Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my aunt Sheila Narusawa and I drove up to Maine to photograph Harbor Cottage, an idyllic retreat that she renovated for Fiona and Tony Hooper. Fiona herself met us there, and with her came another friend, ceramicist Judith Crouch. Thus it was that four women found themselves tucked into a wintery cottage – eating, working and talking away the weekend. Inspired by the spare, windswept landscape and the serenely beautiful cottage, we mused about art and design, about family and movies, and the relative “hotness” of Stellan versus Alexander Skarsgard.
Though only an overnight stay, it seemed especially memorable. When I later considered why, I had a bit of a revelation. I’m always talking about authentic design being informed by the location and history of a place. But that history is not just about heritage or dates. True history is really an accumulation of moments – an exquisite meal, a brisk walk, a conversation – that together leave an impression. And what I now see more clearly is how much the quality of these moments is informed by the place in which they occur. I think we’ve all experienced how something as elementally beautiful as the ocean, for example, can make you feel more tranquil or inspired. Likewise, a beautiful building is like a petri dish of emotions. The more authentic a building is – the more it responds to its surroundings, the more intentional the owner is about how they use and style the space – the more expansive and genuine the experience of everyone who visits. Harbor Cottage is one such place. Everything about it is so beautifully integrated that it seems effortless. It is a place that you just want to fall into and live.
Fiona’s own history with Harbor Cottage began in 1992, when overcome by the breathtaking view, she and her former husband threw all caution to the wind and bought the ramshackle structure. Despite the fact that the basement flooded every time the tide came in, the children “kissed the ground” when they initially arrived. Harbor Cottage was the first real “home” for this New York City family, and the connection to place was as immediate as it was strong.
But of course, Fiona’s was not the first family to add their narrative to the history of the home. Initially it was not actually a house at all, but the Martinsville General Store. Then the generous windows faced away from the bay towards the street. In the 1930’s, once the structure had been converted to a home, two ladies lived in the house, stitching their needlework where we later drank wine and discussed novels. Recognizing her deep connection to the place, Fiona’s realtor gave her the diaries of these intrepid dames, which chronicle their own moments on the bay long ago.
But it seems to me that it was in the hands of Fiona and Tony that Harbor Cottage finally became what it was meant to be – a space in every way equal to its surroundings. Now fully integrated into the landscape, it is a most inspiring place, informed as much by its extensive history and expansive view as by the fleeting exchanges within its walls. Its journey to reach this pinnacle has not only been the work of Fiona and Tony, but also of their friends and family and of generations past, who all created moments here.
Set right against the tidemark, Harbor Cottage enjoys a stunning view, made all the more dramatic when seen through the large shop windows. However this lovely prospect was lessened by the fact the cottage interior was chopped up into several rooms. So one of the first things that Fiona did was to open up the entire downstairs, returning it to its original open, general store, floor plan. As such, from any point in this south facing room, one is able to track the daily progress of the sun across the bay. During the latest renovation, Sheila further unified the space with light woodwork throughout.
In the living area a cozy fire makes this now insulated cottage a perfect winter get away. Sheila added double windows on each side of the fireplace upstairs and down to maximize the view of the bay as it wraps around the spit. Much of the furniture in this area comes from Fiona’s friends, Sharon and Paul Mrozinski of Marston House. Every year Paul and Sharon spend the winter in Provence (click here to see their apartments), where they acquire beautiful antiques, including the French linens on the sofa and bench in this room. The upright chairs are also made locally for Sharon and Paul. The mirror over the fire place is an antique given to Fiona by her mother many years ago when Fiona first left home.
In this colorful mixed media corner of the dining area sundry treasures seem rather emblematic of Fiona’s own travels. Born in South Africa, Fiona lived and raised her family in New York City, but now resides primarily in the UK. Here a signed silkscreen print by the British artist Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, whose work Fiona used to represent in her New York gallery, hangs over an early American jelly cupboard from Marston House. Accompanying these is a traditional African currency piece, as well as stones from “Fiona’s” three continents: one from the shore of Maine, another from Plettenberg Bay in South Africa, and a third from Dungeness in the UK. The enamel jug belonged to Fiona’s mother – she always kept it in her fridge full chicken stock. Finally, surveying the scene is an original photograph of Georgia O’Keefe, given to Fiona by photographer Barry McKinley when the two worked together at Conde Nast.
The dining table is flooded with light from the window in the day and framed in an orange glow at night. Fiona purchased the antique table in the south of France during one of her trips to visit Sharon and Paul.
Upstairs Fiona and Tony wanted a more lofty feel for their bedroom. To achieve this effect, Sheila removed two tiny bedrooms to create a master suite with a larger bath, laundry room and closet space. (An adjacent cabin houses two other bedrooms as well as its own kitchen, living area, and bath.) Because this made for a rather large room, Sheila also designed the central island bed, which creates the illusion of two distinct areas, without actually sacrificing any space or light. Finally, Sheila added a fourth window at the foot of the bed to take in as much of the view as possible.
All construction work on Harbor Cottage was done by Harbor Builders.