Caption This: Storytelling vs. Scrolling

Sometimes it feels like 90% of writing about home design is posting a photo of your own or someone else’s work and saying, “I wouldn’t mind drinking coffee/reading a book/eating/sleeping here.” So many photos on Instagram are captioned with something similar—and hey, it might be true! I’m sure I’ve done that myself on this blog.

It seems a little lazy, though, especially when promoting one’s own work. I’d much rather learn a unique fact about the project! Tell me something meaningful about a piece included in the photograph or an interesting tidbit about the client. And that doesn’t mean telling the audience that the space was designed for “a young couple with children who needed lots of space for x, y, z” or “empty nesters interested in living closer to restaurant and entertainment options downtown.” Those circumstances are extremely common—lots of people are expanding their families or becoming empty nesters or living alone and looking for ways to do that in a home that’s functional and beautiful. Needing living space for a certain number of people is not the only reason why a client chooses a certain type of dwelling, and it’s not the only driving factor in decorating choices. What led them to choose that town, that neighborhood, that block, that building, that unit? What significance is there to the furnishings they’ve chosen—are they heirlooms, antiques, or collected works of art?

There can be limitations in revealing this information, of course. A client’s privacy is of the utmost importance, and sometimes a space has been decorated to simply be a pretty spot in someone’s home without maximizing function. And Instagram favors short captions for scroll-happy attention spans! But I still think it’s worth telling the story instead of opting for the fluffy caption.

One of my favorite places to get the story—to read about the why—is the “You Make the Call” features in the New York Times real estate section. And I know, I know! We’re talking about long-form writing instead of snappy social media posts. It’s a little apples-to-oranges, but not a total stretch. The point of these articles is to try to guess which property a home buyer has chosen based on a fairly in-depth profile, which often includes information about their jobs and commutes, marital status and family size, pet ownership, and entertainment preferences.

After getting all the details, you’re presented with three real estate listings that fit the “must-have” list to some degree, and you’re asked to pick which listing you would choose for yourself and which one the buyer chose. When you make your selections, the buyer’s actual choice is revealed along with the percentage of readers who voted for each unit, both for themselves and for the buyer. I love guessing which property appeals most to the readers because sometimes it’s a no-brainer and other times it’s a total surprise. It can be tough to guess the buyer’s choice, too! Sometimes I think the decisions are based on information you’d only get by being familiar with the area instead of only trying to interpret the facts provided in the article. The best part is that you’re also given the backstory on why the buyer made their decision along with photos of the home after the buyer has moved in, so you get to see how they’ve personalized it.

In “You Make the Call,” decorating is (usually) less a part of the story than the preference for building type, architectural style, and neighborhood, but I like that you learn a lot about the buyer’s decision-making process.

The content in these articles serves a different purpose than Instagram posts. These articles aren’t meant to be a designer’s marketing tool or mini portfolio. Some of the qualities are transferrable, though. Thoughtful captions, like thoughtful articles, take time to write. It’s obviously easier to type something short and simple like “weekend vibes” with a few emojis. I can’t help but see that as a missed opportunity to actually engage your readers and give them information that they can learn only from you.

What do you think? If you prefer to get more story, what house-related social media accounts or websites do you follow? Some of my other favorites include House Stories, The Front Door Project, Maine Home + Design, Houzz, and Los Angeles Times Home and Garden. I’m sure there are TONS of others, though. Tell me what your favorites are!

Click through photo for source and get the WHOLE story by clicking “Beacon on the Harbor” in green font.

A Scandinavian Saltbox Cottage in Litchfield County

This simple little saltbox house caught my attention as I was browsing real estate listings in Litchfield Co., Connecticut. It struck me as very Little House on the Prairie, the way it sits in the grass tucked beneath that enormous tree with the perfectly sculpted stone wall extending into its side yard. The gray clapboards, the stout central chimney, the shutter-free windows: it’s a quietly stunning example of American colonial architecture.

