Laurie Kratochvil knows that even a star can use a little "work" now and then. The award-winning photo editor―responsible for scores of the country's best-known magazine covers―routinely transforms celebrities who are simply attractive into drop-dead stunners.
That's exactly what she did to the unassuming one-story cottage she purchased a decade ago in the coastal village of Southold, New York. On Arshamomaque Pond, a short walk from Long Island Sound, the two-bedroom house had an enviable location and a host of charming details. Laurie particularly liked the painted brick fireplace in the living room, vintage cupboards in the kitchen, and the corner cabinet built into one wall of the dining room. "Just walking in made me feel as though I'd escaped from life in the city," she says.
The one thing the house didn't have was space. "I loved the location and the view," Laurie says. "But there was no way I could have a big bedroom or the waterside screened porch off the dining room that I'd always wanted."
It took a few years, but―after careful consideration and enough yard sale expeditions to collect furnishings for the added space―Laurie decided to renovate. She contacted a friend, Jiri Boudnik, who owned an architecture and design firm in Manhattan. "I invited him over and showed him all these house pictures I'd ripped out of magazines. Then I said, 'This is what I'd like my house to look like. I don't really want to change it that much―just make it bigger.'"
Jiri's partner, Ann Clements, managed the project. Working together, the two traded ideas and changes, amending plans until they came up with an approach they both liked. Laurie got her screened porch on the back of the house; a large bedroom, bath, and library on the new second floor; and energy-efficient windows framing fabulous views of the water. The two-story profile melded beautifully with the original summer cottages in the village.
Starting in 2003, local builder Dan West set to work on the renovation. He tore off the old roof and built up, extending the existing chimney so that the living room fireplace would still draw. Then he framed out a high-ceiling master bedroom and bath, adding a long shed dormer with eight windows facing west. Downstairs, Dan and his crew built Laurie's prized porch and added French doors to the living room. For a final flourish, Dan extended the space with a broad set of wooden steps that lead directly from the living room to a sloping lawn and the water beyond.
When Dan finished construction, Laurie started decorating the formerly dark interior. She chose white oak floors for most of the first level, and tile for the small guest bath. But almost everywhere else, bamboo reigns. "It's absolutely great for flooring," she says. "It wears well, looks beautiful, and is environmentally responsible."
Inspired by an old magazine photograph from her files, she found a screened door for the pantry and asked her sister, Julee, to antique it a soft blue. Laurie completed the room by finding a local carpenter to slice the original kitchen door in half. The result has proven both practical and nostalgic. Not only can she work in the kitchen with a portion of the door open to the breeze, but she also is reminded of the Dutch door in her childhood home in California.
Four years after the construction crews finished, Laurie's love for her home by the sea has only grown. "I've been coming here for 16 years and I still breathe a sigh of relief when I see the house," she says. "And I'm not alone. All the people on my block said, 'You did a great job on this house―it still fits in.' To me, that was the ultimate compliment."
What Laurie Learned
Ask for help. Renovation projects involve countless decisions. Which tile did you specify? Do you want recessed light fixtures centered on doorways? How high should the carpenter mount drawer pulls? If making those calls alone seems intimidating, ask an architect or designer for assistance.
Work with a local builder. "I had a wonderful experience with Dan West," Laurie says. "I knew I wanted someone who'd lived here all his life and understood the true sense of a cottage and why small details matter."
Explore your options. "I didn't want to have to paint my house every 10 years. We get a lot of weather out here," Laurie says. Instead of wooden clapboards or shingles, she opted for HardiePlank, a composite material that looks traditional but stands up to punishing coastal weather. "I got a sample to make sure I liked it, then went ahead," she says. "I get so many positive comments, I feel it was a good decision."