Coco Chanel, the iconic post-WWI French fashion designer, once famously said, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” As the award-winning team at Stephen Alexander Homes & Neighborhoods set about designing the Marina Cottages at East Beach, they “channeled” Chanel’s less-is-more philosophy.
Reimagining the casual coastal lifestyle in 2,500 square feet, as opposed to their more typical 4,000+, the builders asked themselves what was absolutely necessary for a high-end, highly amenitized 21st-century lifestyle and what could be omitted. “There are so many parts of a house you can do without and never miss,” says Stephen Quick IV who, along with his father Steve, brother Alex and the rest of the all-star team, is a veteran builder and designer of previous CoVa Idea Houses.
Their answer was Bar Harbor, the 2020 CoVa Idea House, a custom show house that lives far larger than its sandy footprint suggests. Marina Cottages is the last neighborhood to be built at the southeastern tip of Norfolk’s premier seaside neighborhood. This 17-home enclave with its small town, walk-and-bike-everywhere feel is “the natural evolution of things,” says Stephen. While the rest of the development celebrates 19th-century architectural charm and turn-of-the century nostalgia, this last phase embraces classic coastal style, but “enters the modern era” with nods to both an industrial modern and mid-century modern aesthetic. Bar Harbor “looks like an old house that got a modern redo.”
Here, the open concept living space of larger homes is tucked into a smaller envelope, yet one that feels open and airy due to both its architectural and interior design. The home’s kick-off-your-flipflops style is a relaxed modern interpretation of a local vernacular cottage, one that is highly efficient and cost-effective to own. Clean simple lines, a neutral color palette with sea glass accents and organic materials merge built and natural beauty for a home that is both casual and chic.
From top to bottom, inside and out, this year’s CoVa Idea House offers sea-and-shore inspired design and décor solutions for those who crave a laid-back year-round retreat in a smaller package.
Exterior & Garage
The exterior of this modern coastal farmhouse is crisp and clean with white custom board and batten siding set off by black doors, windows, and roofing. A raised and covered front porch and marina-side lanai feature classic tailored columns and a railing reminiscent of white horizontal fencing for a familiar and friendly feel. Large rectangular pavers with the look of driftwood and a black industrial ceiling fan with an 8-foot wingspan establish the lanai as a transitional space between indoors and out.
Set at a 90-degree angle to the house is the unexpected freestanding garage. Its Peppercorn gray siding and mid-century modern shed-style roof signal a new approach to coastal living. With its pair of industrial glass-paneled roll-up doors, black trim, ceiling fan and aggregate-look epoxy floor by Garage Concepts, this garage is equal parts car park and party space.
A patio of rectilinear mottled gray pavers is bordered on two sides by the garage and lanai and on the third by the borrowed marina-scape. The fourth side is open to a yard and, just beyond, to one of the green spaces for which the area is known. String lighting and distressed white furniture with upholstered cushions sound a note “somewhere between farmhouse and mid-century modern,” according to Susan Wilson of Susan Wilson Interiors, a longtime collaborator with Stephen Alexander.
Black exterior light fixtures on both house and garage echo the sleek lines seen consistently throughout the property. Rectangular profiles combine solid back metal sides with clear glass and exposed bulbs for a balance of industrial and traditional details.
Entry Hall & Stairs
Dog Space & Half Bath
Linking indoors and outdoors is the continuation of white board and batten siding on the staircase wall and white stair railing reminiscent of the style found on the lanai. Ten-foot ceilings on the main level, lots of windows and a huge five-panel glass front door infuse the home with sunlight.
White square edge molding flows through the entire home, a crisp clean counterpoint to the pale gray and sea glass colored walls. “We tried to do away with all the curvy stuff,” says Stephen. A stained white oak banister and treads along with Mohawk softly weathered wood floors inject a warm contrast into the fresh, cool color palette. Carved out beneath the stairs is a cozy niche for the family pooch.
