Without question, this is one of the top 5 most beautifully furnished, decorated and styled homes I have ever been fortunate enough to spend time in. Conveniently, my incredibly talented friend Sean McMurtry is the master behind the design and was kind enough to agree to letting me showcase his work!
As you read on, please keep in mind this stunning 7,000 sq ft, 5br/7ba gem is newly on the market (Sean’s work is done here… he’s on to the next!). For further information about the property, please visit the listing:
Meet My Friend Sean, The Designer
LG: What fuels your inspiration?
SM: I see beautiful designs that speak to me on a daily basis in some of the most random places, and I am always sure to snap a picture so I can easily file it away for later. When sourcing new pieces, I find my smartphone (yes, I said it) to be the single most important tool for my decorating process.
LG: How would you describe the approach you take when decorating a new space?
SM: I firmly believe high-end, custom-looking interior decorating does not always have to come with a huge price tag. I’m a big fan of breathing new life into seemingly dated or obsolete pieces. For instance, when we moved into this brand new Georgian-style farmhouse with modern influences, others would have taken the opportunity to completely start anew. But I wanted to be economical by reusing the myriad of older (though still great quality pieces) we have accumulated over the years.
I also take function and purpose of the space into heavy consideration. We’ve all seen those magazine-quality rooms that look as if you could never touch a single thing, and I never want my house to feel that way. It’s important to me to combine high style with durability and ease so that if I ever do indulge on an expensive piece, I can say “well hey, at least it’s really comfortable and you can put your feet up on it!”
I always think it’s best to begin with a blank canvas. Then I find an appropriate item (be it wallpaper, a rug, a piece of art, a favorite retro couch with crazy upholstery, etc.) that has sentimental value, and build on it from there.
LG: Can you give me an example of a space you’ve recently applied your approach to?
SM: Yes, let’s use my dining room. Several years ago, my now husband and I went out to dinner at an obscure little Indian restaurant. It had a collection of four matching monkey butler chandeliers with carvings of monkeys in bright red tailcoats, each holding up a “candle” with a shade in each hand. The whimsical nature of the fixtures spoke to me so much that I took a picture and vowed to try and find something identical, if not similar, some day.
Fast forward 4 years to when we moved into this home, we were in dire need of lighting for our dining room. I discovered that my original inspiration was done by a sculptor in the 1980’s named Bill Huebbe, who had only produced a very limited collection of these monkey light fixtures. Not only were the originals difficult to source, but those I found had obscene price tags. Still, I would not be deterred from my search. This story thankfully ends with success – I found the same fixture at an online estate sale and had it shipped from San Francisco for 1/20th of the price… they clearly didn’t know the value of these pieces!
I then added an antique table that had been passed down from my grandmother, and while the oval shape may not have been my first choice, it’s an easy concession to make when a piece of that quality also comes with the family inheritance discount! I paired it with a set of chairs (also consignment) which I reupholstered to tailor to our taste and color scheme.
LG: After looking at well over 50 houses, how did you decide on this one?
SM: My husband wanted something move-in ready whereas I wanted a project. Having watched a ton of HGTV over the years, I caught the flipping bug and wanted a project I could sink my teeth into. In the end, it came down to the overall value this home presented. It’s probably best to mention that while I am passionate about design and real estate, both my husband and I work full-time in finance and therefore value will always triumph over any so called “wow factor” (at least if it didn’t justify a value). A home with a gorgeous 2 story library complete with paneling the previous owner had spent in excess of a million dollars on, while drop dead gorgeous, is an example of an idiotic investment for resale value. I promised my husband I would never stoop to this level just for the sake of bragging rights, cache, self-esteem, snobbery, etc.!
The exterior architecture of this home was designed to blend in with the surrounding trophy properties in our neighborhood. We live in the northeast, where everyone wants the quintessential white clapboard colonial with black shutters and imposing columns holding up a front portico. The architect shared our sensibility of resale value, but pushed the limits when it came to the layout of the interior. Having completed many custom projects for clients in lower Manhattan, she said it was important for her to have the Great Room feel like a Soho loft - with the kitchen, breakfast room, play area and family room all open to one another with huge walls of windows.
LG: What were some of the challenges you faced when starting to curate your design for the home?
SM: We are both the types that want everything done on day one… so time was of the essence! Thankfully, with my trusted iPhone, I had collected tons of inspiration for pieces that would look good in a modern Georgian-style home. Prior to closing, the listing broker (although probably annoyed she had to supervise additional showings for a deal she thought was done…) was patient enough to let me come take measurements. Most likely different from how others measure, I showed up with my pieces of string, tied together to mimic the shapes of the furnishings I was thinking of, laid them out and made adjustments to be sure everything would fit… and upon confirmation, it was time to order!
