“Great Front Porch Culture” Convinced This Family to Leave Life at Sea for a Vermont Victorian

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For nearly 12 years, boating around the world suited chef-turned-designer Sara Manning. Since she was 19, she lived and worked on yachts, first as a steward and then as a cook. She even met her husband, Drew, a longtime captain, and had their first daughter, Hadley, at sea in Europe. Then, when the nomadic lifestyle became too complicated with a toddler, she set her sights on land. “Vermont was the first place that popped in my head,” she recalls. Drew had gone to college in the state, and while Sara grew up in California, she had been born there, so it made sense. They quickly outgrew their first house in the area after welcoming their second daughter, Mabel. A backyard, they thought, would be great—but when they found an old Victorian in 2020, they gained more than that. “Our street is so lovely. There’s this great front porch culture in the summer where everyone’s out,” says Sara. 

mom braiding daughters hair on proch
Vintage Patio Furniture, Anjou

Luckily, a narrow footprint doesn’t phase Sara—she’s used to galleys. “My history with boats has made me creative in ways and helped me create flow in small spaces so no one feels on top of each other,” she shares. A fresh perspective was much needed: The house had only ever had two other owners in its lifetime and seemingly hadn’t been renovated since the 1980s.

wood kitchen cabients and island
Custom Cabinetry, Skipjack Building; Pendant Lights, DeVol; Art, Soapbox Arts.  
white zellige backsplash
Tile, Clé Tile.

Still, Sara knew she didn’t want to go around knocking down walls. “After living with an open-concept kitchen in our last place, I realized I didn’t want that again. I didn’t want to be sitting in the living room staring at all our dishes,” she says. 

cane dining chairs
Chairs, CB2; Ceramics, Rory Pots; Table, Amazon.

Instead, she decided to extend the kitchen’s depth just enough to encompass an extra-long island that comfortably seats four and a built-in banquette overlooking the backyard. The custom maple cabinetry by Daniel Cockerline of Skipjack Building and double ovens were easy splurges to justify, given she was acting as the general contractor during the yearlong renovation for free.

family around table
Lamp, Etsy; Curtains, Crate & Barrel; Ceramics, Sarah Noel Ceramics.

“It was a lot of learning things, like, oh, if the drywallers don’t come, then the electricians are delayed,” Sara shares. While the home’s layout might not be up to most modern living standards (there are no en suite bathrooms), she decided to make it work as is. She even stuck with the dark green exterior but went over it with a few fresh coats and covered the trim in the same hue for a 21st-century spin. 

purple sofa
Sofa, Sixpenny; Mirror, Erik Donaldson.
sofa near stiars
Sofa, CB2; Rug, Design Within Reach; Table, Betsu Studio; Art, Soapbox Arts.
blue staircase railing
Shelf, Furlough Wood; Runner, Etsy; Bench, Target; Florals, Boheme Blooms.

It was the decision to paint the staircase periwinkle blue that led to adding more color to the house. “Those stairs make me so happy. It was like the gateway,” she says with a laugh. She recruited artist Anne Meredith to paint a mural in the dining room based on Josef Frank fabric. The wallpaper in the girls’ shared bedroom was the only DIY she personally tackled—for everything else, she tapped local creatives. “There’s such a community here of skilled artists and craftspeople, and a lot of them happen to be our friends,” says Sara. “We brought them together to help create this vision.” 

colorful mural wallpaper
Chairs, Haven; Pendant Light, Rory Pots; Mural (inspired by Josef Frank’s Hawaii textile) by Anne Meredith Design; Florals, Boheme Blooms.
mural in bathroom
Mermaid Mural by Charlotte Dworshak and Sarah Letteney.
sculptural bedside table
Side Table, Erik Donaldson; Lighting, Sabine Marcel for IKEA; Art, Soapbox Arts.

One handy craftsperson constructed the “superbougie” playhouse in the backyard, but to Drew’s disappointment, the kids didn’t take to using it right away. “The next day, they wanted to make a tent out of umbrellas…right next to their new playhouse,” says Sara. “So we threatened to turn it into a sauna.” 

mom and kids on bed
Bedding, Society of Wanderers; Wallpaper, Mind the Gap; Lamp, Target. Girl’s Top, Rhoan.
horse bedroom wallpaper
Bed, Wayfair; Lamp, Urban Outfitters; Side Table, IKEA; Side Table Pulls, Etsy

Sauna or no sauna, having roots has been a welcome change, Sara admits. “It feels like a really good time of life to be grounded,” she says. “We still do a couple of big chunks of travel during the year, but it’s nice to have this home and community to come back to.”

The Goods

Mirage Wallpaper, Mind the Gap ($239 per roll)

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White Zellige Tile, Cle Tile ($19.95 per square foot)

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Neva Sofa, Sixpenny ($2,699)

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Nadia White Cane Chair (set of 4), CB2 ($1,449)

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Vermont Makers and Businesses Sara Loves

Rory Pots

I love Rory’s ceramics, especially her lighting. Pro tip: Follow her on Instagram and score some great deals via her seconds sales in her Stories.

Sarah Noel Ceramics

Sarah’s ceramics are colorful and bring such whimsy to our home. I especially love her espresso cups and cereal bowls.

Haven

My set of dining room chairs is a favorite Haven purchase. Also, [the owner] Maggie always gives preference to in-store purchasing before listing items online.

Erik Donaldson

My most recent favorites from Erik are my squiggly metal and glass side table and my large oddly shaped mirror in the living room.

Soapbox Arts

The owner of this contemporary gallery space, Patricia, is community minded and generous with her time and expertise. My two favorite pieces at Soapbox right now are Lines 85 by Dana Piazza and We Feel Her Absence by Corrine Yonce.

Rhoan

Julia, the beauty and brains behind Rhoan, has been my style icon forever. I often browse for inspiration and, when I’m feeling splurgy, acquisition.

Rack and Ruin Jewelry

Molly and her team create beautiful heirloom-quality jewelry. My two favorite pieces are both from R&R: the Aegean charm necklace (it’s always a conversation starter) and the Pisces stud. 

Project Object Vintage 

They have a preference for natural fibers that somehow always feel modern and relevant. For the cold-climate dweller, they have a great selection of quality knitwear and vintage outerwear.

Furlough Wood

Ally Silberkleit is a talented woodworker who crafted a beautiful curvy shelf for our entryway. Recently she hasn’t been creating as much new work because she has been busy building her home and sharing that adventure on @stumphustler.

Lydia Geisel Avatar

Lydia Geisel

Home Editor

Lydia Geisel has been on the editorial team at Domino since 2017. Today, she writes and edits home and renovation stories, including house tours, before and afters, and DIYs, and leads our design news coverage. She lives in New York City.

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