The Big Reveal: Inside My Beach-House-to-Be

THE WAITING GAME continues. I’ve officially “gone to contract” on the Long Island beach house deal I’ve been patiently coddling for almost two years now. The seller has signed the contract of sale, my down payment has been delivered, the survey is completed; so is the title search. What remains before we can set a closing date: an amended Certificate of Occupancy for a 14’x18′ outbuilding — a future pool house, studio, guest cottage, workshop — with a good wood floor, skylights, a plumbed sink, and electricity. I want that building to be legal, and it’s the seller’s responsibility to make it so — a matter of closing out some paperwork, as the structure itself was built to code, with proper permits. So I wait to be informed when that is done, and have no idea how long that may take. Meanwhile, I linger in limbo while the weather here in downstate New York turns cold. The house is neither heated nor insulated, and there won’t be much I can do there through the winter months.

What I can do now is dream. I have been poring over back issues of Elle Decor, House Beautiful, and Country Home, seeking inspiration but not really finding it. That’s because the house — a long, narrow cracker-box built in the 1940s, then appended in the 1960s with a shorter wing set perpendicular to the first — has a modernist air in its simplicity, but a set of French doors added later confuses the issue. It’s not a cottage. It’s not a cabin. It’s not a ranch. It’s neither traditional nor modern. It doesn’t appear to have been designed by an architect; it just kind of happened. Soon it’s going to happen to me, and I finally feel confident enough of that to publish a few photos of the interior taken during a recent inspection with a trusted contractor. It’s still chock full of the seller’s belongings, but you’ll get the idea.

Let me clear up one misconception friends seem to have about me and this house: yes, it needs a load of work, but no, I’m not planning to “renovate.” Not right away, anyhow. I’m planning to live in it — camp in it, even — in a state of Bohemian funkiness for at least the first year [I just checked the definition of ‘funky’ to make sure it means what I want it to mean: modern and stylish in an unconventional or striking way, according to Merriam Webster. Exactly!] Primarily because I won’t have the money to do much else, but also because I just want to relax into being there before making any big plans. I’m looking forward to cleaning and painting immediately, and replacing appliances if need be, but things like a heating system and all new windows (the house will eventually need more than 20 of them) and a new deck and outdoor shower will have to wait. As for a new pool (the original vinyl one is merely a hole in the ground), that will have to wait a long time — five years, perhaps. Meanwhile, Gardiner’s Bay is a few hundred yards down the road.

Assuming the water runs and the lights go on, which they should, the first call I’m going to make is to an arborist. The half-acre has an excessive number of tall oak trees, and I want to open up the property and let in light — maybe even enough for a vegetable garden. Hopefully, much of that clearing can be accomplished this winter while the trees are bare.

In my low-budget decorating dreams I’m seeing a whitewash, sisal carpets, and a few pieces of mid-century furniture. What are you seeing? Dwell-magazine minimalism, or kilims and color? Thanks for your thoughts, however stray or unformed; they’ll go right into my mental files.

Above: The 14’x30′ living room in the short section of the L-shaped house has a working fireplace.

The larger of two bedrooms, above

One of two bathrooms, both needing work

The kitchen is open to…

A second living room, essentially — or dining/family room, with another working fireplace at the end of the long leg of the L (covered at present with plywood)

The outbuilding that’s causing the current delay

20 thoughts on “The Big Reveal: Inside My Beach-House-to-Be

  1. 1. a coat of white paint over all the wood paneling and the ceiling to give light and a good sense of the space.
    2. windows replaced with double hung – cottage look.
    3. insulation and sheetrock.
    4. large windows and small kitchen for the pool house. Do it now and you’ll have rental possibilities.
    5. cottage means almost any furniture will work.

    We “renovated” a shack on Fire Island 4 years ago. It went from something similar to what I see in your photos “hippie squat” to charming cottage. Budget was a big issue. We kept most of the furniture that was left, tossed the horrible stuff, had a deck sale of the “objects d’art”, bought a lovely sofa on Craig’s list and built an Ikea kitchen.

    Sounds like a fun project.

  2. OOHHH..the budget friendly possibilities are endless! It does require a set of floor plans drawn to scale to insure that your design ideas will work–a rock bottom price for a great sofa won’t help if it proportionally doesn’t fit the space.

