A coastal palette leads Frank Roop's brainy and beguiling transformation of a Massachusetts fisherman's shack into a dockside retreat.
LISA CREGAN: It's hard to believe this shipshape home was once a well-worn fisherman's cottage teetering on a pier.
FRANK ROOP: And it's still wacky! My clients, who live here all summer, call it the "bow house" because one wall is bowed and can't be straightened. They like it that way. The house sits on reinforced pilings, so the tide rushes in and out underneath. There's also a deck big enough to land a helicopter on. My client bought this place 20 years ago as a refuge from her high-pressure finance job in Boston. She loves its views of Cape Cod Bay and Captain Jack's Wharf. Later, when she got married, she and her partner began thinking about giving it a new life.
So how were you able to turn a ramshackle hideaway into something so chic?
We started by converting the chopped-up downstairs into an open-plan living space. We put up a wall of cabinetry that straddles the kitchen and living areas; the cabinets are painted white in the kitchen and become sandblasted oak where they extend into the living room, which creates a visual separation. In the tiny bedroom, everything is custom and built-in, like on a boat: There are narrow cabinets instead of a closet and under-bed drawers rather than a bureau.
Despite the tight quarters, the house feels expansive. Was that hard to pull off?
I wrapped banquettes around the perimeter of the rooms while leaving the middles open. All of the furniture is on legs, so you can see the bare floor underneath — it's a good trick for making a space appear larger. And when I want this kind of extra-deep seating in smaller-sized rooms, I always make it low-slung to give the room some air.
The decor has a barefoot sophistication.
I like to mess around with random elements — note the root table in the living room and the quirky stool in the upstairs sitting room — so it doesn't feel pretentious. I avoid symmetry. The sculpture on the wall in the dining area is just some driftwood I found on eBay. It was cheap, so I ordered a case and used it everywhere as wall decoration.
Inventive palettes are a trademark of yours — how do you come up with them?
I used to work in a menswear store, Louis Boston, where everything was bespoke. The experience stuck with me. I approach a room's color palette the way some people might choose a shirt and tie to go with a suit. In this case, blue and white was a no-brainer for a beach house, but that was just the starting point. I laid out hundreds of fabric swatches, organized by color and tone, until I found the ones that worked best together. I always aim for contrast, like the offbeat lime lampshade in the corner of the upstairs sitting room: It adds punch. Most people don't do brightly colored lampshades, but at night they look so beautiful.
Most people don't do portholes, either.
The clients wanted a seashore feel! These portholes are the real thing — authentic, not gimmicky. We bought them from a marine supplier, and they actually open. The glass is etched for privacy because people walk by here on the way to the beach. And with the anchor sconces in the living room, I thought, Why not a nautical-rope banister, too? Once I had the newel posts and railing in place, our contractor said, "I know a local fisherman who'll tie that off for you." And he did.
Clearly you are a serious fan of stripes.
They feel relaxed, like a man's linen shirt. We upholstered the walls of the downstairs office in three colors of the same linen. The large-scale stripe counter acts the smallness of the room. I did the same with tile in the bathroom.
What other accommodations did you make, given the cottage's size?
Furniture had to be multifunctional. The bentwood dining chairs have some flex to them and let you lean back, so they work equally well for dining or in the living room. In the upstairs sitting room, the clients wanted to sprawl out to watch television, so the banquette is like a gigantic four-foot-deep bed that they can dive into. In the same space, the daybed is positioned by the window to take advantage of the incredible water views. But if you sit in it and face the opposite way, it's perfect for conversation. Or you can simply lie down there and read a good book.
Eccentric and stylish is a tricky combination. Where do you look for inspiration?
I've always been drawn to the work of the Parisian decorator Frédéric Méchiche. He has this unpredictable way of mixing things, and I aim to achieve that kind of looseness. His rooms always look like a really fun party just ended and chairs were left scattered here and there by the guests. I love that.
This story originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of CQ.