Waterfront Decorating

By Carleton Varney – An Excerpt From My Latest Book

Carleton Varney

When I am lecturing on decorating, I always ask the audience, “What is the very first room you remember?” Why do I ask this question? I believe that in the very first room you remember is the foundation of your taste, which is part of your decorating DNA. For me, one of the very first rooms I remember liking was dark green, which is still to this day one of my favorite colors. I have used green rooms in many of the projects that I have done over the years—whether it is palm tree green or spruce green—because it carries everywhere, even in the desert. Having grown up by the sea, and as I continue to live by a river and an ocean, I am also drawn to blues—be they maritime blues or swimming pool blues or Caribbean blues. The Mediterranean waters have also inspired me color-wise as I decorate homes and resorts from the shores of the South Pacific to lakeside properties in Michigan.

I have never lived anyplace but on the water, from Nahant to Palm Beach to St. Croix to the island of Manhattan. In fact, when my wife Suzanne and I moved to the upstate town of Millbrook, I created ponds around our house from the streams on the property. As a child in Massachusetts I could hear the ocean from my bedroom. I could feel a change in the waves and I could see the changes in the color of the blue.

As children, my sister Vivian and I would go down to the Nahant Dory Club. We’d take a little boat out on adventures. Later, I had a big sailing boat, the Kwa Heri, a Maxi-Ketch sailing craft that back in the ’70s even featured a full bathtub in the master’s quarters…I recall great memories of the craft, including our son Sebastian learning to swim at age 5 off the boat in Dominica — the island where Rose’s Lime Juice is manufactured, and where basket and rug weaving was the local handicraft. Many is the rug that I ordered from Dominica to use in one of our island villa decorating projects. Other boating projects that came into our office included one for the Cyrna, a 57-foot sailing boat that unfortunately found its end when it struck rocks off the coast of Maine.

In my career I have served as the curator of the U.S.S. Sequoia and have designed villas in Sardinia and in Mallorca, Spain, as well as condominium residences in Portland, Maine, and on Lake Arrowhead in California.

Are there challenges in seaside decorating? Yes, there are many, and these challenges are different from those posed when designing a high-rise apartment in New York City or Chicago.

When decorating waterside, I always consider the light when selecting color and fabrics. Remember, the light on Miami Beach and the light on the Thames River in England are very, very different. I always suggest that a client paint a section of the wall before completing a room. The color yellow, or the color blue, or any color for that matter will appear different against different waters.

When selecting fabrics for use at the seaside, it is always wise to check on their fade-proof qualities and moisture resistance. One wants to prevent mildew and avoid designs that do not hold up under intense sunlight. The technical aspects of coastal decorating have come a long way. The utilization of new materials and innovations in fabrics against wear and tear, as well as fading, are remarkable. There’s a new craft that has developed around this industry. With a few exceptions, gone are the days of the master craftsman or cabinetmaker.

Nautical decorating is a style all its own, and on the market are lighthouse designs, as well as many patterns that feature nautical ropes, compasses and anchors. Visit a boat show and you’ll come across a plethora of seagoing motifs on everything from dinner plates and glass or plastic ware to bedspreads, pillows and floor mats. Yes, the song may be “Anchors Away,” but those anchors in decorating are surely here to stay.

The locations of homes on ponds, lakes, oceans, and rivers have a great deal to do with the choice of furnishings and colors. The Caribbean and Pacific islands call for the use of rattan, bamboo, and lots of tropical prints, while the islands and coastline homes of Nantucket and Nova Scotia call for textures of wicker—oftentimes brown wicker—and floorboards of natural pine decorated with woven rag rugs of a more colonial nature.

Yes, the seagoing folks of New England have a different design palette than the populations of Bora Bora and Bali. A completely different scheme is required for those folks who live in the countryside on Saranac Lake or Lake Placid in New York, or for those who live on the lakes of the Dakotas or California. Natural flora will inspire colors that create harmony in your home. However, I can guarantee that sky blue and green for all waterside properties will be appropriate, as will the color of a golden sun!

If you expose a child to a sense of beauty, he or she will always pursue it. I can tell which of my clients has or hasn’t particularly followed that sense of beauty when they want us to develop an environment for them. For many reasons, I have never been one of those decorators who pontificate over the leg of a Queen Anne chair. With my clients, after the background is set, I always look at their inventory — what they already own. Today, there is a lot of gray, beige, and steel in contemporary decorating. When I open a magazine, I often ask myself, “Where is the pursuit of beauty?” To quote Dorothy: “Decorating is just sheer fun: a delight in color, an awareness of balance, a feeling for light, a sense of style, a zest for life…”

Editor’s note: ‘Decorating On The Waterfront’ is available at major book retailers, carletonvarney.com as well as at www.amazon.com. Carleton’s charming stories and exquisite waterfront home designs are intended to inspire your own decorating pursuits. Congratulations on another beautiful chronicle of your timeless designs Carleton!

Waterfront Decorating