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As I tend to do, I scrolled through the listing photos before reading the description, eager to see if the interior rooms and remaining property were just as appealing as this single perspective. I’ve been fooled before by cute, historic-looking exteriors that have been nothing more than cruel, hoax-ridden façades hiding dated renovations from the 80s, bathrooms clad in 50s-style tile, and junky DIY jobs. This particular exterior was extremely misleading—but in the best way possible.

Exhibit A: this photo of the pool (which is really just a teaser for what’s to come) tossed into the first three listing photos, no doubt to make viewers gasp and halt their scrolling to fully ogle the scene. I can practically feel the warm breeze playing off the surface of the water and smell the sweet scent of the lush landscape enveloping this secluded escape.

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Under a sky that blue, the temptation to stay poolside all day is real, and I almost lost the urge to continue exploring the rest of the photos because I was absolutely mesmerized by the perfection of it all.

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Moving on to the interior, another unexpected twist awaited my discovery: the walls and wooden beams have been washed in cool tones of white and gray. At first glance, it reads contemporary, but a closer look reveals the rustic nature of the original architecture has been preserved, from the exposed beams to the rough-hewn floors. The mix of midcentury and modern furniture with the subdued color palette and varied textures of the furnishings feels inspired by Scandinavian design, topped off with an obvious touch of hygge. It is both updated and ready to cater to the needs of modern-day living while also being completely in touch with its quaint, cozy roots.

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The kitchen fully embraces the house’s rustic bones and cottage vibes, particularly through design details such as the open shelving, Shaker style cabinetry, and wide plank floors. However, the stainless steel appliances don’t seem out of place here.

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A set of French doors opens onto the patio and outdoor seating area.

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Where color is used, it is used sparingly yet playfully. Artwork in the kitchen and dining room punctuate the mostly white and neutral rooms.

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The play between traditional and modern design elements continues throughout the rest of the house. The front hall expertly displays the juxtaposition of the smooth white walls against the grain-heavy floors. Thanks to their abundant texture, the floors prevent the house from appearing cold and out of touch with its 19th century provenance.

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The bedrooms share the neutral aesthetic of the public rooms on the first floor. The exposed beams and hardwood floors create a nest-like backdrop for the streamlined furniture.

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Outdoors, the property is connected by a series of gardens and intimate seating areas. Whether you fancy an outdoor breakfast, lunch with friends on the patio, a relaxing break by the gardens or pool, or an evening in front of the outdoor fire pit, the options for lounging while surrounded by nature are endless.

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The dining table on the patio overlooks a grassy patch of lawn which connects to the pool behind the ample hedge.

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A firepit centered in this tidy gravel circle fills out an outter nook in the grass.

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A natural wooden pergola shields this seating area from the sun, providing a relaxing space to enjoy the outdoors even on the hottest of days.

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The carefully planted yet carefree gardens add depth and whimsy to the landscape. Eventually, I did read the listing description, and in doing so I gleaned that this house has apparently caught the attention of more than one well-known house and garden publication. It’s not hard to see why Gardenista decided to share this property several years ago in a feature on secret gardens.

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A parting view shows the Litchfield Hills in the distance.

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It’s rare to find antique and current styles so beautifully intertwined. The modern updates in this home have been tastefully executed to maintain the original charm. The results are surprising and altogether way too tempting!

To see additional photos of this special country house in Roxbury, CT, check out the listing here. All photos of the house and property are from the listing.

Modern Love: A Midcentury Gem in Dover, MA

I have a major soft spot for modern houses. Eichlers have always been a favorite of mine with their central atriums and floor-to-ceiling windows, which often span entire walls. These design elements were intended to blur the line between the indoors and out, making residents feel as though they were living within their natural environment and not completely separated from it. In addition to forging a closer connection with nature, these homes made it easier for people to embrace indoor-outdoor living. I'd love to be able to do that year round, but the weather in New England isn't exactly conducive to that lifestyle. I also think any floor-to-ceiling windows I'd have in any house of mine here would need to be quadruple glazed! Is that even possible?

