Clean & Classical by the Sea
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When you first enter the Old Saybrook beach house of Farmington-based interior designer Jean Poulin and her husband, Marcel, you don’t even notice the decor. As you stand inside the foyer, your eye is drawn past the kitchen, across the living room and straight out to sea.
“I did everything so nothing would block the view,” says Poulin, gesturing to the large windows that frame Long Island Sound. It is a view that stretches all the way to the horizon and makes you feel, especially in the upstairs rooms, as if you were aboard ship far out on the ocean.
Only when you’ve had enough of the hypnotic scenery do your eyes turn to the interior, and there you begin to notice her masterful design, one that maximizes the view and does everything imaginable to make a modest-sized house appear larger.
“The house is small,” Poulin says. Built in 1934, the two-story, three-bedroom cottage measures roughly 1,800 square feet. “It’s not a lot of space,” she admits. The original floor plan included a kitchen, small living room, dining room and bathroom with shower on the first floor, three bedrooms and two baths on the second.
The first thing the Poulins did after purchasing the property in 2004 was reconfigure the interior. Working with Lyme-based architect Brooke Girty and Burlington-based builder Gil Lavoie, they did extensive remodeling, shaving bits of space here to enlarge something there, creating closets and shelves where there had been none, and relocating or installing new windows to open the view.
“When we bought the house, there were walls with sliding glass doors so you didn’t see the water,” Poulin says. The sliders led onto an enclosed porch. The remodel created an addition where the porch had been, and the space became part of the expanded living room. In place of the sliders, show-stopping picture windows and doors were installed.
The side views were also remedied. Many of the original windows afforded generous views of the neighbors’ homes, which sit snugly on either side of the Poulins’. “You could be in your pajamas having coffee in the morning and wave to the neighbors,” Poulin recalls. Her solution, upstairs and down, was to install plantation shutters. Painted a crisp white, they allow in breeze and light while affording the owners as much privacy as they choose. Upstairs, bedroom windows were similarly repositioned. Gone are the intimate views of the neighbors’ houses. Instead, the portals open to the sea.
Views maximized, Poulin turned her attention to expanding the sense of space. Her work began at the front door. “There was no entryway,” she explains, noting that the original front door was flanked on one side by the refrigerator. By reconfiguring the kitchen, she was able to create a small foyer—“I wanted a more formal entry,” she says. The space encompasses the original downstairs bath, where the shower was eliminated to create a closet. “I don’t need a shower downstairs, but you have to have a storage closet,” Poulin says. The foyer functions as a place to pause and shed your coat before moving inside. It also sets the tone for the gracious style of living evident throughout the home.