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Open to Nature

A serene Japanese-inspired home, designed by Marguerite Rodgers, fits right in on Long Beach Island.

By Memorial Day, the wetlands of Loveladies are a brilliant emerald green. The elegant egrets patrol the marshy waters like night watchmen while 4-foot grasses swaying in the wind provide just the right amount of privacy without spoiling the view.

This is the picture you'll get from most any vantage point in (or out of) the house that designer Marguerite "Meg" Rodgers built on Long Beach Island. Best known for her residential and hospitality work in Philadelphia (think Lacroix at the Rittenhouse or Rouge), Rodgers had already completed another home for her English client in Center City before he called in winter to tell her of his beach-house purchase. Could she cast her spell on it by summer? Having spent time in Asia, the senior executive at a food and beverage company had a love of Japanese-style architecture and believed, as Rodgers did, that the size of the home, just 1,500 square feet when they began, lent itself to an open plan.

Rodgers updated systems so the house could be used year-round, increased the living space by 20 percent by pushing exterior walls out 2 feet, pulled down walls to open up the house, and added guest bedrooms, a bath, and a large master suite. "Sometimes the challenge is paring down to the essentials," Rodgers says.

If letting nature in was the first launching point for the house's interior design, George Nakashima's work was the next. Rodgers suggested going to an auction of the late master woodworker's furniture at Freeman's Auction House in Philadelphia. Later, they added from his Moderne Gallery. The finds: a dining room table and chairs, shelving for the master bedroom and screened porch, and a sideboard for the living room. "The pieces were a great point of departure and consistent with the design intent of the house, and now the owner has begun an important collection," Rodgers says.

To complement the purchases, natural materials were used throughout - from warm mahogany on the floors, to rubbed bronze hardware, bamboo, and limestone. The gracious living spaces included Asian details like textural split bamboo doors to hide the flat-screen TV above the fireplace. Pappajohn Woodworking created tansu-inspired kitchen cabinetry, even concealing appliances behind mahogany doors. The island's stainless steel top contrasts with the wood. "It looks modern without looking cold and it reflects all of the warm materials in the room," Rodgers says.

In the master bath, artisan Chris Lynn was commissioned to create a linen mural of a Japanese mountain scene. "We wanted to have a sense of sanctuary in the master bath, a sense of depth and mystery," Rodgers says. "Chris, after researching 18 books before he even starts painting, can just channel it." Rodgers used brown natural limestone for the shower and long sink. A shoji screen covering the window brings in diffused light.

Where rooms are not lit naturally, lighting designer Sean O'Connor worked with Rodgers to create glowing options.

The platform hallway, which connects one end of the house to the other, has recessed lighting in the floors. "I wanted it to feel like you were on a lighted path." And it does. In the main living spaces, Rodgers incorporated floor-to-ceiling glass for views of the outdoors. The owners spend every weekend in the house from mid-May through mid-October (as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas) with friends and family from the United Kingdom, the West Coast, or Philadelphia.

Guests flow easily from the private, lattice-screened courtyard in the front of the house with its wide veranda, lounge seating, and bamboo plants, to the living room and out to the back deck. "The courtyard is like an inner sanctum," Rodgers said. She had Bob Phillips make tall copper candlesticks to light the area, and doors can be flung open to capture the bay breezes.

Rodgers' client was so taken by the house that upon its completion, he and his fiancee got married there. On a fall day, standing on a platform built on the bay deck, a local minister performed the ceremony.

One hundred guests gathered around the pool where flowers floated and drinks were served. After the dinner and dancing was over, the couple sailed off to their honeymoon - to China and Japan, of course.