A New Classic with Style

A ‘dream team’ creates a stellar all-season beach house on the Seacoast.

Skillful engineering, spearheaded by Carla Goodknight of CJ Architects in Portsmouth, added just the right amount of fill to make this long view along a southern axis possible. The pool house’s open yet sheltered space includes motorized screens and Kolbe lift and slide doors. The space received an honorable mention for Excellence in Specialty Room Design at the New Hampshire Home Design Awards earlier this year.

When the homeowners bought the turn-of-the-century Victorian house on Straw’s Point, they had to make a critical 
decision about its fate. The most efficient solution would be to tear it down.

It was late fall, and despite a brisk breeze off the ocean, they sensed something joyous about the old house with its bold mansard roof and waterfront porch bordered by a determined row of beach roses. Here was a place where generations of families had boiled lobsters, toasted their reunions, and monitored their kids and grandkids. After some debate, the homeowners, who have strong New Hampshire roots, decided to save the house, honor its spirit and continue those traditions in their own way. 

Now, when Carla Goodknight, principal architect of CJ Architects in Portsmouth, enters the completed home at Straw’s Point, her eyes light up. Straight ahead is that timeless view—the ocean’s long horizon, waves curling and breaking, the gentle arc of the sandy beach—all bathed in a brilliant play of light. It is glorious.

The brilliant blues of summer shimmer and glow, accentuated by an assortment of pillows and soft blankets. The gray pebble surface softens the pool’s reflective properties. A hot tub is built into one corner.

During that December though, the homeowners could only imagine the home’s renovation—how that would become a reality was an unknown. First, the homeowners assembled their core team: Goodknight; Paul Kerrigan, of Chinburg Properties in Newmarket; Paula Daher, of Daher Interior Design in Boston; and Terrence Parker, of Terra Firma Landscape Architecture in Portsmouth. 

Second, the homeowners began meeting semimonthly to plan and strategize. These meetings were supremely efficient: Everyone took notes. Action steps were set. And, the team stayed flexible. Soon this group of professionals became, by all accounts, the “dream team.”

“My wife and I wanted a big, open-concept home,” the homeowner says. “And a kitchen that would be inclusive. We both like modern houses, but we wanted to preserve that history. There’s no such thing as perfection, but you can always try. We also wanted to begin using the house immediately, so summer vacations were built into the schedule.”

The home’s original curved mansard roof connects sky to garden, a cultivated tapestry that includes grasses, lavender and wild geraniums all framed by a lush green lawn. Terra Firma Landscape Architecture in Portsmouth did the design.

Phase one was to spiff up the house so the homeowners could live there for most of the summer. Phase two was to reimagine the old house, with some additions and a pool house. Construction began in earnest on August 1 and continued until the following summer. Phase three was to build an auxiliary garage. All told, it took about two and half years.

The design team’s efforts did not go unrecognized. Earlier this year, the pool house’s great room won an honorable mention for Excellence in Specialty Room Design at the New Hampshire Home Design Awards.

The transformation

Eric Weinrieb, of Altus Engineering in Portsmouth, began the site work immediately. This included rebuilding the seawall to secure the property and grading the lot to make it more level for the pool house. 

Goodknight’s blueprints traced elegant lines that ran the glass windows up to where the original walls meet the ceiling to encompass the view. The feel is lofty; with modern mullions, transoms and a central arc, the view is framed comfortably. Hidden motorized screens and shades make adjusting for light and dark easy.

The curve of these cabinets, built by Salmon Falls Woodworks in Dover, and counter echoes the crescent beach just outside. Building fine cabinets on a curve is a woodworking feat, and this installation incorporates a well-camouflaged dishwasher.

To open up the great room, Goodknight moved the central staircase and added a cozy den. Other additions included a guest suite and media room, a master bedroom, and the renovation of three upstairs bedrooms, providing each with its own bath. In the three-bedroom suite, newly vaulted ceilings covered with white v-board offer an updated cottage look. One of the mansard dormers is retrofitted with a miniature door to an outside deck. The basement was renovated and opened up to create a complete fitness/entertainment area with outdoor access.

