July 23, 2024


Amazing design, nonpareil

A home on the water (or the next best thing)


I’ve always wanted a house on the water. I don’t have one. But during my stint as a live-in home stager, when I inhabited six houses in four years, I lived in a house that wasn’t mine on a lake. Every morning I woke up to a lake view from my bedroom — and it never got old.

When DC and I bought our home five years ago, a water view wasn’t high on our priority list. It wasn’t on our list at all. Other factors — location, number of bedrooms, price, a fenced yard for the dogs — were.

A few years later, when we redid our landscaping, since I couldn’t manifest a lake or ocean view, I lobbied hard for a pool. Our landscape designer drew up 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 upkeep, which surveys say runs between $3,000 to $5,000 a year for maintenance, repairs, electricity and water.

We put in a water fountain instead, and my husband offered to bring me an umbrella drink. Sigh.

Anyway, all this whining is to say that when I was offered the chance to review a new book by Jaci Conroy, “At Home on the Water” (Gibbs-Smith, 2022), I jumped on it. If I can’t have a house with a water view, at least I can live vicariously through those who do.

When the coffee-table book arrived, I pored over its 208 polished pages. I vicariously  toured 12 coastal homes, ranging from a rustic cottage in Nantucket to a grand, modern revival house in Palm Beach to a Spanish colonial in La Jolla.

“What inspired this book?” I asked Conroy, when I got her on the phone at her Boston home, where she lives with her family. She does not have a home on the water, but her second home on Cape Cod is within walking distance of the beach.

“The idea came during the early days of the pandemic,” said Conroy, a writer and editor for home magazines and current editor of New England Modern magazine. “We were all home sitting with uncertainty and a lot of down time. I started asking myself, where would I want to be right now? And I started picturing the kind of home I personally was craving at the time.”

Which is the kind of home I crave all the time.

Gibbs-Smith publisher; cover photo by Jessica Glynn
Gibbs-Smith publisher; cover photo by Jessica Glynn 

She drew on her magazine connections for candidates to feature, then did all her research, including interviews with owners, architects and designers, remotely. “Each home in the book represents an escape,” she said.

Her favorite is a home in Hyannis Port, Mass., featured in a chapter called “Past Presence.” It speaks to her because “it’s not too fancy, and it’s move-in ready for a family with kids.”

For those fortunate enough to live on the water, as well as those who just want to incorporate a waterfront vibe in their homes, Conroy offers these design tips:

Make the view the star: Never obscure a water view. A lot of the waterfront homes don’t have any window treatments or the ones they have are minimal.

Tone down décor: Avoid any furnishings, fabric, paint or wallcoverings that compete with the view. “I am a fan of bold design and taking risk,” Conroy said, “but in a coastal home I think you should tone that down.” The same holds true for lake view properties. “Any time you can see a body of water, maximize it. That’s the reason for living there.”

Capitalize on the colors: Pull the coastal colors inside. Using shades of white, off white, sand and blue is a good rule, Conroy said. Pale pastels like ballet-slipper pink or celery green can also work.

Don’t be too kitschy: Resist themed accessories, such as over-the-top signs that read “This way to the beach.” While it’s fine to choose throw pillows in coastal tones, skip the ones with anchor motifs. Likewise, go ahead and hang artwork or photos of seascapes, but bypass the nautical props like ship wheels and fishing nets.

Don’t underestimate the upkeep: Waterfront homes are not low maintenance. Coastal homes take a beating from salt, sun and storms. Owners of lakefront properties often need to dredge their shorelines, and pools, of course, require regular upkeep. So be careful what you wish for.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to put my feet up on the fountain.

Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including “Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go” and “Downsizing the Blended Home – When Two Households Become One.” Reach her at www.marnijameson.com.


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