Features > The Power of Decor

When Tom and Makena Herget moved into their new house, Makena recalls thinking: “Oh my God, we’ve bought an igloo.”

The Hergets set out to decorate and furnish the house “so that it was warm and comfortable while reflecting our family’s interests in history and travel, and our love of things made by artisans.”

The house the couple purchased was a big blank canvas with good architectural bones but a cold interior personality. All the walls and columns were painted a flat white. Carpets and floor tiles were mostly beige or gray.

A good example of the Hergets’ quest to bring more warmth to the house is obvious as soon as you step through the hand-crafted stained-glass front door. The sterile gray slate floor was replaced by marble with yellow undertones, giving an immediate sense of comfort. A chandelier made in Murano, Italy, washes the entire space with soft light. Pillars on each side of the hallway entrance, once as white as a snowbank, were faux-painted to look like ancient stone pillars found in an Italian villa. “We wanted the look to be like that of a Tuscan country house,” says Makena.

Bringing their travels home

The Hergets sold the house where they’d lived (and raised three children) for twenty-nine years and “upsized” to their new home, moving from a 3,000-square-foot, circa-1825 Cape in Tamworth to this 7,500-square-foot residence in North Hampton.

“Once the kids and animals were gone, we decided we wanted an adult house,” Makena says.

Not only did the Hergets sell their house and its 115 acres, they sold or gave away nearly all their furniture. “We wanted a fresh look for this new home,” she says.

An Italian handcrafted tile backsplash sets the tone for Tom and Makena Herget’s (facing page) kitchen, which also features a granite-topped island with a base made of South African mahogany. The island’s sink as well as the pots and pans hanging over the stove are of hand-hammered copper made in Italy. The bar (below) is a perfect spot for having coffee or breakfast. An Italian theme is a common thread through much of the house. The couple— who travel often to Italy—hosted artisans from Italy and France to create frescos, tile work and faux paintings that provide a lively palette through the first floor.

The backsplash in the kitchen consists of tiles hand-painted in Italy, and the pots and copper sink in the island were handhammered there. The island itself is a work of art, with graceful lines combining granite and South African sapele mahogany. A stairway fresco is a replica of one in Florence, and silk Ferragarmo scarves are beautifully framed and used as artwork.

Italy is just one of the many countries evident in the home. Items collected on the couple’s South America honeymoon thirty-nine years ago (including an authentic blowgun) are still important elements in the hallway. Makena—a tall, lithe blonde—and Tom—the owner of Chick Home Center in North Conway—have used their center hallway to showcase some of their favorite acquisitions, all beautifully framed.

One section of the hallway features Africa with masks and a carefully crafted fly swatter and jewelry from the Masai tribe. Another of the most eye-catching sections is devoted to Hawaii (where the Hergets also own a residence). Particularly striking is the collection of necklaces made from shells found only on the island of Niihau. The couple also has a replica of a bench used by the last queen of the islands. Like the original, it’s made from curly Hawaiian koa wood.

“When we travel, we always pick up things that interest us, bring them home and store them in boxes,” says Makena. “When we moved here, we unpacked them, and that’s when we got the idea of doing an art gallery and theme for some of the rooms.”

With rooms to showcase

There are certainly enough rooms in their new home to showcase their collections and furniture. The kitchen is large and bright with pendent lighting and generous windows. Off the kitchen is a curved screened porch complete with fireplace, where the Hergets dine frequently in the summer. The pantry has a full-size Sub-Zero® fridge and a wine refrigerator. There is also ample counter space and storage in their SieMatic cabinets.

The dining room has a whimsical blue sky on the ceiling and frescoes of the Tuscan countryside. Paintings of flowers and ivy cascade from each corner of the room. There is a fireplace to warm guests sitting at a large dining table made in Colorado from yew wood that Makena found at the Boston Design Center. The nearby living room/library also has a fireplace and furniture upholstered in Italian silk and brocade.

The first floor media room comes with the expected big-screen television and comfortable reclining leather lounge chairs. But to make the space more fanciful, faux curtains reminiscent of a Broadway stage frame the TV. Heavy curtains can be automatically closed to provide perfect viewing conditions even on the brightest day. There is also a well-equipped workout room.

On the second floor, the “Africa Room” pays homage to Ernest Hemingway with the use of Thomasville’s Hemingway Collection. The room, which also serves as a sewing room, includes a fake cheetah-pelt floor covering and framed African bracelets.

The bedroom across the hall has a Humphrey Bogart theme. Its bath is especially handsome with the oversized shower constructed with rainforest granite—a lovely brown-tinged stone. The shower also features multiple showerheads and body sprays.

The master bedroom is painted in a silverblue, with hand-stenciled walls and Venetian plaster below the chair rail. Makena calls the feminine space her “Greta Garbo” room. The master bath is spacious, using caramel-andwhite Egyptian alabaster. It incorporates multiple showerheads, body sprays and a steam shower. A full-size Jacuzzi® tub with a mahogany surround and splendid views over the gardens is a quiet alternative.

Makena’s nearby office is painted a rich coral color and uses large chunks of coral and seashells as appropriate accessories. An armoire hides the ubiquitous computer, allowing the room to maintain its sleek, uncluttered look.

All warmed up

Although much time, money and effort were spent inside, the gardens were not overlooked. A series of gardens surround the home—perennial; Japanese (complete with a small koi pond); tropical (the banana and olive trees, along with the elephant ears and the like, move inside for the winter); vegetable; herb and shady woodland gardens. One plot is set aside for plants that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. An Italian-themed garden was added last summer.

The attention to detail in the house and gardens is meticulous, from the antique black Chinese birdcages to the colorful hand-painted floor cloths that appear here and there as unexpected surprises.

What the Hergets once called “the igloo” is today bright and colorful, warm and welcoming. The same words could be used to describe the Hergets, a convivial couple known for their hospitality. They have only one house rule: no polar bears allowed.