As part of her architectural education, Good-knight studied in Venice, Italy. Perhaps it was there that she fell in love with incorporating curves in the spare, contemporary designs she is known for. In the great room, one hardly thinks about it, but the wall of kitchen cabinets sweeps around in a gentle curve, as does the central island. The curve makes the kitchen central to the whole room.

Kerrigan, of Chinburg Properties, who managed the construction, says: “Once we secured the foundation and added steel beams to get the open look that Carla wanted, it was all very manageable. Fortunately, the house, which had been renovated in the 1980s, had good bones.”

Boston-based interior designer Daher’s taste reflects the sleek sophistication of European design while never losing her New England touch and emphasis on casual comfort. “I began by designing the kitchen,” Daher says, “because that’s always the heart of the home. I wanted the materials to feel light and airy, but not be your typical white kitchen. So, I looked for colors with a driftwood feel that would be soft and not take away from the view.”

This elegant, casual breezeway connects the property: house to pool house, back yard to front. It has become the homeowners’ favorite summer place.

Fred Loucks, of Salmon Falls Woodworks in Dover, built the cabinetry from alder. After consulting with Daher, they stained and color-matched all the wood. “I’d never installed a dishwasher with a custom door to fit a curve before,” Loucks says. “That was a new challenge.” Salmon Falls also made all the home’s cabinets and vanities, as well as fitted the stairways with custom railings, variegated balusters and decorative arches. 

For the den, adjacent to the great room, Daher specified fumed oak, and Salmon Falls created it. “To transform the color of the oak, we put the wood in a tent with cans of ammonia for about six hours,” Loucks says. “Because it’s not stained, the wood is still nice and open and has an iridescent quality. When it’s fumed, the wood has a dark, shimmery quality.” 

Daher is a master at picking beautiful, understated stones. For example, she picked black, leathered granite for the kitchen, creating contrast while keeping the textures and tones soft. The marble tile featured in each bathroom has unique qualities such as translucence, veining or specks of mica. For the den’s gas fireplace, the stone surround is gray soapstone with an exceptional wavy diagonal pattern. The minimalist fire ribbon provides both warmth and flame, but dispenses with faux logs. 

For rugs, Daher chose 100 percent wool in flat weaves. “Wool is warm underfoot, and flat weave has a casual feel. It’s very livable,” Daher says. “We didn’t want this house to be pretentious in any way, shape or form.” All the fabrics have subtle contrasting textures and colors. Now just add a gaggle of family and friends with sandy feet.

Goodknight characterizes the project as a design-build that evolved. “Every challenge that arose turned into some sort of unique feature,” she says. For example, she recalls the porch that wrapped around the main building. “We removed the porch to have it structurally rebuilt. I was on site and it was a beautiful summer day, so I walked out to look at the new seawall. Terrence was out there, and we were looking at the placement of the stone seating. Then I looked back at the house. Suddenly, I thought we cannot put that porch back on.” 

or cooler days and seasons, a cozy den is a refuge while still open to the larger living room. Floor-to-ceiling windows frame the view proportionally with transom windows and a bold mullion. 

As a result, a small balcony was designed for the front. Surprisingly, the porch—now just on the western and eastern sides of the main house—maintains the language of a wraparound porch. “It’s an informal symmetry,” Goodknight says. “It’s harder to do, but it’s definitely more livable, and we needed to capture that light.” 

Outside changes

Landscape architect Parker, like Goodknight and Daher, worked with curves, subtle textures and colors to create a resilient, complementary landscape. “When the site was graded, a long view of the coast opened up,” Parker says. “Only a few properties have that south-by-southwest light here on the East Coast.” 

