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A Seaside Cottage Looks Small, Lives Large

How to expand a small 1950s home on the water without sacrificing its charm? Raise the ceilings, add on in back, and create more rooms outdoors

Dream Seaside House

Photo by Laura Moss

Lots of people fantasize about having a house at the beach—and for some, the ultimate dream is to live there all year long. For the owner of this light-and-airy home in Bay Head, New Jersey, what started as a weekend getaway grew into an everyday dream come true.

Shown: The once basic 1950s cottage got a curb-appeal redo with Folk Victorian gables, an extended front landing leading to double French doors, pale blue shutters, a garden arch, a new paver driveway, and a welcoming lamp post.

Architect: Christopher Rice, Rice and Brown Architects, Sea Girt, NJ; 732-449-9055

Atlantic Adjacent Location

Photo by Laura Moss

When he first bought the place, the 1950s one-story cottage was pretty basic: less than 1,200 square feet, with a living room, two bedrooms, a single bath, an eat-in kitchen, and a back porch ringed with old-school louvered windows. Located a few blocks from the Atlantic, it had plenty of "let's go to the beach" appeal.

Shown: The extended front landing serves as a rocking-chair porch.

Cool Cottage Look

Photo by Laura Moss

It also had a lot of moisture. The original cellulose wallboard had absorbed groundwater over the years, and the oak floors, absent an underlying vapor barrier, were warping from below.

Shown Window boxes set on white-painted wood brackets add to the cottage aesthetic, as do the aqua-painted board-and-batten shutters.

Exterior landscaping: Joe Crapanzano, Green with Perfection, Howell, NJ; 732-458-8426

Expanded for Visitors

Photo by Laura Moss

Clearly, the cottage needed work. But the owner had even bigger plans for the little place. So he called on local general contractor Pete Patterson to not only repair the structure but also add on to it—two more bedrooms, another bath, a dining room, and extra areas for entertaining were on the wish list—to better accommodate family members and friends who come to visit, especially in summer months.

Shown: Seafoam-blue paint and bleached beadboard set a beachy tone in the entry. New double French doors with sidelights channel light into the interior.

Interior designer: Jules Duffy, Jules Duffy Designs, Madison, NJ; 973-845-2810

Vaulted Kitchen Ceiling

Photo by Laura Moss

Enter architect Christopher Rice. His mandate was simple: Keep the cottage looking modest and authentic from the street—to stay true to its roots and in accordance with strict local building codes—while updating the interior and increasing its functionality. His clever solution? A C-shaped rear addition that would wrap around a private courtyard. The old porch would become a new dining room, open to the renovated kitchen on one side and a new family room on another; the two bedrooms curl off the gathering space. Says Rice, "Now the house actually rambles a little from when you step in the front door and wind your way through to the private patio in back."

Shown: Still a tidy 150 square feet, the kitchen has a loftier feel thanks to an all-white color scheme and a vaulted ceiling. Retro diner stools pull up to the table island, which is open below to keep the room feeling airy.

Kitchen designer: Mark C. Arthur, Ideal Kitchens, Point Pleasant Beach, NJ; 732-892-0384

Pendant light: Vaughan Designs

Faucet: Rohl

Clever Stepped Kitchen Cabinetry

Photo by Laura Moss

To get the existing house into shape, Patterson gutted the walls and pulled up the warped oak floors, insulating everywhere before laying down new narrow oak planks and adding wallboard. The work also required all-new mechanicals and HVAC throughout. Next, Patterson's team set out to renovate the old rooms and enlarge the house with an eye toward bringing the outdoors in via generous windows and three pairs of French doors. Fortunately, the sixth-of-an-acre lot had just enough space to allow for that rear wing. "What's nice is, it still feels like a small house, but a really unique one, with built-in details and decorative touches," says Patterson.

Shown: Stepped cabinetry over the range (behind the island) camouflages the vent hood and allows for a mantel shelf to display decorative objects.

Chicken Wire Cabinet Fronts

Photo by Laura Moss

Today, as you make your way to the kitchen, the midpoint of the house's public rooms, you can practically feel the cottage opening up. During the renovation, Patterson vaulted the kitchen's 7½-foot ceiling to 15 feet at its peak, a move that enabled the addition of four skylights that bathe the space with sunlight; the generous ceiling height made room for dramatically stepped kitchen cabinets, capped with deep crown molding. An old porch adjacent to the kitchen became the dining room, with six-over-six windows wrapping the outer wall. (The cut corner makes room for a pathway from the front yard to the back courtyard.) Two steps lead down into the new family room, a design decision that allowed a generous 10-foot ceiling height without having to raise the roof out front. Since the now-year-round house didn't have a fireplace, a fieldstone hearth was added, flanked by built-in bookcases that hide electronics and wiring, and window-backed lower display shelves that illuminate the owner's Wedgwood pitchers.

