Robbie’s beach house is a top pick in my book, and I think you’ll like it too.
She was my boss when I was digging trenches in the world of advertising, and in addition to scheming about marketing strategies, we spent a lot of time on and off the clock fantasizing about architecture, home improvement, classic decor, and her never-ending list of projects.
Her home renovation is definitely one for the books. As in, the swoon-worthy coffee table books or scandalous centerfold of Coastal Living. My amateur photographs don’t do it justice, but I thought a fun before-and-after using scanned photos from her renovation archives might make for an inspiring story.
I’ll start with the front entryway.
When it comes to beach front property, the front of the house faces the water, not the road. When she and her husband Michael bought the home in 2004, it was deemed “the ugly house on the block”… and on the beach.
Although ugly or not, she saw its potential. And a killer view.
A dated facade, small deck, un-landscaped yard, and wooded lot, she gradually updated the exterior and made monumental changes, which included adding the most grand, graceful, and elegant deck of any cottage on that stretch of Lake Ontario.
I should note early on that none of this renovation was architect-driven; it was developed solely by Robbie’s own sense of design and form. And that is amazing.
While the scraggly trees and bushes were cleared early on in their ownership, the formal landscaping project only occurred this summer, which should be ever-reassuring to you if you think all projects need to be done immediately. Pacing your home improvement to-do’s allow the true vision to unfold and morph over time. What they’ve done so far is incredible.
Entering the house is enough to stop you in your tracks, but it wouldn’t have if you had visited 5 years ago.
As I mentioned, Robbie and Michael added a sizable addition onto the back of their house, extending the living space from being modest and confined, to expansive and bright. The living and dining area is the best example of open-concept that I’ve seen in person. Ever.
I didn’t photograph it (because I forgot) but through the paned doors on the right is the media room. If you can envision it, it’s fully-finished in dark brown stained paneling, lined with shelving, and would be the coziest place to sit with hot chocolate and watch a movie at night. Plus, the big bonus is that it keeps the electronics, always borderline unsightly, tucked away from sight.
Fun fact #1: The boards you see in the peak of the entryway were from the original deck. Robbie’s as resourceful as they come, and I’m forever tapping her brain for tips on restoring salvage.
To stand in the doorway next to the mirror you see in that previous picture, the room is most easily visible in full. The oceanic palette of whites, grays, and browns is tranquil, cozy, and transports you to a perfect seaside Cape Cod retreat. The hardwoods were only refinished and stained last year – the grand finale to a cottage long in the making.
They tell me that there were too many walls in place to be able to provide a clear “before” image of their living space, but the location of the supporting beam should help you understand where old walls stood. A few photos taken of the living room during the expansion construction help to show the extent of the addition.
And that white Boxer pup is Bruno. He was Cody’s beach buddy who’s missed greatly, now officially commemorated in blog form.
Both that last photo and the next were taken from the perspective from the kitchen looking out towards the beach; I’ll be using that railing of the staircase as a featured point in the next few shots to help you understand the open layout.
Robbie’s taste in hardware and decor is impeccable. A cohesive combination of classics from Restoration Hardware and Crate & Barrel, mixed with local salvage treasures.
Take this Ethan Allen chandelier, and the leather ottoman in the background, for example.
Fun fact #2: The chandelier that hung in my old living room was the predecessor to the one currently installed here.
Fun fact #3: Robbie’s mastered the slip cover, swapping out darker covers for the ivories come fall and winter, so you can feel all cozy and snuggly while you sit and watch the lake effect snow pile up on the deck. Easy transformation from summer to fall, achievable by anyone.
Yesterday post (that you can read here if you missed it) showed you a little shiplap bathroom sneak peek, since Robbie’s first floor full bathroom was the inspiration for my own little shiplap wall project (which is going really well, but not without unexpected snafus). There aren’t any “befores” of the bathroom because it didn’t exist originally; Robbie actually likes to cite that the only untouched and unaltered space in the house is a very small closet near the kitchen.
The shiplap wall details are really just the start, as she’s selected her fixtures and lighting incredibly well to both fit the space, and make them feel like they’ve been there for 80 years. While there aren’t windows on the walls, they added a pretty skylight to let in the natural beachy brightness and opted for wall sconces for nighttime ambiance.
And a final bathroom close-up of the shiplap. Because if you don’t love it as much as me based on what you’ve seen already… maybe this will help.
You’d hardly know it, but I’m saving the best for last.
I actually feel like I need a drumroll before I show you pictures of the kitchen that was completed only within the last 18-months. <DDDRRRRUUUUMMMMROOOOOLLLLL because I don’t actually know how to get all onomatopoeia on that desired effect>
She generously found a bunch of “befores” of the kitchen, which clearly demonstrate what a labor of love this project was. This photo, taken from the same perspective as the last, is one of the first ever snapped of the kitchen during their initial walk-through of the home.
To brighten the room up, they painted the cabinetry white. An improvement, still not renovated yet. I hope you’re noticing how small the room is (the old garage was once on the other side of that man, who I can only imagine is Michael, but was relocated on the property to allow for a large kitchen). Lovely floor. Lovelier dog.
In 2007, the kitchen was given permission to open. Even a gutted state, you can really tell how large it was about to be. This is from a different perspective from the last, but the staircase is through that plastic sheet on the left.
Perhaps the best part of the kitchen is in the use of those cabinets that were bought in full from a local salvage shop. I’m not the least bit confident that I could walk into a store, see a set of cabinetry, and decide on the spot how to reconfigure it entirely for use in a new kitchen, but Robbie could. It amazes me to this day; all of the pieces sat in her garage for months while slowly being refinished: dark stain on the bottom drawers, white paint on the top. They left the original hardware, and it shines once again in this new space.
Topped with carerra marble, backed with clean, white subway tile, accented with beautiful new appliances, and accessorized with a 14-foot table (another fantastic salvage find from a local antique shop which I believe is rooted back as being a table used by seamstresses), the kitchen has been transformed into a bright, airy, functional space (where you don’t mind if people are crowding in the kitchen during parties).
I wasn’t about to get all nosey with the Rebel in someone’s bedroom, so believe me that the three upstairs bedrooms and two bathrooms have also been transformed in similar fashion. Even more inspiringly, the third floor attic was refinished into an open, bright space filled with 3 side-by-side twin beds. Perfect for visiting kids.
I really hope you enjoyed it, and have to give a big thank you to Robbie + Michael for letting me photograph your home. May it soon be its own coffee table book.