Photographed by Erik Kvalsvik
It all started with a rug.
On one rainy day in New York City in 2010, interior designers Cinnie May and Rachel Pohlner of JBM Designs looked at fabric for hours with their client. By the end of the day they were exhausted. They had a slew of different swatches in hand, but they weren’t sure how everything was going to fit together. Then they made one final stop to look at rugs. The homeowner, who lives in Owings Mills, saw a rug and said, “That’s it”— and it was. One vintage over-dyed rug filled with a rainbow of colors pulled the design of the entire house together. “We owe this rug a lot,” says May. “It’s just so brave. It set the tone immediately.”
The project began as a hole in the ground in Stone Harbor, a family town with an Old World feel. To design the house the homeowner selected architect Paul Kiss, who is known for his cottage-style homes; the result was a house whose cottage exterior fits in with the neighborhood but whose cathedral ceilings and open staircase add modern flair. The homeowner didn’t want the interior to have a traditional flavor— she pictured a contemporary, energizing space filled with color and light. “She wanted it to be happy and cheery, and a little bit unexpected,” May says. “She picked these wonderful, whimsical fabrics that helped us create the story of this house.”
Eighteen months later, the homeowner, her husband, and their three young children moved into a new breed of beach house, complete with a pool and six bedrooms. There are no big sailboats, ships’ wheels or chunks of driftwood. “You’ll find things throughout that can speak to the water, but it’s not what your mind immediately thinks of as a traditional beachy item,” says Pohlner. Such touches are subtle, like a small piece of coral or an anchor screen accent pillow. What is not subtle is the bright pink papier-mâché moose head. But every moose head, zebra-print bench and stingray pillow has its place in the design scheme. “I think once you go this deep into color, you gotta go for it,” says May. “Each room could be its own personality and be really fun.”
With a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns there was a real risk of overwhelming the space or creating chaos. “If you made one color the main event in each of the rooms it would have been almost awkward,” says May. But the designers united the wide spectrum of color palettes across the house. “[The rooms] each have their own transitional color that leads to the other rooms,” explains Pohlner.
The homeowner, with input from her family and the help of the designers, crafted a house that perfectly reflects her vision of an original, vibrant summer home. “She picked things that were consistently fun and to somebody else might be kind of scary,” says May. “But she never wimped out.”