After a long, cold season of staring at our own four walls, it’s finally time to look ahead to breezier summer spaces. Whether you have your own beach haven that could use a refresh or just live for ogling someone else’s, read on for five vacation home makeovers that will conjure lazy days of enjoying cocktails on the terrace, paging through salt-crusted beach reads, and strolling barefoot along the water’s edge. Soak it all in! —Regan Fletcher Stephens
Table of Contents
1. An Avalon Beach Bungalow
Set the Mood for Summertime Vibes
You know the feeling — when the world suddenly seems to be moving a little slower, your deadlines are less pressing, and you can actually take a deep breath. It hits the moment you cross the bridge into Avalon. “It’s the same feeling that we want to invoke not only in my house, but in every beach house that I work on,” says designer Stephanie Kraus.
The founder of Wayne-based Stephanie Kraus Designs fell in love with a 1960s beach bungalow in 2015 and opted to keep its small footprint — three bedrooms in just 1,200 square feet. After a minimal renovation that included adding a new kitchen and light-flooding glass doors, she evoked that breezy feeling with a thoughtful layering of patterns and both bold and subtle touches — a wavy beaded mirror, a reclaimed-wood lamp — that recall the sea .
The small space works well for her family of five for now, but every square inch counts. “We wanted to infuse it with personality and color and a reflection of how we live,” she says. That meant approachable, casual, and “welcoming to everybody that walks in the door.”
Kraus chose white cabinets and classic subway tile for the new kitchen, forming a clean backdrop for the multi-use room. The beaded Made Goods chandelier and a Restoration Hardware table and chairs add driftwood-hued texture, which helps infuse the room with personality. “When you have a small space, you really need to make it interesting and special,” Kraus says.
“Since it’s an old-school beach house, it doesn’t have a lot of architectural interest in the interior,” Kraus notes matter-of-factly. She added color and texture to the space with vibrant window treatments and cool artwork, including framed textiles in shades of ocean blue.
2. A Second Home in St. Michaels
Creating a Family’s Pandemic-Era Retreat
MMichelle Gage, founder of Bryn Mawr-based Michelle Gage Interiors, started working with a pair of clients to design their primary residence in Philadelphia in 2017. When the pandemic erupted in March 2020, though, the homeowners decamped to their more spacious second home in St Michaels. Room by room, Gage, a former buyer for Anthropologie Home, imbued a fresh sensibility into the 4,500-square-foot 1880s-era colonial, set on 13 waterfront acres.
The house features scenic views and ample space, and the family often entertains. But Gage also focused on areas — like the covered porch — where the owners could soak up the serene surroundings. “We took an empty shell and turned it into an extension of the home — a space where they can read, have a drink and sit by the water,” Gage says. And while the home is splashed with shades of blue and green and nature-inspired touches, it’s not just a beach house: “It’s much more livable,” she says.
In the prime bedroom, the client wanted rich jewel tones, vintage rugs and velvet. Gage brought in a custom peacock blue tufted chaise lounge and wallpaper from British brand House of Hackney that lends “a moody, slightly masculine vibe.”
To offset the lush and atmospheric bedroom, Gage made the dining room bright while bringing in the outside. “You have this beautiful view from the sliding glass doors, so we didn’t want the wallpaper in here to compete with it,” she explains. They went through dozens of options to find the winner, a black-and-white print with a bit of a botanical feel.
Because they left color off the walls, Gage added it to the ceiling — a pale blue shade to pull out the sky, along with a green rug and “plenty of seating for family and friends.” While it may or may not be original to the house, the antique crystal-and-brass chandelier was in the dining room when the owners bought the historic property and adds “a touch of vintage nostalgia,” Gage says. “It allowed us to bring in newer, sturdy furnishings that hold up to hosting family and friends while keeping the total design in line with the age of the home.”
3. A Barnegat Light Enclave
Conjuring Golden Retro Vibes
LAdy Soule and Michael Ryan Handley found Goldie Point, their Barnegat Light beach home, almost by accident. The Philly-based couple were looking for a vacation refuge in the Catskills, but in the pandemic, the real estate market there was too hot. “We bid on five places and were completely outbid with full cash offers over asking price,” Soule recalls.
They’d visited Barnegat Light the summer before, renting an Airbnb to escape the city for a bit, and rode their bikes past a cool home for sale. When they finally toured it months later, they knew it was the one. “You could see the potential immediately as you walked in,” Soule says.
The 1950s beach cottage sleeps 10, radiating mid-century seashore charm from its cedar-shingled siding to its wrap-around deck. Some minor structural changes had big impacts, including knocking down a built-in bookshelf to open up the layout on the third floor. For the interiors, Soule, chief creative director at Urban Outfitters, enlisted her friend Lisa Hines, who runs the design firm House of Memphis.
