Life at Sea

For their home along the shoreline, a Westport couple wanted ocean-inspired design, but “nautical” sometimes conjures cringe-worthy kitschy style: oversized ship sculptures and lobster traps; hanging harpoons from a retired sea captain’s fever dream. Not exactly elegant choices for a family of five. Enter Sam Allen, the wunderkind designer behind Sam Allen Interiors, who knew the space needed to bypass beachy Margaritaville and head straight to contemporary maritime chic.

“We went for a timeless Belgian-type style with waterfront elements,” Allen begins. He added an inspired mix of prints, color and even an octopus (more on that later). Sound confusing? Under a less deft hand than his, the resulting aesthetic would most likely be as frenetic as when the bluefish run. With Allen at the helm, though, the interiors boast a refreshing update on nautical style—with nary a buoy in sight.

Beyond the striking deep-charcoal front door, one enters the long foyer. A grayish-beige rug swathes the warm pine floors. The breezy first-floor layout—the kitchen, living room and dining area all flowing from one to the other—calls for understated refinement. With a unified color palette and accents that pop, Allen’s design choices let each separate area sing, while harmonizing with the whole.

The kitchen was his first project in the home. The space, rescued from the heavy Italian farmhouse style of yester-decade, is his favorite. “Since the rooms are so open, I wanted the kitchen to be a strikingly beautiful focal point,” he says. He ditched the former beiges and creams and added crispness. The countertops, island and backsplash are Calcutta marble—bright white threaded with gray. With high-gloss Farrow & Ball putty colored, the cabinets appear wet.

Although the kitchen calls for an oversized fixture, “I didn’t want to interrupt the focal point of the Calcutta marble slab, which is really a piece of art,” he says. The glass and oil-rubbed bronze lantern is a modern wink to the sea without venturing into pirate ship territory.  

The nearby dining room balances relaxed style with enriching moments of glamour. The iron base of the weathered oak dining table echoes the metal of the kitchen light fixture. Soft blue and white linen slipcovers shroud the cozy chairs. “I wanted to get a little of a stripe in, but not have it overpower all three rooms and scream ‘beach house,’ ” Allen says. The iron and wood chandelier and the sheet moss and striking orchids add organic elements. The vintage Swedish wood buffet and vintage silver-leaf mirror infuse the look with a hint of formality.   

Accent pieces like vintage textile throw pillows perfectly complement the custom Belgian linen sofa, Belgian bluestone coffee table and old oak beam mantle in the living room. With a slipcovered sofa, Allen knew that he needed open-based chairs; slipcovered chairs would feel too heavy. Once he spied these knock-out chairs at Circa Antiques, he was hooked. “When I saw these old wooden Belgian painted chairs upholstered in that killer orange velvet being carried off the container from Europe,” he says, “I knew they would be that perfect pop of color.”

From Belgium, the details globetrot further south. African influences, like the shell necklaces on the mantle, carry over into the handsome office, just off the living room. An antelope rug amplifies the honey tones of the mahogany mid-century campaign-style desk. Geometric Roman shades top the room for an energetic mixture of patterns.

The sunroom showcases the designer’s ability to mix things up. “This is the one room I wanted to take risks with,” he says. A room with modern and traditional furniture, zebra and ikat prints, pops of pink and orange, plus a framed octopus print should be a jumbled mess. Not with smart styling. The navy lacquered coffee table elevates the relaxed white denim sofa. The table’s chrome legs, the chrome nail heads of the chairs, and the brass and Lucite side tables all shine against the navy-colored walls. Commenting on the navy zebra print pillows, he says, “I love that they mimic waves in an abstract way.” What do the homeowners think of their cephalopod centerpiece? “They love it!” Allen laughs. “It’s one of their favorite pieces in the house.”

Upstairs, the homeowners wanted a plush master bedroom that balances feminine and masculine elements. The foggy-gray silk rug and the linen headboard command the space, the scalloped details of the crisp Matouk linens evoke rolling waves and the gray Moroccan nightstand with bone inlay injects a well-layered touch. The room feels the tug of the tide with a ceramic lamp that has the texture of a sea urchin.  

The other bedrooms are styled beyond the years of the homeowners’ high-school and college-aged children. “When designing a child’s or teen’s room, I believe in a more sophisticated style with timeless pieces and colors, so you’re not redecorating in a few years,” he says. The daughter’s glam leanings shine through details like the chenille headboard and blinged-out three-tier crystal chandelier. More pattern mixing in the youngest son’s bedroom, where a blue and cream chevron rug and hot-orange velvet chair are vivid counterpoints to the chocolate brown walls and simple bedding. The eldest son’s room is the gray of a beach caught in a cloudbank. Here, Allen again paints with pattern. The gray and white hexagonal rug and the ikat pillows and window treatments in grays, cream and café-au-lait vault the bedroom from humdrum to high-end. Above the dresser, a soothing waterscape, the theme that ties all the spaces together.

“For there to be a beautiful end result, your clients really have to trust you and have faith in your vision and expertise,” Allen says. Luckily for the homeowners, they let his inspired style wash over them. From Westport to Belgium and back again, the home’s design floats on a sea of layered and eclectic elegance.   



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