Beach Beauty

A Main Line architect brings coastal New England to the Shore.

In Avalon, N.J., the most impressive castles aren’t the ones made of sand, but those nestled in the painstakingly preserved dunes on its southern end. Here, the wide beaches remain intact after last winter’s storms, the multimillion-dollar residences with ocean views shielded from the elements—and public scrutiny—behind a lush natural barrier.

Outside spaces take full advantage of stunning beachfront views.One such marvel is a two-year-old beachfront gem with white cedar shingles and a pronounced red cedar gambrel roof. It could easily be transplanted to the Massachusetts coastline, and yet it also fits perfectly among Avalon’s signature high-dollar abodes.

“That’s exactly what the client wanted,” says Peter Zimmerman, the Berwyn-based architect behind the project. “The home is reminiscent of Avalon beach houses of the 1920s and ’30s—many of which don’t exist anymore.”

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Zimmerman’s Newtown Square client loves Nantucket, but the Shore was much more convenient for a family with four young children. With his already-solid residential reputation in Nantucket and Cape Cod, Zimmerman was tasked with designing something similar in Avalon—a “traditionally inspired, multi-generational family retreat.”

The result: a home with an exterior in the classic Nantucket style and an interior that’s quintessential Jersey Shore. Thick with beach grass, scrub oak and pine trees, Avalon’s protected dunes restrict ocean views from the first floor, so Zimmerman went with an upside-down layout, positioning the main living area on the second floor. “In Nantucket and the Cape, there are very few upside-down houses,” Zimmerman points out.

The second floor’s kitchen, living room and dining room had to be large enough to accommodate visiting friends and extended family. “It has an open floor plan that provides easy circulation and expansive views toward the horizon from every room, combined with expansive porches and decks,” says Zimmerman. “The design decision was made to leave the second floor as an open space punctuated with columns and mill work, reinforcing a sense of visual transparency from the inside out onto the porch and deck spaces and the beach beyond.”

Open decks and covered porches on three sides of the house can be accessed from every level; the largest expanses are located on the ocean side. There’s a covered al fresco dining area off the kitchen, and an open area for entertaining. The third floor has the best views in the house, with its smaller porches off the master bedroom and home office.

The home’s first floor is reserved for guests. It has three bedrooms and a lounge area with a television. A nook with a refrigerator and sink helps guests feel at home. A centralized stairway winds through the center of the house, linking the bedrooms above and below with the main living spaces on the second floor.

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The third floor features three bedrooms—a master and two for the kids to share—and a home office. “The gambrel roof and dormers allowed us to maximize the interior volume and stay within the height limitations permitted by the zoning ordinance,” says Zimmerman.

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While Zimmerman perfected the design, Haverford-based interior designer Whitney Cutler was pulling together the overall beachy aesthetic for the home. “It was my first time working with Pete—he came highly recommended,” says Cutler. “We had a great team working on this house: Peter; Pohlig Builders, myself, and the client—who was very involved.”

The client wanted interiors that were warm, relaxed and cheerful. She was looking for sophistication, but nothing overly formal. Cutler achieved that balance, in part, by making compromises—like using cotton and linen fabrics instead of silks.

With the second floor’s open floor plan, Cutler had to make sure the spaces had continuity. So she went with random-width, oak-plank hardwood flooring stained dark chestnut. Basket-weave, rattan table lamps, a sisal area rug and other natural materials dominate. White shells, plates and other found objects displayed on built-in shelves pop against the soft-blue beadboard.

The main space for entertaining, the living room, has two seating areas, with two facing beige linen sofas, a pair of armchairs, and another solid-blue couch. “There are no fussy curtains,” says Cutler. “We just wanted to appreciate the architecture and the views.”

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In the dining room, bamboo chairs in a tortoise-shell finish line one side of the table, and a banquette provides seating on the other. “The client saw the banquette seating at another house and wanted it here,” says Cutler. “We laminated the fabric on the seat so it’s easier for the kids to slide in and out.”

When not in use, the banquette is covered with decorative throw pillows. A Paul Ferrante Nantucket Lantern hangs over the dining room table. That same piece—albeit smaller—can be found above the island in the kitchen. Here, a large picture window provides a view to an outdoor eating area. Its custom table can accommodate up to 14 guests.

A three-bay window in front of the kitchen sink provides additional views. White cabinets and subway tile backsplash give it a crisp look. The wooden island warms up the space, and custom breakfast bar stools upholstered in a light-blue fabric add color. Made to look like soapstone, the perimeter countertops are actually honed absolute black granite. “It’s more durable, which is great for a family with young kids,” says Cutler.

And since this is a vacation home, there are some unexpected surprises. When the owners’ daughters wanted a hot-pink bedroom, Cutler ran with it. The color dominates the room, so she kept the furnishings and accessories simple. The room is trimmed in white, and shutters cover the three windows.

White upholstered headboards on the twin beds offer flexibility in choosing bedding colors and patterns for the girls. A white coral light fixture and matching prints hang over the beds, while a white bamboo chair sits at a desk situated between them. “The room is really cute, and the girls love it,” says Cutler. “Why not have fun with a beach house?”

She followed the same philosophy in the second-floor powder room, with its powder-blue-and-cream wallpaper. “It’s very busy—but in the powder room, it works,” she says.

As for the house as a whole, Cutler couldn’t be more impressed. “It’s obviously new, but it has the charm of an old home,” she says.
Architect: Peter Zimmerman Architects, 828 Old Lancaster Road, Berwyn; (610) 647-6970,
Builder: Pohlig Builders, 274 Lancaster Ave., Suite 100, Malvern; (610) 647-4700,
Interior Designer: Morrison Fairfax Interiors, Whitney Cutler, Haverford; (610) 420-5684,

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