The 2018 Cape May Designer Show House, presented by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities (MAC), is nothing short of stunning. Built in 1911, the John P. Forsythe House was part of the East Cape May Project in the early 1900s, which had the goal of making Beach Avenue the most elegant street in Cape May. The home was recently purchased by Patrick and Kristen McGonigal and underwent a $2.5 million renovation. Crews took it down to studs, converting the 12-bedroom mansion to 8 bedrooms, 6 full baths, and 2 half baths—with all three floors accessible by an elevator. It’s appropriate that the Jurassic Park theme is playing as I type this, because what John Hammond says throughout the movie is true for this show house as well: “We spared no expense.”
We toured the home on a Thursday in early April. The weather had been cold and stormy since the beginning of the year, with regular weekend storms and temperatures hovering around freezing. Still, mulch had been put down in the garden beds that awaited plants, making the air around the house smell like springtime. Someone was affixing stone capping to the supporting wall as we made our way along the sidewalk and up the porch steps. Outdoor furniture wrapped in delivery plastic crowded each end of the wrap-around porch. We sidestepped it and went through the front door.
I expected a traditional parlor or living room. What I walked into was a lounge with a three-seat bar, pool table with tan felt, and roaring stone fireplace—something you might expect in a finished basement or bonus room, but not something I’ve ever seen just beyond the front door. I wondered if we’d come in the wrong entrance by accident, but we were assured this was indeed the right door and welcomed inside. A woman behind the bar introduced herself as Mary Jo Gallagher, lead designer for Greystone Interiors, who designed the entry vestibule and parlor. The homeowners wanted the entry to feel like a hotel lobby, she said, a place where people could relax and play cards. Everything from the cabinetry to the fireplace fender was custom designed for the space. Only the staircase and fireplace are original to the room.
We wound through the family room designed by Dompierre LLC, a mix of traditional and modern styles with plentiful gold touches. The fireplace in this room is original, and the trim was re-created to match existing moulding in other parts of the house. I asked designer Lisa Byers how long the project took from start to finish. Her answer would be echoed by the other designers as we continued our tour: about a year and a half.
Dompierre also designed the powder room off of the family room. Don’t forget to peek behind the door to see the full-length mirror.
We met the designers from The Summer House Design Group in the kitchen, located through a black and white butler’s pantry (sadly, there was no butler present) at the back of the house. Despite its size, the house doesn’t have a separate dining room but a family-style kitchen. A large round table seats eight on pink upholstered chairs, and an extension off of the central island seats another four. The kitchen is a mix of old and new finishes: A wall of original cabinetry remains, refinished with its original hardware, and the new pine cabinetry is a soft cream with lucite pulls. A highlight of the kitchen are the three round glass pendant lights above the island.
We took the stairs to the second level. The house’s hallways were designed by Dompierre and are covered in a metallic damask wallpaper. We were told there are gold touches on all floors at the owners’ request. The entire house is also wired with speakers, so music played throughout our tour.
The second floor has four of the home’s eight bedrooms. The two on the back of the house, designed by Dragonfly Interiors, are bright and cheerful guest rooms separated by a luxe jack-and-jill bathroom. When you visit the Sea Turtle room, painted a bright aqua, look up at the pattern created by the light fixture. It looked like we were underwater.
If you like a lush and playful space, do not miss the lavender and gray Mermaid bedroom and bath designed by Nina Green of NGD Interiors. Nina left no corner of this room untouched, bringing in a custom-made half canopy bed with imported French fabrics, Venetian mirrors, and a painted desk from the Cynthia Rowley collection. Talk about attention to detail.
But the star of the second floor—indeed, the star of the whole house—is the oceanfront Master Suite designed by Dragonfly Interiors. It gives off an instant sense of calm. This room is dressed in seagrass wall coverings and marble finishes, with a built-in seating area facing custom cabinetry (including an in-wall coffee maker!), a private deck overlooking the ocean, bedroom area, and separate baths. “His” bath is jaw-dropping. “Her” bathroom was inspired by the Waldorf Astoria in New York and has a free-standing soaking tub. What were the biggest splurges in the room? The wallpaper and tile, said designer Jan Schmidt. Be sure to look at the custom tile mosaic in the glass shower. It was created on-site.
A spiral staircase inside the Master Suite can take you up to the third floor, but we opted for the main staircase again and popped into the two small bedrooms off of our right. Designed by Dompierre LLC, these cheerful rooms makes the most of their single windows with a desk and a window seat. Perfect for some quiet time with a book.
We caught back up with Nina Green from NGD Interiors, who designed one of my favorite spaces in the house: the black and white bathroom on the third floor. Despite the room being narrow, it isn’t suffocating. It has custom lighting from England (complete with 180-day waiting time! Being a designer means having a lot of patience), vessel sink, brass plumbing fixtures (Nina said brass is making a comeback), and knobs Nina found while shopping in London. I asked what inspired the pink and green color palette. The green light suspended over the custom vanity, she said. Don’t forget to look up.
Next door is the underwater fantasy bathroom by Dompierre, wrapped in playful tropical fish wallpaper and sea glass tiles.
Back in the hallway, we met designer Nancy Burton of Harvey-Burton Interiors, who mistook our gushing over finishes to mean we were from a shelter magazine. (I was terribly flattered.) Nancy designed the Seaglass and Sandcastle bedrooms on the third floor, which are understated and sophisticated, with elegant but livable furnishings—exactly the sort of rooms where I’d like to spend a weekend. Nancy had a surprise partway through the design process, when she received a phone call to let her know that a good chunk of the Sandcastle bedroom was being given up to an elevator. She had to downsize to a twin bed, but even with the loss of space, the room’s size is just right. It’s done up in gold and cream, with hardwood floors, a mirror and console table in the entry, velvet headboard, and a little seating area with an ocean view. Designed with a single woman in mind, it’s glamorous without being over the top. I asked Nancy the worst question to ask any designer: What’s your favorite part of the room? After a moment, she graciously answered the room’s entrance.
That brought us to the end of third-floor hallway, which meant we’d reached the last room in the house. The gym and office area, designed by Vera Bahou Akruk of Designhaus Interiors, is accessible from the third floor and also from the spiral staircase in the Master Suite below. It is home to a dry sauna, gym area, and half bath—all decorated with colorful, vintage-style Cape May art. Off of the gym is an office, which holds my favorite thing in the entire house: a wide built-in desk overlooking the ocean. I’m not sure how much writing I’d get done sitting there, but oh—what a view. Take a good look at the sloping wall before you leave that room; that’s not metal or a vinyl covering but Venetian plaster.
This is MAC’s tenth designer show house, and if you’ve toured any of the past homes, this one will certainly not disappoint. From the fixtures to the furnishes to the small touches, there’s inspiration wherever your eye might land. No expense spared, indeed.
The Cape May Designer Show House is open for self-guided tours from April 27-May 24, May 29-June 14, August 24-September 6, and October 11-31. We spent about two hours walking through it, but you won’t be interviewing anyone, so it shouldn’t take you quite that long. Tours are $30 for adults and $15 for children ages 3-12. For more information and tickets, visit capemaymac.org/designer-show-house.
ETA: The home’s elevator is not available to the public on the tour and therefore this tour is not wheelchair accessible.