“Have fun with gingham! said one of the owners, a new grandmother, of her family’s most run-down beach house in Maine. She was offering direction to Connecticut-based interior designer Lilse McKenna, who immediately summoned a mental image of Gloria Vanderbilt’s 1970s Southampton bedroom, swathed in pink tile. While McKenna is known for her “grand-millennial” style, she considers her remixes of classic patterns like chintz and patchwork a “fresher take on Americana.”
Luckily, the renovation of the 30-year-old shingle-style house during the pandemic era required exactly that, especially since the grandkids – that new generation of snowbirds who paint the beach, play tennis and flip burgers that will eventually take over the joint – recently entered the fray. “I could tell this house was important to them,” McKenna says. “It had been well loved for several decades, but needed renewal to keep up with the growth of the family.”
Before an overabundance of gingham could be unleashed, the designer needed a clean slate. To that end, the original dark fir paneling that smothered the interiors was painted white, turning the walls into a bright, seaworthy strip. Other architectural updates were completed with an eye toward more communion with the wooded landscape of red oaks, pines, a scourge of bittersweet vines and, as Grandfather clarifies, “No hedges!” It’s not the Hamptons. The shore is only 50 yards from the beachy hiker’s front door.
A new deck off the second floor master bedroom faces the ocean, while the downstairs screened porch has doubled in size. In the porch dining room, meals consisting of “not much in the way of fancy food,” the grandfather insists, usually lead to conversations, embroideries, and other sorts of languor in the nook. adjacent living room, where the family collection of vintage wicker furniture takes pride of place. The porch and its exterior signs are painted with greenery to echo the natural surroundings, though the palette also evokes the magical green-tinted realism of Alfonso Cuarón’s modern adaptation of great expectations, without the painful decay. A new swing bed—inspired by the swing seats popular on porches on Georgia’s Cumberland Island, also a favorite East Coast native family destination—should come with a warning (or welcome) tag : May cause drowsiness.
Needless to say, the gingham-loving grandma got her wish, and more. McKenna used different scales and colors of the lovely tiles throughout the house: a soft, teal plaid covers a few upholstered sofas, a red picnic pattern cushions emblems, and kitchen stools are covered in preppy blue squares. Yet gingham is just one of many patterns – from the Indonesian-inspired ikat cushions on the porch wicker to the Indian thistle print covering the dining room chairs – that McKenna masterfully fused together to create the exuberant charm and character that she likens to a signature in the United States. style.
“What’s truly American about any design is the juxtaposition of many influences rather than just one,” says McKenna. His patron saint for the project was late design icon Sister Parish, whose efflorescent interiors of splattered chintz, laid-back wicker and tiered quilts embodied mid-century American maximalism, a cheerful foil to harsher minimalism, inspired by the Bauhaus, influencing this same era.
Arguably, Americana’s enduring appeal is its sense of heritage. As for the beach house’s freshly brushed decorative paint prowess by Connor Owens of Brooklyn’s JJ Snyder studio, a sense of place is also present, especially in the dining room mural, inspired by the legendary American folk muralist Rufus Porter. Painted on a 33-foot length of removable muslin (in preparation for the potential future relocation of modern heritage), Owens’ seascape of tall ships sailing a pastoral coast honors Porter’s style so beautifully that lovers of folk art were falsely convinced of the 19th century mural painting. provenance of the -century, inquiring about its supposed restoration.
“The horizon in the mural is almost perfectly aligned with the real horizon seen from the dining room windows,” says Owens of the unwittingly conducive connection to a symbol of optimism so timeless, every generation that has ever existed looked in his distant direction in search of prospects.