Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Monday, March 5, 2012

Design Wise: Schappacher White

We're not design snobs here in the House of the Frugal Decorator. We have $300 Italian lamps beside $50 Ikea ones. We have a $400 Bose iPod speaker on a $40 chest of drawers (found at a garage sale and painted matt black to match). We have $1000 Bruno Benini fashion photographs next to my rough old amateur ones. And we have a $250 limited edition Louis Vuitton book (a gift from RR) sitting beside $1 titles found at The Strand in New York.

Interior design should never be precious, in my opinion. It should consist of the things you love. I don't want to lecture you because you're all quite capable of decorating your own homes, and you should do it the way you want to! But the moment I see a room that is styled to within an inch of its life with high-end furniture and precious antiques, I quietly shudder! (Where do they put their feet? Where do they sit their coffee cups without worrying about marking the mahogany? And where – oh where – do the poor dogs go?)

Someone else who shares my down-to-earth design philosophy is Ms Rhea White. She is the kind of woman I love: practical; innovative, creative, funny, and fond of a decorating bargain.  She is a woman who can make a flea-sale find look like an antique from a Sotheby's auction.

I spotted Rhea sitting next to Celerie Kemble in a Habitually Chic photo last week and it prompted me to do a Design Wise post on her firm. I had the great pleasure of meeting Rhea and her design partner Steve Schappacher on Shelter Island near New York when I shot their beach house (above and below) for a book on coastal architecture. Steve Schappacher is the architect of the duo; a design genius who can see possibilities where the rest of us see run-down wrecks. Rhea White is the interior designer of the family; a woman who can style a house like no one – and I mean NO ONE – I've ever met!

I'd like to show you. This, my library friends, is how the pros make over their homes!

(Note: Depending on where we end up living after The Big Move, I'm going to see if we have enough money to get these two to do our next house. That is, if they have time between all their other Manhattan commissions...)

The whimsical black-and-white dining room. The rusty old garden chairs were picked up for a song at a second-hand store on Shelter Island and deliberately left as they were. (Rhea simply put some striped cushions in for comfort.) These chairs really make this space. They are adorable. 

Notice how many of the fittings and furniture pieces are black? It's a clever move because the dark colour outlines the beauty of these pieces by silhouetting them against the white backdrop. 

I've forgotten where she picked up this fabulous vintage chair (I was too busy gawping and photographing madly to make copious notes, sorry!), but I love how it sits beautifully with the gently aged kitchen cabinet behind it. Look how Rhea has painted the back of it, to highlight the dinnerware.  Normally people paint cabinets or bookshelves black and then leave the back of them white. Rhea, however, has gone the opposite direction. I told you she was clever.

The kitchen. This is such a lovely cooking space for an island beach house. Look at how the black dinnerware makes a statement on the white shelves. And how the cupboards are like old-fashioned farmhouse cupboards. The modern twist to this room is the stove. It's black. (I desperately want one of those!) Love the geometric sink in the island bench too. And the elegant tapware with the simple benchtop. Just beautiful.

Chalkboards have been in so long they're bound to go out soon, but Rhea and Steve have given theirs a contemporary look by painting the entire kitchen wall in chalkboard paint and doodling cute pictures on it. It works because the wall beyond it is black too, while the door trims have been painted white. The layers of black and white are instantly dramatic. Even the shell hanging on the far wall has been painted white. And look at the cream sandshoes. Very cute.

This is a detail of the hallway in the previous photo. Rhea has simply strung up an old fishing rope and thrown some hooks over it. So creative. The beach bag is a witty play on words. (The house is on Shelter Island.)

The powder room. Located off the side entrance, this was my favourite room. That steel shower screen is actually VERY expensive.  (I doubt their laundry/powder room was a $30 makeover like ours!) But look at the retro-style black tapware. Isn't it beautiful? It's a lot like the bathrooms in the guest rooms of Ace Hotel in New York. And those light fittings! I love this powder room. Such a glamorous beach house ensuite. It makes you want to wear a retro-style, polka-dot black maillot, and then hang it up on a hook to match!

The living room. The top image is out of focus but it doesn't matter as many of you will have already seen this room in the blogosphere. The bottom image is the one I wanted to show you. It's home-made artwork, created out of rusty old bits of steel. Love the 4-by-3 configuration.

The bedrooms. These were ordinary farmhouse bedrooms, located either side of the landing at the top of the stairs. But look how lovely they are with a black-and-white palette?

The garden. The garden was as gorgeous as the rest of the house. Rhea and Steve built the long pergola and the outdoor fireplace, and converted the carport to a cool pool house. I'm told by another architect (a famous New York one, who knows about these things) that this pool is VERY expensive because of the long steps on the side. I'm too polite to ask how much it costs, and it doesn't matter, because it's the final exclamation design on this spectacularly clever Shelter Island beach house.

For more details of this creative duo's projects, look up their website, or click here – Schappacher White


  1. If I was asked to choose a favourite photo from this collection I'm afraid I couldn't as I love them all.
    Janelle we mix expensive furniture and fittings with the likes of Ikea. In fact I love Ikea for the simple and functional design.
    A home should be beautiful but also a place to live in comfortably. My little dog has to be able to sit on the sofa next to us!

  2. What a beautiful post like Annie i find it difficult to pick a favourite image. But I would save your money you style a home just as beautifully my girl!
    As for mixing I have family and found beautiful antiques sitting next to junk shop fix ups. The dogs sleep on it all!!!
    I do the same with clothes Target worn with Carla Zampatti!!!
    Janelle you get a small mention by me tonight hope you don't mind as I know it is not one of your favourites!!
    Jules xxx

  3. Yep this stunning post confirms that Black is the new Black. That shower screen - hooley dooley.
    Millie xx

  4. You do NOT need those two to decorate your house you have enormous style and creativity.The room with the very chic b and w stripe rug and white sofas does not look like a room for dogs or for that matter people's feet,whereas your house is sheer comfort.

  5. Very chic black and white patterns and designs. All mended in well together for a rustic yet, countryside feel. The black and white reminds me of Chanel. While the rug reminds me of a black and white version of a Gabbeh Rug.


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