There's a beautiful purity of color where the water meets the sky," says Julie Salles Schaffer, the owner and architect of a cedar beach house set along the scenic central Connecticut coast. "What draws me to modern design is the opportunity to frame these elements—the horizon line, for example—in a way that includes few details or distractions. I'm always interested in making things as simple as possible, particularly in a house by the shore."
The New York–based architect and her husband, Robert, spent years renting vacation homes at nearby beaches, but when they spied a one-and-a-half-acre lot with unobstructed vistas of Long Island Sound in the seaside town of Guilford, they began planning a retreat of their own: a streamlined and contemporary yet warm and inviting home.
The red cedar home's facade offers a glimpse of Long Island Sound through a deep breezeway paved with honed Jerusalem limestone.
The 3,200-square-foot dwelling that Julie designed "takes advantage of the steep slope, the horizon line, and the expansive water view," she explains. Among the home's defining features, for instance, are large picture windows lining the rear of the house. "When you're standing at one of these windows, the pool appears to merge with the ocean," says Julie.
This was no small feat, she says with a laugh, adding that it took plenty of trial and error to get the levels just right. An open layout ensures water is visible from all the main living spaces, including from the kitchen. "I spend a lot of time there, so it was important that the sink have a view," says Julie of the U-shaped cook space. Within the room's relatively small footprint, floor-to-ceiling storage along one wall accommodates large items like lobster pots, with upper cabinetry accessible via a powder-coated custom ladder.
"I wanted to eliminate any clutter at the beach," Julie says. White oak stained to look like driftwood and a tone-on-tone mosaic tile pattern add visual interest to the space. "I liked the idea of contrasting something natural and organic with finishes that are glam and glossy," says Julie. "Driftwood is fitting, and it really lets the bright white shine. It's a good way to do a neutral palette without being boring."
The kitchen cabinetry is white oak painted Frostine by Benjamin Moore.
The colors throughout the rest of the house are vivid, inspired by a painting in Pablo Picasso's Las Meninas series that Julie had studied in graduate school. In the living room, a custom designed area rug introduces a palette of orange-red, French blue, and steely black. "Not only does it mesh with the modern architecture, but it stands up well to the wet sand that can get tracked in from the heavy foot traffic off the beach," Julie says. To keep the strong hues from overwhelming the room, she opted for neutral sofa and chair upholstery.
In the dining room, Julie paired an expandable wooden table with Knoll cantilever chairs. Most of the furnishings in the living and dining areas have low backs to maintain a line of sight to the ocean.
The artwork is No.417 LFold, 2013 by Rana Begum.
"I love how the blues of the water shift constantly," says Julie, noting that this color play inspired her design for the master bedroom. Shades ranging from aqua to sapphire brighten the lamps and rug, plus paint extending from an accent wall onto a strip of ceiling above the bed. The headboard—covered in a sandy-hued hand-blocked fabric by John Robshaw— balances the blues. A flame stitch–upholstered chair and ottoman by midcentury furniture designer Milo Baughman add a splash of groovy pattern.
A wall in the master bedroom is painted Hazy Blue by Benjamin Moore.
American tile patterns from the 1950s inspired a mosaic backsplash in the bath that Julie's daughters share.
Julie enlivened an open area at the top of the stairs with more brave pairings of color and pattern. Leafy wallpaper plays well with a Swedish geometric upholstery fabric in the same color family; bright red bedding introduces a jolt of contrast. "I wanted this to be a fun and flexible space that functions as a sitting area during the day and a bed at night," says Julie.
Striking a balance between laid-back beauty and everyday practicality was as important outdoors. "On the coast, almost everything rusts," she says, "so I chose materials that could remain outside without maintenance." The Bertoia dining chairs are crafted of plastic-coated noncorrosive metal. "My feeling was, the less maintenance, the better," says Julie.
Adjacent to the patio, a deep breezeway affords a link between the water and the front of the house. "From the drive, we wanted to be able to see straight through to the sea," says Julie. A slate patio and wood paneling frame the vista and remain largely unadorned. "When you pare down your surroundings to simple, modern details, I believe you can better focus on the elements of nature," says Julie. "Often, good design is as little design as possible."