gray house by jill bent

June 28, 2011

Twilight bedroom

There is an important design lesson in cottages. Perhaps it’s because they are seasonal, or because one tends to be a trifle more relaxed when there… or maybe it’s because one is a bit more playful on vacation, or more focused on the outdoors. But whatever the reason, I find that it is in cottages that you tend to find someone’s most authentic design self. A.k.a. they are often the embodiment of personality not perfection.

Case in point: this delightful and idealic Gray House in Cape Ann, MA. It belongs to Jill Bent (who makes wonderful bags and pillows) and her husband. Now, of course the setting is perfection and that helps – a lot. (I’m about 1 hour away myself, and it’s all I can do not to jump in my car and head up to Jill’s for a lemonade on that porch!) And the house is quite adorable and unique. So what I mean to say by “not perfect” is that there is a wonderful casualness to the decor. It’s “unstudied,” not overdone. Not every thing has been updated. Not every piece is exquisite. In fact, in many ways Jill left things as they were and in many places she has just (gasp) made due with what she had or (gasp, gasp) went to Ikea.

Gray house in the evening light.

Originally built in the 1920’s by Jill’s husband’s great grandfather, the Gray House sits at the back of his parents’ property, overlooking the Essex River. After sitting vacant for many years “collecting dust, insects, field mice, and unwanted furniture,” Jill and her husband asked if they could fix it up. Aside from a vigorous cleaning, refinishing the floors and a couple coats of fresh, white paint, the couple didn’t do much to the house. No structural additions built, no “modern conveniences” added. (In fact they celebrate the funky 40’s kitchen!) For furniture they shopped local flea markets for that “vintage flavor” and otherwise went with practical, understated pieces from Ikea. All the decorations they keep to a minimum, in keeping with their lifestyle while there. In so doing they let the architecture of the cottage speak for itself. And they let the house be what it always had been, a simple, cozy, get-away-from-it-all with a great view.

It actually takes great confidence to allow things to be what they are, not to fall victim to the latest trend. But notice what happens with this relaxed, authentic approach to design. Not every piece may be “just right,” but the feeling of being in the space is! I would give up a meal at the most painstakingly, high designed restaurant for dinner on that porch any day. I would rather lie down, salt in my hair and sand in my toes, in that bed than on anything at the Soho Grand. Wouldn’t you?

Room IN the view. The family eats all their meals here. I would too.

Now, let me be clear and say that I’m not advocating for a completely thoughtless approach. (I think that you will agree that Jill’s house doesn’t look at all unconsidered! It’s too fabulous for that!) But I am saying that those of use who are design minded tend to err on the side of perfection, sometimes at the expense of actually enjoying our homes. (Guilty as charged.) But just as too much clutter and ugliness is unwelcoming, so too is too much fussiness. Plus it’s stressful.

Jill and her husband really seem to enjoy their home. (Anyone who takes this many pictures of it must!) They enjoy drinks on the porch before settling down to a marsh-side meal. They enjoy reading by candle light and watching the stars. They enjoy “chilling” with family and friends. They have created a home that is comfortable, characterful, welcoming and beautiful, but NOT too much of a burden. In short, they have created a haven. And really shouldn’t every home be just that?

Set for dinner. Wicker chairs are Ikea. The table was here. Dinner ware is vintage.

A bedroom detail with Jill’s favorite beach bag and a wardrobe from Jill’s husband’s aunt.

Summer reading. Lamp is Ikea. Quilt and pillow cases are vintage from Todd Farm Flea Market. (Incidentally, I asked Jill how she got that cool cracked effect with the paint. “Fresh paint over old, weary beaverboard!” A serendipitous oops.)

A simple door. Another thing about cottages is that the “architecture” tends to be quite funky and full of character. Keeping the decor minimal highlights the unique details of the home itself.

A summer wardrobe. I realize that this isn’t a fashion blog, but who could resist this picture. It perfectly illustrates Jill’s design approach: beautiful, playful, simple, relaxed. And I love how it complements the colors in the kitchen!

Picture perfect view. A window, exquisite in it’s proportions, perfectly frames the breathtaking view. Any other adornment in this space would simply detract.

The 40’s kitchen. Love that the water heater is in plain view. You can’t get much more relaxed than that!

The other side of the open, airy kitchen.

The living room with a practical mixture of Ikea and vintage pieces. Again the windows and red door are the main points of interest.

Unframed sea painting from Todd Farm Flea Market

A simple passage way.

Even the boat house is great!

You can see and follow more of Jill’s life on her blog, 36 Shea.

All photos copyright Jill Bent. Used with her permission.

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