“It’s like a bougie crab pot,” laughs Susan about her pick for the entry hall light fixture. Indeed, its traditional four-light chandelier with flame-effect bulbs encircled by a metal mesh drum shade is a surprising mashup of classical, industrial, and mid-century modern with a few nautical notes for good measure. Here and elsewhere, circular light fixtures and mirrors play pleasingly off all the square edges and rectilinear motifs.
The half bath, which opens off the entry hall, continues the white board and batten wall cladding and wood flooring. For this custom space carved out beneath the stairs, the design-build team retrofitted a weathered wood console to create a furniture-style vanity. Its honed white quartz countertop bears just a whisper of subtle gray veining for a bit of casual luxury. Above, a circular mirror subliminally suggests a porthole.
Family & Dining Space
The walls of the open-concept family room and dining space are bathed in a soft sea glass color as cool and fresh as a tidal pool. White ceilings, shiplap accent walls, square-edged trim and floating shelves flanking the fireplace are simultaneously nostalgic and modern and keep the look clean and fresh.
In the family room, white slipcovered seating lends a vacation vibe, while the weathered wood coffee, console and occasional tables offer a refined rusticity. This look is continued in the dining space with its buffet and long, narrow, chunky-topped table. The chairs blend wood with woven hemp and nubby neutral upholstery for a look that is coordinated, but nuanced.
Underfoot, rugs made of neutral organic materials avoid visually weighing the rooms down, instead adding layers of texture and comfort. Overhead, a large fan in the family room echoes the shape of the one on the lanai but in a silver finish for a lighter appearance. In the dining space, a slenderer and more elongated modern take on a traditional chandelier repeats the radial design of Cathy Cox’s starfish painting above the buffet.
Susan’s intentionally minimalist approach to establishing an old beach cottage flavor prevents anything inside from detracting from the focal point of this space. Framed by 16 feet of glass that stretches nearly the entire length of the living and dining space is a view of boats bobbing in their berths.
Kitchen & Culinary Space
Laundry & Mudroom
The living space flows seamlessly into the kitchen and culinary space by design. Shiplap wraps both the island and range hood. On the island, the shiplap is painted the same soft sea glass color as neighboring walls, while on the range hood, it is painted white to establish visual cohesion with the fireplace. Wood trim at the base of the hood adds a little warmth and weight to the otherwise white kitchen.
White Shaker-style cabinets feature polished dimensional hardware for a little sheen that Susan chose for a look that is “dressed-up, but not formal.” Countertops of white honed quartz with barely-there gray veining and stainless steel and white Cafe’ appliances continue that timeless look. A professional 36-inch gas range, a second 30-inch oven and an undercounter microwave drawer maximize cooking capacity.
Says Stephen, “GE Café has created a lot of flexibility with trim and mixed metals” lending a custom, handcrafted quality to its commercial appliances. Similarly, handsome Brizo faucets here and throughout seamlessly blend a traditional hand-crafted elegance with a modern sensibility. Floating above the island, a pair of spherical pendant fixtures combine old world warmth and charm with a bold contemporary profile and scale.
The subtle, but elegant, sea glass back splash is laid in a herringbone pattern with a mosaic focal point over the range. Composed of sleek repeated trapezoidal shapes and tone-on-tone materials, its effect is a shimmer and sparkle akin to mother-of-pearl.
The culinary space features its own island and separate sink on one side and, on the other, an ultra high-end True Residential glass-front beverage column the size of a refrigerator. Just beyond, the mudroom provides a stylish space to set down groceries or otherwise transition between indoors and out. A built-in wooden bench with cubbies beneath and a white shiplap back ensures this space feels like an integral part of the home.
A glass panel door etched with “East Beach Laundry Company/Open 24 Hours/ Wash, Dry, Fold” injects a playful note into the hardest-working room in the house. Flowing the same honed quartz countertops and an iteration of the herringbone backsplash from the kitchen into the laundry room makes this space feel like it belongs. On the floor, tile parallelograms in a subtly striated neutral color palette evoke both modern geometry and traditional quilt designs. Though the space is compact, a stacking washer-dryer and large window allow it to breath.
