Leap of Faith
Mimi Reilly has a full résumé. The secret of her success? Creativity, curiosity, and courage — the courage to do it her way.
“You’ve got to have a sense of yourself,” she says, “what makes you happy, what makes you tick. And then you have to make the leap: You have to trust yourself.”
Mimi’s Cape Cod, Massachusetts, beach cottage, set high on a hill overgrown with rhododendrons, is filled with a style defined by self-knowledge and self-confidence. The house began life in 1907 as a tiny artist’s studio. In the 1940s it gained its first addition. The second came sometime in the last half century.
“By the time I saw it six years ago, it was a pretty sad little place,” Mimi recalls. Still, she knew immediately what the home had to offer. And that it was the perfect place to unfurl her exuberant furnishings. “It’s an instinctual thing. I could see its potential.”
Mimi followed these principles to cheer up her space:
1. Recognize and take advantage of decent architecture and good light. Mimi moved walls, remodeled the kitchen, and painted almost everything white, creating the kind of summery, beachy backdrop you’d expect to be furnished in casual, sandy neutrals and dewey, beach-glass pastels. But that’s not Mimi, not by a long shot. “I love white because it provides the opportunity for brilliant contrast,” she says. “I love the pop of big, bright color against white.”
2. Create distinction. Audacious color contrast is visible throughout Mimi’s house, but nowhere more riotously than in the living room, where 200-year-old bright blue Chinese ceramic birds perch on wall sconces surrounding a classic Venetian mirror, creating a loud, whimsical racket against white walls and a white sofa. “That’s the kind of contrast I adore,” Mimi says. “This is a simple little beach house, so I kept things unpretentious, vibrant, and fun.”
3. Focus on the details. The home’s relaxed and quirky nature belies Mimi’s tremendous gift for display. Rather than begging visitors to stare at artistic displays, each corner of this home gently trips and delights the eye, causing it to pause for a moment and ponder. Vignettes throughout the house — juxtaposing the old and new, shiny and matte, and strange and sublime — display originality. These vignettes adorn tabletops, shelves, pedestals, and the walls with the express intent to provoke, whether it’s thought, wonder, memory, or just a spontaneous smile.
Consider, for example, an ingenious arrangement of antique mirrors on a master bedroom wall. The mirrors have special meaning to Mimi because each one belonged to a woman in her family. There’s an aunt’s elegantly simple mirror above the bureau; a grandmother’s tall, thin mirror to the left; her mother-in-law’s ornate Italian mirror above and right; and her mother’s round starburst hanging, like a crown, atop the rest.
“It’s so nice to wake up to,” Mimi says. “[It’s] so interesting to contemplate what forms and styles spoke to each of the women in my family and to consider who they were and the influences in their lives.”