Nina Campbell sprinkles her magic on a New England home in this exclusive extract from her new book, A House in Maine. Words by Giles Kime.
There are a few well-trodden options open to anyone lucky enough to take possession of a tired but much-loved family house. One is to tenderly bring it into the present day, reinventing spaces intended for a different way of life. The other is to knock it down and start from scratch with modified footprint, ceiling heights, and appearance to make it workable for a new era. Or, of course, it can be left in a state of gradual decay for another generation to address.
There’s also another path, less travelled, that involves building a new house that embodies the spirit of the old with many of the same treasured elements, the same access to light, and the same orientation to harness a distinctive sense of place that evokes generations of memories of people and experiences. That, in essence, is what is address with this property – a house that has been rebuilt in almost exactly the same location as its predecessor and that combines the emotional strands of the past with the necessities of the future. Into the warp and weft are woven other elements, not least the tastes and personalities of the owners as well as the materials and artisanal traditions of the local area.
Weaving is a complex art, requiring a mix of skill, experience, an understanding of materials, and an instinctive eye for colour, pattern, and texture – attributes that made Nina Campbell the perfect person to work with Ferguson & Shamamian on a project with a greater range of nuances than most and one that would involve an intimate working relationship with the clients. While the body of the house was moved, its elevation when seen from the sea is similar in appearance and proportion with much of the mass of the building extended to the land side. Some of the spaces have the same outlook and orientation but have simply evolved. On the shaded veranda, where doors fully retract to expose the inside to the outside, the connection with the past is enhanced by the sofa that still sits, restored and reupholstered, in the same position that it has had for decades.
The masterstroke in the conception of the house – as it is in all Ferguson & Shamamian’s projects – was to create a new house with spaces and proportions that look as though they have been there forever, but which conceal services that are carefully considered, beautifully engineered, and truly state of the art. Such architectural details as handsome fitted cupboards with lattice glazing, shallow arches, and discreet plaster detailing add a layer of interest that replaces the sense of permanence in the previous structure.
Against this backdrop another layer was added by Campbell and her team. So often in new-build houses, the role of decoration is to overcome the clinical atmosphere and austere lines that can be their dominant feature. Here, the scene had been set by the architecture and simply needed the addition of comfort and a light touch that would re-establish it at the latest iteration of the family home. In this respect, Campbell was helped by the owners’ request to indulge their love of purple, lilac, mauve, and lavender. It’s a palette that pervades but doesn’t overwhelm and that mixes well with such neutral hues as taupes, greys and silver. While not rigidly imposed, it creates a sense of coherence as one moves from room to room and from floor to floor.
The clients’ request for a tranquil colour scheme also set the course for the overall feel of the scheme. So often designers create schemes for seaside residences that take their cues from the surrounding landscape, but these interiors have a look that, while sympathetic to the geography, have an energy that is very much their own. They also address the fact that much of the appeal of this house is the views, and the spare, pared-back approach ensures that there isn’t too much that will distract from the glorious natural light. The windows, like the internal doors, are as tall as possible to maximise the impact of the setting while also framing the vistas beautifully.
The main sitting room is Nina Campbell at her most delicate, with a look and feel that are enhanced further by a floor painted in a large checkerboard pattern in white and gray. On top is a room-size rug woven in rush, an English tradition that dates to the Anglo-Saxon period and that does much to soften the appearance of rooms while also absorbing sound.
Considered and comfortable furniture plans are one of the hallmarks of Campbell’s work; the main seating area is centred on a set of four steel-and-glass tables while the second focuses on an oval glass-topped table, pieces that do not overwhelm their surroundings. A pair of painted console tables, each with a pier glass above, creates symmetry and blends seamlessly with the setting.
Having set the scene with a mixture of soft colours – punctuated with refined touches such as decorative wall sconces, rattan chairs, and mirrors – the contemplative hues are continued throughout the ground floor and the principal bedroom suites. The genius of the architects’ work is their ability to blend traditional domestic architecture with the demands of the 21st century. Throughout the different floors and wings of the building, the proportions and architectural detail blend to create a look that is true to the original building without ever descending into pastiche. Nor is there any sense that retaining any existing elements of this much-loved house has compromised the design of the remodeled structure. The artful balance of old and new is epitomised by the display of framed fragments of a mural depicting rural scenes that were saved from the entrance hall of the former house and hung so that they captured the spirit of the place in its past incarnation.
A House in Maine, (Rizzoli, £45). The new Nina Campbell store opens in Pimlico in April, marking a homecoming after 50 years. ninacampbell.com