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Your Home | Design Refreshers

Was there hope for this shabby beach house or was it a tear down?

It was dark, drab, and decrepit, but new owners wondered if it could be saved.

In the kitchen, Cube pendants from Tech Lighting add contemporary flair. The kitchen cabinetry is painted Benjamin Moore Stratford Blue. The counter stools are from West Elm.Anthony Crisafulli

Looking past the knotty pine slat walls, decrepit carpets, and small, scant windows, interior designer Maura O’Malley and architect Anne Snelling-Lee saw a charming cottage bathed in light. “It was very dark and run-down, but it faces the water,” Snelling-Lee says. “We imagined ample views and everything in white.”

Drawn to Newport County, Rhode Island, for its low-key vibe, the homeowners, a couple whose three kids are in their 20s, weren’t eager to tear down the 1,450-square-foot, single-story dwelling, despite its sorry state. Instead, the team collaborated on a scheme that would improve the ventilation, circulation, and connection to the outdoors. “It was a very introverted house,” says Snelling-Lee. “You’re right there on the water, but you could hardly catch a glimpse.”


A big, comfy sofa was a top priority, and closing off the main entry created valuable space in the living room and adjoining kitchen to accommodate an oversize sectional. That also allowed for additional cabinetry that runs from the kitchen into the living room, connecting the two areas. The mudroom at the other end of the kitchen became the primary entry point, and a new slider routes traffic to the back deck.

Lifting the low beams in the kitchen and living room allowed Snelling-Lee to enlarge the windows over the sofa for added sunlight in the expanded space. She also inserted sliders on the other side of the room, creating an ocean vista and access to the back patio.

New skylights pull in more light, and white goes a long way in creating exactly the bright yet cozy effect the team envisioned. Original wood paneling inspired the shiplap walls, which further enhance the quintessential beach house feel. The palette emphasizes earthy woods and soft blue and green tones pulled from the outdoors.

O’Malley kept the furnishings understated and consistent throughout for an easy flow. “We didn’t want the eye to catch on too many things,” she explains. The perfectly scaled new furnishings include pieces that look as if they were “found” — a nod to area homes that have remained unchanged for generations.


Custom paint and country-style wooden knobs liven up budget-friendly kitchen cabinetry from IKEA. Distressed-wood shelves over the farm sink echo the carved mango-wood counter stools, which tie into the live-edge wood coffee table in the living room. The original stone fireplace grounds the space, while contemporary artwork by Sherri Belassen from Jules Place in Boston punches it up.

A previous addition on the other side of the mudroom-turned-main entry houses the master suite, where Snelling-Lee raised the beams and inserted a skylight and four small windows above the bed. A few subtle spots of color keep the focus on the view.

The two other bedrooms gained dressers from Maine Cottage in soft colors, textural throws, simply patterned rugs, and local artwork. In the bedroom that sleeps three, four new windows that mimic those in the master provide a sightline to the ocean from the other end of the house.

Both bathrooms hold rustic reclaimed-wood vanities handmade in Texas by FoxDen Decor. Sticking to the bathrooms’ original layouts meant the slab-on-grade floors stayed where they were. Still, the master bath gained a soaking tub with a center drain aligned over the original shower drain; the shower was relocated outdoors.

The home’s updated style, which the homeowner describes as “New England meets Santa Monica,” suits the family perfectly. “When you step inside,” O’Malley says, “you look at the ocean, breathe out, and forget everything else.”



The living room before the renovation. Maura O’Malley
The kitchen as it looked before the house was overhauled. Maura O’Malley
In the living/dining room, indigo blue pillows from Jayson Home and Calypso St. Barth perk up the Montauk Sofa sectional. Salt chairs from Design Within Reach have a compact footprint, and a picnic bench tucks neatly under the table when not in use. Walls and ceilings throughout are painted Benjamin Moore White Dove, a warm white that contributes to the lived-in feel.Anthony Crisafulli
In the master bedroom, the colors of the striped settee from Terrain and washed-blue Dubois dresser from Wisteria – used as a night stand – echo the ocean view opposite the bed. The patterned throw rugs beside the bed are from Mohr & McPherson in Boston.Anthony Crisafulli
In the master bath, a photo by Anthony-Masterson hangs above Kohler Purist fixtures, wall-mounted to save space. The dip-dyed reclaimed teak stool is from Serena & Lily.Anthony Crisafulli
In the guest room, the high-back bench from Rejuvenation looks like a family heirloom. The Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co. Isaac sconces are adjustable.Anthony Crisafulli

Marni Elyse Katz is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.