Text by Robert C. Martin
It’s really quite natural to appreciate a house that, from all outward appearances, abounds with charm and tasteful features. But when these qualities are combined with great ideas that cater to the homeowners’ needs—now that’s a place worth noticing! This lovely French-inspired abode located along a shady drive benefits from being as well-planned as it is appealing. Constructed with both enduring materials and a bevy of amenities, it flows seamlessly from room to room with a craftsmanship and refinement that are usually seen in much older dwellings.
Thoughtfully created by residential designer Eric Dale, the residence took shape through a series of preliminary sketched plans, which over time evolved into its present form. “I set about incorporating elements of a French home style while keeping the design balanced and visually coherent.” Because Eric is also a registered interior designer, he has an affinity for details that proved to be valuable in developing this home’s layout. “After working on residential projects for over 20 years, I’ve found that ideas generate more ideas,” he explains. “So, presenting clients with a host of potential solutions, rather than choosing ones that I might favor, best enables me to work through the design process.”
One of the first issues that required some creative thinking involved the site itself. Because it was an extremely narrow lot, Eric had little choice but to place the garage in front, rather than to the side or in back. This seemingly less desirable decision was successfully resolved by fashioning the garage to resemble a bygone carriage house. Likewise, its arched, wood-planked garage doors and a pea gravel forecourt are other components in keeping with the French aesthetic. The owners and residential designer also wanted the home to have great ‘street presence,’ which was somewhat tricky given that the front door location sits lower than street level. To accomplish this, they agreed to raise the ceiling height of the main living level to 12 feet and added a second floor of guest bedrooms for extra height.
The taller main-floor rooms are also distinguished with different ceiling construction techniques, rather than being all flat-surfaced. For example, while the kitchen contains a tray ceiling with a canopy of wood planks, the master bedroom, study, and stairwell sport coffered treatments. And not to be outdone, the central living room rises to a vaulted apex and is accented with exposed wood beams. “Because we knew these high ceilings would be prominent, the clients and I made sure they became true assets to each room,” Eric points out. “Also, such finishing techniques are generally not expensive—they just take a little more thought, time, and effort.”
Another strong point of this home’s design consists of an impressive amount of storage that otherwise might be unused space. This is most evident at the seemingly solid paneled walls on either side of the living room fireplace. Instead of open bookshelves, each side contains a hidden door that appears to be part of the paneling. Once open, the doors reveal inner recesses where books and other items are kept out of view. “As a result, the fireplace became integrated into a well-proportioned, architectural composition, rather than one where the voids are filled in with ordinary cabinets and shelves,” Eric clarifies. “This keeps the space from looking too cluttered as well.”
The kitchen also benefits from tons of storage, both concealed and fully visible. Along with the built-in cabinetry, which holds an assortment of spice racks and pull-out compartments, the central island harbors its share of cooking implements, smaller appliances, and seasonal dishware. For displaying the homeowners’ impressive collection of blue and white transferware, shallow niches take advantage of dead space created by the thickened wall separating the living room and kitchen.
Other noteworthy ideas accomplished here are the mixing of old and new elements, not only with furnishings, but also through different materials, accessories, and other items. Case in point: while rooms such as the master bathroom and dining room are illuminated with antique light fixtures, other spaces, such as the foyer, living room, and master bedroom, contain lighting with vintage styling, yet are new. Similarly, the living room mantel has the texture and workmanship of centuries-old stone, whereas, it’s a period reproduction. Even materials like the oak flooring used throughout and the bluestone pavers found on the screened porch denote a sense of permanence and establishment that obscure the home’s recent completion.
In light of these inspiring ideas, Eric sums up his design philosophy by affirming the adage that it’s all in the details. “Details bring a home to life,” he explains. Together, they must relate to each other by forming a design language that defines style. While these elements may be simple or complex, a home is only successful when each detail is carefully considered.” And from the looks of things, he and the homeowners did just that.