Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Extraordinary Homes of 2011

I should have perhaps said 2010 and 2011, as these were all homes I've come across in the last 2 years. These were all extraordinary places for many reasons, but I've chosen them because – unlike some professionally decorated places that can see slightly "staged" – they all felt very much like cosy, comfortable, put-your-feet-up-and-read-the-Sunday-papers type homes. I like houses that aren't too pretentious: houses that allow for the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life – kids, dogs, stressed-out partners, people traipsing in and out with gardening wellies, in-laws dropping by. And these were very much wonderfully practical, family-friendly places.

Furthermore, they all showed that you don't need a big budget to create an inviting home. Sure, some of the houses may have been expensive, but the interiors weren't jammed with pieces from Sotheby's or the Attic Sale at Chatsworth. They weren't from the Hearst Castle School of Decorating. They were full of elegance, sophistication, imagination, a little whimsy and a whole lot of creativity. Just the kind of homes I love.

(Designer: Jeffrey Bilhuber)

Interior designer Jeffrery Bilhuber's house at Oyster Bay is a grand affair, it has to be said. It's a mansion that would rival Jay Gatsby's. Inside, however, it's far from being a Rothschild-esque mish-mash. Bilhuber (who is Anna Wintour's designer) has used startling colour to create a glamorous but gorgeously cosy home out of this old boarding school. Plum, tangerine, pale turquoise,  lime, pink, granny-smith-apple green... Who would have thought these colours would all go so beautifully together? Yellow umbrellas for the guests? Inspiring. A kitchen and laundry in black and tiffany blue? Unexpectedly elegant. And look at the kitchen garden! Just stunning. The house is as lovely as its owner.

(Designer: Gary McBournie)

This was a tiny home; a boat house that was converted to an waterside escape for a client and his family. Interior designer Gary McBournie (another lovely man) took his cues from the harbour setting and designed a space that was unusual but quietly inviting. The kitchen floor was painted in marine blue and then splattered with tiny dots of other colours, so it didn't show the sandy footsteps and salt flecks, and its roof was left in its beautifully aged state. The chaise lounges were made to resemble ship's bunks. And the living room was decked out with marine-inspired items, from flags to vintage ships. Just sublime.

(Designers: Steven Schappacher and Rhea White)

Now these two are a designing duo to watch. Steve Schappacher and his wife Rhea White took a run-down old farmhouse on Shelter Island (now being dubbed "the new Hamptons") and with nothing more than some clever designing and some great flea-shop finds turned it into a chic island hideaway. Look at what a simple coat of black and white paint can do. Rhea found the old French garden chairs in a secondhand barn on the island, the sofas are simple, white slipcovered ones, the poolhouse bedroom was given a lift with some imaginative fabric styling, and the rest of the house is a gallery of whimsical finds. The pool was perhaps the most expensive addition. The house is now worth over a $1M. What a clever couple.

(Designer: Rick Livingston)

A truly extraordinary place, this barn-style beach house sits right on the sand at Long Island's charming village of Quogue  and is the weekend escape of New York designer Rick Livingston and his partner. They rented it for 10 summers before deciding to finally buy it. But instead of knocking it down, they simply updated the simple timber dwelling with some imaginative decorating. Vintage ladders, white shutters for wardrobe doors, a fabulous rope chandelier from Mexico, inspiring artwork, cosy seating, a restrained colour scheme, and of course the all-important deck for luncheons overlooking the sea. Down to earth decorating, indeed.

(Designer: Paula Perlini)

From the outside, this house seems enormous – intimidating even. On the inside, however, interior designer Paula Perlini has worked magic to create cosy, intimate, human-scaled rooms out of enormously-proportioned spaces. And surprisingly, much of it has been achieved with oversized pieces, which seem to draw the rooms in while providing eye-catching focal points. The folk art mermaid on the stairs, the vintage Orangina poster, the antique bird houses and the Bloody Mary-red library (which elegantly showcases the owner's photographs of Africa) are just a few of the dazzling ways Perlini has carved an intriguing home out of a beachfront mansion. I always love red in a beach house, and this shows why it looks so fabulous.{Image at the very top is also from this residence}

[Images from my book Coast: Lifestyle Architecture]


  1. Oh these are all truly lovely homes, how beautiful. And wonderful photographs Janelle too. Think that my favourite is The Farmhouse in Shelter Island though.
    I can lend you the book I was talking about in my previous comment if you like if you're round and about Camberwell or the city ever.... (just let me know via the email on my blog). Sarah x

  2. Janelle
    Love the beautiful photos of these homes. I hadn't come across your blog so I went back and read a lot of your other stories. Most inspiring are the photos you have taken of your own home. Love the hall the libraries love it all. Paint is such a wonderful decorating tool Alot of people don't realise it's potential.
    Kind regards

  3. Hi Sarah, That's so kind of you - thank you. We should catch up one day! Will be lovely to hear all your news. My favourite house was the black-and-white farmhouse too. I'd post more pix but don't want to bore everyone! Janelle x

  4. Thank you Karen - so kind of you to say. I adore libraries too. And yes - paint is SUCH a versatile decorating tool. My partner thinks I am addicted. Is there a Painter's Anonymous, I wonder?

  5. What a gorgeous blog! I can't believe you have made all that pine panelling look so chic. I was killing myself laughing at it but your 'after' photos shut me right up! Hats off to you! Can't wait to see how your kitchen and bathroom turn out (my current obsession) but I am sure you are worthy of the task! Thanks, Fiona


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