Blame It on the View

Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn
The Jerabeks planned on living small-until they fell in love with a big house by the sea.

During 39 years of marriage, Sydney and Charlie Jerabek have raised two children, moved nine times, and lived both inland and on the water. They now know one thing for sure: Living on the coast brings more joy. With Charlie's job transfer to Boston's North Shore, Sydney began hunting for a coastal home. Nothing huge―the kids had moved out. "We were finally ready to downsize," she says.

Sydney thought a carriage house would be perfect, and imagined there would be plenty around Beverly, Massachusetts. The rocky coast from Beverly to Gloucester has many grand waterfront homes―shingle-style, stone, and stucco―that once served as summer retreats for Boston's wealthy families. Quite a few residences had greenhouses, carriage houses, and stables. Over the years, some had been split from the main estates and sold.

But after weeks of searching, Sydney came up empty-handed. Then a real estate agent decided to show her a sprawling home built in 1860. "He called it an architectural gem," she recalls, "and said I would appreciate its special features." With a wide wraparound porch and emerald green lawn rolling down to the sea, the house―and the view―quickly erased Sydney's thoughts about downsizing. "I turned to my agent and said, 'I could just kill you for bringing me here!'" she says with a laugh.

Getting Charlie on board was another matter. Small still sounded good to him. With seven bedrooms, six baths, and eight fireplaces, the big house represented to Charlie a move in the wrong direction. So the Jerabeks' real-estate search continued, with more properties and more disappointments.

After each day of fruitless hunting, they would return to the circular drive in front of this grande dame by the sea. Finally, "I told Charlie to give me a chance to cozy it up," Sydney says. After she convinced her husband that there was cottage potential within all that square footage, the Jerabeks signed purchase papers and started transforming their new property into a comfortable beach home.

Sydney began by painting the walls and dark trim white. She left the wood floors alone, preferring the scuffed, lived-in look. Now, she doesn't worry when her grandchildren run around the house with sand on their feet or drive scooters across the entire first floor. Sydney also covered her furniture in white canvas slipcovers, so a quick wash cycle can erase whatever damage a full house might bring.

Furnishings and accessories reinforce the sense of ease here. When scouring shops and flea markets, Sydney and Charlie prefer simple antiques and wicker to formal pieces. "When we first got married, we had no budget for decorating, so we would go to auctions," Sydney says. "We still have furniture that we paid just $18 for." Coastal-theme accents, such as the pond yacht over the mantel, stencils of sailboats and sandpipers, and blue-and-white-stripe tableware give Sydney the comforts she wanted in a small home.

Despite having added a screened porch and poolside cabana, the Jerabeks feel as if they've returned to a simpler life. "It was a challenge to create cozy, beachy spaces with the rooms being so big," Sydney says. "But the message here is that this is a place to unwind, get comfortable, and put your feet up."

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