LG: Amazing idea to use string! Sounds much more reliable than my go-to, eyeballing… Anyhoo, how would you describe the aesthetic of the home?
SM: I would consider it transitional - combining ornate antiques with clean-lined, modern pieces, against a crisp backdrop of white or grey walls, complemented with dark hardwood floors.
For most of our larger upholstered pieces, I stayed away from bold or busy patterns, and went with solid colors (some textured) allowing me to integrate more lound, fun accessories to spice it up. (Throw pillows are a designer’s best friend!) But it was important that we really love the ornate and/or louder pieces, because when you pair an intricate, oversized gilded mirror for example, with say, a modern sofa or geometric-patterned rug, the mirror will always steal the show as the eye is naturally drawn toward its sparkling brilliance.
LG: Favorite 3 spaces and why, go…
#1: The Great Room
SM: The bones of this open kitchen, breakfast nook and family room combo were showstoppers - featuring a beautiful custom double-island and soapstone surround fireplace, with windows on two sides, spanning almost the entirety of this west-facing side of the house. It truly exemplifies why natural light and light tones are crucial to create year-round, soothing living spaces. By virtue of its size and function, I knew this would be the area we would spend most of our time, so comfort in the family room was of the utmost importance. I wanted to stick with simple upholstery and artwork choices so that furniture and décor would compliment and not upstage the surrounding views.
When working with such a large, versatile space it can be daunting to maintain a feeling of intimacy. I chose soft neutral linen couches with depth almost the size of a daybed and nearly 10’ long. They create a casual serenity, establishing a comfortable environment for everything from movie nights and weekend naps to 50+ person cocktail parties. Linen was the best choice as it can be warm in the winter yet cool in the summer. It feels lightweight to the touch but is durable enough for children (or our pups, who also love them!) to rough up a bit.
I’m not usually a fan of distressed or “shabby chic” furnishings, but everything was so new, shiny and gleaming in this space I felt it needed contrast; so I repurposed our old dining set - an industrial-style table from Restoration Hardware with coordinating Parisian-inspired chairs.
#2: The Upstairs Living Room
SM: This space wasn’t staged when we first walked the house, so I needed to get creative about how to maximize its functionality - because although it’s not very large, it is flooded with natural light and certainly adds bonus square footage. We ultimately decided to turn it into a kid-friendly, play and leisure living space. To solve for the somewhat awkward flow (with several rooms positioned adjacent to it and 2 staircases leading in and out of it) we delineated two spaces by using area rugs and a sectional couch. This afforded us a tv/reading area as well as a multi-purpose space for cards or crafts. (And, those area rugs? Scored them for 30% off the sale price from Williams Sonoma Home! I love a good discount…)
By far my favorite piece in this space is my leather-covered, life size baby elephant statue. I saw this while on a trip to Sag Harbor last year and just knew (prior to seeing the price tag) I had to have it. I want everything in my home to have a story, and I especially love strange (and humorous) pieces I can incorporate to get people to stop and wonder “why in the world did he choose to include that?!” Best yet, this piece was only $250!!
#3: The Office/Library
SM: This room was already painted dark, almost ominous grey. Like our master bath, it’s surrounded by windows on 3 sides. It’s purposed as my husband’s workspace on days he doesn’t go into his office in Manhattan, and therefore it requires good energy to sustain focus (someone has to keep paying the bills!!) but it was also important to me that the room not be too serious. I wanted to incorporate whimsy elements and vibrant pops (or more like explosions!) of color so anytime someone stepped foot in there they’d see several pieces that would bring a smile to their face.
I found a set of Mid-Century modern bright orange upholstered chairs featuring white tigers that were love at first sight. I layered in a royal blue and chrome writing desk and a peacock side table, then it was just time to accessorize the many built-in bookcases…
My husband has a serious case of nostalgia when it comes to his undergraduate and graduate school days (at UNC Chapel Hill and UT Austin, respectively) and therefore required we showcase memorabilia heavily throughout the room. I looked to my favorite go-to technique: black and white photos. I found stock images of significant parts of the campuses and paired them with pennants and other sentimental pieces, to satisfy his need for remembrance and my need for cohesion with the rest of the house.
LG: In closing, what are some of your takeaways/pieces of advice for others working through fixing up their own spaces?
SM: Be cognizant of the balance of mediums/materials in a room. Too much of a good thing ends up being overkill. In every space, I kept a keen eye on ratios of linen to wool (rugs), wood to metal, etc., so that no one material would feel like it was stealing the show. Easiest way to rectify a case of having too much of one medium is through accessories, including plants. Finally, have FUN! Life is too short to have every aspect of your living space be serious, subdued, boring, predictable, etc. Play around with scale by introducing a larger than life piece in an unexpected place. Good design to me is just as much about being aesthetically pleasing as it is to be a great conversation starter.
Until next time!
More images from this amazing property…