Rob Brinkley: For a beach house, I don’t see any of the typical clichés. Congratulations!
Bullard: Oh, thank you! Once I’d been given the whole idea of a “mad aunt,” we were off and running.
Did you say a “mad aunt”?
Yes! The clients wanted a home that felt like your crazy old aunt’s mad Victorian house. I think what they really meant is that it should feel eclectic and fanciful, with wonderful collections. It’s an extraordinary, massive 19th-century Victorian on the ocean in Narragansett, Rhode Island. It’s like something John Singer Sargent would have painted.
The decor is so bold. What were your jumping-off points?
I love pattern and color, so I grabbed onto what was the height of fashion during the Victorian period: wallpaper. I looked for traditional ones in fresh colors. Wallpaper is back in such an enormous way. It’s a great method for people to make a statement — whether it’s in the smallest powder room or across the ceiling of their biggest room. And it’s easy: You just glue it on!
Such wild patterns everywhere. You’ve got marble, agate, toile, paisley, even a paper that looks like bookshelves.
Almost every room has a surprise, which makes the house so much fun. But for the core of the house — this great central hallway that runs up through all three floors — I did a palette of whites and pale grays. It’s a soothing counterpoint to the unexpected reveal of color and pattern in the guest rooms and public spaces.
The living room is quite dark. What was your intent there?
That room is flooded with natural light, so I was able to get away with a darker scheme. To achieve it, I covered the walls in a black sea grass. This was juxtaposed with pops of color: turquoise-blue leather chairs and amazing 19th-century orange export ware I found in London. Those ceramics really grab the eye, like a sunshine moment.
How did you arrive at all the unusual blues in the house?
I knew the clients loved blue, but I didn’t want traditional beach-house hues. Instead, I went with teals and a Wedgwood blue, as well as turquoise. And then there’s the beautiful Christopher Peacock kitchen in, literally, peacock blue. That shade very much grounds the house: It’s a really animated color that I repeated in almost every room.
How do you make layered patterns work without being overwhelming?
When you use a lot of patterns all in the same scale, you lose something. I like to make a design statement by mixing patterns of different scales — a delicate motif, say, with an overscale animal print.
You certainly did that in the living room, yet the room holds together. What’s your secret?
Here I took my inspiration from the Victorians, who were the masters of creating layered and patterned rooms. The trick to combining incongruous patterns is to find, somewhere in their design, a cohesive thread of color that provides a connection. If you do that, it will flow. I promise you it will work.
This house also juxtaposes colors in unconventional ways. In doing that, how do you avoid mistakes?
Mistake is a bad word in decorating. Everybody has his or her own style and taste. I find that color is about balance, rather than which shades go together. I do believe that if a color is very strong, you should use it as a highlight rather than as a main color. That way, it becomes the jewelry in a room rather than an overpowering fragrance.
What do you do when you have clients who are color-shy?
I say to them, “If there’s a color that you look good in and love to wear, then why not surround yourself with it in a room?” Decorating isn’t just about creating a wonderful, comfortable space: It’s about designing rooms that you feel good in, look good in, and love to be in. It really works. People connect to this approach. They end up loving that experience in their house.
Martyn, in 20 years of covering design, I’ve never realized that the colors I like to wear — browns with pops of blue — are also the main colors in my home.
There you go! Subconscious decorating, there!
“This bedroom is where the wife’s mother stays, and I wanted it to feel cozy and romantic, so we really played it up,” Bullard says. “It’s an odd-shaped room—it was once the servants’ quarters in this Victorian house — so I picked a toile because it’s a pattern you can use in abundance. When you continue a pattern everywhere, it blurs out the weird shape. Now it nods to those 18th-century French rooms that were always so quirky. I gave it a modern pop with emerald-green cushions, a hit of pink, and an antique python trunk. I love my rooms to feel like a candy box — a fun moment.”
Shop the Look:
- Shark cotton blend, JF Fabrics.
- Prima Alpaca wool in Red Pepper, Sandra Jordan.
- Joffrey trim in Multi, Dana Gibson for Stroheim.
- Toile de Provence wallpaper and cotton in Black on White, Thibaut.
- Dolce Pom Pom fringe in Gumball, Samuel & Sons.
- Astral cotton blend in Tangerine, Eileen Kathryn Boyd for Duralee.
- Cadence hair-on-hide in Tiffany, Holland & Sherry.
See more photos of this gorgeous home:
This story originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Natipernavigare.