If you’re a romantic at heart, then get out your handkerchief. This is a story about a husband who restores a house for his wife for the sheer pleasure of basking in the look of total joy on her face when he makes the big reveal. Together for 26 years, the couple shared a vision of one day “having a home that is literally on the sand,” says the husband. So in 2014, when the wife fell hard for a 15-year-old Cape Cod home just steps from the ocean in Dana Point—“a little dated but full of potential,” she recalls—the couple didn’t hesitate to purchase it.
By her own account, the wife developed “analysis paralysis” fairly early in the process. “I had a clear vision of what I wanted, but when it came time to actually pick the fixtures, couch color and carpets, I froze,” she says. So, the husband volunteered to take over the project with one caveat: She couldn’t set foot in the house until the project was complete. “I really wanted this to be a magical experience for her,” he says, “and it was clear early on that the process was ruining the joy.” The wife concurred, and so the husband soon began working with designer Kelly Ferm, who reports she was “excited and inspired” to tackle the project.
Before Ferm could start, the existing country French décor with its emerald green carpets and floral print draperies had to go. The initial plan for a largely cosmetic redo, however, was soon thwarted by some underlying challenges and a desire on the husband’s part to expand the scope of the project. Once those issues and requests were addressed, it wasn’t long before Ferm began transforming the interiors into the light and airy retreat the owners envisioned. Central to the beach chic motif was a palette inspired by the locale. “I looked out to the jade blue ocean and imagined this back-and-forth play with soft greens and blues inside,” says Ferm, who hunted for fabrics in those hues to complement the coastal theme.
“Textiles are a very important part of the process, and I won’t settle until I find something that’s perfect,” says Ferm, pointing to linen with a vintage vibe she used for the balloon shades in the living room and again for the dining room draperies. “Their old-world, relaxed nature added that hint of jade that is indicative of the ocean right outside. Once I found it, I built the palette around it.” A quintessential spa tone appears around the home, from the accent pillows and armchairs in the living room to the sea pearl quartzite counters and backsplash in the kitchen. Creamy hues on the walls further enhance the calm aura, while fabrics on the living room sofas are practical and durable. “We wanted the house to be formal enough for dinner parties but also be bulletproof for kids, dogs, sand, water and friends,” says the husband.
Throughout the project, Ferm worked tirelessly to answer the husband’s detailed desires. As part of the expanded program, the husband requested two master retreats with completely different designs. For one of the suites, he wanted large-scale reclaimed beams that resembled driftwood, and in the other, the siding had to look like weathered barnwood. Meanwhile, the husband supplied special mementos to make each space emblematic of his love for his family, paying extra attention to his wife’s suite. There, a photograph of white stones spelling out the word “love” on a white sandy beach greets her, and handblown crystal starfish are suspended from the ceiling in her bathroom. “They toured a house on a vacation to the Turks and Caicos, and the wife saw these starfish and fell in love with them,” says the designer. “The husband tracked down the glassblower and had dozens made.”
Nine months after they began the project, Ferm and her team worked around the clock preparing for the big reveal. “This was extra special, as the wife had not seen any progress on the house for months,” Ferm recalls. With pillows plumped, vases brimming with fresh flowers, candles lit and mood music playing, she and her crew retreated so the couple could be alone. “From the driveway, I could see my husband standing in front with a smile on his face,” says the wife. When he finally opened the door, her reaction said it all. “She has been my best friend for 26 years,” he says, “and seeing her so surprised and happy as she walked through the house was like magic.”
— Mandy Pantiel