Architect Julie Schaffer Builds a Beachfront Getaway in Guilford

With its red cedar siding from Landon Lumber and an intentional lack of detailing, the home of architect Julie Schaffer happily coexists with its incredible waterfront surroundings

Everyone dreams about having a weekend house on the beach. What they don’t dream about is sandblasting bedrock to make way for a foundation or selecting materials that stand up to a constant assault of wind and moisture, or worrying about how to make it attractive enough that your teenage daughters will deign to join you on the weekends. Architect Julie Schaffer thought about all that and then some when she decided to break ground on a 1.4-acre beachfront property in Guilford. But mostly she thought about those girls. 

“As the parent of two teenagers, planning a weekend retreat for your family needs to be strategic,” says Schaffer. “I mean, how do you compete with Instagram and all kinds of online distractions?”

For starters, you make it colorful and fun, and hopefully like nothing they’ve seen on YouTube. To Schaffer, that meant creating an unassuming cedar-wood box on the outside, and packing it with plenty of punch on the inside. “In an effort to keep the box simple, I ordered large windows and detailed a flush installation with the siding,” she says. “And instead of a center hall that’s so typical around here, there’s a breezeway that frames the view and provides natural cooling. I call it the centerless hall Colonial.”

Conveniently located next to the patio, the kitchen is defined by oak cabinets sporting a custom finish by G & M WoodworkingInside, she conjured rooms reminiscent of a cocktail party circa 1958. “I wanted the colors to pop like the wild print pants that everyone wore back then,” explains Schaffer. An array of hues gives every room distinction, starting with the den, where the orange-and-blue rug was inspired by a Picasso painting. “I took those colors right out of a scene he painted in Vallauris, France,” she adds.

In the dining room, a vintage Piero Fornasetti screen adds pizzazz; the patterned kelly-green wall covering on the landing resembles those dazzling period Capri pants; and in the guest room, the blue painted wall takes its cue from the sea. “Here, and in the master bedroom, the paint folds onto the ceiling to create modern bed canopies,” she says.

And when the girls suggested a red-and-orange scheme for their shared bathroom, Mom didn’t hesitate to install glass backsplash and shower tiles in those vibrant tones, and to punctuate the space with bright red pulls.

The kitchen, with its whitewashed oak cabinets, serves as a calm centerpiece. “The cabinets are painted white and sanded to expose the grain to create a ceruse-like finish that resembles driftwood,” says Schaffer, who opted to skip hardware. “I liked the idea of everything flush.”

In the dining room, Mies van der Rohe chairs surround a table from DDC. A Piero Fornasetti folding screen separates the space from the living room

Meanwhile, details like the staircase tread that meanders onto an adjacent wall to form a bench and a shelf, the turquoise velvet-lined alcove in her daughter’s bedroom, and those colorful canopies were strategically situated to turn their backs on the view. “The site is so unbelievable that the only way to create interest within the house was to do it in places where you were looking away from the water,” she says.

At the same time, she introduced the idea of an interior horizon line. “That concept is so strong in nature, I decided to take the idea and create lines that travel around a space as a way of controlling what you look at,” says Schaffer, who rimmed the master bathroom with a combination of tile and paint to establish a black border. In one daughter’s bedroom, it’s a single bright pink stripe that runs around the perimeter and, thanks to matching pink tape, even threads through the drapery panels. 

But in order to make it work, those lines have to be perfect, and the job of maintaining that unwavering perspective fell to builder Christopher McManus. “In a modern house, everything has to be dead-on because there is no tolerance for anything else,” notes McManus, who generally works on traditional homes that require lots of molding details. “Compared to getting those lines just right, trimming is easy.”

Schaffer concurs. “Modern is the way to go,” she says, “but it’s so much more work to make something look simple.”

A version of this article appeared in the June 2014 issue of Connecticut Cottages & Gardens with the headline: Red Square.