Potential. There was no question a Southport, elements with the new,” says Lee, who felt that same Connecticut, house, with its enviable views of Long Island Sound, had it, but how to unearth the possibilities from under the shell of hunter green shingles, beadboard walls and red-stained pine floors was another matter. Even for a savvy homeowner with a background in interior architecture and art history, the path to the light- and art-filled beach home that Lee Baldwin envisioned eluded her. “I was delighted to find a place with privacy, property and even a pool,” says Lee about the house that was less than two decades old. “But I wasn’t in love with the finishes, floor or flow.”
Then, Lee went on a local home tour, met interior designer Mar Silver, and knew what she imagined for her blended family that includes her partner, Dr. E.J. Zebro, and their four girls could be realized. “I really liked the house on the tour, especially how Mar married the older elements with the new,” says Lee, who felt that same concept was critical to her remodel. “But more importantly, we immediately clicked on a personal level.”
Silver felt their instant simpatico, as well, and, like her client, was instantly attuned to the structure’s underlying assets. “It had amazing bones that were clouded by too many disjointed materials,” says the designer, who immediately starting eyeing what could be salvaged. “We agreed to keep the inherited elements that would work with the modernization of the building.”
For the exterior, that modernization translated into painting the green shingles, which were more reminiscent of the Adirondacks than Fairfield County, a lighter marine gray to better meld with the waterfront environs. In the living room, the reclaimed-wood beams made the cut, and rather than demolish the existing brick fireplace, Silver wrapped it with Cristallo stone that stops short of the ceiling to allow a hint of the home’s original brick, now painted white, to peek out. “The theme of the house is organic minimalism and blending the old and new is part of that concept,” she says.
In the family room, the original fireplace crafted from local stone that nicely complements the predominantly white-and-gray palette remained intact, while the shape of the domed ceiling was altered to accommodate a skylight. Here, and throughout most of the house, unstained character-grain oak floors replaced the more garish stained ones and cold-rolled steel was used to top built-ins, wrap shelving and provide fireplace accents. “There are no crown moldings so the steel acts as trimwork,” says Silver about the modern interpretation.
After reorienting and reconfiguring the staircase and eliminating the first-floor hallway—clever maneuvers that both improved traffic flow and created space for a separate dining room—Silver designed a switchback stairway that synthesizes the black steel, character oak and glass elements. “The stair is a piece of sculpture that anchors and penetrates the entire house,” she says.
But though hard-edged surfaces establish a commanding backdrop, never once did the designer lose sight of her client’s overarching desire for “a sophisticated beach house with a soft, soulful, sophisticated essence.” With pieces such as the living room’s Mies van der Rohe daybed and an Orchid table conceived by the designer purposely selected to work with the home’s sculptural lines, according to Silver, almost everything else is part of a larger story with layering as the central narrative. “The difference between cold contemporary and warm modern is the layering of materials,” explains the designer, who rounded out the space with a soft leather sofa, hide sling chairs and a hand-tufted silk rug. “It’s the nuance of the textiles and different shades of wood that add warmth and character.”
A swatch of gray-stained wood fronting the concrete- topped island is an unexpected textural and rustic touch in the kitchen, while in the master suite, it’s the custom bed swathed in luxurious silk-linen and gentle folds of gray-blue drapery that prevent the room from feeling static. About the latter Silver says, “The fabric takes on different personalities throughout the day and becomes moody and opaque at night.”
Elevating the house to yet another level of complexity is the artwork. In the foyer, a contemporary painting and a trio of sculptures depicting ancient Bactrian idols set the stage for what lies within. Even in what Silver aptly refers to as “the most sophisticated mudroom in the world,” a boldly colored painting juxtaposed with a tranquil image of birch trees is transformative, while a wall of built-in drawers and closets provides functionality.
But it’s the combination of the art collection, deliberate layering and carefully repurposed architecture that turned the house into an evolving statement of its own. “With the reflections of the art and architecture in the glass, the wall color altering with the movement of the sun, and the shadow play that occurs throughout the day, there’s this ethereal sensibility,” says Lee. “Everything is constantly changing, and I can’t ever imagine anyone getting tired of this house.”