SoHo loft meets New England Cape
When Kurt Schneider and Susan Schulte embarked on an extensive renovation of their home, a Sears and Roebuck Cape Cod kit house built in 1939 and added onto twice, haphazardly, by previous owners, they knew exactly what they wanted. “Our goal was not to expand the footprint, but to re-imagine the existing space so it worked for our lifestyle and aesthetic,” explains Susan. “We wanted SoHo loft meets New England Cape.” Both Susan and Kurt love the crisp, clean lines of modern architecture. Over the years, they have acquired an eclectic collection of contemporary furnishings and accessories that felt out of place in their conventional Cape Cod home.
“Before we bought our home nine years ago, we spent a lot of time looking,” Susan explains, “because we couldn’t find the aesthetic we wanted in a manageable size. We loved how modest this house appeared outside, but inside it had a lot of space which we thought we could work with.” Within a year of moving in, they had buyers’ remorse. The layout did not work, the rooms felt cramped and dark, and the traditional finishes were at odds with their modern sensibility. Because they loved their property and location, they decided to stay put and do a mini-renovation. “The goal was to change some of the functional and design elements that bothered us the most.” With input from their close friend, interior designer Courtney Kleeman, they removed several walls to open up the floor plan, and replaced the door and window trim with a more contemporary molding style to give the interior, a cleaner, more pared-down vibe. While this made the house more livable, it was a stop-gap. Two years ago, they hired architect Alexis Briski, who had designed Susan’s mother’s very modern New York City apartment. “We took the house down to the studs and completely reconfigured the space to create an open interior; we wanted to see the bones of the architecture,” says Susan. They also took advantage of the way their house sits on the property. The living room and the master bedroom above it were at the north end and dark. “The existing structure had no relationship with the surrounding landscape,” Alexis explains. She extended the southern section of the house by 20 feet and relocated these rooms there. Both spaces have a wall of south facing windows to allow views of the stone walls and pond and abundant natural light. She also used the natural slope of the property to drop the elevation of the living room two feet below the entrance foyer. The high ceilings in the living room add drama without changing the level of the second floor. By extending the house, but maintaining its original height, Alexis created a strong horizontal line. The house hugs, rather than dominates, the property. The horizontal orientation is reprised in the end-to-end vistas in the interior and the long, low lines of many of the Schneiders’ furnishings.
A new family room with an alcove office and half-bath sit adjacent the living room. A row of large windows floods the space with natural light and offers sweeping views of the rear of the property. Steps lead up to the kitchen, which has stainless steel appliances and white enamel cabinets, easily mistaken for high-end Italian cabinetry, but actually from Ikea. “The cabinets are incredibly practical; they don’t show fingerprints, they’re easy to clean and they come with a 20-year warranty,” says Susan. The counters and backsplash are Silestone, but look like cement. “The installer wanted to do a traditional overhang, but we wanted the counter top to meet the edge of the sides,” she recalls. They also surprised the painters by requesting they paint the trim the same color as the walls; the result contributes to the minimalist feel of the interior.
To create a more spacious entrance foyer, the Schneiders removed the existing staircase, and added a hidden coat closet; a brushed nickel latch is the only sign it exists. Two new staircases, consistent with the new second-floor plan, are located near the kitchen and the mudroom. For the one adjacent the kitchen, Alexis designed a custom banister and a 10-foot guardrail using industrial mesh and thin steel stanchions. “Our contractor Don Longo found a skilled blacksmith in Pennsylvania who was able to build both to meet code requirements,” says Susan.
In a deliberate contrast with the modern details of the first-floor, the second-floor finishes reflect the New England Cape aesthetic. The bedrooms retain the eaves of the cape roofline, the doors are traditional six-panel style, and the knobs, hinges and window latches are oil-rubbed bronze. “We used satin nickel finishes in the public spaces, but felt the private spaces should reflect New England character,” explains Susan. Pocket doors in many of the rooms reinforce the clean, lean lines of the interior; open doors would visually interrupt the open feeling of the interior.
White or gray walls throughout the house complement the monochromatic palette of the Schneiders’ furniture and accessories, and enhance the flow of space. The few exceptions are Quinn’s room, where Courtney, who helped them pull together the overall paint scheme, convinced them to paint one wall orange; she also suggested the avocado walls in the mudroom bathroom. Accessories provide other occasional pops of color: three graphic paintings in the second-floor hallway, vintage saddle leather Breuer chairs in the master bedroom, orange upholstered mid-century modern teak chairs in two other second-floor bedrooms, a yellow sculptural candlestick in the kitchen.
On the exterior, the Schneiders’ house still appears to be a modest Cape. From the street, the only hint that it might be something other than that is the crisp row of birches planted to the right of the front door, the stone plinth that extends beyond the house, and a wall of four windows at the northern end. But the interior stands as a testament to modern design. “We love the juxtaposition of a simple exterior in the vernacular of New England architecture with a very modern and urban interior,” says Susan.