Designers, like many other professionals, come to their trade from different backgrounds. For Hudson Valley resident Sean Breault, it wasn’t a straight trajectory that led to his company, Sean Breault Design in Beacon. He studied to be an actor; moved on to construction work, mostly high-end projects in tony neighborhoods like Tribeca; then transitioned to the theater, where he worked for more than 12 years rigging lighting and doing carpentry on Broadway sets, including A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark.
But after years of living in tight quarters in Brooklyn, he and his wife, Flynn Larsen, a freelance photographer, had had enough of city living. Five years ago, they made the move, and followed other artist friends to Beacon. What were they looking for? More space, greenery, and light. But Breault also viewed the change in scenery as a good time to expand his professional options. “Beacon seemed like a creative town and a place where I could pursue a career in interior design and develop different product lines for residential and commercial spaces,” he says. “We would still be close enough to get back to the city for work, but also be able to buy a house. And it would be a good place to raise our daughter, who was one at the time.”
For more than a year, they house-hunted, finding most of the vintage stock either totally neglected and in need of a complete gut-rehab or partly fixed up but with too much of the original period detailing removed. “There were houses where people had fallen on hard times and had taken in several families so there would be deadbolts on bedroom doors. Other houses had floors sanded down to almost nothing, plastered walls crumbling, and stair treads missing,” says Breault. Larsen was equally dismayed. But their persistence paid off when they found a two-story, white-and-pale-green 1920s house with a welcoming front porch, spacious rooms, and a good-sized back yard. Another plus: It was located on a side street, off a main thoroughfare. “Coming from the city, we loved the idea of being able to retain some of our urban habits and walk to get a newspaper or cup of coffee, sit with people, and drive as little as possible,” Breault says.
In fact, Larsen says that it was the only house that seemed a real possibility. “It hadn’t been neglected so horribly or reworked so badly,” she says. But they both knew that it still needed a lot of work. While the house had ample square footage for their family of three, it wasn’t the kind of finished space they’d envisioned. Far from it. The kitchen was closed off from the dining room, so there wouldn’t be the type of interaction between cook and diners they love. Both rooms were also very dark. An old porch at the rear had a toilet but was impossible to use come winter. “Pipes froze,” Breault says.
Yet, both knew that enough of the home’s good bones and detailing remained to make the undertaking worthwhile. Breault also felt the repairs, most of which he handled on his own, except for wiring and plasterwork, could serve as his laboratory for trying out designs for himself and for clients, even for the theater design students he’s just starting to teach at SUNY Ulster. Most of all, the house would tell their story: about what they love, how they live in a period home, what they wanted to keep and also change. Basically, it would serve as a road map inspired by his years in the theater when set designs literally set the stage and mood. “I like to watch things happen from conception to when the curtain goes up. Or, in the case of a home when a room or the house is finished,” he says.
Slowly and with a lot of painstaking work and love, he is bringing the couple’s house back to its roots as a charming, livable, single-family dwelling. He started by opening the kitchen to the dining room, to increase the light and the possibility for more camaraderie. He installed gray concrete countertops in the kitchen for some modern edginess, and crisp white subway tiles on the backsplash for classic detailing. “I don’t believe that houses should be restored exactly to how they were,” he says.
Breault has tackled most of the repair work on his own, extending the former porch off the kitchen to create a bathroom fit with red oak floors, cedar siding, wainscoting, a skylight, and mosaic stone tile work
To date, most of his time and work on the house has gone into the former porch off the kitchen, which he extended and enclosed to create a large 12’ by 16’ bathroom/sitting room/laundry with a shower that has the feeling of a sauna, a nod to Larsen’s Scandinavian heritage. “It’s a place where you can go and relax, enjoy the backyard, and where we all want to be, even though we have another bathroom upstairs,” Breault says.
A big central skylight provides lots of light. Breault clad walls in a mix of wainscoting with chair railings but also used some cedar siding by the outside of the shower, which he repeated on the shower’s ceiling. He also used a mix of small beige mosaic stone tiles on the shower floor and crisp, large gray ceramic tiles that have a very tailored look on walls. He paved the rest of the room in red oak floorboards and let the floor in the adjacent kitchen change to slate. For a vanity and medicine cabinet, he chose IKEA products to save costs. To screen the toilet from the rest of the room, he fabricated a steel screen from cut nails with a curvilinear design that reflects his love of organic shapes. And to add some contrasting hip sparkle, he selected simple, elegant polished chrome fittings from Speakman.
“A purist might say what we’ve done so far doesn’t fit, but our goal never was to go back to the original state but modify it for 2015 and beyond,” Breault says. “We’re proud that we’ve been able to breathe new life into an old house.” Larsen wholeheartedly agrees. “This is a great example of old meets new,” she says.
The second act for this house is just beginning.