Simple forms and natural materials unify a North Shore home’s design
At its best, the collaboration between architect and homeowner yields not only a beautiful home but also a work of art. This happened recently with a home designed by TMS Architects near Newburyport, Massachusetts. Chris and Diane Gerrish knew they wanted to work with the Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based firm after seeing samples of their work. “I love TMS’s attention to detail and the way their houses look unique,” Chris says. “My wife, Diane, and I wanted something different.” At the meeting with Bill Soupcoff, principal architect at TMS, the couple paged through books of the firm’s designs, choosing various elements they liked from the portfolio of homes. “I had no idea how Bill would bring all of these disparate pieces together,” Chris says. “But I had no doubt that he would. We had confidence in TMS’s approach.”
The result is a home that blends elements of Arts and Crafts with cottage style, a touch of Adirondack, and a few bits not tied to any named design. Multiple rooflines float above the home, breaking up its overall size and creating an almost pagoda effect. The gaze is drawn to other architectural elements as well—the natural texture of shingle and board, curved doorway arches, and deep banks of windows. Rising from the highest point is a cupola topped with a weathervane of a great blue heron in flight. At night the cupola’s gleam is reminiscent of the lighthouses on the nearby shore. Despite its size, the home rests lightly on the landscape, thanks to its earthy hues, careful landscaping, and overall design.
“We tend to be eclectic in our approach to residences,” Soupcoff explains. “Homes in New England have a strong traditional heritage that is hard to completely turn your back on. As a result, there are elements in most of our homes that have historic characteristics. At the same time, we try to interpret those characteristics in a contemporary way. You’ll usually see that aspect in how the interior is planned and how we adapt the home to the site.”
Soupcoff knew that Chris and Diane wanted natural elements woven into the home and a connection between the house and the gently sloping meadow where it sits, so he added features such as a stone facade to the large porch and exterior chimneys. The porches also provide easy outdoor living and a nice transition to the spacious yard. Cedar shingles and vertical V-jointed boards were chosen for the home’s unique exterior because of their natural look and the way they complement the stonework. The juxtaposition of the two also creates a three-dimensional effect.
The deep overhangs, which give the home such a striking silhouette, are a feature both practical and aesthetic. “I like deep overhangs and have used them on a number of my homes,” the architect says. “When the roof hangs two to three feet over the house it provides shade in summer, yet in winter, when the sun is low, it still allows for plenty of light to come in. The overhangs also help the roof shed snow, and they direct the flow of water away from the house, eliminating the need for gutters. In fact, in a light summer rain, you can keep the windows open and still have natural ventilation. From a design standpoint, these overhangs create nice shadows on the house and emphasize architectural details.”
Chris, who has a passion for outdoor design, and landscape architect Jackson Tremblay of Amesbury, Massachusetts, did much of the landscaping. They wrapped large beds around the home and drive, giving them flowing lines to echo the curves found in the house. Beds of roses encircle the back porch, while other beds feature a mix of traditional favorites, such as daylilies and impatiens, mixed with native grasses, ferns, and low shrubs.
Inside the home is no less striking. A dramatic barrel-vaulted ceiling immediately draws attention when entering the living room. Soothing shades of brown, gold, dark green, and cream repeat on the sofa, rug, and pillows, echoing outdoor hues and coordinating with the warm gold and ivory of the walls. Natural elements are highlighted in the blending of wood, leather, and stone among the furnishings. White bead board behind the bookcase shelves reflects the barrel ceiling and complements the moldings that shape the wainscoting and upper panels of the room.
“Chris and Diane trusted me with color,” says Michael Cebula of Cebula Design in Newburyport, who did the interior design. “I went with a lot of white to brighten the room and reflect the light from outside; the woodland shades in the furnishings warm the white and keep the room from appearing cold.”
Diane and Chris wanted an open-concept floor plan so the living area flows into the kitchen and dining room. Because of this, it was important that the rooms be cohesive in terms of color yet maintain their own identities. Soupcoff and Cebula, who have collaborated for more than 30 years, ensured that each living space was defined and unique but also worked together.
In the kitchen, the bead board, open-beamed ceiling is a nod to the living room’s great vault, while the earth tones of the living room’s leather and wood are repeated in the kitchen floor’s tumbled marble and matching backsplash. The wraparound counters in black granite are a stunning counterpoint to the room’s white walls and cabinets and pick up the black striping of the chair rail in the dining and living rooms. “We were thrilled when Michael found this granite,” Chris says. “We had wanted a soapstone look, but soapstone is very high maintenance. This has the same look but is easy to care for.”
