If These Walls Could Talk...

Life strews happy ac­ci­dents along every path, but some peo­ple re­ally know how to work them.

Veranda - - CONTENTS - • • Philip Mitchell An­nie Sch­lechter Mimi Read IN­TE­RIOR & AR­CHI­TEC­TURAL DE­SIGN BY PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY WRIT­TEN BY

An 18th-cen­tury har­bor cot­tage on the coast of Nova Sco­tia is res­cued and re­born.

...they’d speak of their mod­est 18th-cen­tury be­gin­nings and their dreamy vil­lage on the quiet Cana­dian coast, even of fall­ing into dis­re­pair in the face of ea­ger de­vel­op­ers. And they’d tell you how one day, two sum­mer vis­i­tors came along and saved them, board by beau­ti­ful board.

Cana­dian-born in­te­rior de­signer Philip Mitchell and his hus­band, Mark Narsan­sky, an advertisin­g ex­ec­u­tive, have that won­drous blend of tim­ing and tal­ent. The two met al­most 20 years ago through mu­tual clients and since then have shared a mod­ern apart­ment in Toronto, a six-bed­room week­end cot­tage an hour’s drive away on Lake Erie, and an of­fice and apart­ment in Man­hat­tan.

So when a trou­bled 18th-cen­tury cot­tage on the coast of Nova Sco­tia came on their radar, they weren’t ex­actly look­ing to add to their real es­tate ros­ter. What would prompt the two to scoop it up and em­bark on a to-the-studs ren­o­va­tion?

The an­swer comes down to be­ing the right peo­ple in the right place (not to men­tion a healthy ob­ses­sion with the past). The pair had been vacationin­g in Ch­ester, Nova Sco­tia, an idyl­lic seaside vil­lage of roughly 1,500 year­round res­i­dents on the east coast of Canada, for a few sum­mers when they heard about the house. Known for its cen­turies-old ar­chi­tec­ture, wooden boat sail­ing, and sparkling sum­mer weather, Ch­ester has been a part-time haven for af­flu­ent Amer­i­cans and Euro­peans since the late 1700s. It’s also quiet and quaint—de­cid­edly under the radar.

“This is em­bar­rass­ing to say, but even though I’m from Canada, I’d never been east of Mon­treal,” Mitchell says. “I’d never been to any of the Mar­itime prov­inces. But we to­tally fell in love. Ch­ester has his­toric in­tegrity and un­be­liev­ably friendly peo­ple. It’s a lit­tle slice of heaven.”

At first, Mitchell, 44, thought he and Narsan­sky might re­tire there later. Lo­cated about a two-hour flight from Toronto, the town isn’t ex­actly con­ve­nient to his cur­rent Toron­to­cen­tered work life. But then they fell for one of Ch­ester’s white ele­phants: an im­pos­ing 1795 “Colo­nial mish-mash” of a house, as Mitchell calls it. Sit­u­ated on a prime seaside lot, it had been mod­i­fied and added onto by many own­ers. Mitchell and Narsan­sky heard de­vel­op­ers were look­ing to tear it down and sub­di­vide the prop­erty, fight­ing words as far as they’re concerned.

“We work to save the his­tory and charm of our vil­lage,” Mitchell says. “That’s our pas­sion.”

So they bought (or more ac­cu­rately, res­cued) the house known as White Cot­tage and soon dis­cov­ered just how deep the rot went. “Some­body had at­tached a porch with­out flash­ing,” Mitchell says. “Wa­ter had been pour­ing through it for 20 years. It was deep in the walls and you couldn’t see it.” They made the de­ci­sion to dis­as­sem­ble the en­tire struc­ture piece by piece and reuse ev­ery­thing they could. Each part was num­bered, cat­a­loged, and put in stor­age. Then they re­built ac­cord­ing to the house’s orig­i­nal foot­print and style, repris­ing a few ar­chi­tec­tural fea­tures that had been re­moved decades ago.

All the hard­wood floors were taken out piece by piece. “There were four species of wood in the house, of vary­ing plank lengths, vary­ing widths, vary­ing ages,” Mitchell said. “We de­cided, with our ar­ti­san hard­wood in­staller,

“We work to save the his­tory and charm of our vil­lage. That’s our pas­sion.”

