Coastal Remodel in Pelican Dunes

Retired Navy commander's "House on the Hill" is transformed into coastal modern oasis

by Betsy DiJulio | Mar 1, 2023

Photos By David Uhrin

Though it may be hard to imagine now, Patty Wirth’s charming coastal modern cottage perched high up on a dune was once firmly grounded in the ’80s. The home’s transformation is the story of a retired NAVY commander and practicing nurse anesthetist who wanted a kitchen more conducive to the dinner parties she loves to host and ended up with a whole house remodel.

Patty Wirth bought her three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath, 1,900 square foot home in Virginia Beach’s Pelican Dune community while stationed in Coastal Virginia. Located in the Shore Drive corridor and built in 1979, Wirth’s model was the least frequently built of four basic house plans in the development. She has happily lived in what neighbors refer to as “the house on the hill” since 2003, save two stretches.

From 2009-2012, she rented out her home while stationed in D.C., and from August 2016 to April 2017, she relocated to a rental house on Chubb Lake during the remodel. For her top-to-bottom reno, Wirth hired Mark Bullington, owner of Seagull Contracting, as her general contractor and Reese Lusk, principal of r. Lusk Studios, as her interior architectural planner and designer.

Photos By David Uhrin

Photos By David Uhrin

The home’s need for a new roof, siding and HVAC system coupled with Wirth’s weariness with her walled-off kitchen led to a “steamroller” effect of Rubik’s Cube-like space planning and expansion to 2,400 square feet. Not only did the team open the kitchen to the family and dining rooms—the latter broadened by taking in the old deck—but they replaced the former laundry room with a pantry, relocated the new laundry room to Wirth’s ample closet, shifted the front entrance, reconfigured the primary bath by tucking a water closet behind the shower, moved the primary bedroom closets, and stripped the stairwell of its diagonal cedar plank walls which echoed the exterior. They also added an office and a two-car garage with an expansive rooftop deck above for entertaining.

Inside and out, “It looks nothing like it used to,” asserts the homeowner. The exterior is now wrapped in warm neutral cedar shakes with a stacked stone base, retaining wall and stairs to the front porch, all set-off with creamy white trim. Inside, Lusk followed the interior design principle of “layering” in which each element is overlayed on the previous: paint and other wall coverings, window treatments, flooring, lighting, furnishings, fabrics, artwork and accessories. A key to successful design is ensuring that each layer works on its own and in harmony with all the others for a cohesive look and feel.

As a foundation on which to build, Lusk worked with Wirth to establish a base color. Through many conversations and a few photos, Lusk learned—because Wirth told him good-naturedly—that they did not speak the same language. Hers was that of medicine and science, his of art and design. Ultimately, the pair, friends for a decade, got on the same page with what Lusk refers to as his “concierge approach,” developed through working with clients who do not have the time nor the inclination to be intimately involved in every decision.

Photos By David Uhrin

Photos By David Uhrin

Because she wanted a coastal feel, Wirth chose wall colors of soft blues, corals and sand set off by painted gray doors and wide white custom molding and trim whose recessed panels echo the white kitchen cabinetry. Grounding the wall colors are wide dark wood plank flooring with a scraped texture in the main living spaces. In the bedrooms and baths, Wirth opted for lighter neutral carpet and tile. Artwork, including pieces by r. Lusk Studios, leans botanical, as well as nautical, adding a layer of interest to the walls.

Lusk and Wirth introduced pattern, another key layer, in a variety of ways. In the powder room, white recessed wainscoting is set off by striking coral-colored wallpaper with a lively white coral motif reminiscent of ginkgo leaves. To frame many of the windows, the pair chose long softly pleated panels of modern botanical and zoological prints with tropical motifs, like flowers, pineapples and birds, in non-tropical colors like gray, taupe, gold and olive green. Providing privacy while nodding to the natural world are blinds and shades with bamboo and rattan textures, materials repeated on the kitchen barstools and a guestroom headboard.

Locals may recall that Hurricane Matthew bore down on our region in early October 2016. With 21 inches of water in her rental home, Wirth lost 80% of her belongings. The silver lining is that her newly remodeled home would need to be filled with furnishings chosen especially for it, save her grandparents’ dressers, which received a custom finish from r. Lusk Studios. With every layer, Lusk worked with Wirth to balance the light and airy feel she craved with cozy coastal charm, but without going overboard.

Dining chairs sport cabana-like stripes, but in neutral colors, while white slipcovered sofas suggest a vacation home. Large pendants over the kitchen island wrap pebbled glass globes with rope, evoking foamy waves and all things nautical, while a glass mosaic backsplash shimmers with the colors of the ocean, and the terrazzo-like countertop suggests tumbled beach glass.

Both painted and natural weathered wood furnishings, fan blades and the stair banister complement the flooring and suggest docks and fishing shacks. The fireplace mantle is fashioned from an actual dock behind Lusk and Becky Bump’s tiny house, also on Chubb Lake, where the couple lived after also being displaced by Hurricane Matthew.

The final layer of decorative objects and personal memorabilia, especially photos, attest to Wirth’s passions: her coastal home, culinary adventures, career, clan of friends and family and, most recently, a newly adopted canine companion.

Learn more about r. Lusk Studios at

Betsy DiJulio is a full-time art teacher, artist and curator with side hustles as a freelance writer, including for Coastal Virginia Magazine, and a vegan recipe developer and food stylist and photographer for Tofutti Brands.

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