Fifty Shades of White
A lakeside New Hampshire cottage becomes one designer’s stunning blank canvas.
A vintage standing lamp and white side table create a peaceful vibe in the master bedroom of this New Hampshire cottage. (Photos by Nat Rea)
As an interior designer and the creator of a furniture, home accessories, and textiles line, Fernanda Bourlot favors an aesthetic so unwavering that she named her company after it: Simplemente Blanco. (That’s “simply white” in Spanish, a nod to her native Buenos Aires.) “People come into my store and are like, ‘Oh, this is bright!’” she says of the South End space, which is outfitted in whites, creams, and, at the darkest, light wood. “But I love it. It’s like living in a Caribbean house.”
In June 2010, Bourlot and her husband of 17 years, Martin, decided to look for a weekend retreat from their life in Brookline. Martin’s work often has him on airplanes for long hours, after which he craves open space and a sense of home, and Fernanda loves to entertain. “I cook all the time,” she says. “I like to cook everything—quiches, pasta, French, cakes. Luckily, my husband loves to eat.” They wanted an escape that wasn’t a burden: easy, no more than a few hours away, but with a backyard that gave them a reason to buy a riding lawn mower. They were also looking for access to a lake, access to the mountains, and lots and lots of land. Both had in mind the Argentine pampas, an area of sprawling lowlands and seemingly endless horizons.
The house that fit the bill was an abandoned cottage in New London, New Hampshire, “small and cute as a button,” Bourlot says, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a claustrophobia-curing 2.5 acres of flat, green land a block from Lake Sunapee. Although the house itself was a mess and would require a total gut renovation—if not demolition, something they briefly considered—the land was dazzling, though temporarily overrun with hay. But Bourlot admits she loves a project.
She worked with a contractor to open up the space as much as possible while retaining the home’s original structure and layout. The overhaul took an entire year, with some time off during the cold winter months, and consisted largely of stripping, repairing, and refitting. (Local farmers helped clear the lawn of hundreds of bales of hay.) The couple spent their weekends exploring area flea markets—which Bourlot says are “as good as in France if you have the imagination”—for the furniture and other finds that now fill the house. In keeping with Bourlot’s “vanilla” tastes, there is, for the most part, only one color here.
Upstairs is the master bedroom, which Bourlot transformed by painting the walls, hardwood flooring, and radiators white, and adding white furniture and bedding. A guest room, also whitewashed, was outfitted with two twin beds to accommodate various sleeping arrangements. “Having only one [dedicated] guest room, you really have to make it work in many different ways,” Bourlot says. The doors to both rooms were left unpainted once she realized how nicely the original dark pine contrasted with everything else. “But I hadn’t planned on it,” she says.
Downstairs, oak floors and molding in the living room were refinished and left natural, as was the mantel surrounding the working fireplace, where Martin often tosses his pistachio shells while enjoying a glass of malbec. The dining room, with a large bay window overlooking the backyard, similarly features original wood detailing set against white walls, a white hardwood floor, and white-and-natural-wood furniture.
Although white is undoubtedly Bourlot’s favorite color, in this house it also performs a function, making the rooms appear larger, cleaner, and brighter, especially in the downstairs bathroom, which is “so small we couldn’t even find it a sink.” (Eventually, they did.) And perhaps counterintuitively, the all-white aesthetic offers an easy solution to messes: If something goes wrong, they can paint right over it. “I always have a can of white in the house,” she says. “And bleach.” Which was definitely needed for the time a visiting child dumped a cup of tea on the couch. “I think his mother thought they’d never be invited back,” she says. “But a little bleach and it was good as new.”
The look, surprisingly, isn’t austere, particularly because Bourlot also considers shape, texture, and lighting when putting together a room. Everything in the house comes from local flea markets, Simplemente Blanco, or Bourlot’s personal collection (like the set of trunks, previously owned by her grandmother, in the guest room, and the framed sea horse in the master bedroom, which was a gift from her mother). A handmade chandelier crafted from jars of yerba mate—which in another life held the traditional South American tea—hangs by fishing thread over the dining room table.
Most weekends—more than they’d anticipated—the Bourlots head up to New London. During the winter, it’s for skiing at the nearby Mount Sunapee Resort; in the summer, for swimming in Lake Sunapee. At night they’ll sit around the fire or grill under the pear tree out back. “We didn’t expect to come here as much as we do,” Bourlot says. “But we drive an hour and a half on a Friday night and wake up in a whole other place.”
Architecture and Interiors: Fernanda Bourlot
Four coats of white paint gave new life to an armoire purchased at a New London–area flea market.
A vintage telescope found at an area flea market overlooks the sprawling 2.5-acre lot. Original wood floors and detailing were left natural, as was a slab of found wood that was later turned into a custom-made coffee table. The furniture is by Simplemente Blanco.
Chairs and standing lamps from Simplemente Blanco frame a radiator and window in the living room.
The original wood mantel and paneling in the living room showcases items from Simplemente Blanco.
The dining room, which overlooks the backyard, features a chandelier made of yerba-mate jars.
The galley kitchen was painted white, radiators and floors included.
Bourlot opted for twin beds in the guest room to accommodate various configurations of guests.
A whitewashed side table.
A vintage chair, found at a local flea market, next to a vintage trunk inherited from her grandmother.
A bevy of objects collected over the years—including a framed sea horse, a gift from her mother—are arranged on shelves in the master bedroom.
A vintage T sign sits on a table found at a local flea market.
Original dark-pine doors throughout the house, including in the upstairs bedrooms, were left unfinished.
In summer, the backyard hosts a steady stream of weekend guests.