This Colorful Carolina Beach Cottage Is the Perfect Mix of Classic and Contemporary
Barrie Benson likes the newness knocked off of things. So when her client came to her wanting the interiors of a new-build beach home on North Carolina's Figure Eight Island to have a collected vibe that emphasized vintage, one would think the Charlotte-based designer would be thrilled. But despite her love of older, classic pieces, she was hesitant to go all vintage everywhere. "If every piece is beaten-down and old, it's too much of one thing," she says.
But vintage certainly would have its place in the home's design. The five-mile, 1,300-acre barrier island near Wilmington has long been a vacation destination, and Barrie and her architect husband, Matt, drew inspiration from the region's 1920s and "30s beach cottages with wide, open porches and traditional details. It was a balancing act for Barrie, who layered contemporary patterns and fabrics in a beach-inspired, desaturated color palette with classic rattan furniture and woven, natural rugs (both a nod to early 20th-century Carolina beach cottage style). Matt, in turn, tempered modern architectural lines with details that acknowledge history: pecky cypress detailing and traditional tabby—a lime, water, sand, oyster shells, and ash material. Here, the Bensons share their tips for pulling off the balance between now and then.
Design for Use
With two young boys plus visitors all summer long, "nothing could be too precious," says designer Barrie Benson of the living room furniture, which features indoor/outdoor fabrics that stand up to everything from damp bathing suits to spills. Barrie layered a rug over the woven sisal by Fibreworks "because layered rugs feel more vintage," she says.
Keep It Minimal
When Matt designed the kitchen, he wanted a modern, simplified aesthetic with reduced detailing to balance the exterior's traditional form and architecture. Designed with simple, white wood paneling (plus pecky cypress to add warmth), the custom cabinets have no hardware, only recessed pulls.
Bank on Banquettes
With two young kids and a large, extended family, the homeowners needed ample space for everyone to hang out and eat. A custom banquette swathed in a wipe-able vinyl by Martyn Lawrence Bullard for Osborne & Little provides more seating than chairs could and doubles as the kids' table during family gatherings.
Use Formality with Restraint
To balance the inherent formality of the dining room with its beach setting, Barrie draped the windows with Ferrick Mason Tropicana Lattice—a pattern that nods tropical but maintains a subtle, more modern vibe. For a touch of interest and sparkle to the room, she added the Tony Duquette crystal chandelier accented with oyster shells. "Every dining room, no matter how casual, needs a little pop of crystal," she says.
Pop Up a Play Zone
The family loves to do puzzles and play board games at the beach, so a game table was essential. In lieu of an entire room devoted to the family pastime, Barrie found an easily-tucked-away vintage grasscloth game table and Brighton-style chairs with custom China Seas Kidiri seat cushions to complete the scene.
Design for Real Personality
"I love to design each bedroom for the person who will stay there the most," says Barrie. The homeowner's mother is "old-school Southern," the designer says, so she created a bedroom for her that would feel traditional "but break the rules a bit." The result is a classic pairing of trellis wallpaper by Zoffany with seersucker bed linens, teased out of the traditional with vintage lamps and a custom headboard with bamboo detailing by Century Furniture.
Be Bold in The Bath
Dial Up the Details
Saving the big ocean views for the primary living spaces, Matt located the master bedroom at the back of the home. Barrie employed rich patterns and textures to make the room special, including the custom headboard by Hallman Furniture with Soleil Bleu fabric and bed linens by Julia B.
Use Vintage With Care
Though a 1970s McGuire rattan credenza was one of Barrie's favorite finds for the master bedroom, the designer thoughtfully incorporated new pieces—such as this Vanguard slipper chair swathed in a retro floral Osborne & Little fabric—to play a supporting role in the space.
"We always like to make the master bath a bit more special," says Barrie, "so we try to use materials that reflect that." The pecky cypress that Matt employed throughout the home took on a surprising and starring role here to front a custom vanity.
Know Your Nautical
The timeless quality of nautical motifs makes for easy and playful transitions between modern and traditional in the house. Here, Matt's bunk room design features oversize portholes with chrome handles and accents, while wave-print wallpaper by Cole & Son mimics an ocean view.
Follow the Sun
Upping the ante on traditional Carolina beach cottage architecture, Matt designed porches in a number of locations around the exterior. The result is not only a nod to the past, but an opportunity for the family. "I wanted to give them a variety of experiences so that when the seasons and solar orientation changes, they can move around the house and still be comfortable outside," he says, and enjoy multiple views throughout the day.