It’s only 10 miles from Asbury Park, yet Spring Lake, New Jersey, is a far cry from the boardwalk town of pinball wizards, fortune-tellers and working-class heroes Bruce Springsteen immortalized. Akin to Newport, Spring Lake was a 19th century coastal resort “for the very wealthy in New York City and Philadelphia,” with stately Victorian homes neatly arranged along orthogonal streets, explains architect John MacDonald of Morehouse MacDonald and Associates.
“It’s a beautiful little seaside town,” he continues, “very Victorian and very much a throwback to the 1890s or 1900s.” It’s also the site of a summer vacation home built for a Lexington family with roots on the Jersey shore. The clients reunited the collaborative team from their main residence to construct an authentic new Queen Anne-style home from a teardown one block from the beach. Together, Morehouse MacDonald and Associates, landscape architect Sudbury Design, Inc. and interior designer Mollie Johnson of Mollie Johnson Interiors, Inc. realized a gracious Victorian that fits into the architectural vocabulary of the bucolic locale and “feels like it’s always been a part of the Spring Lake canvas,” says MacDonald.
The homes that define the refined neighborhood stand “like soldiers” in a line, says MacDonald. His firm, however, made this soldier at ease, contemporizing the Victorian style, opening up the floor plan and taking a whimsical approach to select architectural details like scalloped shingles, the muntins and transom, and splaying out the turret to incorporate a curved copper roof.
“Certain aspects of Queen Anne architecture needed to be respected, like the turret, the gables and the porches,” maintains MacDonald, but, being a beach house, his firm relaxed the rules for a playful effect with plenty of movement.
Mollie Johnson, of Mollie Johnson Interiors, followed that lead within the home, walking the line between formal and “beachy.” The house is “quite sophisticated architecturally,” she explains, “so the furniture needed to live up to it. But I wanted to make it a lighter palette, so that it felt like a summer home.” Neutrals and sea glass colors set the tone downstairs—soft greens in the dining room and blues in the living room—while, upstairs, in the master bedroom, subdued silvers and grays suffuse the space, drawing the focus to the dunes outside.
Johnson deftly mingled formal and informal sensibilities, knowing when to elevate a space, like the parlor and dining room, and when to keep things light, as in a stunning, sun-washed breakfast room overlooking the pool or the cozy sitting alcove in the kitchen by the two-sided fireplace. Even the most elegant spaces are practical; leather upholstery on the dining room chairs can tolerate a wet bathing suit should one land there.
The home has a beautiful inside-outside connection with a landscape that “feels like it’s been there for a long, long time,” says MacDonald, crediting the masterful work of Sudbury Design. By layering plants that thrive in a coastal setting—“old-school” plants like hydrangeas and ornamental grasses, as well as summer annuals, flowers and roses—Sudbury Design was able to make a small lot feel big, lush and mature.
While the backyard boasts an oval-shaped pool, bluestone terrace and plenty of chaises scattered along the grassy lawns, “a big part of design down there is the front porch,” says Scot Indermuehle of Sudbury Design. “You don’t get a lot of drive traffic, but you do get a lot of walkers,” he explains. The street vantage, rich with river birch, crape myrtle and flowering cherry trees, is important, and designed to invite conversation and welcome passersby. “The front yard is as much of a garden space as the backyard,” says Indermuehle, “and that’s how we approached it.”
Front and back, Sudbury Design created leafy, blooming vistas from “a blank slate.” There wasn’t a ledge or a significant tree; the firm’s only point of reference was the house itself, which they nestled into the lot through the landscape. The goal was to make that house and grounds look like it could be 100 years old. “If you’ve achieved that,” says Indermuehle, “you’ve succeeded.”