Parker incorporated two existing big juniper colonies to create frames in much the same way that Goodknight did with the big windows. He designed a meadow perimeter to form a wild edge to the lawn. A long serpentine stone wall provides an informal structure around the pool, creating a low backdrop for drifts of asters, lupine, ox eye daisies, coreopsis, liatris, lavender, salvias, blueberries, grasses and dwarf conifers. Parker’s voice trails off as the list gets longer. “Honestly,” he says, “I work with hundreds of plants.” 

Eschewing the standard wraparound porch fills the house with light. Side porches and balconies read like historic style while amplifying views from sunrise to sunset. A front entry topped with a dramatic “Juliet” balcony welcomes guests from near and far. 

While the main house might be considered transitional with its more traditional furnishings, the pool house is modern. With sparkling white Caesar stone counters (curved of course) and baton chandeliers, the pool house is truly the inside/outside house. The doors slide open on all sides and pocket doors disappear behind the fireplace to allow this central feature to become freestanding to the exterior. The floors are polished cement, and the fireplace surround is brushed Labrador stone. Bold walnut woodwork, which matches the flooring in the main house, is a warm accent. A barrel-vaulted ceiling enhanced at night with cove lighting creates an airy atmosphere. 
Meanwhile, following Goodknight’s lead, the construction crew transformed the old mansard dormers from peaked roofs to curved, copper-clad roofs that coordinate with the arch on the pool house. Kerrigan, always pragmatic, says, “Once we made a template for that first dormer, the others were much easier.” 

As for the big arch: “That was made off-site,” Kerrigan says. “They shipped it to us in pieces in a giant cradle. Then we coordinated with people who could unload it and put it together.”

Environmentally friendly touches

Of course, it almost goes without saying that the systems here are environmentally friendly with the LED lights and a full array of solar panels. An energy- recovery system (ERV) keeps air in the house fresh and pleasant. A Nest remote-control system enables the house operating systems to be monitored and changed from anywhere in the world. (Nest, an innovative tech company, delivers hardware, software and services to ensure home safety, energy savings and security.)

During one particularly cold winter day, the homeowner called Goodknight to share some good news. Thanks to the spray foam insulation, the monitoring system reported heat in the master bedroom only came on for six hours during the month of January. 

Embracing life and memories

Contemporary art throughout the house underscores the homeowners’ laid-back sensibility. “The Beach House Rules” are to  “Rest, Relax, Renew.” 

“When we’re here, there’s no set schedule,” the homeowner says. “We might ramble into Portsmouth a bit. It’s always wonderful to hear the sounds of kids playing on the beach. When the surfers are out, they’re just amazing to watch. Our kids are happy here, and we love a full house.” 

As family and friends come and go, there’s a place that one homeowner finds especially soothing. 

“The screened porch that connects the main house to the pool house is special for me,” she says. “I hate when people leave, and on that porch with the breeze on a warm day, it’s a perfect place to re-live the memories of their visit. I know it sounds corny, but it has become a bit of a tradition for me.”  

A built-in window bed defines a coveted vantage point. White v-board—perfectly fitted to the ceiling—contrasts with a curved window and built-in cabinets with rounded tops. 

The tub, which is original to the house, tucks into a curved wall in the updated master bath. Textures in wall décor, the shower’s subtle tile pattern and a translucent marble doorframe create a soft effect throughout the room.

Woven side tables, lighthearted décor and colorful artwork set the tone. The stairwell’s dark wood and custom balustrades in a staggered pattern evoke the Mission Style, anchoring the turn-of-the century cottage feel.

Work seems to trundle along on everyone’s vacation compressed into compact laptops. Here there’s the big view and the mansard roof from one’s own garret dormer. The small balcony beckons and inspires a speedy escape.

Are those my sunglasses? Is that my book? Here is an airy spot to relax. 

Members of the design team include, from the left, Paul Kerrigan, of Chinburg Properties in Newmarket; Paula Daher, of Daher Interior Design in Boston; Carla Goodknight, of CJ Architects in Portsmouth; and Terrence Parker, of Terra Firma Landscape Architecture in Portsmouth.

Categories: Architecture and Interiors