kitchen is spacious, light-filled, and storage-efficient with timeless Shaker-style cabinetry, granite countertops, and stainless steel appliances. Rich enlarged the kitchen by incorporating a former step-down porch and installing larger windows to maximize light and views. Along the way, she took advantage of every inch. A built-in banquette boosts seating capacity and extra storage in one area, for instance, while a mini workstation can accommodate a laptop computer or provide extra counter space when there’s a crowd. “There is a place for everything and everything in its place,” Rich says.

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enlarge | “There was a lot of wasted space” in the old downstairs bath, the designer says. Eliminating the tub and a bulky cabinet allowed room for a luxurious glass-enclosed shower with classic mosaic tile. A new transom window provides ample light and ventilation. An open sink furthers the illusion of more space while providing easy access to towels.
Shipshape Efficiency

Every room is designed for flexibility, especially the diminutive family room, which pinch hits as an bedroom, stores office equipment, and houses a large-screen TV. Ample seating was another must for the football-loving family. Double ottomans and a queen sleeper/sectional are just the ticket.
A custom angled wall unit is a space-saving workhorse in the family room. “It juts into the room only about a foot,” Rich says, but it holds a wall of books and everything the homeowner needs to work from home: a computer, fax machine, and printer/copier.

“Everything has a really important purpose” within a small footprint, Rich says. Just like the design of the house itself.



SOURCES Overall: design, Sheila Rich Interiors LLC in Monmouth Beach; builder, Cardamone Bros. Custom Homes in Branchburg; windows, Silver Line. Living Room: Furniture and Sunbrella upholstery, Kravet in Bethpage, New York; sisal area rugs throughout, J. Herbro Carpet in Fairfield, interior paint, Decorator White by Benjamin Moore. Family Room: sectional and ottomans, Kravet; custom cabinetry, designed by Sheila Rich Interiors and built by Bruce Moditz Carpentry in Neshanic Station. Kitchen: cabinetry, UltraCraft Co. in Liberty, North Carolina; toasted almond granite countertops, OHM International in Monroe, fabricated by Ideal Tile Fabrication in Farmingdale; custom breakfast table, designed by Sheila Rich Interiors; chairs, Desiron in New York City; built-in banquet, designed by Sheila Rich Interiors, built by Bruce Moditz Carpentry, upholstered by J&H Dinettes & Upholstery in Freehold; chandelier, ET2 Contemporary Lighting in City of Industry, California; target-theme artwork (here and throughout), artist Peter Gee. Dining Room: table and chairs, Room and Board; built-in window seat, designed by Sheila Rich Interiors, built by Bruce Moditz Carpentry, upholstered seating and pillows by J&H Dinettes & Upholstery with fabric by Major Mills in Clark. Bathroom: sink and fixtures, Waterworks; tile, Ideal Tile in Freehold.