A Hurricane Sandy Rebuild Brings One Family Hope in the Face of Loss
Picture the quintessential New England beach lifestyle, and you’ll picture the lifestyle described by David Roberts at his Mantoloking, New Jersey, home.
“We had this perfect shingle-style house with hydrangea bushes and three kids and a giant chocolate Lab named Cocoa who would always fall in the water and then I’d have to go in and push him back up because there weren’t any steps,” says Roberts, former mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey, from 2001 through 2009. “That was such a mess! But that was life. It was hard to see at the time that everything was perfect until everything changed.”
The night of October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy barreled through the Northeast, devastating much of the Jersey Shore, and causing massive amounts of damage, power outages, and flooding throughout the streets of Manhattan. Roberts watched the latter unfold from the neurological unit of NYU’s Langone Medical Center, where his wife, Anna Maria Roberts, was recovering from a surgery on a cancer that had recently been discovered in her brain.
In the morning hours of October 30, a Mantoloking neighbor called to check in on Anna, and delivered the news that their beloved summer home had been swept into Barnegat Bay and (in a strange twist) remained entirely in one piece. It was a devastating blow to the Roberts family in a year already plagued by devastating news.
“It was very sad to see it sitting there in the middle of the Bay,” says Roberts. “And yet, we really didn’t spend time mourning it because we were in the clutches of dealing with this terrible disease. Anna’s health was our priority.”
Instead, the family – David, Anna, and their three then- teenaged and adult kids: David, Amanda, and Christopher – took time to regroup and soon set about rebuilding their summer escape. “It was never a question for us as to whether to rebuild,” says Roberts. “I don’t know if it was a reflex or if it was something that we just felt intuitively we wanted to do. We just knew we wanted to do it.”
While the Roberts family juggled treatments for Anna’s disease, a team of pros – including architect Daniel Lynch of B.L.D.G. Architeture, LLC, who’d worked on the restoration of the Roberts’ previous Mantoloking home under architect Arthur Harden, and Joan Enger of J. Patryce Design & Company, who’d helped design a Hoboken brownstone for the family – drew up plans for a retreat that would honor the former home while incorporating storm-strong building strategies and modern upgrades.
Things that worked for the family before, such as the overall flow and layout of rooms, were reintroduced in the new construction. And qualities the former home lacked, such as a large, wraparound covered porch, were added.
“The porch was a really important addition for us because before when we’d eat meals outside we were on a deck at ground level, whereas this porch has a higher elevation” Roberts says. “Now when we spend time outside we have this great vantage point of the bay and the boats passing by.”
While some changes were for practicality or aesthetics, others were purely for necessity. With new building codes and precedents set after Sandy, the team took multiple measures to ensure the home would be protected in the event of another storm.
“The ground level spaces in the new home are enclosed with wood-framed and shingle-finished walls that could break away with minimal damage to the construction above if the ocean decides to connect with the Bay again,” Lynch says. “Hurricane-rated windows and doors were also included in the design. Should a major storm similar to Sandy cut through Mantoloking in the future, I think this home would perform very well.”
Inside, Enger created spaces that felt sophisticated yet family friendly. Nods to the bay setting are present in everything from the flooring (white oak stained the color of aged driftwood) to the coastal accents and palette.
“We were inspired by the outside views and did our best to carry this wonderful palette to the interiors,” says Enger. “We used colors that represented sand, sea and sky throughout the home.”
A mix of textures adds layers and visual interest, with casual jute pairing seamlessly with textured grasscloth and flax-colored linen. In the dining room, the drama is heightened with a deep navy textured wallcovering paired with raffia dining chairs and an oak slab table.
“Mixing materials and textures is what creates the subtle, yet apparent ‘wow’ factor,” says Enger.
Inside and out, the house feels nostalgic yet refreshingly original, reflecting the family’s love of classic New England beach cottage style. The hydrangea bushes the old house was once known for are newly planted, and siding clad in cedar shingles reflects the former aesthetic, though altered with a slightly different hue.
“I wanted the home to seem and feel and have the essence of what a classic cedar-shingled beach house should be,” says Roberts. “And I think we’ve captured it.”
The Roberts family just spent their first full summer in their new Mantoloking home, though there was one poignant absence: Anna Roberts passed away almost a year to the day following Hurricane Sandy. While she never got the chance to spend a summer in the new home, her essence is ever-present in the design, from the white-cedar shingles she admired on a trip to Nantucket and requested here, to the gorgeous all-white kitchen she dreamt of preparing meals in for her family.
Despite the difficulty of losing Anna, Roberts hopes they can honor her memory – and make precious new ones – in their favorite summer spot.
“We’re still trying to get used to everything without Anna and we’re making the best of it,” says Roberts. “But this story ends with the best news of all – my daughter is now pregnant, and we’ll be welcoming our first grandchild to the house next summer. You’re never fully prepared to move on in life, but I think having grandkids around will certainly give this house a good shot of having that wonderful feeling it once did.”