Step Inside a Manhattan Couple's Sublime Seaside Oasis



After 25 years of living in the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, this couple purchased a vacation cottage in coastal New England. “We really wanted a respite, a relaxing getaway from urban life,” says the homeowner. “We love color and texture that relates to the environment without being dull or receding.” Designers Jenny Robson and Amy Leonard of Robson Leonard Design were asked to create a Zen-like oasis, taking their cues from nature. 

“The real story of the house, where color plays an immediate, impactful role,” explains Robson, “is in the outdoors. When you walk in, the first thing that strikes you is the beautiful scene outside those windows. Everything we did inside was to enhance that color story outside.” 

The glossy blue front door sets the stage for what’s to come. “We wanted a color that would make you happy when entering,” says Leonard. “People respond to color,” echoes Robson. 

In the living room, which flows seamlessly into the dining room, the designers used a pale color palette, stained the oak floors a driftwood gray-brown and introduced texture with, for example, a braided sisal rug and a hanging light made from twisted rope. In places where the picturesque coastal view was less dominant, the duo took the color up a notch. “Bringing in the navy fabric from Designer’s Guild and the strong brown that we painted an architectural Ikea bench makes a statement without a lot of pattern” says Robson. “It’s not a distraction, but an enhancement of what you see out the window.” 

To keep things entertainment-friendly, the living room furniture is upholstered in performance fabrics, the rugs are easy to clean, and the dining table can expand to seat 12. Plus, the comfortable sofa is good for napping, a family pastime. “We get it; we’ve got kids,” says Leonard. “We know what it’s like to have feet in and out of the sand.”

Step Inside a Manhattan Couple's Sublime Seaside Oasis

Tucked away in a niche next to the living room is a bar, a holdover from the homeowners’ Manhattan apartment. “We went a little wild with this space, used mostly during times of the day when the water view recedes,” explains Leonard. In the very first design meeting, the
client loved the exuberant green and brown Pierre Frey grasscloth wallcovering.

“I’m not a brown girl,” says the homeowner, “but the minute I saw how the brown made the greens and the blues pop, I loved it.”

The client also fell in love with another Pierre Frey fabric in a riot of green, navy, turquoise, brown, white and oatmeal. Throughout the design process, the designers kept the pair of Pierre Frey samples close as inspiration for other choices in fabrics, paint color and furniture throughout the first floor. “I saw those two fabrics, and said, ‘Let’s go with these and everything else can work around them,’” says the homeowner. “Let these be the stars of the show.” 

Incorporating the clients’ own etchings, woodcuts and other objects collected over the years was also essential to the design. In the enclosed sunporch, for example, Audubon-style prints anchor one side of the room, while ephemera finds a home on the shelves. “We enjoy working with a client’s antiques,” says Leonard. “Rooms that have personal touches and look like real people live there are always the most interesting.”

Once the designers felt the guest bedrooms had everything a guest might need, they added some fun. The blue-and-white oversized hydrangea wallpaper from Designer’s Guild is a nod to the New England town that, come summer, is bursting with the bloom. While the color combination may be conventional, the designers used several shades of blue to add variety. The hand-printed green floral fabric in the other bedroom is another nod to the home’s locale.

Asked to name something every room should have, Leonard says pops of color, while Robson notes that every room should make you happy. In this seaside cottage, the two are one and the same

A version of this article appeared in the January 2019 issue of CTC&G (Connecticut Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: A Coastal Oasis.

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