“It’s absolutely intoxicating,” says Kathy Chesen, who can see as far as Atlantic City from the living room of her Seventh Street Shore house on a clear day. “Even on rainy days, I love being here.”
A popular Avalon tale is that the great Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962 washed away First through Sixth streets. In truth, First through Fifth never existed, because the relentless tides prevented developers from moving further north. Sixth Street, though, did succumb to erosion, forcing the old Avalon Hotel’s move to Eighth Street.
Whatever the case, the shifting panorama forever unfolding in front of Kathy and Neil Chesen’s home is stunning. It’s been seven years since they traded up from their last Avalon home to build this waterfront property. “As soon as we saw a house go on the market we bought it, with plans to rebuild,” says Kathy.
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The couple assembled an accomplished team of designers and builders, including Avalon-based architect Don Zacker and Matt Pappas, president of Brandywine Developers, also headquartered on Seven Mile Island. Interior designer Wendy Spampinato of West Conshohocken had worked with the Chesens on their house in Malvern and another vacation home in Vermont. She brought in Peter Cardamone, owner of Blue Bell Kitchens in Springhouse, to design the kitchen and the cabinetry in the bathrooms.
Plans called for a classic, three-story home that takes full advantage of the ocean views. The upside-down plan common in Avalon and other Shore towns has bedrooms on the first floor, the kitchen, dining room, living room and additional space just above, and a master suite on the third floor. In lieu of another bedroom on the second floor, the Chesens chose a Florida room, separated from the dining room by a set of French doors.
Stairs in the living room lead to a Juliet balcony with an entrance to the master suite, with its bedroom, master bath, walk-in closet and bonus room. “We were able to maximize the amount of space on the third floor,” says Pappas.
The Chesens have two sons in their early 20s, so privacy for young and old is key. The “kids” are free to enjoy themselves on the first level, with its three bedrooms and living area.
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“When I’m upstairs in the master suite, I can’t hear anything on the first floor,” says Kathy. “Which is perfect, since my sons and their friends obviously stay up much later than my husband and I.” And the home is always open to guests. “There’s a space for everyone in this house,” she says.
Not surprisingly, the focal point of the main living space is the ocean, seen clearly through a wall of windows and doors leading to the front deck. With water and sky as inspiration, Spampinato used natural color tones throughout the interiors. “The house was supposed to blend in with the ocean, which it does,” she says.
The Chesens wanted the home to feel like a turn-of-the-century Shore house “that had been there forever.” Spampinato couldn’t have agreed more, and she avoided “cutesy, beach stuff” in the interiors. “It’s a fine balance decorating a beach house,” says Spampinato. “It’s important not to do too much beach-related accessories—and when you do, always use high-quality, beautiful pieces.”
Hence, subtle touches like the charming anchors on the backs of the kitchen barstools and herons hand-painted by London artist Alice Gibbons on the backsplash. “A little bit of nautical goes a long way,” says Spampinato. “It’s a vacation house, so it should be fun and a little whimsical.”
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Kathy Chesen concurs. “I wanted subtle touches that reminded you where you were,” she says.
Kathy’s style leans toward the traditional. She loves antiques, and her primary residence is a 1730s-era historic farmhouse. But she’s still willing to take some chances. “She’s really involved in the process of picking and choosing fabrics, materials and furniture,” says Spampinato. “She’s great to work with because she really does listen. She’ll say, ‘Take me out of the box a little bit.’”
The main living area has an open floor plan, so flow was crucial. Brazilian cherrywood floors are found throughout the central spaces, including the open kitchen, which is situated between the living and dining rooms.
“Space is so precious—especially in Shore houses,” says the kitchen’s designer, Peter Cardamone.
Though small, the kitchen has all the accoutrements of a gourmet kitchen. “It was a fun challenge,” says Cardamone.
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The putty-colored cabinetry is accented by the soapstone counters kept un-oiled for a more rustic aesthetic. A curved island provides both plenty of workspace for prepping meals and also seats up to six. “We used every square inch of that kitchen,” Cardamone says. “Kathy was really surprised with everything we were able to get in.”
Kitchen storage finds its way into the living room in the form of two window-bench seats designed by Cardamone on either side of the fireplace. Handmade, sand-colored tiles from New Hampshire surround the fireplace, making it a focal point. “Tile was the best choice, since the walls surrounding the fireplace and the ceiling are covered in planks of untreated, bleached wood,” says Spampinato. “That wood helps add to the feeling of an established New England Shore house.”
In the end, the Chesens are glad they opted for the cozy Florida room. “We use it a lot,” Kathy says. “So we know we made the right choice.”
Large blocks of yellow-gold French tile were a perfect find for the sunroom. “I trust Wendy so much that I let her pick things before I even see them,” says Kathy. “These tiles are an example.”
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Ample seating comes in the form of a couch and oversized chairs with footstools, and sliding glass doors lead out to a deck overlooking the backyard. “The use of yellow on the floor tiles and paint on the walls makes this a very inviting, comfortable room,” Kathy says. “Wendy has an amazing eye for color. She knows exactly what works in a room.”
When they’re not on the deck enjoying the view, the Chesens like to spend as much time as possible by the pool. And a cabana with a kitchenette and grill makes entertaining easy. “It’s a great space out here,” says Kathy. “It’s quiet and relaxing.”
A custom Shore retreat may be a luxury, but it was also a lot of work. Kathy, for one, wouldn’t have done a single thing differently. “It turned out exactly how I wanted it,” she says. “Everyone who contributed to it is amazing. They made the experience a pleasure.”
Architect: The Zacker Group, 2123 Dune Drive, Avalon, N.J.; (609) 967-7245, zackergrouparchitects.com.
Builder: Brandywine Developers, 3101 Dune Drive, Suite 106, Avalon, N.J.; (609) 967-4400, brandywinedevelopers.com.
Interior Designer: WS Interiors Decorating & Design, 812 Fayette St., Conshohocken, (610) 828-0417.
Kitchen Designer: Bluebell Kitchens, 1104 Bethlehem Pike, Springhouse; (215) 646-5442, bluebellkitchens.com.