Photographs by William Stites
Written by Pamela J. Wilson
Interior designer: Betsy Speert, Elizabeth Speert, Inc. 72 Potter Pond, Lexington, MA 02421; 781/274-9372.
What do you do with a hot-pink ramshackle ranch house complete with skunks living in the attic? If said house is for sale and happens to be located on prime oceanfront property on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, you do what Connie and Chris Nast did: Snap it up, tear it down, and—staying within the original footprint—start all over again.
The Nasts’ new one-and-a-half-story house is a total charmer, featuring concrete construction formed to look like clapboard, open porches upstairs and down, and fabulous ocean views. Inside, the charm intensifies with joyful colors, casual cottage-style furnishings, and a variety of all-in-fun collections—including a flock of pink flamingos.
Credit for the delightful decor goes to Connie and to Boston interior designer Elizabeth “Betsy” Speert. “At first the plan was to hire a local Florida designer, but Betsy did such a wonderful job with our house in Vermont that we knew we wanted her involvement here,” Connie explains. Speert, who also owns a Florida winter house not far from the Nasts’, was more than happy to accept the job. “I love working with Connie and Chris. The three of us always have a great time together,” Speert says.
“Fun” is indeed the essence of this house, and it begins with the front door, painted purple à la Key West. Step inside, and more happy hues greet you. In the foyer and continuing into the open-plan living/dining room, the walls are covered in orangey-colored split bamboo. Kitchen walls and cabinets are painted a vibrant coral, similar to the inside of a seashell. Speert is a big fan of bamboo wallpaper because, she says, “It is so textural and so much warmer and cozier in feeling than flat paint.” The designer admits that bamboo wallpaper is difficult to hang. “You need hedge clippers to cut it, and before hanging, you need to paint the walls the same color as the bamboo to hide the gaps that naturally occur.”
White-painted furniture, new or old, is another passion of Speert’s. “Especially in a room with bright or bold colors, you need to create contrast with the crispness of white,” she says. “If you like the shape of a piece but not its finish, don’t sell it or throw it out, just paint it white. That’s what we did with the hutch and the host and hostess chairs in the dining area, and with an old circular table in the living room.” The designer offers another tip on the subject of painted furniture. “If you want a piece to have a country-rustic look, just apply a primer coat and nothing more.” (The dining hutch is a good example of this primer-only technique.)
Both Connie and Speert love collections, but the two have totally different ways of building them. “I greatly enjoy the thrill of the hunt, but Connie does not. She knows what she likes, but she assigns me the task of finding these items, and this is perfectly fine with me,” Speert says. “I’m happy to go to the ends of the earth to find wonderful things for my clients.” Of late, the designer has been doing much of her sleuthing right from the comfort of home, cutting way back on footwork. “I’ve discovered eBay,” she exclaims. “It’s absolutely incredible what you can find on this site!”
To accessorize the Nasts’ winter retreat, Speert searched for—and found—an amazing array of collectibles, including flocks of wooden, ceramic, and porcelain wading birds (egrets, storks, and flamingos among them), all kinds of interesting seashells, glass perfume bottles, Catalina pottery plates (hung on the walls in the master bedroom), and glazed ceramic plates in the shape of scallop shells, plus a lovely mirror with a green-enamel frame accented in silver.
Along with the bounty of goodies amassed from eBay, the Nasts’ house contains many other treasured things, including an antique carved wooden whale in the living room and a large handmade ship placed on a table in the foyer. “Chris and I saw one just like it when we traveled to the Seychelles, and we asked the artisan who made it if he would create one for us. He agreed, but it took nearly two years before we received it,” Connie notes.
The Nasts adore their high-spirited winter house and wouldn’t change a thing. “It’s impossible not to feel happy here,” says Connie. “The only thing we take seriously is having fun and not letting life catch up with us.”