Longtime Wenham residents and empty nesters Tom and Huntley Skinner knew their 1949 ranch house was in need of an update with a more cohesive open layout for entertaining and a minimalist aesthetic. “We initially wanted to open up the space and create a feeling of bringing the outside in, since we back up to beautiful woods on the south side of the house,” recounts Huntley.
“Also, we wanted a calm, simple, uncluttered space that expressed a feeling of retreat from the business and noise of the outside world. Simple, efficient space was a priority. We didn’t need to increase the footprint of the house since our children had grown. We wanted to design mini pockets of small, intimate gathering areas.”
To help with the transformation and incorporate Tom’s affinity for sailing and Huntley’s love of Scandinavian design, they turned to architect and designer Katie Hutchison, owner of Warren, Rhode Island–based Katie Hutchison Studio.
“We read many books on designing small spaces and looked online to find an architect that was interested in the not-so-big-house concept,” explains Huntley, who once lived in Sweden. “Katie worked with us patiently and creatively to integrate the Scandinavian ideas with the sailing and sea concepts, as well as the open concept. Having a love of the sea and understanding the sailor minimalism was a fun addition.”
When Hutchison, who has penned two design books, The New Small House and The New Cottage, initially saw the house, however, something immediately caught her attention. “When I first arrived and saw the existing house from the road, it had kind of a railroad-like presence and it was very long and skinny,” recalls Hutchison of the home with a breezeway and a garage that had been added in 1957.
“So the presentation to the street was not ideal and the main entrance to the house was in conflict with the entrance to this breezeway/garage, so when you arrived you would think, ‘now which door do I go to?’ and you never want to confuse the visitor on the main entrance. When you went in that entrance, on your right was the bedroom wing, and on the left was all the common spaces, but they were all broken up into little rooms.”
In addition to removing the existing garage and breezeway and adding a carport in a new location (which also doubles as a porch for breakfast and extra space for casual gatherings), it was important to take advantage of the light and create better sightlines.
They also worked with an existing wood-burning fireplace by adding a gas fireplace to the other side, and refreshed interior stairs that lead to the basement with a redesigned guardrail and refinished treads and risers. They repositioned the kitchen and opened up flat ceilings to make way for cathedral ceilings featuring steel tie rods for added architectural interest.
“There’s something about them that evokes rigging and since Tom is a sailor, this seemed appropriate,” says Hutchison of the approximately 2,366-square-foot home now outfitted with pickled Oak floors. “We really reimagined their home in a new way. The prior interior was much more cluttered and the color palette was heavy. Part of their goal was that they really wanted a light, fresh, and airy feeling.”
In the kitchen, subtle marine-inspired hints are dotted throughout from a peel-and-stick jellyfish “Planktivore” pattern by Oliveira Textiles painted with C2 Paint’s “Cucumber,” to the tile backsplash design reminiscent of ocean waves.
Other deliberate touches include the bar top appointed with a sea glass-like Chroma resin panel in “Aloe” from 3form, “Atlantic” counter stools by O&G Studio that echo the lines of the steel tie rods, and modern beech horizontal plank sliding barn doors by Real Carriage Doors that neatly conceal a pantry workspace.
“I wanted a kitchen where I could converse with friends while preparing a meal, and a pantry with all the workhorses of life hidden,” explains Huntley. “The pantry is Tom’s kitchen with a sink and counter space for meal prep, and barista prep for his favorite coffee.”
The dining room is layered with a custom banquette with a beechwood top and recessed finger pulls to access storage, a pair of “Evan” chairs from Room & Board upholstered in Sunbrella’s “Silver” canvas fabric, and a custom trestle table designed by the couple’s friend Robert Hanlon of Walker Creek Artworks in Gloucester. “We wanted to be able to entertain eight to ten friends at a time comfortably,” says Huntley. “He worked with us to create an ash handmade table gatherings.”
The tranquil palette continues in the living room with glass “Portica” tables from Room & Board, a steel oiled fireplace surround, a “Sanna” chair from Room & Board in “Seafoam,” and window seat cushion and pillows in “Spiral Tide” by Oliveira Textiles. “We created storage spaces that reflected interior sailboat design, hence the seat storage in the dining area and other drop-down storage in the window seat benches,” says Huntley. “The knobs on the cupboards below the bookcases were taken from the original ranch.”
The couple, now settled into their reimagined home, is taking full advantage of every space. “We often speak of how we would change nothing because it was so well thought out and designed,” adds Huntley. “We sit at the kitchen bar for breakfast, take coffee breaks on the backyard deck, and sit in the dining room for dinner and evenings in the living room. Each space supports the rhythms of our daily life.”
Hutchison agrees: “For me, it’s the transformation and I remember the way it was [so dark and heavy]. When you walk in now, it has these lovely fresh areas, and you can see all the way out. I love that the openness is nuanced, thanks in part to the fireplaces and the interior basement stair, which allow for moments of discovery. It’s in harmony.”