Text by Tovah Martin
About the time designer Terry John Woods found his Berwick, Maine, cottage perched on its wooded knoll, he was poised on the verge of a new personal frontier. Inspired by the many moods of the ocean and its luminous vistas, Terry took up painting. He embraced his newfound muse with such intensity that he needed a place to escape and explore his inner artist. A well-known stylist and author of design books, Terry generally finds himself thrown into the fray of house restoration with partner Dale West (the two have adopted six homes so far) or producing a book (New Farmhouse Style, Farmhouse Modern, and Summer House are all recent titles). So, carving out a getaway was key to exploring his new creative realm. One glimpse at the Berwick cottage, and he immediately saw a retreat.
But first, the forlorn little mid-19th-century country cottage nestled in the woods needed considerable uplifting. Huddled gloomily in the shadows of overgrown evergreens, the cottage’s potential to stand lordly and treehouse-like above the scene was clear to Terry. He removed the cluttering trees immediately around its footprint. “They were serving no constructive function while fostering roof rot,” he says. Then he took existing stonework pathways leading up to the house and added 150 hosta varieties in a soothing medley of shades—everything from tiny mouse ear-size cultivars to giant varieties—and peppered them with heucheras. Leading up to the door, a deep green ocean of foliage in harmonious hues is accented with antique glass fisherman’s buoys—a nod to the sea in this landlocked scene.
The massive hosta planting was just one step in uplifting the 1,200-square-foot cottage. The interiors had been painted somber shades of taupe that sent Terry into a dark funk. “The place needed to be humbled,” he says, describing the simplicity his design strives to capture. Accordingly, the interior was whitewashed using the same color throughout the house (he favors Behr’s “Swiss Coffee”) for uninterrupted flow from space to space. Subtle color accents come from muted painted furniture. At the same time, he also removed many of the built-in elements to declutter the lines of the rooms, leaving only a few spare open-display cabinets to hold his many collections.
Summoning one of his tricks to bring even more light to the space, Terry refinished the 6-inch pine and narrow oak floorboards and glossed them to mirror any incoming light. Now he’s surrounded by shine. That broad-faced brightness continues outside with a spanking new coat of fresh white paint on the cottage’s exterior muted by a more serious shade of slate gray to separate the add-on screened porch.
If you ask Terry to describe what he’s done, he doesn’t fall into a color story. Instead, he talks about texture. The white background allows him to layer the grains of painted wood furniture with the patina of pottery and warmth of fabrics. He never buys new furniture, preferring instead custom slipcovers for antique finds. “That’s so much more meaningful,” he says.
Terry displays only his own art in the Berwick house, and the works serve as a strong endorsement for the success of the makeover. Sometimes he hangs a piece on the wall; more often, he builds it into the scene. Canvases stand on a shelf beside a comfy chair with meaningful accents clustered around, adding to the creative dialogue. “I feel a harmony with them here,” he explains. Terry frees the spirit of his habitat so he can focus on the essentials.