A Modern View

By Kari Molvar | Boston Magazine |

Homecoming

Escaping city life is what architect Kelly Monnahan and partner Keith LeBlanc had in mind when they set out to design their breezy weekend retreat in Truro. The Boston-based couple has just put the finishing touches on a residence that succeeds at being private, pampering, and plush. With its midcentury modern details, classic Italian furniture, and color palette of steamship grays, periwinkle blues, and foggy whites, the design feels as cool as a dip in a lake at midnight. Throughout the interior, the designers cleverly employed shipbuilding techniques and sturdy seaside construction. Walking through the home awakens the senses: The air smells crisp and clean. Soft light bounces off the buttery wood floors.

Bringing their dream home to fruition took planning and patience. “We initially thought we would buy a place and fix it up,” says LeBlanc. “We looked for five years. But something was always missing from the design — the kitchen was in the wrong place, the ceilings were not high enough. Eventually we realized that it would be more affordable to build exactly what we wanted from the ground up.”

Both Monnahan and LeBlanc had plenty of resources to tap when it came time to sketch out the architectural schema. “Designing a home is all about the details,” says Monnahan. “To enhance the clarity of the space, I kept the materials simple — just plate steel, plaster, fire slate, and solid mahogany — which lent a consistent feel throughout the place.” In the master bedroom and guest room, Monnahan edited out unnecessary details to focus on luxury essentials. The bed features simple crisp white linens and a duvet from Pratesi. The reproduced 1950s Herman Miller–pattern pillow adds a touch of color, and the soft wool blanket lies within easy reach for chilly nights. In the bathroom, Monnahan crafted custom-fit mahogany wood cabinets beneath the sink and to the sides of the mirror to sweep toiletries out of view. Underfoot, the Frette bath rug tickles the toes and Calvin Klein hand and bath towels blanket guests in plush softness. “The bedroom layout emphasizes clean lines and rich surfaces,” Monnahan says. “The end result is meant to soothe the senses.”

Entertaining the notion

The bedroom may be a shrine for repose, but the kitchen and living room are built for bonhomie. Monnahan and LeBlanc frequently entertain, hosting dinner parties and throwing impromptu gatherings for drop-in guests. At night, large double-hung windows in the living room flood the house with moonlight, casting a shimmery glow on party festivities. “Friends come early and stay late, till the wee hours of the night,” Monnahan says with a grin.

To further play up the intimacy factor, Monnahan made the double-sided fireplace the focal point. He then constructed the west wall of the first floor almost entirely of glass to drench the space in silvery light in the morning and deep shades of burnt orange in the afternoon. To give the flat surfaces a sheen not possible with painted finishes, Monnahan slathered on a mixture of raw unfinished plaster with ground-up marble. Exposed steel beams leap across the room, giving it the look of an industrial loft. For the window edges, Monnahan hunted down Hascolac brilliant gloss, a type of Dutch paint used on doors in Amsterdam noted for its lustrous and durable qualities.

But the real visual stunners in the room are the Eero Saarinen marble dining room table and Mies van der Rohe leather hand-threaded chairs (both from Montage in Boston). For after-dinner lounging, the living room features two original 1960s Florence Knoll sofas. Other decorative elements inspire envy: A pair of cow-skin butterfly chairs seem stylishly laid-back enough for a dude ranch, while the oversized Flos lamps hover like white balloons (“The shape matches the moon, which shines through the windows at night,” says LeBlanc). Even the carpet is exquisite. “It’s handmade from the yak hair that collects on wild shrub brushes in the Middle East and then is naturally dyed with berries,” Monnahan notes.

Wild things

The landscape that surrounds the residence is as well designed as the interior. For landscape architect LeBlanc, the unfettered area felt like home from the first moment he glimpsed it. The plot sits on the northern tip of a peninsula adjacent to land owned by the Truro Conservation Trust. Water views stretch out in both directions — the Atlantic on one side, Cape Cod Bay on the other. The beach is about 10 minutes away by bike. Indigenous greenery like beach grass grounds the landscape in natural beauty.

The main challenge for LeBlanc was to create harmony between the rough, wild terrain and cleared edges. He also had to find low-maintenance flora. “Since I’m only here on the weekends, I wanted plants that did not need constant trimming, pruning, and watering,” he says. He achieved this by planting indigenous species on the perimeter, then laying flower beds with such sturdy picks as lilac and hydrangea, amelanchier, bayberry, and herbs along the walkway to the house.

For his part, Monnahan etched out a rooftop terrace that overlooks the bay and provides sweeping views of all of that surrounding scenery, with sheltering lookout nooks to provide protection from blustery winds. The best place for soaking up nature is the open-air sleeping porch modeled after southern tobacco-drying barns. The ceiling consists of slotted construction with cedar batons. Soft lights by Lumière cast a cozy candle-like glow and custom-fit lounge cushions cradle the body (and let rain flow through without retaining moisture — or mildew). “This is my favorite spot for lounging in the afternoon,” Monnahan says of his porch. “On swelteringly hot summer days, this is the coolest place to chill out.”