Nature Accents Abound in Cape May Abode
by kathleen nicholson webber
Bayside high: The pool offers tranquility alongside Delaware Bay.
Jeanne Ruddy did something unconventional once plans for her shore house renovation were complete. She called the original architect and asked him to examine them. "I didn't want to change it without consulting him," says the dancer and director of Fairmount's Jeanne Ruddy Dance. Fred Langford, a student of the renowned Louis Kahn, was delighted to see what the future held for the house he had created back in the '70s. He ultimately gave his seal of approval, and construction began.
Ruddy, who is wrapping her final season with the dance group at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre in early May, and her husband, Victor Keen, an attorney in Center City, knew they were very lucky in finding the property, situated on two wooded acres in Cape May. But time had not been kind to the house, whose maladies included 50 windows sealed shut with paint, depriving inhabitants of one of its most attractive features—enchanting seaside views. A more economical choice may have been to call in the bulldozers, but heavy equipment would have harmed the 100 trees on the lot.
Besides, the house had great bones; the interior simply needed modification to conform to modern standards of living. "When we first bought it, we didn't realize how much we would have to do," says Ruddy. They called Floss Barber, whose Philadelphia design firm is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and Ruddy met with her weekly. "She listened to all of my ideas, slowly guiding us," says Ruddy, who once danced with the influential Martha Graham. The resulting design scheme maximized space and invited comfort. Explains Barber: "We wanted to open things up, making it light, airy, and serene."
Ruddy's first request was to be able to see the bay from the kitchen. To help showcase the sunset, Barber tore down two walls and enlarged a window. The room also boasts a live-edge walnut island, glass shelving to house Keen's collection of toasters from the 1920s and '30s, and a dining area that overlooks the water. The ash and glass table is from Cassina, with leather chairs designed by Bellini. An Ingo Maurer Japanese paper "Maru" pendant is suspended over the scene by three cables.
Off the first floor, on either end of the home, are two porches, connected by the living room. The "woods porch," as Ruddy calls it, is like a Hawaiian lanai. Nestled in the trees, it features a Hudson furniture dining table made of a solid slab of tamarind wood with natural edges. "It looks like it just came right out of the woods," says Ruddy. The western porch overlooks the water. "We can open the doors and the air goes right through the house. We are constantly reminded of nature here," she says of these breezes, and of the birds that migrate here and the family of foxes she has spotted.
Nature is also evident in the house's flooring, which Barber changed to either limestone or Brazilian cherry wood. "When you have killer views of the bay and the woods, you have to let that do the talking," Barber explains. "The furnishings and interiors play a very minor part in the overall design. No one piece jumps out as the star of the show. The objective was for the home to be tranquil but alive."
The master bedroom has views of the bay, and Barber pushed it out from the house to add a martini balcony. Two guest bedrooms now have their own baths for privacy. Barber also made his and her offices. Keen's office was designed after a trip to Vienna left him pining for a piece of Biedermeier furniture; Barber created a reproduction for him. He added a vintage glass and acrylic coffee table and an acrylic desk chair to complete the room. "The goal was always to bring them back to simplicity so the house would breathe," says Barber. The couple has found time to breathe, too. With stressful jobs in the city, the home has become a refuge for creating balance. "It's like a different planet here," says Ruddy. Adds Keen: "By the time I make it down our long driveway, my heart starts beating slower."
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SAM OBERTER; ARCHITECTS: HARMON DEUTSCH ARCHITECTS; LIGHTING CONSULTANT: GRENALD WALDRON; CONTRACTOR: MAIELE CONSTRUCTION