Anyway, I get so excited when I see modern Eichler-esque houses for sale around here. There tend to be a lot of modern houses in and around Lincoln, MA, and many of them are enormous and fancy beyond anything that would ever resemble a modest, no-frills Eichler. That's one reason why I was drawn to this listing in Dover—at 2,800 square feet, it's relatively modest in size, yet it boasts a spacious open floor plan with a truly picturesque view of the Charles River. The clerestory windows let in tons of natural light, and the materials used throughout the interior include stone, wood, and concrete. These elements are echoed outdoors on the house's wooded lot with pebble walkways, a bluestone patio, and stone walls. Did I mention it's nestled on a very private 6 acres of land? 

The driveway winds through the trees and delivers you to this view. I am in love with the little bridge that leads to the front yard. Out of view is the river to the left and a three-car garage to the right.

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This view is why I love modern houses with floor-to-ceiling windows. The glow from the interior lights at nighttime is so welcoming. Think about how festive the outdoor space would look with an expanded patio, fire pit, and some string lights. 

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A different view of the house and its wooded lot. It vaguely reminds me of the property around Fallingwater. 

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This patio sits beneath the trees and would make a great spot for relaxing with a book, enjoying a cocktail, and admiring the scenic property.

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Inside, there's abundant natural light. Vertical beams stand in place of solid walls to create a modern, open-concept layout that's typical of houses built in this style.

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A large fireplace with a stone facade punctuates the center of the living room. The high ceilings and wall of glass make the space feel large and airy. The sliding door opens onto the shaded patio previously pictured.

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A set of Shoji doors separates these two areas. I'm not sure what their intended use is—a hallway and second living area? It's also hard to tell from the photo what material was used on the floor, and while it could be terrazzo, the seams make me think it's a type of vinyl. 

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Look at this bedroom! Wouldn't this be an amazing place to wake up every day? I tend to require a completely dark room for sleeping, so I would need to come up with some light-blocking solutions for this room, but the views outside are so calming and restful. 

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Below, a different bedroom has ample windows and wonderful views of the yard. Again, it's hard to tell from the photo, but this floor might be polished concrete. 

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Don't you want to move in right now? I know I do! I'd also love to decorate a house like this. The windows and ceilings and beams are perfect, but I think I'd soften the stone details and warm up the flooring as much as possible.

I collected a few photos of similarly modern homes that embrace their natural surroundings, sloped interior ceilings, and large floor-to-ceiling and clerestory windows. Bright white walls, rich wood tones, and a mix of antique and new furnishings all seem just right for decorating a modern house in the woods.

How would you decorate this home if you had the chance?

To learn more about this unique modern house in Dover, MA, visit the listing page. All photos of the house are from the listing. Click through the inspiration photos for sources.

Blush Crush: A Dusty Rose Georgian in Kingston, MA

Pink houses are a thing, and sorry millennials, you did not start this trend. People have been decorating with pink paints since the 18th century, using red ochre and burnt sienna to create varying shades of the delicate yet earthy color. Pink is in good standing as an historical paint color (Benjamin Moore has several pinks included in their historical palette), but here in New England it's not a hue that's wildly popular, especially in comparison to other perky colors such as yellow and blue. And for some reason, a lot of people recoil at the phrase "pink house," their minds automatically jumping to images of Barbie or Pepto Bismol. Why on earth would your mind go to the worst example possible?! That's the equivalent of hearing the word "landscaping" and automatically picturing an overgrown yard full of shapeless hedges and weeds.

There are many shades of pink, and many great ones, at that. That's why I wanted to share this Georgian style house that's currently for sale in Kingston, MA. The color of the clapboards caught my eye, and then I started flipping through the photos of the interior. Let me be the first to say that there are a lot of reasons to be tickled pink (ha—get it?) about this house.

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The tone-on-tone treatment of the clapboards and shutters increases the impact of the rosy pink hue on this house. Even the trim is painted the deep maroon color. The dark blue door and cream-colored pediment create some contrast, if not a subtle patriotic look.

