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Be inspired every day with Living North
Cool Coastal Home Inspiration
August 2023
Reading time 5 Minutes

Blue and white is a colour pairing that never goes out of style

In her book, Blue & White at Home, Henrietta Heald examines the endless possibilities of this timeless palette.

Everything about the decorative scheme in this Long Island vacation home spells tranquillity and understatement, creating a perfect backdrop for the eclectic choice of furnishings. The effect of combining pale sky blues with invigorating whites, both inside and out, is to convey a sense of weightlessness, as if the whole structure could simply float away – an effect that is enhanced by the abundance of light that floods in through the windows. 

‘The light here takes my breath away,’ says the owner, Elena Colombo. ‘It is an essential feature of the place.’ Elena is a sculptor and architectural designer who works in steel, bronze, stone, concrete and bone. She fully appreciates the aesthetic qualities of her cottage at Greenport, on the north fork of Long Island, which she acquired in 2000 as part of a cooperative buyout. It is one of a group of houses surrounded by 36 hectares/90 acres of commonly owned land, including a community garden. 

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Elena’s style is to keep the backdrop soft and neutral, and to add bursts of colour in the shape of cushions, throws and accessories. When renovating the interior, she began by choosing a palette of coastal-inspired colours from Farrow & Ball.
Benches and chairs in the porch have been given blue-patterned and blue-striped cushions, so that everyone can enjoy the spectacular sea views in comfort.

The homes were built in the early 20th century to house employees of the Sage Brick Co., which closed after the Great New England Hurricane of 1938. Later, they were rented out as summer cabins, while the brick works itself was replaced by a marina, but for long afterwards bricks continued to be washed ashore. ‘We used them to make terraces and walkways – so, in theory, the brick works are still with us,’ says Elena, who has a deep and abiding love of the place. 

This habit of incorporating the old into the new is evident in every facet of Elena’s home, which she modernised in stages. Her first priority was to install a cedar-shingle roof, but six layers of asphalt had to be removed before work could begin. The builders discovered that the old roofing boards were still in place, so these were retained and a new roof was laid in accordance with the original pattern.

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The interior, whose layout remained largely unchanged, is furnished throughout with pieces from junk shops and the popular local ‘dump’ – a place where you can leave or take away whatever you like. ‘I am always finding real treasures there,’ says Elena. ‘In fact, I’m convinced that I am blessed with what I call “dump luck”.’

The subtlety and simplicity of the blue-and-white colour palette, used on walls, floors and ceilings, make it possible to bring together in each room a cornucopia of disparate items without creating an impression of disunity. In the downstairs living area, there are books of all shapes and sizes, some stacked in piles almost to the ceiling. Other books are arranged haphazardly on white-painted shelves fixed to a section of the ubiquitous sky-blue wall; a collection of empty glass bottles catches the light and adds interest to the display.

Tables, chairs, sofas and sideboards from various periods, and in a variety of woods, some of them painted, coexist in apparent harmony. All these objects have been reclaimed from a previous life elsewhere, each contributing to the overall vintage look, which has been given a fresh twist by the clever use of predominantly white fabrics. Brightly patterned antique rugs enliven the blue-painted floorboards and introduce elements of warmth.

Elena chose turquoise and marine blue as the main colours, with the vibrant lampshade in the porch becoming a dominant feature. Panelled walls and ceiling were painted brilliant white to match the old farmhouse table and kitchen cabinets.
The blue-painted floor that graces the entire downstairs of the house appears to change its depth of colour from room to room, depending how the light falls. It is often paired with patterned upholstery in paler shades of blue.

Blue & White at Home by Henrietta Heald, published by Ryland Peters & Small (£35) Photography © Ryland Peters & Small

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