Written by Amy Elbert
Photographs by Tria Giovan
Produced by Stacy Kunstel
Sailing and the sea are in the Brooks family DNA. Ever since Louise and Ned Brooks were married 30 years ago, they have summered and sailed in and around Martha’s Vineyard (Ned is commodore of the Edgartown, Massachusetts, Yacht Club), and the three Brooks children grew up on sailboats and sandy beaches.
So it’s not surprising that a parcel of land in Rowayton, Connecticut, overlooking Long Island Sound and its bobbing sailboats, captured the couple’s sea-loving hearts. “The impetus for building this house was to get down by the water,” says Louise, an architectural designer who planned the home. “Now my husband can look out our bedroom window and see his boat moored in the harbor.”
Ned, a real estate developer as well as an accomplished sailor, had been on the lookout for in-town property. He and Louise had grown tired of maintaining the acres of wooded land and gardens at their home in New Canaan, Connecticut. Their children are in their 20s and on their own, so a big family house wasn’t required.
“Technically, we didn’t really downsize in terms of the house’s square footage,” Louise explains. “We downscaled the property surrounding the house, and we created a more relaxed, open floor plan.”
The tall, narrow house sits on a bluff overlooking the harbor, with the rear facade toward the water. The front exterior, with painted-yellow shingle siding, black shutters, and a cedar shake gambrel roof, is classic New England, in keeping with the old fishing community. Shell cutouts embellish some shutters, and scallop motifs are carved into the perimeter of the front door in recognition of the family’s sea heritage. The Brooks family crest includes three scallop shells, Louise explains.
Interiors are sea- and view-focused, too, with banks of large windows—many with transoms—and a broad bowed window in the living room. (“I’ve always coveted a window with real curved glass,” Louise admits.) The family sitting area by the kitchen has so many windows it feels like a “glassed-in sunroom,” the designer says. The same effect is played out in a dining alcove. “It’s meant to feel like a porch that has been enclosed.”
Rooms flow easily one to the other, with few walls to block traffic or views. There is no formal dining room. Instead, a light-filled alcove next to the living room holds table and chairs, with French doors that lead to an outdoor dining area on the terrace.
While the floor plan is open, the house feels traditional, thanks to Louise’s classic architectural touches: elegant crown moldings, wide baseboards, rope trim on a mantel, built-in shelves, and a floor-to-ceiling plate rack with beadboard back and curving corner brackets.
The coastal setting played into the home’s interior design but not with obvious motifs like anchors and sailing flags. “This is our primary residence, and I didn’t want it to be a beachy home,” Louise explains, “so we went with the darker floors and classic details, such as the clean, simple trims.”
Louise is known for her white and ivory interiors, and this house would be no exception. “White is my favorite color, and we just added some sea-blue turquoises in the kitchen and bedroom for a coastal feel,” she says.
A longtime friend, Rowayton interior designer Lynn Morgan, was Louise’s trusted sounding board and adviser. She was totally on board with the clean, neutral palette. “In this particular house, it’s the views that were the inspiration,” says Morgan. “You look out to their beautiful terrace overlooking the water and the boats. It just called for serenity.
“We decided let’s keep it white and maybe do some coastal gray colors. It’s really what the rooms called for,” she adds. Morgan reupholstered many of Ned and Louise’s existing seating pieces in white and cream-hued linens. The sofa and armchairs in the sitting area adjacent to the kitchen are covered in a cozy soft-blue corduroy with accents of white piping.
In the living room, Morgan laid down a broad-striped wool rug in foggy gray and cream and repeated the gray hues in accents such as silver bowls and accessories. “There is this serenity with white furniture, white trim, and those beautiful floors,” she says. “The floors add so much depth and warmth.”
Louise agrees that the wood floors are key to the house’s overall feel. In addition to the wood in the living room, Louise laid a gray limestone that absorbs and radiates warmth from the sun in the kitchen and sitting area. “Whenever I do a new house for a client,” she says, “I highly recommend reserving a budget for a special floor. It is one of the most important elements that can change the feel of a home.”
One room where Louise departed from the white-on-white look was in her office and library, where the walls are paneled in a cerused oak with a gray finish. “It is the only room on the first floor that does not have a direct water view, so I thought a warm cozy interior for my office would be perfect,” Louise says. Her desk sits in an arched niche that conceals her organized filing system: cubby-style shelves from floor to ceiling.
Teal blue, sea-foam green, coral, and lavender pillows with playful patterns accent rooms, adding softness and personality. Louise often changes out the colors and patterns of pillows and accessories with the season—one of the reasons she loves a white backdrop. Many of the pillows and occasional tables, some with fretwork aprons and wavy borders, are from Oomph, a company Louise founded in 2009 with friends Amy Rice and Patty Hopple.
“The idea was that every room needs some oomph,” explains Louise, “and that by adding a new pillow, table, or chair, you have a new room.” She designs the furnishings, which are custom-made in the United States and sold in a few retail outlets and through interior designers. Several of her painted tables play supporting roles throughout the house.
Original artwork gets special treatment in the Brooks home, with some pieces bearing personal stories. “I’ll change out furniture, but artwork I keep,” Louise says. Paintings of the Edgartown harbor by friend and prominent landscape painter Ray Ellis hang above the fireplace mantels in the living room and kitchen sitting area. The kitchen sitting area painting was a gift to Ned on his 50th birthday.
While designing a home is nothing new for Louise, she did admit it was more difficult to do her own. “I know too much. Sometimes it was hard to pull the trigger,” she says with a laugh. “It wasn’t the exteriors or floor plan that was hard but more the finishes, the little things like, ‘Should this have a radius or be straight?’”
One alteration that occurred midway through the design process was the kitchen—a room Louise is probably best known for designing. Originally, it was to open to the living room, but Louise and Ned agreed they preferred a cozier layout.
“My husband does all the cooking, and I didn’t want to talk across a big room every night,” Louise explains. “We were so happy with the kitchen in our New Canaan house, with its sitting area and fireplace, that we pretty much replicated what we had but with different finishes.”
A wall of windows in the sitting area allows the couple to look from the kitchen island to the harbor, and French doors to the side make it easy for them to step outside to the terrace.
“Architecturally, Louise put down the most gorgeous house she could have done,” Morgan says. “Sometimes houses tell you how to decorate them, and this one did, with simplicity and serenity.”
Architectural designer: Louise Brooks, Brooks & Falotico Assoc. Inc., 199 Elm St., Suite 2, New Canaan, CT 06840; 203/966-8440, brooksandfalotico.com
Interior designer: Lynn Morgan, Lynn Morgan Design, 147 Rowayton Ave., Rowayton, CT 06853; 203/866-1940, lynnmorgandesign.com
Builder: Artisans Home Builders, 143 Rowayton Ave., Rowayton,CT 06853; 203/604-6001, artisanshb.com
Table (custom): Parc Monceau, 404/467-8107, parcmonceau.com
Side chairs: owner’s collection.
Host chair: antique.
Fabric on dining chairs (“Rough ‘n Rowdy”/Sea Salt #955-124, Textures Collection): Perennials, 888/322-4773, perennialsfabrics.com
Console table (“Newport Console”/Large): Oomph 203/216-9848, oomphonline.com
Sconces flanking console (“Fenton Storm Wall Light”/Brass #WL97/BR): Vaughan Designs, 212/319-7070, vaughandesigns.com
Mirror over console: antique.
Vases: Lillian August, 203/847-1596, lillianaugust.com