High Expectations By Carrie Sherman
Attention to the details helped create this luxurious condominium.
Paul and Jessica McKeon’s fourth-floor condominium on Vaughn Street in Portsmouth is a spacious, open-concept space full of light, art and beautiful views of the surrounding city.
IN THE LATE NINETEENTH CENTURY, skyscrapers ushered in the modern era. Right on Vaughan Street in Portsmouth is a modern skyscraper. True, it’s just four stories high, so it doesn’t exactly fill the bill. But there are some similarities.
Like all skyscrapers, the building on Vaughan Street has a framework made of steel. Sheathed in a brick veneer with charcoal trim and black-trimmed windows and doors, the building blends in stylishly with Portsmouth’s neighborhoods, both new and old.
An elevator, another skyscraper hallmark, opens directly into Paul and Jessica McKeon’s fourth-floor condominium. The spacious, open-concept living space is sunny and elegant, full of art and color. Each large window defines a view of the city’s skyline.
The living space and its windows owe their generous proportions to the building’s construction. Architect Carla Goodknight, of CJ Architects in Portsmouth, worked with Chinburg Properties in Newmarket to develop the building. The end result is a moment-frame building, Goodknight says, which means the steel column and concrete deck system is designed to achieve maximum open space, while also supporting a rooftop pool. The strength and efficiency of these materials is what makes these airy rooms with eight-foot-tall doorways and ten-foot ceilings possible. The design is also why the space is so quiet.
“We decided we wanted a streamlined urban lifestyle,” Jess says. “And we also wanted a comfortable home for our blended family. Our kids are mostly on their own now, but we love to welcome them and their friends. Plus, we both love being active in the community and entertaining.”
A painting by Sam Faix, one of many original works collected by the McKeons. Faix’s work is represented at Nahcotta in Portsmouth. Facing page: The kitchen features a number of notable details, including coppercolored ceramic tiles handmade by Portico Fine Tile & Design in Rye and a custom-made copper hood.
Above: Jessica McKeon (pictured) and her husband, Paul, wanted a comfortable home for welcoming family and entertaining, plus a “streamlined urban lifestyle.”
Top: The long, curved wall in the master bedroom created a challenging space to design. Chad Callihan of Weekender House in Portsmouth says it’s the custom furnishings (rug, ottoman, desk and layered drapes) that make the room work.
To create an interior design, the McKeons assembled a crew of talented people to realize a vision that was grounded by traditional elements, yet was fresh and modern.
Designing the kitchen
Jenn Avedisian, project manager for Chinburg Properties, began work on the condominium prior to the McKeons’ purchase of it. She engaged a team of architects, engineers, designers and contractors to make this condo possible.
Jen Myers—of Jennifer Myers Interiors in Portsmouth, working with the Chinburg team—had already selected the soft neutral colors for the walls and decided on the major kitchen appliances: a Thermador range, two dishwashers and a Thermador refrigerator, all in stainless steel. Myers also chose the chandelier for the dining area by Visual Comfort. As it turned out, when Paul and Jess took charge of the interior design, they were very happy with her choices.
To finish out the kitchen design, Avedisian brought in an award-winning firm, PKsurroundings in Exeter, which specializes in kitchens and baths. Janice Page, principal of PKsurroundings, recalls the creation of the ceiling in the kitchen. Now it has a simple, sleek look with cove lighting. But earlier, Page says, “There was a lot of ductwork in the ceiling, and it all had to be very carefully designed.
Above: Art and statement-sized plants are showcased throughout the condo, and the master bath is no exception.
“We painted the kitchen island French Beret blue, a color from the cabinetmaker, Kountry Kraft,” Page says.
“The wood is shiplapped, which gives the island a nice texture. For the shelves at the end, we used a gray background to add a bit of depth and pull in the floor color.”
The Shaker-style cabinets are painted China white. Jess chose the handmade copper-colored ceramic tiles for the backsplash from Portico Fine Tile & Design in Rye. The copper hood is custom made.
To complement the range and dishwashers, Page used brushed nickel fixtures on the island sink. Bronze knobs and pulls were used on the cabinets to complement the backsplash and hood. Page also made a decision to use Shaker-style panels on the dishwashers and refrigerator. Painted to match the cabinets, the panels now coordinate well with the overall look.
For the counter choice on the kitchen island, Page and Myers chose a granite stone called “Snowstorm.”
“It has a really cool palette with a lot of depth and texture,” Page says. “It also has presence and complements the living room décor.”
For the back counters, she chose a neutral, subtle shade of quartz called “Shitake.”
Page also ensured that in addition to a pantry, there was plenty of storage space to the left and right of the range: a tray divider, pullout trays for oils and spices and many more drawers.
“Whether one person or several, it’s easy to work in this kitchen,” says Page says. “Plus, it’s classically beautiful. The McKeons now have a lovely backdrop that fits in with the architecture and their décor.”
For the rest of the house
Chad Callihan, founder/owner/lead designer of Weekender House in Portsmouth, worked closely with the McKeons to realize their ideas for the living room, dining area and master bedroom. Callihan also asked Myers to join his staff at Weekender House, and together they worked to find the right options for the McKeons.