Shown: Farmhouse-style chicken wire replaces glass on some cabinets.

Earthy, Seaside Decorative Elements

Photo by Laura Moss

Local interior designer Jules Duffy then set out to meld the new section with the old. "We wanted a cohesive look, using lots of natural elements," she says. Hardwood floors flow throughout, with wide pine planks in the addition, stained the same tone as the oak up front. Beadboard is a recurring cottage-style theme, with bleached boards covering the ceilings in the front entry, living room, and original bedrooms, as well as some built-ins; painted boards serve as the kitchen ceiling as well as the wainscot and cabinetry in the family room. From the pale aqua in the entryway, the color scheme shifts into deeper earth tones as you move through the house. And a range of earthy textures—sea-grass and sisal rugs, a raw-wood mantel that resembles driftwood, a shell-encrusted chandelier—play up the seaside locale.

Shown: The new fieldstone hearth satisfied the homeowner's request for a not-too-traditional fireplace in the family room. Cabinets on either side conceal media equipment.

Beadboard Storage Diguises

Photo by Laura Moss

For all the inviting interiors, though, the house's secret jewel is the private courtyard in back, tucked inside the curve of the addition. Landscape designer Joseph Crapanzano planted a 14-foot-tall arborvitae hedge opposite the stone patio, creating a private outdoor room that's ideal for entertaining after a day spent on the beach. Expanding into much of the old backyard had another major bonus: a practically maintenance-free lot. Crapanzano transformed the green space that was left out front by removing old trees that hid the house and adding mixed-shrub plantings.

Shown: Simple, cottage-style beadboard media-cabinet doors conceal a flat-screen.

Handcrafted Marble Coffee Table

Photo by Laura Moss

While the modest facade belies the sprawling home that unfolds through those French doors, it also reflects the renovation as a whole. Patterson left the original scale and roofline intact, so the place still feels in tune with its neighbors. But he took things up a notch style-wise by accenting the exterior with gables that have decorative detailing much like those on nearby Folk Victorian cottages, as well as a pergola, board-and-batten shutters, and an extended front landing that serves as a rocking-chair porch.

Shown: The interior designer had a local ironworker weld the extra-long coffee table base, which she topped with marble. The adjoining dining room occupies the footprint of the old louvered-window porch.

Coffee table: Custom; Jules Duffy Designs

Sofa, armchairs, and end tables: Kravet

Sunken Living Room

Photo by Laura Moss

Superstorm Sandy dealt a devastating blow to much of the area back in 2012 and sent waves rolling down this particular street. But, miraculously, the water receded just before it reached the house. In the years since, full-time residents and summer vacationers alike have breathed fresh life into the laid-back beach town, where kids on bikes still have their run of the place, cruising down blocks lined with little cottages like this one, all the way to the ocean. A dreamy existence, indeed.

Shown: By lowering the family-room floor, the architect was able to achieve a higher ceiling without changing the exterior roofline.

Table lamps: Christopher Spitzmiller

Enclosed Porch Turned Dining Room

Photo by Laura Moss

The dining room—previously an enclosed porch—is lined with windows. A cut corner makes room for a pathway outside that leads straight to the backyard.

Beachy Original Bedroom

Photo by Laura Moss

A bedroom in the original part of the house got a bleached beadboard ceiling; the iron bed and blue-and-white color scheme fit the home's cottage style.

Striped Bathroom

Photo by Laura Moss

Wide-striped wallpaper and a freestanding vanity make this tidy new bathroom feel larger. The mirror reflects the shower's mosaic tile.

Private Bluestone Patio

Photo by Laura Moss

The home's rear addition hugs this bluestone patio, where a row of tall evergreens lend total privacy. The roof over the dining room is railed, widow's-walk style, to conceal the modern skylights.

Floor Plan

Floor plan by Ian Worpole

The 800 square feet added to the back of the house fits the family room, a bath, and two bedrooms (the new dining room is the rebuilt porch).