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.
When designer Michael Murphy first set foot inside the outdated home his clients had purchased on the water in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, he admits he was skeptical.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.