Homeowner Bed & Bath
Located nearest the front door on the main level, the homeowner bedroom is nonetheless a private retreat due, in part, to the offset angle of its entrance. Exposed beams and an industrial ceiling fan are in keeping with the mid-century modern undercurrents of the home and lend what Stephen refers to as a Scandinavian flavor. Weathered wood furnishings and a richly tactile white rug warm up the white and cool gray on the ceilings and walls. “The volume of the spaces had to feel as big as previous homes,” explains Susan. Her choice of a mostly white “canvas” throughout the house helped achieve that sense of spaciousness.
Similarly, the suite makes use of subtle space-saving devices like pendants that look like table lamps but leave the tops of the nightstands clear, and triple tiers of hanging racks in the closet with a clever pull-down system to make the top level accessible.
In the ensuite bathroom, complete with water closet, generous use of real marble and a furniture style vanity with double sinks helps carve out a true oasis. About the timeless-but-modern faucets Stephen says, “Brizo really pays attention to how water flows…plus the water isn’t aerated and feels soft to the touch.” Clad in what Wilson calls “coastal crushed pebble colors,” the space is tranquil yet invigorating. The shower-built-for-two combines modern rectangular slabs of marble with a geometric mosaic that subtly creates two zones as it flows down the shower wall and onto the floor. The glass paneled doors feature a texture with the look of bamboo or rivulets of rain, establishing a greater sense of both privacy and sanctuary.
Media Room & Storage
The second level of the home offers guests—or children—their own living space in the form of an upstairs family or media room, though no movie could compete with the views of the marina out the expansive windows.
Wilson’s “layering of whites” against a backdrop of pale gray infuses the space with an airy openness anchored by wood floors. White built-in bookshelves surround a 65-inch television mounted on white shiplap. Nubby white fabrics on the upholstered furniture and window treatments that hover somewhere between sheers and drapery panels feel cool yet cozy.
A round coffee table and an occasional table of woven organic material are modern cousins of traditional fishing baskets. A whitewashed sideboard provides lots of storage for board games played on the casual round cocktail-height table for four with a similar weathered whitewashed finish. More utilitarian storage takes the form of a low attic space accessed from the media room, an ample overhead attic accessed through pull-down stairs between the bedrooms, and a multiuse walk-in closet accessed near the stair landing. Even the closet shelving sports a look consistent with the home’s furnishings.
Second Floor Bedrooms & Baths
The upstairs bath continues “current themes and ideas that tie back to the cottage tradition,” says Susan. Wood floors found throughout the home are continued but as ceramic wood-look tiles for visual unity that is more practical near water. Understated soft gray walls and concrete-like countertop, a white vanity and an updated twist on over-mirror vanity lighting keep the focus on the built-in tub and shower in their separate space beyond. Large white rectangular tiles with an irregular surface like rippled water wrap around the tub and shower. A vertical strip of trapezoid-shaped mosaic tile in white and sea glass tones evokes sparkling water flowing into the tub. Harkening back to an earlier era, the relaxed white shower curtain is a modern take on hobnail fabric like grandmother’s bedspread.
The pair of upstairs bathrooms, one with soft gray walls and the other washed in the home’s signature sea glass tint with a white board and batten accent wall behind the bed, are flooded with light. Filmy but textured white panels soften the square lines of the wide window trim. Caged light fixtures feature metal banded drum-style shades with a distinctly vintage fan feel. White wicker furniture in one room and white-washed weathered wooden furniture in the other keeps the spaces unified but lend each its own personality. Linens in both rooms layer texture upon texture in tones of white, ecru and sea glass.
Decorative objects in every space are what Susan calls “disappearing coastal,” that is shapes and materials that we associate with the beach—starfish, coral, and shells—that are not “in your face” due to their minimal use and subdued palette of white, silver and sea glass. After all, you don’t need it under your nose when it is right outside your door.