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Thinking Pink

Martha Stewart Living, May 2007

Tour Martha's guest cottage in our photo gallery.

There are two kinds of dream houses that tug at our fantasies. The first is ambitious -- the ideal headquarters from which to conduct daily life, with a sprawling chef's kitchen, a superefficient laundry room, endless storage space, a home office, Wi-Fi portals, flat-screen televisions, and a state-of-the-art security system. The other is a house where none of that matters. It's a place of escape and imagination, a simple cottage you can run away to but still feel safe in. It is the grown-up version of your favorite backyard fort or playhouse in the trees.

Martha's guest cottage in Maine, the adjunct to Skylands, is that second kind of house. To get to it, you cannot drive, because there is no road, only a path that meanders through mossy woods and a steep flight of granite stairs. "You have to walk -- or be pushed in a wheelbarrow," Martha says. "It's very self-contained. To me, it's the ideal guesthouse. You could put someone there and say, 'I'll see you in a month!'"

As if to highlight the fact that the cottage is set apart from everyday concerns, the whole interior is painted a dreamy pink, a color scheme Martha had always wanted to try, if only the right space ever presented itself. "I've never had a house that was appropriate," Martha says. "This one is, because of the loveliness of the interior."

Although built in 1925 at the same time as Skylands, and by the same architect, Duncan Candler, the cottage is in a style different from the main house -- straightforward Georgian rather than rustic Italian Revival. There are only four rooms, but each one is large and airy, with big windows, high ceilings, and restrained, classic moldings.

Even if Martha hadn't harbored a pink-house fantasy, the color palette might have suggested itself. Pink is everywhere in the surrounding landscape. The presence of the ocean -- the cottage is perched on a bluff overlooking the harbor -- brings to mind seashells, oysters, and dawn breaking through salty mists. "You feel like you can reach out and touch the harbor," Martha says. And the setting on the other side is intimate; the house is nestled amid pines and hemlocks. Skylands itself, handsome as it is, is made from pink granite that was quarried on-site. Crushed pink granite lines the drives, and even the fallen pine needles that pad the paths have a naturally pinkish-brown hue.

Picking up the pink theme in the house without it looking either garish or girly required getting the shades and the details just right. The cottage interior isn't powder puff or cotton candy, just a soft, happy, glowing pink. "You walk in and think, 'Is the sun setting?'" says Kevin Sharkey, decorating editorial director of Martha Stewart Living, who worked with Martha to redo the cottage. "Martha's approach is monochromatic," he says. "She wants to walk into a mood." That subtle effect -- more about ambience than splashy visuals -- was achieved, paradoxically, by painting everything pink: the moldings, the window frames, the doors, and even some of the picture frames, in addition to the walls. The latter got a flat finish. For a subtle but sure sheen, the details got semigloss paint.

"Anything that's too contrived or complicated doesn't interest Martha," Sharkey says. "She wants to be able to appreciate the lines of furniture, the patterns of fabric." To that end, the monochromatic walls have another benefit: They provide a warm but unobtrusive background for many of Martha's finds. The cottage is decorated here and there with mirrors, glassware, and knickknacks from Venice -- another romantic spot on the water and home to the Doge's Palace, the Gothic pink-and-white architectural wonder. Also fitting right in with all of the pinkness are Martha's Craftsman-era copper pieces. Their rosy luster reflects the glow of the walls in the living room and catches the flickers of the fireplace, which is put to work on Maine's colder summer days and nights.

If the pink functions as a little mood-lifting hum or whistle, then gray, one of the house's few accent colors, is the decorating equivalent of a barely perceptible whisper. The ceiling is painted a soft gray, of a similar intensity to the pink, adding to the sense of shelter. The mismatched assortment of traditional wicker furniture, much of which came with the house when Martha bought it about a decade ago, is painted a stone gray. Even the honey-colored fruitwood floors and gray sisal mats blend in comfortably.

Only in the bathroom, where a cooler shade of pink was used, is there a deliberate sense of contrast. It's delivered by white paint. Side by side, the pink visually pops while the white sparkles like sugar.

It's no wonder the cottage, with its low-key beauty and serene atmosphere, makes everyone who comes to stay there feel as though they have genuinely gotten away -- that they're unplugged and unreachable in the best possible sense. "People go in there and they just want to lie in bed and read, or sit on the terrace and look at the view," Martha says. "It's an idyllic little place."

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