TAKE A MINUTE TO IMAGINE a guy who grew up in New Jersey, lucked into a commercial modeling career, then parlayed his industry connections into building a production studio in Chelsea that serves the most glamorous names and magazine titles in Manhattan. Can you picture the same guy in a saltwater fishing boat named Cookie 100 miles off the Jersey Shore reeling in tuna? How about hunting for a beach house in Ocean City, Md.? (Not fair if you know the best fishing grounds in the North Atlantic are only 50 miles offshore.)
Roy Schwalbach is a self-described visionary, who thinks out-of-the-box every chance he gets, which is why he moved his boat to the “other” O.C. 15 years ago. “It’s only 50 miles to tuna fishing grounds, and the people are nicer there,” he says. “That’s when I discovered the White Marlin Open, the world’s largest bill fishing tournament with millions in prize money.”
So he started commuting to Ocean City and bringing friends along. One day when he was shopping the local marinas for a bigger, more comfortable boat, he met a guy who knew a guy with a lead on some real estate. “I wasn’t sure I’d find anything contemporary enough to suit me here, but why not look?” Schwalbach says. “I thought, ‘I could build a bachelor pad and drive down whenever I feel like it.’”
Reservations about finding something cutting-edge enough to suit his taste evaporated when he saw a spec house David Quillin of David D. Quillin Architecture was planning on paper. “Here’s a house with its long axis to the south for passive solar efficiency, two levels of lightweight concrete floors with built-in radiant heat, a super insulated shell and even concrete countertops,” says Schwalbach. “We’re talking Ocean City 2002—not a place or a time I expected to find a modern aesthetic or green building happening.”
He bought his place half-finished and started working with the architect to upgrade the design elements. Quillin embraced their collaboration. “My original vision for this house on the marsh was rooted in the vernacular Eastern Shore crab shack,” he says. “Roy had a crisper contemporary form in mind and wanted to push the design element.”
They spent a year maximizing what Schwalbach defined as the house’s assets: its airy loft style and views on every level through big windows to the marsh and skyline. Some of Quillin’s “green” solutions were eliminated, among them a kitchen made with Environ materials that wasn’t holding up to the climate. But the upgrades—including super-strong South American ipe wood decking, a pressure sensor-activated lighting system, a standing seam metal roof and structural reinforcement to withstand 200-mph hurricane winds—were value add-ons. Schwalbach took a three-year break to furnish and enjoy the main house before asking Quillin to draw up his ideas for a 3,200-square-foot addition joining the main house via a glass bridge.
Schwalbach’s search for a designer started when he envisioned layouts and furnishings for open plans on the main house’s four levels. “I wanted to live close to the views and feel the light everywhere,” he says. He was partial to sleek furnishings produced in Italy. Trolling the Internet for sources, he discovered Deborah Kalkstein, owner of Contemporaria in Washington, D.C., who represents the Minotti line of Italian-made furniture. What’s more, her training as an architect fed Schwalbach’s desire to respect the open spaces that drew the eye to the views.
Kalkstein’s reductionist point-of-view also earned Quillin’s regard. “Instead of delivering that cold sparseness you usually associate with highly modern furnishings, Deborah gave the house a lush feeling with deep, rich colors and fabrics,” he says. “The art is idiosyncratic and personal, Roy’s choices, and reflects the man in an unpretentious, quirky way.”
The kitchen, formerly an enclosed area between the living and dining rooms, was the most drastic and time-consuming alteration in the house. Schwalbach ripped out traditional paneling and closets to accommodate Boffi kitchen’s custom design, which took a year to build in Italy. Schwalbach was third on a wait list behind the king of Morocco and the model Gisele for its six-month installation.
Schwalbach’s engagement with the house was intense right up to the 2013 completion of its wing, pool and landscaping. He had his own designs fabricated for furnishings and consulted such experts as New York architect Robert Marino for the pool
design—nourishing his creativity along the way.
What’s left for a visionary and a fisherman to pursue? “I won the Cape May fishing tournament,” he says. “I haven’t given up on snagging the White Marlin Open.”
5 Tips from designer Deborah Kalkstein
SKIP THE SEASHELLS. Don’t be a slave to the beach metaphor. “That’s so obvious,”says the designer. Decorate with a sense of organic freedom and originality.
FIND ART IN EVERYTHING. “Furniture is also art,” Kalkstein says, “so you can interact with it in different ways.” Don’t push everything against the wall. Leave the walls open to showcase the art that best expresses your personality—both your beach self and your city identity. Think of your ocean or bay view as more visual art.
KEEP THINGS AIRY AND ACTIVE. Optimize each corner of a large room. Rather than stuffing the space with large furniture, designate one corner for quiet reading and window-gazing and another corner for quiet conversation. Leave enough room for a group of guys to watch the afternoon game.
THINK OUTDOORSY. Choose comfortable furnishings in “simple straight lines and organic colors” that work well in a vacation atmosphere. Choose fabrics that are forgiving of soggy swimsuits. Many companies now offer cotton-based materials that work well indoor/outdoor.
ANY BUDGET WORKS. “A bigger budget doesn’t mean better style,” Kalkstein says. Decorating is like clothes shopping these days—taste is the key.