This Old Bungalow

The Mackey’s Transformed A Decaying Eastern Shore Abode Into A Fresh-Faced Beauty Filled With Light And Love

When you take on an old house renovation project, you expect to learn a lot: a lot about lumber, laminate and latticework. But, in the end, Cindy and Scott Mackey of Norfolk learned some far more important life lessons than that.

Cindy, a local publicist, and Scott, a creative director/writer, together make up Mackey Ink. For several years, the couple—both of whom spend a lot of time at their computers—had been searching for a weekend retreat that would feel remote, yet would be easily accessible.  

Though both Mackeys love the Outer Banks, minus the “drive-thrus and strip malls,” in the end they fell for the Eastern Shore’s “fields of sheep, horses in the pasture, tree-lined roads to estates, the beautiful crossing of the Bay, and taco stands.” And, as if that weren’t enough of a seduction, “At night there are a million stars. We have a special beach within nine miles of our cottage where we go for the sunset. There’s an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables at dozens of little farm stands. The light is incredible at dusk. And, the birds are in full force—hawks, owls, vulchers, turkeys, etc.”

Not offended when realtor Irene Carr proclaimed that a 750-square-foot wreck of a house “has your name on it,” Cindy drove up to see the place and sealed the deal after only a second look. Unable to get the 1930s American Craftsman-style bungalow out of her mind, she was smitten with the long-vacant home’s “great bones and integrity.” Looking back, she laughs, “Scott didn’t see it until after we bought it—and that’s probably a good thing.” But she advises, “Look for homes with architectural character and you can’t go wrong.”

Between September 2008, when she and Scott purchased the home, and St. Patrick’s Day 2009, when they spent the first night in their new abode, a hired crew replaced the entire electrical system, antiquated plumbing, and one bad joist; installed a new central-HVAC system; and refinished the floors, peeling off layers of carpet and vinyl to reveal the home’s original yellow pine floors.  

Someone who Cindy refers to as “the bravest man in the world” cleaned “every inch of the interior walls with some miracle solution” before priming and painting the entire interior “white dove.” And, finally, someone else “put in a pea gravel parking area because we learned that on the Eastern Shore, if you don’t specify a parking area, folks will pull their truck right up to the back door.”

After that, the couple rolled up their sleeves for weeks of brush clearing and yard work, attic cleaning and insulating, and porch and shed painting. Though there is great satisfaction in that kind of heavy labor, the real fun lay ahead—the “never-ending project” of transforming the interior into the “clean, simple and restful” retreat the couple had long sought.

“We have a 100-year-old house in Norfolk so we have rich historic colors and dark furnishings, etc.,” explains Cindy. “This cottage needed to be open and light—like the light on the Eastern Shore. I carried around paint colors in my wallet as a common palette.” Using white and the colors of the Bay as a springboard—as well as images torn from magazines and saved in a file folder—she set about furnishing the place with her keen eye for style in the most improbable places:  yard sales and thrift shops, filling in with hand-me-downs from friends, and making an exception for Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren bedding from T.J.Maxx. Though it has been four years, Cindy always has one eye peeled for the perfect piece. If it has meaning and reflects “the simple life on the shore” or her love affair with art, it will likely find its way to the little house they love on the Eastern Shore.

So just what were those life lessons learned along the way of transforming a decaying bungalow into a fresh-faced beauty? Says Cindy, “Turn off the TV. Turn up the music. Dance after dinner. Compete only at Scrabble. Sip wine on the porch. Look at the stars. Take the time to improve something, somewhere. And, do it with people you love.”