So the couple hired local preservationist and designer Jane Coslick as their project manager. Coslick has been saving homes for 25 years, and Tybee Island, where she had spent summers since childhood, is her specialty. Coslick, in turn, unleashed her secret weapon, carpenter Bruce McNall, who'd been restoring homes in the area for three decades.

"The house really needed work," says McNall. "It had to be almost totally rebuilt to meet current code." The foundation was in good shape, but the roof needed replacing. There was water damage on the first floor, the walls were out of square, the wiring faulty, and the plumbing sorely in need of an update. But that original heart pine had weathered the decades just fine.

So the team decided the home had to be stripped down to its shell—with a catch: Every original pine board would be saved and reused.

The project was McNall's daily job site for a year. Off came the heart-pine siding, up went hard-wearing, weather-resistant, fiber-cement Hardie plank. It wouldn't have to be painted annually, like pine, and it was one of several practical concessions the team made, including hurricane-rated replacement windows and a galvanized tin roof in place of the existing cedar shakes (in the old days, says Coslick, Tybee cottage roofs were painted tin). A handmade pine porch railing and exterior pine staircases, inspired by the originals, were added to the front and back of the house.

Inside, the Wilsons focused their attention on the house's second floor, where the main living quarters would be located. While the 70-foot-long wraparound porch ran the circumference of the house, in some places it was little more than a narrow passageway. So to create additional living space, they squared it off on the beachfront facade, pushing out about 16 feet. They found that by enclosing the porch on the adjacent south-facing side of the house, which also has water views, they could gain room for a master suite with a walk-in closet. And by removing an interior wall, they could open up the new kitchen and bumped-out eating area to the great room. Though the alterations were small, they yielded 30 percent more living area. Downstairs, the existing space was reconfigured into two bedroom suites, a family room, a playroom, and a mud/sand room where the old kitchen had been.

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