Some white rooms look sterile, but Cebula, who is known for his color expertise, found the perfect shade of soft white to give the kitchen warmth and texture. “This shade keeps the room light and airy,” he says. “The white also plays well off of the architectural details that Bill incorporated. One shade can look like several tones when you have a lot of shapes for the light to play with. The paneling, molding, and curved pillars on the cabinetry and island, as well as the beams on the ceiling, add shadows and depth.”
The adjacent dining area uses white to show off a coffered ceiling and curved wainscoting, set against the same golden walls as the living area. “Throughout the home, arches lead you from one space to another, whether it’s from a hallway to a room, or one room to another,” Soupcoff says. “I thought it would be interesting to repeat the arch theme with the wainscoting.” The arches are frequently wrapped in a creamy molding, which is set off by a sculpted bracket at the top.
Attention to detail is apparent throughout the house. Little round windows, enhanced by molding, pop up in unexpected places. Newel posts are inlayed with diamond designs. The stairway is a central focus in the home. It connects all floors and was envisioned by both Chris and Soupcoff as a vital conduit. “Rather than downplay it, we wanted to highlight it so you feel that connectedness no matter where you are in the house,” he says. “We also wanted to keep it open, making it one large light well that flows from the basement to the upper floors. When you are in the basement, you can actually see all the way up to the top of the staircase.”
“We knew this meant that noise from the media room in the basement would travel up to the main floors,” Chris adds. “But it was more important to not have those lower floors seem isolated or separate from the rest of the house. This way, you feel part of the home no matter where you are.”
The stairway, one long flow of white, is highlighted by dark mahogany railings and the sculpted newel posts. The white wainscoting with its black chair rail mirrors the stairway as it streams from floor to floor. The upper walls of the stairwell and connecting hallways are painted the same gold as the living area for unity and continuity.
“I’ve always loved the details found in older homes,” Soupcoff says. “I spent 10 years redoing an old home that I owned, and it piqued my interest in the craftsmanship of those days. Even older homes that are basically box shaped are interesting because of interior detailing, such as moldings, arches, shaped windows, paneling, and so on. I’ve tried to assimilate some of that aesthetic into my designs. For this project, I have to also commend Depeiro Construction, our contractor, for outstanding work in bringing the design to life.”
Among the home’s most elegant rooms is the master bedroom, a calming retreat in shades of soft blue-gray. The wall color changes with the light, which floods in from a bank of windows facing east. Both Chris and Diane like being awakened by the sun and especially appreciate winter’s dramatic sunrises. Cebula used a half tint of the wall color on the ceiling to offset the sculpturing of the coffered design. Once again, elements found elsewhere in the house are repeated here, such as the use of white in cabinetry, paneling, molding, and wainscoting; the selection of natural tones, here in softer shades; and even in details such as the ironwork sconces flanking the gas fireplace. He is a fan of Hubbardton Forge Lighting of Vermont and featured its work in the kitchen, dining, and living areas as well.
Cebula toured the family’s previous home to get a sense of their tastes and color preferences prior to recommending colors for this home. One daughter loves pink, and her previous room was a bright candy shade. For her current bedroom, he created a pink confection in a tint as soft as an early spring tulip. Both walls and ceiling are pink, which is broken up by white molding, wainscoting, and a reading nook done in white bead board. The basement is devoted to family time and features a game room, media room, and bar/dining area. Once again bead board appears, this time as wainscoting, along with paneled walls and a coffered ceiling, all in shades of brown, sage green, and gold. “I really played with color in the basement,” Cebula says. “There isn’t just one shade of brown, but several shades here. This is a big space, so by slightly altering tones, I was able to better define separate areas. I also made subtle shifts in color from what was on the walls, the ceilings, the wainscoting and the accent woodwork. For example, I liked the muddier tones for bringing out the details of the paneling.”
The wall colors are complemented by hardwood floors of the same rich quarter-sawn red oak that is featured throughout the home. Chris enjoys the backlit movie posters adorning the walls of the media room. “I found a wonderful man on eBay who custom made these for me,” he says. “They weren’t that expensive and we have a lot of fun with them. You can change out the posters so we put up Christmas movies at the holidays, and things like that. It’s a nice touch!”
Both Chris and Diane feel like this home completely captures what they wanted. “Once we met with Bill, we never talked to another architect,” Chris says. “He brought these diverse design elements together into one perfect package. His vision, and Michael’s, gave us the home we wanted.”