I’ve always wanted a home on the water. I don’t have one. But during my time as a homesteader, when I lived in six houses in four years, I was living in a house that wasn’t mine on a lake. I would wake up every morning to the lake view from my bedroom – and it never really aged.
When DC and I bought our home five years ago, the view of the water wasn’t high on our priority list. It wasn’t on our list at all. Other factors – location, number of bedrooms, price, fenced yard for dogs – were.
A few years later, when we remodeled the landscape, where I couldn’t show a lake or ocean view, I pressed hard for the pool. Our landscape designer put together two plans, one with a pool, one without, and we looked at not only the cost of putting in a pool (a lot), but also the maintenance, which surveys say is $3,000 to $5,000 a year for maintenance, repairs, electricity and water .
Instead we put up a water fountain, and my husband offered to bring me a drink with an umbrella. sigh.
Anyway, all that wailing is to say that when I was offered the opportunity to review a new book by Jesse Conroy, At Home on Water (Gibbs Smith, 2022), I jumped on it. If I do not have a house overlooking the water, at least I can live vicariously through those who have.
When the coffee table book arrived, I rummaged through 208 glossy pages. I wandered obliquely through 12 coastal homes, from a country cottage in Nantucket to a large, modern revival home in Palm Beach to a Spanish colony in La Jolla.
“What inspired this book?” asked Conroy, when I called her on the phone at her home in Boston, where she lives with her family. She doesn’t have a home on the water, but her second home on Cape Cod is within walking distance of the beach.
“The idea came about during the early days of the pandemic,” said Conroy, a writer and editor at home magazines and current editor of Modern New England Magazine. “We were all at home sitting in uncertainty and a lot of downtime. I started asking myself, ‘Where do I want to be right now?’ And I started picturing the kind of home I personally longed for at the time.”
And it’s the kind of home I crave all the time.
She relied on her magazine links for candidates to highlight, then did all her research, including interviews with owners, architects, and designers, remotely. “Every house in the book is a haven,” she said.
Her favorite home is a home in Hyannis Harbor, Massachusetts, featured in a chapter titled “Former Existence.” She’s talking to her because “she’s not very fancy, and she’s ready to move into a family with kids.”
For those lucky enough to live on the water, as well as those who just want to incorporate a waterfront vibe into their home, Conroy offers the following design tips:
Make the show the star: Never block a view of the water. Lots of sea view homes don’t have any window treatments or those with minimal ones.
Decoration tone: Avoid any furnishings, fabrics, paint, or wall coverings that compete with the look. “I admire the bold and risky design, but in a coastal home I think you should tone it down,” Conroy said. The same is true of Lake View properties. “Anytime you see a body of water, zoom in. This is the reason to live there.”
Take advantage of the colors: Pull coastal colors in. Conroy said using shades of white, off-white, sand, and blue is a good rule of thumb. Pale pastel colors such as pink ballet slippers or green celery can also be used.
Don’t be too comical: Resist themed accessories, such as overhead signs that read “From This Way to the Beach.” While it’s a good idea to choose throw pillows in coastal colors, skip those with anchor motifs. Likewise, go ahead and hang artwork or seascape photos, but bypass nautical props like ship wheels and fishing nets.
Don’t Underestimate Maintenance: Waterfront homes are not low maintenance. Coastal homes are affected by salt, sun and storms. Lakefront property owners often need to dredge their beaches, and pools of course require regular maintenance. So be careful what you wish for.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll put my feet up on the fountain.
Marnie Jameson is the author of six books on home and lifestyle, including Downsizing a Family Home – What to Save, What to Leave and Downsizing for a Compact Home When Two Families Become One. You can access it at www.marnijameson.com.