I recently chatted with Jennifer Palumbo founder/principal of Jennifer Palumbo Inc, a Boston-based interior design firm. It was a pleasure to discuss her perspectives on design and intentionality with textures and colors that include special consideration of the place of wood in any space focusing on our timber frame project on the Cape in MA. She shared insider insight into designing and living in the space:
I’m excited to know this is your family vacation home!
It is! We’d been looking for a location to build a home and found the land in Osterville. I had dreamed of a barn structure in a beach location; it was my initial idea for years. Overall we knew we wanted a large open living space with a barn look and exposed beam work that would fit the beach location.
How did you solve the integration of barn and beach?
Well, we struggled a little as we’re in a coastal neighborhood with mostly shingle style cape cod homes. I had an affinity for barn styles but wanted to make sure it felt like a summer experience. The focus was to get the balance right—not feeling too dark, still a place for a summer day, not heavy as a barn structure can feel—not lodge-y, but fresh and more summery. We created a counterbalance of reclaimed darker toned wood accents with the timber frame against crisp painted surfaces (warm white) and varying degrees of fresh blue throughout house. This let woodwork and reclaimed wood feature itself. Overall: fresh, coastal, and crisp.
The goal was to have a casual feel with an open floor plan. Organic and approachable inside. We talked with Hutker Architects about a cohesive plan as we’ve known them for years and their work is beautiful.
What do you think of the oak timber frame now that you’ve had some time to live in it, both inside and outside near your pool?
The finish on the timbers is so, so great—so natural and perfect. You would never guess they are not reclaimed. Your team did a tremendous job.
I remember stopping by after the raising visit—it was so cool to see the structure stand alone with nothing around it. It wasn’t just aesthetic, but structural. It was really a fun, first time experience for me.
The cabana is amazing. We spend 90% of our time there. In the mornings it’s the first place we go after grabbing our coffee.
Was the cabana always part of project plan?
Yes, it was part of the master plan by Hutker. We knew we wanted a separate structure by the pool with some covered lounge seating, a fireplace, and dining area. The site had some constraints with close neighbors and setbacks. But we created this small private area. It is everyone’s favorite spot. There’s so much character between the timbers and stonework, it creates the organic feel. There’s the view of the water too, of course!
How has the use of wood changed over time, in your experience?
After completing our home, I worked on a number of projects that are using reclaimed wood and timbers. The update from a poly finish to natural oil wax finishes has had a huge impact. It is simply more appealing to people in tone and texture. [Author’s note: If you’re interested in reclaimed timbers and wood products, check out our sister company, Pioneer Millworks.]
We’re seeing and doing projects where the wood is lighter and more grey, with a bleached feeling. Playing with the rustic texture/nature in a space but in a light fresh finish is where we see the market going. Repeatedly we hear praise for the warmth and natural feel wood can bring.
What purpose does the frame serve in this space?
The timbers really set the tone and volume for the spaces that we gather in most often as a family. Leaving the timbers exposed was part of the plan but living with them has exceeded my expectations. We achieved a casual, natural, relaxing, and interesting aesthetic.
Tones and textures seem key to this project. Can you speak to that?
They are critical to all of our projects. We work with color but we also use many neutral backdrops in which to layer and texture various materials over. The layers we create come together with a visual and textural interest without drenching spaces in color. Layering interesting materials creates a dynamic space that’s more unique and not something you see conventionally. We’re attuned to pushing what’s on the architectural surfaces; if you get the backdrop right then you have something special.
What place do you think timber framing has in current architecture for residential or commercial spaces?
I’ve seen a huge demand for timbers & wood in the market over the last 3–4 years. Clients are seeking wood surfaces. Even when we look for office spaces, we’re looking for old mill style buildings with open spans that already have character within the space. From high-tech to design-related firms, people are interested in the character that it brings to a workspace. The warmth and approachability that timber framing and wood, in general, bring to residential space are in high demand. Overall, we have seen less of a demand for formal or traditional spaces. Timber framing and reclaimed wood immediately add character and uniqueness to the living spaces people are seeking out.
You’re seeing less formality in space designs. Can you explain more about trends you’re seeing with interiors?
Oh sure. We’re seeing more clients getting on board with organic materials. Often, we’ll see wood used in a spec home to create character, but it can feel contrived, not part of the whole vocabulary of the house. There’s nothing wrong with that, it is cool and interesting, but it is more applied rather than part of the entire structure or plan. Our goal is always to make it part of the entire, overall project. Like a thread that is pulled through the whole house, creating a cohesive environment.
Trend-wise we’re also catering more to the way people live. It’s more introspective. Ten years ago clients had to have a formal living room and dining room, spaces people rarely used. Today they’re asking for floor plans that are more conducive to how they live. Specific to Boston, we do lots of renovation work of historic structures. We’re finding people taking those homes and creating an open floor plan inside, fully gutted and reconfigured, geared to how they live every day. We’re including functional zones within the space, while being open and casual.
Where do you get your inspiration? What influences you?
Travel definitely influences me. New resorts and new restaurants—local or when traveling can be especially inspiring. I feel like there is a lot of creativity in those avenues as people are coming in for an experience. Hospitality/restaurant design, in particular, tend to lead with the latest/newest.
We also use Pinterest quite a bit, and Instagram too. We’re able to see lots of images and catalog those that appeal to us, and our clients, to create a library. It allows us to see volumes of photos and spaces without having to be out, and from all regions of the country and the world.
We can capture inspirational concepts for many things such as cabinetry details, hardware, furniture forms and much more from these digital sources. We compose visuals help develop the direction of a project and as we funnel down to specific materials we will need physical samples that can be touched and felt. Everyone reacts to tactile samples.
Of course, we still and always will read Shelter magazines and they are kept on hand. Nothing truly replaces print!
Thanks again to Jennifer for her time and insights. It was a true pleasure speaking with her and I hope we have the opportunity to collaborate on more projects in the future. Additional thanks to Cataldo Builders who constructed this home.
If you’re interested in exploring other modern timber frames, check out our galleries.
(All Cape Home photos (c) Eric Roth)