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In the foyer, the elaborately carved newel post and spindles on the staircase are a show-stopping feature. 

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Notice the wide plank floors and the bull's eye glass in the front door.

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The carved spindles continue all the way up to the second floor where they've been painted white. One of the many fireplaces can be spied in the room to the left, where Delft tile has been laid over the surround and then framed. 

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There are numerous fireplaces in the house, and many of the surrounds have been decorated with Delft tile. 

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The Delft tile surround here really pops against the white walls and woodwork. 

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In addition to the special tile, this room also features two deep window seats.

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The sunroom is one of my favorite spaces in the house. The clouds on the ceiling are an unexpectedly whimsical touch, and I love the dark color on the walls. It feels both cozy and bright at the same time. 

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The three-bay garage has a lovely set of arched doors. 

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A gravel path leads to a barn that's set apart from the main house and garage a little bit. The combination of the weathered shingles with the dusty rose doors and light-colored trim is one of my favorites. Naturally weathered shingles look right at home in a farm-like setting and by the sea—they have such versatility and add immediate character to any structure. 

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The transom window over the main door stretches from end to end—such a pretty detail that also serves the function of allowing some extra light to filter into the barn. 

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This house was built in 1760, so the current paint color is in keeping with late 18th century Georgian architecture. I keep trying to picture it painted yellow or blue or even white, but a rose by any other name...

All photos shown here were taken from the listing. To learn more about this house, visit the listing here

 

 

A Topsfield Summer Home for All Seasons

Sometimes I'm amazed at how many country estates exist in the greater Boston area. Many communities to the north, south, and west are home to large houses surrounded by acres and acres of land, many of them having been built in the early 20th century. The house I'm talking about today is a great example.

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Sitting on 10-plus acres in Topsfield, this c. 1900 Ipswich River watershed estate is exactly the type of house I picture when I imagine a New England summer home. Most people's minds would probably take them to the Cape or somewhere closer to the beach, but for me, this countryside setting with a huge yard, multiple gardens, and access to the river is my idea of a summertime retreat! Just looking at the exterior of the house makes me feel relaxed and stress-free.

As much as I love the outside, I really fell for the inside of this house because it features one of my absolute favorite design details: brick floors. Brick is a wonderful material to use as flooring because it adds texture and warmth in place of plain hardwood or tile flooring. I think brick flooring is gaining in popularity because so many people are trying to achieve modern farmhouse style now, but it still feels unexpected when I see it. It's a great option for mudrooms and laundry rooms, but in this house, it was used in the entryway, sitting area, and dining room. It runs the whole length of the front of the house!

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These rooms feel both cozy and cool to me. Imagine opening all of those windows to let a sea breeze blow through the house in the summertime! In the fall and winter, a roaring fire would warm guests at the dining table and make this small sitting room feel nice and toasty.

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Brick was also used in this bedroom to create a small archway leading to a window seat. I'd love to curl up with a book in this spot! Notice how there appears to be three different types of brick used here—two different types on the arch and wall, and a third type around the firebox opening. Perhaps this was an original exterior wall at one point? 

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Many of the rooms have fireplaces, and abundant windows fill the rooms with natural light. There's also plenty of built-in storage. 

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And then there's the backyard, which is never-ending.

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Small patios and walkways lead to different areas of the yard and connect grassy swaths of land to nicely tended gardens.

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This view from the deck overlooks two small terraces and a tiny outbuilding in the distance.

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The walkway leads to a pond and small sitting area. This would be such a peaceful place to enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning or unwind after a long day at the office. I'm not sure what this small outbuilding is used for, but I'd like to imagine that it would make a great writing or artist's studio, or even a potting shed. 

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With so many inviting areas both inside and out, this property makes the concept of indoor-outdoor living in New England look effortless and appealing. This would no doubt be a magical place to live.

For more photos of the home, check out the listing. All photos shown here are from the listing.