“Interiors reflect your style. It was exciting to figure out how they wanted to live,” Callihan says. “The McKeons are world travelers and appreciate all kinds of styles. My team worked to integrate those different elements to curate the look while keeping a ‘funk factor’ for fun.”
The bar stools are at the critical intersection of the kitchen and the living room. “The stools are upholstered in leather and have a nail-head trim,” Callihan says. “The look is stylized but comfortable.”
Perhaps one of the coolest details about the bar seating is the footrest forged by Peter Happny, of Peter Happny Blacksmith in Portsmouth. “Without a footrest, a bar stool can cut off the circulation to your legs,” Happny says. “To get the size right, we take the shortest person who’s going to be using the stool and measure to where they’re comfortable.”
Happny keeps the look simple, but also likes it to keep it real with some ripples and bumps: “It’s steel forged, and you have to hit it with some oomph when it’s hot.”
To get the coppery look, “We take a brass brush and go over it while it’s still warm, and the brush physically deposits the brass,” he says.
Sinuous examples of Happny’s ironwork can be seen all over Portsmouth, from signs for Ceres Street Bakery and the Piscataqua Savings Bank to a sculpted iron sandwich for Moe’s Italian Sandwiches.
Left: The dining area, which features a modern rug and double-pedestal table, looks out onto the patio (right).
To choose furnishings for the living room, Callihan used the McKeons’ living room rug with its soft grays, golds and taupes as a jumping-off point. The comfortable, upholstered furniture echoes those shades and serves as a canvas for pillows created by artist Susi Bellamy from New Castle, United Kingdom (Northumberland). Her work is featured throughout the condominium.
A silvery metal coffee table brings some sparkle to the room. The lamp table by CTH-Sherrill has old-fashioned lines that complement the room’s millwork. And for the funk factor, two furry ottomans provide informal seating in front of the fireplace. These can easily be tucked away under a Theodore Alexander console table behind the large couch. “That console table is an elegant way to make the transition to the dining room,” Callihan says.
For the dining table, Callihan chose a modern rug along with a somewhat traditional double-pedestal dining table. The host wing chairs are wrapped in leather printed with a link pattern.
From left to right: Carla Goodknight, principal architect of CJ Architects; Jenn Avedisian, project manager of Chinberg Properties; Rebecca Dillman, kitchen and interior designer, Janice Page, principal and certified kitchen designer, and Debbie Karpiak, administrative principal and renovation liaison of PKsurroundings; Jen Meyers, designer, and Chad Callihan, founder/owner/lead designer of Weekender House; Susan Harvey, president of Plantwerks; and Jenn Gunn, owner of Garden Bugs
In the open living space, two other elements that define the ambiance are the framed artworks and statementsized indoor plants.
David Pratt, of D. Pratt Framer in Rye, reframed the McKeons’ artwork and other pieces for this modern space. In the living room and family room, he and Jess opted for simple dark wood frames with metallic fillets in either silver or gold. These frames make a nice contrast to the neutral walls. The fillets—the slender, inner, metallic frames—really light up the art. And the period look is perfect.
“These are handmade frames that don’t have mitered corners,” Pratt says. “They fit with the architecture and each one is custom made.”
The master bedroom
The master bedroom has a long, curved wall. The feel is like an embrace. Designing and furnishing for a curved wall is exacting. When Callihan surveys the room, he says that what makes this space work are the custom furnishings: the rug, ottoman, desk and layered drapes.
“During the day, you want something sheer, but at night, the drapes need to completely block out the light,” Callihan says. Here, the bedside tables have a bit of sparkle with agate pulls.
Also the Roman shades and pillows have a version of the same linked pattern featured on the host wing chairs in the dining area. “I sometimes get a little concerned about being ‘matchy,’” Callihan says. “But just one of everything can have a negative effect on the space as well. A window treatment and a pillow or two can really connect the dots.”
From the green roof with its pool and garden spaces—which include grills and fire pits—to the basement garage’s twenty-four parking spaces, to the twenty-four geothermal wells that heat and cool, this building and condominium embrace the cutting-edge traditions of skyscraper living.
“Jenn Avedisian put together a great team for us to work with, and they were open and adaptable to other collaborative relationships as well,” Paul says.
“Working with everyone to develop and furnish our new home, we found just the right mix of styles for us,” Jess says. “I love all of the different perspectives and varying city views offered from each of the windows. Paul and I are grateful to be here and enjoy being an integral part of the Portsmouth community.” NHH
Susi Bellamy • (+44) 07984 440239 susi-bellamy.com
Chinburg Properties • (603) 868-5995 chinburg.com
CJ Architects • (603) 431-2808 • cjarchitects.net
D. Pratt Framer • (603) 964-9826 dprattframer.com
Garden Bugs • (603) 773-0122 • gardenbugsnh.com
Jennifer Myers Interiors • (603) 498-3102
Nahcotta • (603) 433-1705 • nahcotta.com