From the August/September 2022 Issue  

Coastal Cool

Writer Meg Fox  |  Photographer Christopher Delaney  |  Designer Alma Russo, Allied Member ASID, Affiliate Member IDS  |  Architect Virtuoso Architecture  |  Builder Dreyer Custom Homes  |  Location Sea Girt, NJ

Modern and traditional elements infuse a seaside home with high style

“Although the dining table feels super swanky, its milky top allows for easy cleanup for a family by the beach,” designer Alma Russo says. Rattan seating dials down the formality, and sheer window treatments with embroidered burlap “interrupt the predominately white palette without feeling heavy or out of place.”


The co-owner and mom of four savors the ocean air from the front porch swing.

With its classic shingled façade, gambrel rooflines and wel­com­­ing front porch, this seashore colonial in Sea Girt, New Jersey —built for a family of six with two dogs  — embraces all the charms of its iconic seaside community.

A collaboration of Virtuoso Architecture, Dreyer Custom Homes and AR Interiors, all in Sea Girt, the five-bedroom, seven-bathroom home makes every inch count from the basement to the attic. “We were involved from the early/raw stages of construction,” says Alma Russo, principal designer and owner of AR Interiors. This enabled the owners to view the project holistically and see how the spaces connect and function, she says. Joining the project in its infancy is a good opportunity to collaborate with the builder, she adds, “because we often view design and construction through a different lens.”

The interior’s “curated, coastal feel has an interplay of modern and traditional pieces,” says Russo, an allied member of the American Society of Interior Designers. It called for a “light, clean palette with an infusion of interesting finishes and textures.” All walls are painted in “Simply White” by Benjamin Moore, “a clean, but warm and forgiving white that never feels cold or sterile,” she says.

Wide-plank floors provide rich contrast throughout. “We always prefer engineered wood by the water” because it’s less vulnerable to expanding and contracting, Russo says. Plus, “when engineered floors are prefinished, there is more longevity to the finish.”

In the kitchen, simplicity was key. Arctic-white Shaker-style cabinets pair with quartz countertops and a quartz backsplash with beautiful veining. This was a departure from their previous home, which had more formal cabinetry in creamy finishes, Russo says. Polished nickel finishes “work as a great counterpoint to the cooler wood finishes,” she adds. And woven counter stools upholstered in a performance fabric allow the client to “maintain the chicness of her white palette while at the same time being guacamole-friendly.”

“The homeowners wanted a white, clean kitchen,” Russo says. It has quartz surfaces and arctic-white Shaker-style cabinetry. Polished nickel finishes balance the cooler wood tones, while rustic, wide-plank engineered wood floors offer high-contrast.

A juxtaposition of sorts takes shape in the adjoining eating area, where traditional woven chairs pull up to a more modern table with a gleaming polished-nickel base. “Although the dining table feels super swanky, its milky top allows for easy cleanup for a family by the beach,” Russo explains. “There is no formal dining room, so the kitchen eating area needed to feel inviting but also very sophisticated.”

A coffered ceiling accentuates the family living area, where subtle blue accents pick up the colors of sea and sky.

Subtle blue accents nod to the home’s coastal setting in the adjacent family room. Furnished with a high-performance upholstered chaise sectional, woven swivel chair and versatile ottomans, the primary television viewing area “had to be comfortable and accommodate as many people as possible,” the designer says.

Shiplap walls add texture and a relaxed feel in the home office, located off the front entry. “It [shiplap] feels less formal than traditional wainscoting and is the perfect millwork for a home located near the beach,” Russo says. Decorated with natural textures and a sea of white and sandy tones, the room is highly functional and “equally as beautiful and curated as the rest of the home,” she says.

A porthole-like raffia mirror lends a sophisticated touch to the casual shiplap-covered walls in the office. The use of Lucite rods, a theme throughout the first-floor, “creates an almost floating effect for the drapery,” Russo says.

Neutral tones, natural textures and modern elements reappear in the primary bedroom, where crisp linen bedding creates an inviting moment to end the day. Thibaut wood wallpaper, used as an accent behind the bed, “felt completely right,” Russo says. “Accent walls sometimes get a bad rep,” she says, “but when used correctly, they can be integrated seamlessly into the design and be much softer than enveloping the entire space.”

In the primary bedroom, the goal was to “create a respite that had the same modern and textural elements as the rest of the house,” the designer says. “We use wallpaper in our projects in many different ways … and the Thibaut wood wallpaper behind the bed felt completely right.”

Other touches, such as polka-dot sheer drapery and modern pendants hung vertically from the bedroom ceiling, keep things interesting and “continue the juxtaposition of charming coastal with cooler modern,” the designer says.

The basement, where every square inch was maximized, “had to be as thoughtful as the rest of the house,” Russo says. It has “the largest sectional that would fit in the space. It’s from Taylor King and has extra deep depth.” Performance fabric ensures the kids can eat and be messy without the worry. And the statement, dimensional-wood wall treatment — hung in panels — “adds a playfulness that feels a little less expected than the shiplap found in other areas of the home.”

In both design and function, the basement living area “had to be as thoughtful as the rest of the house,” Russo says. The accent wall features a dimensional wood from Duchateau that was installed in panels. “It adds a playfulness that feels a little less expected than the shiplap found in the other areas of the house.”

A bunk room — also located in the subterranean space — was created for the couple’s four children and their friends as comfortable “stay-the-night space,” Russo says. Elsewhere, attic space was used for additional lounging, playing video games or sleepovers. A custom striped surfboard — designed by AR Interiors — hangs ten on the ceiling as a reminder that, in this home, the beach is always calling.

Could you ever have too many beds in a house near the beach? This custom bunk room in the basement is ready for sleepovers!


A custom banquette conceals ductwork under the attic eaves, allowing space for lounging or playing video games.


The outdoor living areas flow effortlessly, thanks to the collaboration between builder Wayne Dreyer and the interior design team. “We provided our CAD drawing of furniture and how the custom patio should be laid out,” Russo says. “His team did an excellent job executing all the details.”