Jay and Diane Speakman bring their work home with them. And their house is more beautiful because of it.
“We have a lifestyle store,” Jay says. “And we live the lifestyle.”
Their shop, Sesame and Lilies in Cannon Beach, and their cottage in Gearhart, share a distinctive aesthetic. It is an eclectic, romantic mix of contemporary and antique furnishings with rustic natural elements. The inspiration is part French and English country, part Maine and Oregon seaside, and, according to Jay, all Diane.
“I think it’s very Old World,” she says of the look. “It has that frozen-in-time kind of feel to it.”
But it’s not too precious to serve the needs of a creative modern family. The home has a music room in the daylight basement for Jay’s songwriting, a sunlit upstairs studio where Diane works on her paintings, and space for daughter Rachel, 15, to hang her own drawings. Daughter Lauren, 22, moved out for college and beyond, but the guest room, like the rest of the house, is a blend of white furniture and authentic antique touches.
Diane started collecting antiques at age 13 and ran an antiques business with her mother while still in high school.
“My eye has gotten much better,” she says with a laugh.
At first glance, it appears that the entire house — including walls, trim, furniture, rugs and accessories — is white. In the living room, a couch, slip-covered in white, sits comfortably with two ornately carved French antique chairs upholstered in white. The kitchen walls and cabinets look pale as sun-bleached seashells. And even the bedrooms and bedding are pristine white. So it’s surprising that, instead of feeling cold and sterile, the home is cozy and visually intriguing as an old curiosity shop.
“There are a billion shades of white,” says Diane. “You layer them, bring in texture.”
When you slow down and look more closely, you notice the subtle shades of gray, blue and green in the house.
“The value is similar. That’s the trick,” she says. “If everything is the same value, it doesn’t compete. When things are different colors and different values, that’s when it looks hodgepodge. There’s too much going on for the eye to take in.”
Print throw pillows and a geometric pattern rug in soft dove gray colors echo a tarnished silver lamp in a corner. There’s a hint of grayish-green on the kitchen walls. Some of the furniture pieces are painted in subtle sea shades and the edges left chipped, worn like proud scars.
"The atmosphere really lends itself to the blues and the grays and the softer colors,” Diane says of the rainy Northwest. “The light being harsher in [places such as] Santa Fe or Tucson, the pastel colors seem out of place. But here on the Coast, they blend in with the environment.”
The Speakmans met in Santa Fe, N.M., where both were working artists. He did blacksmithing and she painted. But Jay, who grew up in Maine and Hawaii, longed to get back to the sea.
“This is about the same longitude as Maine and I can surf,” he says. “We wanted a rural area where the kids could walk to school — the Leave it to Beaver paradigm — a small town near a big city where we could have a pretty rural lifestyle without being completely out in the sticks.”
They looked for an old house to fix up, and found the market limited compared to ancient towns in New England.
“We were shocked to find they’d all been torn down, burned down, or renovated beyond recognition,” Jay says.
Their 1890s house sits near what historians believe is an ancient tribal trade route. Native people used the inland waterways to canoe miles up and down the Coast — the open ocean was too dangerous — or walked along a trail, part of which is still used by Gearhart residents. The area also was on the Chautauqua circuit, an organization founded in New York in 1874 to bring culture and entertainment to rural areas through traveling guest speakers.
The front porch had long ago been enclosed — it now serves as their living room — but the house was authentic with authentic problems.
“The foundation was caving in, the walls were leaning, and the doors and windows were jamming,” says Jay. “It was pretty bad.”
They eventually had the house rewired, plumbed and roofed. Instead of repairing the foundation, they opted to dig it out and start anew to create a daylight basement in the process. The added square footage houses not only Jay’s music room but also their home office, laundry room and antiques repair workshop. They left the original wiring, unused but intact, on the ceiling of the master bedroom as a visual reminder of the home’s past.
The Speakmans' classic cottage in Gearhart was built in the 1890s.
// Photo by Lincoln Barbour
Diane brings a retailer’s knack for display and a fine arts eye to each room. The way the bleached bones sit on an end table next to a bowl of seashells by a chair angled just so is as artfully arranged as a painted still life. It doesn’t feel precious but rather intentional, the kind of examined life that John Ruskin, the Victorian-era art critic, collector, watercolorist, essayist, early environmentalist and author of Sesame and Lilies from which the Speakmans’ store takes its name, would approve.
“Rachel had a friend over and at breakfast I said, ‘Pick out your favorite fork and plate!’ The girl looked at us, and said, “Seriously?” Diane deadpans a teen’s utter lack of enthusiasm, then laughs. “Yes, seriously! We love our dishes. We love our forks and spoons.”