Shore living, face to face with the ocean

The great/living room of the Connorses' Avalon house, which is floor-to-ceiling glass, framed by mahogany-clad steel, on the ocean side..
The great/living room of the Connorses' Avalon house, which is floor-to-ceiling glass, framed by mahogany-clad steel, on the ocean side.. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 30, 2014

When the Connors family decided to rebuild their Shore house in Avalon, they knew the most important element of the design was already in place - just outside their window.

"Our No. 1 goal was to capture the views," Terri Connors said. "We didn't want decks or awnings in the way. It was a very different concept, if you look at other houses that are on the beachfront. This is probably the only house on the island with 180-degree ocean views. You see the dolphins in the morning and the afternoon. The plan was, at each area of the house there was a different view to take in."

As she spoke, a pod of dolphins appeared in the surf as if to prove her point: This is about as close to living on the ocean as you can get without a hull.

A combination of the state-of-the-art technology and old-fashioned detailing, the house offers a double-gabled glass-and-steel embrace to the waterfront, but assimilates into its Shore surroundings with fa├žade-length porches wide enough for rocking chairs and flared columns clad in cedar shakes.

In other words, said Mark Asher of Asher Associates Architects in Jenkintown and Stone Harbor, the goal was to please the Connorses - without alienating their neighbors.

"I used a sort of coastal vernacular, with natural materials and historical details that you would find in the turn-of-the-century homes that dotted this coast - but we just reimagined them," he said.

The question was how to marry those traditional elements with a modern glass box. "That's a tough marriage, and it usually ends poorly, frankly," he said. "But I think it was successful here."

The result is finished with a brick drive laid in a herringbone pattern with a lush grass median, and landscaping that fades into dune grasses, then beach beyond.

It's hard to believe that one year ago, an entirely different house stood in this spot.

After nearly 20 years in their previous home, the Connorses, of Connecticut, decided it made more sense to rebuild than refurbish - but were determined not to miss a summer in Avalon.

And they didn't: The old house was demolished in September, and the new one, built by Cape May Court House contractor D.L. Miner, was ready for move-in by July 1.

But the Connorses' vision - which comes to life in the second-floor living space, where a wall of glass faces the ocean and is flanked by open porches - presented interior design challenges as well as architectural ones.

"You've got this spectacular view out there, and you don't want to try to compete with that," said Christina Smith of Stone Harbor's Summer House Design Group, which handled the interior. "What are you going to do? Put a seascape in here?"

The solution that Smith and her project manager, Sara Mass, developed was an understated take on Shore decor. That included neutral upholstery, mostly in indoor-outdoor fabrics, on wicker and wood furnishings with a few rope accents. Throughout the house, the woodwork and wainscoting got a coat of white paint; in some rooms, it's accented by grass-cloth wall coverings or a pale blue hue in the recesses.

Even the kitchen, which gets the benefit of waterfront placement, is a mild-mannered statement piece, including white cabinetry, a quartzite countertop, and a simple glass-brick backsplash. It's an exercise in minimalism (though a microwave, oven, and extra food prep areas are tucked away in a butler's pantry).

Smith and Mass offset these choices with a few bold accents: a contemporary blown-glass light fixture over the kitchen island; a backlit, polished agate sideboard in the living room; geometric alabaster wall sconces; and, yes, just one seascape - a nearly abstract expanse of ocean and sky by New York artist Richard Bruce.

The project, which replaced a house that had stood on the site only since 1990, didn't significantly expand on the previous footprint. Asher said the point wasn't to go bigger, but to come in line with the way upscale Shore living has evolved over the last 25 years.

For one thing, like many of his current clients, the Connorses opted for en suite bathrooms in all of the guest rooms, offering more privacy to their visitors - in addition to two outdoor showers and a dog wash.

And today, he said, most clients opt for elevators and "smart" systems within their homes; the Connorses' controls lighting, temperature, security, music, and storm shutters, all from a phone or tablet. The glass walls facing the beach can be shrouded with blinds at the touch of a button; the porches - accessed by glass pocket doors - can all be screened off or covered by storm shutters just as easily.

It makes for a pretty impressive show, though it can't beat what lies beyond the mahogany-clad steel that picture-frames the two gabled windows.

"When you're in the house, you're virtually on the beach, and it's endlessly entertaining," Asher said. "The ocean is changing every minute of the day, and the sky is changing every minute of the day. It's an incredible, ever-changing tapestry."



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