I'll never forget the day my husband and I bought our second home. It was 1993, and we'd just made the two hour trek from Philadelphia to Avalon, New Jersey. Avalon, one of several small beach towns stretching along The Jersey Shoreline, is located just 45 minutes south of Atlantic City. At the time, Avalon was considered "up and coming," although I struggle to remember Avalon as anything but an impeccably groomed beach town that caters to upper class suburban Philadelphians.
We drove into town that day just to look and get a sense of the market, we left, the proud owners of a one story fixer-upper.
Over the next few months we spent each and every weekend working on that house, and over the next eight years we spent each and every summer enjoying it with friends and family. And although there were times when our two-bedroom bungalow did not fulfill all our needs, we never could have imagined the transformation we were about to endure. In 2001, when the price of land in Avalon skyrocketed, we realized it was time to say goodbye to our little house. Avalon was no longer "up and coming," it was "just up," and soon our bungalow would be over shadowed by large neighboring homes. That fall, the demolition began. We knocked down our little home and in its place built a three story modern vacation destination which comfortably sleeps eight.
Involved from its conception, the property was a blank slate for my husband and I to design and customize. The decisions were endless and at times, overwhelming. Lingering in the back of our minds was the limitations of one constraint: eight weeks out of the summer season, we’d open our home to vacationers looking for a weekly rental property. As the design process progressed, I began to struggle with on ongoing feeling of confliction. Conflicted by my personal taste, and that which would please the majority of our future renters, I questioned everything. Would anyone like our house? Are we priced right? Could our personal touches scare off potential vacationers? Are the materials we’ve chosen durable? Is this a kid-friendly environment? My head was cloudy with questions as we met with our builder to review the new floor plans.
One conflict of interest showed its ugly face early over a discussion about the 2nd floor’s main living area. Positioning the kitchen as center, I envisioned a large dining room opposite the kitchen facing south.
“A dining room? How often are you going to use a dining room at a beach house?" our builder asked smugly. "That space is more commonly used to sleep additional guests," he added. I grew quite. Images of my family scrambling for a seat at the table to indulge in breakfast pancakes, or surf and turf, or better yet, my infamous red, white and blue potato salad filled my head. This man didn't get it, obviously. A large dining table isn’t just a place for mealtime, it’s where the group lingers over dirty dishes telling stories and making jokes. Selfishly I know we had to have a dining room. Worried about the affects of my decision, I tried broadening my perspective to include needs above and beyond my own.
So, when it came to the building and construction of our three outdoor decks, I compromised. We used a vinyl material, versus natural wood, because of its durability and maintenance free benefits.
When questions regarding the entry way arose, our builder suggested we select a flooring material that was not only durable, but more importantly, easy to clean. "Guests will parade in off the beach looking for a place to dump their sandy shoes," he informed me. With that in mind, we took his advice and chose a relatively inexpensive neutral grey tile that hides everything!
Throughout the rest of the home, we selected simple blonde wood planks for the majority of the flooring. "Lighter wood shows less wear than the darker stained wood – this is a great choice for a rental property," remarked the builder.
With some of the bigger decisions behind us, it was time to focus on the fun stuff! Furniture, fabric and accessories would play a big role in establishing the style and mood of the home. With that in mind, I drew inspiration from our surroundings – blue ocean waters, sunny weather, happy people and a casual air. I defined my ideal look as “coastal chic.” I envisioned bright cheerful colors that would pop against crisp white walls. I hunted for furniture pieces that had a causal vibe, but also had clean edges and straight lines to help maintain a tailored, modern look.
Inspired by the colors and patterns commonly found in Hampton style homes, we chose a graphic blue and white print as the living room mainstay. Captivated by its color and whimsical print, I opted for a bold and busy accent fabric. A simple white coffee table, white side tables and stools help to balance the room and work as moveable seating. In a home with frequent guests, a lot of seating was a necessity.
My husband, being the rational thinker that he is, brought up a good idea, “we might want to really consider a sofa with slip covers,” he said. From a practical side, slips covers made logical sense. But, they are a hassle to clean and press, not to mention, slip covers create a very relaxed, unkempt look. After much discussion, we agreed that slip covers just didn’t fit with “coastal chic.” Instead, we opted for a material that was thicker, which would allow it to stand up to heavy wear and tear. We utilize this mentality when time came to selecting area rugs. For the living room, we went with a large sisal rug. Sisal is a long-lasting, eco friendly material that works great in high traffic areas. It can stand up to a lot of abuse, accidental spills and even aid in allergy proofing a particular area. Aside from the sisal area rug, we chose rugs that were usable in either indoor or outdoor environments.
For window treatments, we opted for white wood blinds and shutters. They helped keep things clean and simple, light and airy. Wood was a safer option (as compared to fabric), and reminded me of the plantation shutters commonly found in southern homes or tropical climates.
With the expense of all this new furniture, window treatments, rugs, etc. we decided artwork and wall décor was one area where we could save some money. We looked to local artists for large prints, and for smaller pieces, we filled the white walls with inexpensive post cards of the beach, and our own personal photos.
We finally completed our rebuild in early 2002. Since then, we’ve been renting our home to new and returning families each and every summer. Luckily, the majority of our renters were respectful to our home as if it was their own. Often, our renters would comment on what initially attracted them to our beach house over the hundreds of others available to rent, and commonly they would remark in favor of the clean décor and comfortable feeling our home created.
As I look back on the all the thought, time, hard work and of course, the difficult decision making that came with the territory of owning a second home, I can honestly say it was all worth it. What I realize now that I didn’t realize then, is that a second home should be as fun and care free to design and it is to enjoy. If I had only one piece of advice to give it would be this: Don’t over think it! Instead, think about the times you and your family will share in this home. Cater to your needs first, and listen to your gut. If something grabs your attention, or, if there is particular style you like best, just go for it! A second home should be easy to take care of, easy to maintain, easy to live in and easy to love.