Cottage Class

Coastal Living's 2011 Ultimate Beach House returns to Norfolk's East Beach and welcomes guests

Jim Pile


It takes a village to raise a cottage. That is, it takes the charm, attitude and philosophy of an award-winning neighborhood like Norfolk's East Beach to give rise to the ultimate coastal dwelling.

Situated between the epic Chesapeake Bay to the north and sparkling deep water marinas to the south, picturesque East Beach is one of only two communities in America to have been chosen more than once as the site of Coastal Living magazine's Ultimate Beach House.

And there's good reason for that. In 2005, developer East Beach Company, LLC joined forces with the City of Norfolk and the Norfolk Redevelopment & Housing Authority to recycle what East Beach Co. principal Bart Frye describes as an "abject-slum" the worst of the worst Norfolk had to offer into a model of gracious seaside living, a legacy for future generations.

Fashioned after traditional Atlantic coastal villages, c. early 1900s, this mixed-use pedestrian-friendly neighborhood possesses a welcoming, comfortable, tidy and establishedfeel by design. Narrow tree-lined streets, taller traditional-styled homes nestled snugly along them, rear-loading garages from alleyways, human-scaled walking paths and community parks with amenities aplenty combine to lend to this neighborhood its lemonade-on-the-front-porch feel. Not surprisingly, the phoenix that rose up out of the Ocean View ashes to become East Beach has been lauded as a top restored beach in America, a top five sustainable land development in the United States and as a Community of the Year twice.

And rising up from the sandy soil at the end of Coventry Lane, with unobstructed park and Bay views, is, indeed, the ultimate beach house. To call a 3,100-square-foot home with 814 square feet of ìfuture space on the third floor and a 423-square-foot studio carriage house a cottage seems an understatement not quite on the order of the summer cottage mansions along the Cliff Walk in Newport, R.I., but an understatement all the same.

Yet, for all of its luxe custom details, the home sports an undeniable "cottage-y" feel. Stepping from the gracious front porch into the casual, airy and comfy-chic great room, is it possible that your breathing becomes a little deeper, a little slower; that your heart becomes more expansive; and that you see the world with a veneer of gauzy white cotton freshness? Well, probably not, but it certainly seems that way.

Fresh and modern, yet nostalgic, this home if you'll allow me one improper moment appears to be the architectural love child of grandma and Ralph Lauren, provided grandma was Martha Stewart (with her post-prison quasi-hipness) ... and boasted Southern roots. It can't be easy to achieve such an effect, but it appears effortless.

Painted in broad brush strokes, the secret seems to be in a perfectly pitched balance of contrasts throughout. Hardy plank flooring lighter downstairs and darker up sets offtailored upholstered furniture that will hardly notice sandy feet (neither the dog's nor the kids) traipsing through. Handsome white trim work, especially on the ceilings, boasts a geometric simplicity rather than an ornate fussiness. And clean modern shapes play off of the occasional nod to aesthetic sensibilities of days gone by.

The same is true of textures and finishes at every turn. The woven design of a grasscloth rug or the rich tone of a burlap wall renders them just formal enough to meet crisp floral cotton upholstery fabric squarely in the middle. In the Carriage House, ottomans upholstered in mattress ticking look quite at home with a countertop whose shimmering flecks add a hint of formality, yet are reminiscent of a sandy stretch of beach on a sunny day. And in the upstairs master bath, Carrara marble is just classic enough think French bistro rather than French 5-star to cohabitate compatibly with casual bead-and board cabinetry whose teak accents lend a spiffy nautical feel.

Color palettes throughout are soothing like a soft breeze with the occasional refreshing surprise. Soft denim blue subway tile in the bright and lovely kitchen seems, at first, an unusual choice, for blue is not a food color, nor is this blue the perennially popular Provencal one with its evocation of French farmhouse kitchens. Yet, when you think of it, sky and water go with everything. In the upstairs children's room, a caramel-and-rose combination is stunning and unexpected. Even the home's artwork achieves a striking equipoise in which contemporary paintings coexist quite contentedly with framed fan coral or stretched squares of geometric textiles.

This home sports an open, light and breezy feeling that lives comfortably somewhere between today's open plan loft layouts and a more traditional division of space.Generously proportioned rooms, deep moldings, tall ceilings and broad windows offer the best of both worlds room to breathe within spaces having distinct functions.

For all of the deliciously down home/up-market details of architectural, interior and landscape design and products, as well as a list of project team members and sponsors, see Coastal Living magazine's "Style Guide," available at the house and online ( The house will also be featured in their October 2011 issue.

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