Maritime Home Makeover

A Stone Harbor, New Jersey cottage with maritime roots gets a carefully curated look, using lots of flea market finds and a red, white, and blue color palette.

Staircase and American Flag

Photographs: Peter Murdock, Styling: Erin Swift

At First Glance

When designer Michael Murphy first set foot inside the outdated home his clients had purchased on the water in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, he admits he was skeptical. Not content to merely judge a book by its cover, however, Murphy pressed on—looking past the ashy paneling, bad wallpaper, and cramped drop ceilings to see the true soul of the home.

Murphy found the vintage flag while shopping at flea markets in Provincetown, Massachusetts.


Photographs: Peter Murdock, Styling: Erin Swift

Hidden Potential

Of Murphy’s many happy discoveries, like the strong, sculptural beams that emerged when the low ceilings were opened up, or the charming hardwood floors that were uncovered beneath the sullied carpeting, one hidden gem in particular inspired the home’s dramatic makeover.

The refrigerator is from Big Chill. The pendants are from Rejuvenation.

Home Exterior

Photographs: Peter Murdock, Styling: Erin Swift

Buried Treasure

In the attic, behind the walls, the designer found a mysterious board bearing the initials of the United States Coast Guard. Some additional investigating shed light on the home’s illustrious past: In the 1940s, its dock had been commandeered for use by the Marines.


Photographs: Peter Murdock, Styling: Erin Swift

American Original

So the designer introduced a palette of red, white, and blue to the interiors, reflecting the home’s patriotic, maritime roots but eschewing too literal an interpretation by forgoing navy for a brighter, lighter blue, which he applied to all of the floors on the main level.

Model sailboat

Photographs: Peter Murdock, Styling: Erin Swift

Ocean Inspiration

To round out the look, he carefully curated subtle, tasteful nautical accents to sprinkle throughout the home—pillows with knot and anchor motifs in the living room, an elegant sailboat model atop the fireplace at the front entry, a lighthouse replica on the nightstand in the guest room, authentic vintage buoys hanging outside.

Murphy found the ship model while shopping at flea markets in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Exterior buoys

Photographs: Peter Murdock, Styling: Erin Swift

Family Ties

All of these fanciful touches, however, take a backseat to Murphy’s real work: making the house truly livable for an active family with five children. So all of the furniture in the main living areas is either upholstered in stain-resistant outdoor fabrics or covered in easy-to-wash slipcovers.

Seahorse Detail

Photographs: Peter Murdock, Styling: Erin Swift

Smart Choice

More than 90 percent of the pieces Murphy collected to outfit the rooms are flea market finds, meaning nothing here is deemed too precious for frequent use and abuse. That doesn’t mean, though, that the designer was any less exacting in his meticulous culling and gathering.

The sea horse art was a flea market find.

Dining room

Photographs: Peter Murdock, Styling: Erin Swift

Inside Scoop

Murphy insisted that everything he brought inside had a story to tell, much like the house itself. The dining room table, for example, was born when a woodworker friend propped an old sewing table up on hairpin legs; the cheerful red rotary wall phone once made its television debut as a prop on the set of CSI; the rope railing was constructed from old parachuting lines employed by the U.S. Air Force; the stools in the kitchen were salvaged from a defunct diner in New York’s Bowery district.

Living Room

Photographs: Peter Murdock, Styling: Erin Swift

History Lesson

As for the storied Coast Guard board, that hidden treasure that started it all? Murphy had it turned into a coffee tray that now rests in its own place of honor atop an oversize ottoman in the living room. “This house can sleep up to 17 people, so the homeowners always have guests,” Murphy says. “And that piece always sparks a conversation. There’s something special about saving forgotten things and giving them a second chance.”

The living room chairs are from Crate & Barrel. Brooklyn carpenter David Siegel (917/776-6952) turned a Coast Guard sign into a tray.

Patio & Water views

Photographs: Peter Murdock, Styling: Erin Swift

Happy Ending

Patio furniture from Goldenteak atop AZEK decking creates a cozy conversation area with a matchless view.

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