Mitchell filled the house with a lux­u­ri­ous sea­far­ing style laced with all man­ner of sto­ried col­lec­tions and rich an­tiques.

to mix them all to­gether, and that’s why the floors have this beau­ti­ful char­ac­ter.”

Be­cause of the area’s his­tory of ship­build­ing and wooden boat build­ing, lo­cal crafts­men can do vir­tu­ally any­thing and do it splen­didly, says Mitchell, who mar­vels at three hand-carved newel posts an ar­ti­san wood­worker cre­ated to copy the house’s lone orig­i­nal one.

The restora­tion took about two and a half years. Then came the dec­o­rat­ing. As if he were a mar­velously so­phis­ti­cated ship’s cap­tain, Mitchell filled the house with a lux­u­ri­ous sea­far­ing style laced with all man­ner of sto­ried col­lec­tions and rich an­tiques.

“We have English fur­ni­ture, French fur­ni­ture, Swedish fur­ni­ture. Things we in­her­ited got mixed with new an­tiques we found in Europe,” says Mitchell. “And we love con­tem­po­rary art. It has a way of loos­en­ing things up.”

In the kitchen—with its La Cor­nue range, butcher block is­land, marine ceil­ing lights, and white cab­i­netry secured with heavy brass boat latches—he’s dis­played a green ma­jolica col­lec­tion started by his grand­mother, con­tin­ued by his mother, and added onto by him­self and Narsan­sky. “We use all of it reg­u­larly. Those tureens and pitch­ers are fre­quent serv­ing pieces,” says Mitchell.

Own­ers Philip Mitchell and Mark Narsan­sky in­scribed the year the cot­tage was built (1795) in the mar­ble en­try­way tile. OP­PO­SITE: Heir­loom Li­mo­ges fish sets hang on painted pan­eled walls in the cot­tage’s servery. Wall color, Gray by Ben­jamin Moore.

White satin-fin­ish paint ac­cen­tu­ates charm­ing tongue­and-groove pan­el­ing, ex­posed beams, and cased arch­ways in the liv­ing room (here and above). Drap­ery fab­ric, Kravet. Arm­chair fab­ric, Lee Jofa.

A braided in­door/ out­door rug (Dash & Albert) in the mud­room of­fers a soft land­ing for the cou­ple’s Ga­naraskans, Wylo (left) and Ja­cob. Over­head, Mitchell pa­pered the ceil­ing in an up­dated pais­ley pat­tern (Thibaut). Wall color, Han­cock Gray by Ben­jamin Moore.

ABOVE: The kitchen is a study in char­ac­ter­build­ing con­trasts: A rus­tic hem­lock is­land is paired with lively li­lac counter stools; ban­quette seat­ing is crafted of tufted leather and re­silient acrylic fab­ric (both by Ralph Lau­ren); an ikat pen­dant shade (cus­tom, The Ur­ban Elec­tric Co.) is a bril­liant foil for the over­head light­ing (bulk­head cage lights, Cape Cod Lanterns).

TOP: The pa­tio fire­place sur­round is Beach Stone by Shaw Brick; the floor­ing is slate.

Mitchell and Narsan­sky re­turned char­ac­ter to the din­ing room by re­plac­ing wain­scot and trim de­tails that had been stripped away in a pre­vi­ous ren­o­va­tion. Pedestal din­ing ta­ble, HH Ruseau. Chair up­hol­stery fab­ric, Brun­schwig & Fils.

A charm­ing sleep­ing al­cove is tucked into Narsan­sky’s dress­ing room, cre­at­ing extra space for overnight guests. Bead­board wall color, Philips­burg Blue; trim, New­burg Green, both by Ben­jamin Moore.

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT: The stair rail and balus­ters are yel­low cedar. The wa­ter side of the 5,000-square­foot home faces Ch­ester’s Front Har­bour. A mix of Swedish, French, and English an­tiques fur­nishes the third­floor guest bed­room. A Water­works claw-foot tub oc­cu­pies an arched nook in an airy guest bath.

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