  3. Love it! Congratulations and happy restoring. BTW, check out ABC Carpet and Home’s basement for sisal and carpet remnants. I’ll have to visit you this winter! xo

  4. I don’t want my ideas in here; I want to read about and see your ideas as they take shape. I have no doubt this place will be stunning when you are finished with it. If you can tolerate it, I totally agree with the waiting period. Best to catch the light different times of the day/seasons. Get the feel of the flow of the place. I’ve made some unfortunate mistakes in places I’ve done because they had to be done on a deadline and I had not yet lived in the space.

  5. I love it….what does something like this cost? Just a ball park estimate since I don’t want to be too nosy but might want to purchase something like this for myself in the future. Thank you, Jack

  6. omg. it’s fantastic.

    i have a house that came with a living room with similar look (altho I got a stone fireplace and yours is that great tile — I think I prefer yours). everyone said to paint or whitewash the wood but I couldn’t decide — or decided to decide late — and so it’s still wood which is now a choice. I really do love that look. it’s a little harder to get — and maybe harder to rent. but if you like Roman and WIlliams-style funky, that kind of paneling really gives a lot of look. “paneling” is a bad word, but it’s not all bad.

    besides, you have so much painted wood elsewhere.

    will you ever heat it? If so, something has to be insulated. I only did the roof and below the floors of my living room, but that also dictates.

    (once that building is legal, won’t your taxes go way up? I’m trying to get a bunkie on my property off the tax man’s grid – it’s got no plumbing, no heat — and it’s been hard)

  7. hi folks, thanks for your congratulations, suggestions, and most of all, for “getting” the house. Many people don’t. J, I’m with you on all but #3; hoping to avoid sheetrocking over the interior wood walls, which I like for texture and dimension. Which brings me to Delft’s question, will I heat it? Yes, eventually, and that means I’ll have to insulate the walls for sure, as well as the ceiling and floor…but how will I do the walls and still retain the wood? Perhaps by insulating on the the outside and re-siding the house. Remains to be seen. A big job, in any case. As to my taxes going up when the pool shed becomes legal, I don’t think so — it’s been on the survey all along. Anyway, I’m planning to grieve the taxes (I think that’s the expression) next spring. I believe the current owner has been paying taxes for a pool, when all there is is a hole in the ground. Jack, the price will soon be a matter of public record; I’m paying 500K, which is hardly a bargain or a steal, but I think it’s a fair price for a unique house on a large, secluded piece of property near the water. Keep those thoughts coming! It’s really helpful to hear other’s reactions after nursing this project in solitude for so long.

  8. You’ll have your pick of several, ML, but it looks like you might have to fight it out with Nancy for the pool house.

  9. I’m making a reservation for the pool house as well. I’d think of this deal as buying the pool house and land for 500K and getting the main house thrown in for free. I like the idea of insulating from the outside and leaving the inside the way it is.

  10. The house is great. Congratulations! My first impression is crowded. When you move in keep it simple and look at what’s yours that you love. That may be filling another space right now. If so, just concentrate on the necessities, what you have and replace only with what you love or the necessities that you like and can afford. What a joy to have new beginnings!

  11. check out Sue Skeen’s latest project via World of Interiors…i also lived in a farm tenants camp house this summer..very similar aesthetic..keep it simple, horizontal, naive

  12. Enjoyed seeing your latest purchase! I second the idea to live in it awhile before making any major decisions, though don’t wait too long. I’m about to renovate a kitchen I had when I moved in, and it’s 20 yrs. later! Life seems to get in the way sometimes of our plans.

    Best of luck with your project.


  13. Thanks, all, for the additional thoughts and wishes. Keep it simple and live only with what you love are classic pieces of advice, always worth remembering. Ellen, I did take a look at Sue Skeen’s project Thanks for calling it to my attention — I get your drift, though it is way more spartan than I could ever live with.

  14. Congratulations on your new place, hope you are moving in sooner rather than later. I look forward to following your adventure. Sorry no suggestions from me, I have enough problems with making decisions for my own place.

  15. Congratulations Cara — I have faith that you will again be successful shaping the personality of this house with your unique style. Check out the Pope-Leighey House in Virginia– a Wright house with some great minimalist interiors….and put my name on the list for a night in the pool house.
    If you need a night in Long Beach, come on down – we even have heat!

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