Coastal Chic

Designer MA Allen tackles one of her biggest projects: The renovation of her own beach cottage.

THE HOME WAS A COMPLETE DISASTER when MA Allen and her husband, Chester, first saw the Atlantic Beach property. “It was dark and dingy and the floor plan was completely chopped up,” says Allen of the 1970s beach cottage. “It was sold fully furnished and we kept only four things if that tells you anything!” But the home was, in fact, a real estate score for the Raleigh-based couple. “What’s so strange about Atlantic Beach is that there are very few properties with a marsh view,” explains Allen, a designer. “This home had the most remarkable marsh view and a beautiful western orientation with the most gorgeous sunsets there. We could immediately see the potential from the moment we saw it online.”

The two-story cottage had little to love on the interior, however. “We pretty much knew that at some point the home would need a gut renovation,” she says. “But for now, we wanted to do a mini reno that would get us through the next seven to 10 years.”

The “mini” renovation, which was completed over four to five months, included tearing down interior walls to open up the upstairs main living space to make the kitchen and living and dining rooms relatable and flexible for various uses. The once closed-off kitchen was transformed into a more functional space for cooking and entertaining. “Chester and I are both big cooks, so it had to function well for prep and cooking,” says Allen.

Existing wood paneling on the walls was stripped, a partition removed, popcorn ceilings sanded away, trim and interior moldings replaced, and light blonde wood floors added as well as doors and hardware updated. All of the bathrooms throughout were fully renovated, as well. The “mini reno,” as Allen affectionately referred to it, resulted in big changes for the dated property.

The true magic, though, stemmed from Allen’s interior design, which truly transformed the home from a dark and dated 70s beach cottage to the modern stunner it is today. “This home, when we first saw it listed for sale, felt so right,” she says. “It was undeniable that it had potential and we knew we had to have it. With all of our projects, I like to see the property first and take into account the vernacular and architecture of the area and pull together different puzzle pieces and let them guide my design. From the client and architecture I get a clear path, and this was no different.”

Initially, the designer’s plan for the cottage was a traditional beach home. But that idea was turned on its head once Allen saw the home post-renovation. “When I closedmy eyes and envisioned a beach house it was definitely on a more traditional front,” she explains. “My Raleigh home is eclectic and classic, but I’m more formulaic by nature. This beach cottage, though, it’s just more casual, and, as such, the interior design needed to reflect that.”

For Allen, that meant color via vibrant fabrics complemented with textures and a mixture of old and found pieces. “I couldn’t have a house without color,” she explains. “In this home, there’s texture, natural materials, high-gloss finishes. It’s a mix of color, but an unexpected pairing of colors in the main living space. Everything we do is a balance of color and texture and pattern and prints, and that’s what creates this overall look and feel.”

Allen began with all-white walls to serve as the blank canvas for her designs, which left things open for bold doses of color throughout. In the living room, a pair of swivel chairs in Matthew Williamson fabric drove the whole concept for the space including the palette. A stunning vintage credenza pops with citron accents, which coordinate with the trim on the window treatment fabric as well as the throw pillows. In the adjacent dining room, vintage dining chairs were lacquered a stunning coral while the wide cabana striped fabric by Robert Allen lends a playful vibe to the room.

And even when Allen used a more subtle palette in some of the more private spaces such as the guest bedrooms, color was the primary player in the overall aesthetic. The room she lovingly refers to as the “map room” features varying shades of saturat d and soft blues, choices that were inspired by the sea charts left behind by the previous owners. “We bought the house furnished and kept all sea charts, knowing I’d like to do something with them,” she says of using them to wallpaper the bedroom.

Like many designers’ personal homes, the beach cottage continues to be a work in progress, with Allen tweaking various things here and there. But ultimately, with the renovation and interior design overhaul, the home has been a sanctuary for the family. “This home just felt so right for us,” says Allen. “My favorite thing to do is sit out on the deck as the sun is setting and watch all of the boats pull up. It’s exactly what we wanted when we saw this home.”