Designer MA Allen is often tasked with marrying the design needs and wants of couples. But when it came to her clients’ Emerald Isle, North Carolina, beach home, the Raleigh-based designer was tasked with pulling together an interior aesthetic that checked the boxes for two sisters. Built in 1999, the classic southern beach cottage was a family home for Allen’s clients and she and her associate, Margaret Richards, had designed both of their primary residences in Raleigh. “They’re both very fashion forward and have impeccable taste,” says Allen. “Margaret and I know both of them and their personal styles so well, and while they’re similar, they’re also different. So this project was really about coupling their individual personalities under one roof.”
The home had been damaged after Hurricane Florence blew through the Carolinas in 2018, so the designers were essentially starting from scratch, save for the original kitchen cabinetry. “Love of color was a consistency between the two sisters,” says Allen. “So I suggested we go big and bold with the cabinetry and paint it this strong marine teal.” To create a cohesive look, Allen painted the trim detail and crown molding throughout the same coastal hue.
Wanting the home to feel coastal but not kitschy, Allen and Richards looked to a mix of high and low pieces with balanced color and bold patterns to create the updated, stylish aesthetic that satisfied both sisters’ individual styles. “It feels modern overall, but timeless and fitting for a casual beach cottage,” says Allen. “It’s old yet new all in one breath. Color and pattern are always fun, especially at the beach. Adding in layers of details, like a custom pleated lamp shade on a vintage lamp, allows us as designers to do our thing while keeping to the budget of the client.”
The vibe also struck the perfect balance between being kid friendly and sophisticated enough for an adults-only beach getaway. “The sisters had a plan for the bedrooms as far as who would use each one, and a desire for the kids’ room to be able to hold plenty of people and be flexible for adult-only weekends, too,” says Allen, who designed the children’s bedroom with a pair of queen beds, suitable for both a gaggle of kids or a couple of adults.
The design in each space “represents a good equilibrium throughout—a mix of high and low, balanced colors and patterns, something old and something new in each space,” explains Allen. “I love that we were able to give an old house with so many memories a new look without losing any of its precious nostalgia.”
Allen updated and added a pop of bold color to the dining room by adding a fresh coat of pink lacquer to the vintage wishbone dining chairs. “Custom lacquer is a great way to tailor a vintage item to fit the design,” she says. “We all live in such a custom world, and with dining chairs, vintage options can be limiting at times.” She complemented the vintage dining table with a rattan banquette by Selamat and completed the space with a Selamat chandelier.
“In anticipation of the beach cottage install, I bought the vintage brass crab box from an antique market,” says Allen of the piece, which sits atop the coffee table by Bungalow 5 in the living room. Bold colors and patterns define the space with custom throw pillows by China Seas and Martin Lawrence Bullard for Kravet, Clarence House, and Designers Guild with Osborne & Little trim detail. Original artwork is by Susie Bettenhausen.
“In anticipation of the beach cottage install, I bought the vintage brass crab box from an antique market,” says Allen of the piece, which sits atop the coffee table by Bungalow 5 in the living room. Allen is all about the subtle details creating the biggest wow factor so she added the geometric pattern trim by Osborne & Little to the triangle patterned fabric by Designers Guild for maximum drama.
The dramatic Matthew Williamson for Osborne & Little wallpaper was the inspiration for one sister’s suite. “This sister is so fashion forward and on trend that having a wallcovering by a fashion designer like Matthew Williamson in the room was just too perfect,” says Allen. Original artwork is by Windy O’Connor, lamps by Robert Abbey, and ready-made coverlet by Peacock Alley with custom shams featuring a John Robshaw print.
It was important to the sisters that they incorporate artwork painted by their late father throughout their homes. The piece above the raspberry chair is by him.
In the second bedroom, Allen opted for a more tailored look, which fit the sister’s equally stylish though more buttoned-up style, and based the room’s design off the Jane Churchill for Cowtan & Tout fabric she used on both the headboard and window treatments. “Her room was really driven by function because she needed somewhere to put on makeup so the vintage desk doubles as a vanity and as a bedside table to optimize its function,” says Allen. Custom shams are by Schumacher and artwork is by Slim Aarons.
Allen treated the guest bathroom like a jewel box by adding a playful fish pattern wallpaper by Lulie Wallace. The bronze hardware by Colonial Bronze and Delta faucet add a dose of modernity and warmth to the space.
Even in the outdoor living space Allen wanted to introduce color and pattern, this time, though, via painted turquoise metal chairs, striped multicolor throw, and teak dining table. The colors pull in the array of pastel-colored beach homes Emerald Isle is known for.
The beach cottage needed to function seamlessly as an adults-only getaway or a family vacation hideout. So Allen maximized every inch of the guest bedroom for maximum guests by opting for a pair of streamlined rattan headboards by Kenian, which the designers custom painted in a canary yellow, that fit squarely into the allotted space. The coral-painted window trim pulls in the whimsical color palette of the Peacock Alley bed linens and custom pillows by Jim Thompson Studio B with Samuel & Sons cording. Artwork is by Soicher Marin.
The Jack-and-Jill guest bathroom on the top floor of the home features a colorful shower curtain from Urban Outfitters. A whimsical lantern sconce by Mitzi and classic chrome faucet by Mirabelle complete the look.
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