“It was really nice to be working with someone who actually knew my personality as well as I know myself,” Soule says. In fact, many of the couple’s friends contributed to making the home a beachside haven.
“We wanted a place that our friends and family couldn’t resist coming to, to play games, listen to records, enjoy wine, and truly spend quality time together,” says Soule. “It’s like all the love of our beautiful, creative, quirky friends and family has come together to create the perfect spot.”
Hines and Soule planned to renovate the kitchen but struggled with pandemic-prompted labor and supply-chain issues. Instead, they collaborated on mixing the perfect shade of green, which they used to paint the cabinets and add a bright note to the small kitchen.
The open-beam ceilings were already white, but Handley, a visual artist, painted the hardwood floors white as well. “It’s a shorter ceiling, so we wanted to make sure it looked as light and open as possible,” Soule says. The white shag rug and curvilinear gold coffee table solidify the aesthetic.
Soule commissioned colleague Christine Petroni to design the mod print for the gauzy curtains in the upstairs bedroom, and Chris Easter, another friend, sewed them. “We just ran out to get a sewing machine at Walmart,” says Soule. “We would go to the beach all day, then at night, when we were watching a movie, he made the curtains.” The same friend gifted a set of pillows he made using vintage Vera Neumann scarves.
4. To Margate Home
Inspired by Manhattan Beach
When you first see interior photos of this 3,500-square-foot rancher, you might not guess it’s just a block from the beach in Margate. The home — envisioned by Brittany Hakimfar of Main Line’s Far Studio with a mix of natural materials, modern artwork, and a bold statement fireplace — feels miles away from the usual Shore spaces.
“I reference homes that I’ve designed in Manhattan Beach,” says Hakimfar, who spent six years working in Los Angeles. “It’s by the beach, but those homes still feel really earthy and textured. I wanted to bring in a lot of different materials but still keep it light.”
Because the family uses the home year-round, the designer aimed to make it welcoming in all seasons: “I didn’t want it to be just a summer beach house. I wanted them to be able to go in the fall and feel like it still had a warm, cozy vibe.” To achieve that, she used neutral, earthy tones while layering in rugs and textiles for texture.
Hakimfar replaced the bedroom carpet with white oak floors but kept the limestone in the main living areas, as it’s durable and practical for the beach. The jute rugs and stain-resistant white sofas stand up well to the family’s three young sons and two dogs.
“I would never want clients to feel like they can’t sit on a certain piece of furniture,” Hakimfar says. “I always want interiors to feel beautiful but also livable.”
When Hakimfar decided to sheath the outdated fireplace in black zellige tile from Clé tile, she couldn’t find any inspirational photos to show her clients. Luckily, they trusted her vision of her: The result has become the room’s striking focal point. “It was the perfect pop in a neutral space,” she says. “It’s definitely one of the showpieces of the home.”
It was originally splashed in old-school glass tile, but the designer laid drywall over the back and finished the piece in an ebonized black stain. The clients had a vintage black-and-white photograph depicting women at the beach that Hakimfar hung behind the bar.
5. A Bayfront Avalon Home
Designed to Get Better With Age
When Tallulah (aka Karen) Regan, owner of Tallulah & Bird Interior Design, set out to design a sprawling bayfront home in Avalon, she kept one thing top of mind: “They really like having family and friends around,” she says of her clients. “All summer long, they’re cooking and hanging out. They really use that house.”
Wyndmoor-based Regan took charge of it all, from the layout to the Bermuda shutters and window boxes spilling with hydrangeas to the bathroom towels. “Every single solitary thing that we picked, we did so with entertaining in mind,” she says.
The 6,800-square-foot home has six bedrooms, seven full baths and two half baths, a gourmet kitchen with an 11-foot concrete island, and a great room with a veranda that overlooks the pool deck and dock. An en suite bunk room over the garage sleeps an additional eight.
Because of the house’s sweeping size and the family’s attempt to welcome many guests, Regan chose furniture, fabrics and finishes that won’t just withstand the traffic but will get better as time passes. Elements like reclaimed wood floors and performance fabrics hold up as family and guests track in sand and lounge in swimsuits on the deck. “Some new houses age and just look like they’ve aged,” Regan says. “I like patina.”
Regan’s goal was to make the house “timeless and well-curated without feeling too precious.” The great room, with its front-row bay views and ample light, is anchored by a reclaimed wood bar with a statement light fixture that elegantly toes a line between vintage and modern. A wall of curio cabinets filled with leather-bound books and driftwood injects the room with visual interest and an air of lived-in authenticity. “It’s the place where you could put a little jar of shells,” says the designer. “I just didn’t want to go buy a million shells. If you’re going to have a collection like that, you’re gonna have to go collect them.”
Published as “Your Vacation Home Is Calling” in the May 2022 issue of philadelphia magazine.