With vibrant garden and nautical decor, Shell Beach cottage takes on coastal vibe
Mike McCarthy was drawn to the rugged coastline of Shell Beach ever since he moved to San Luis Obispo County in 1978.
McCarthy, who owns McCarthy Wholesale in San Luis Obispo, originally rented in the quaint seaside town. On his walks along the bluffs, he took notice of a 1945 Cape Cod-style cottage, clad in brick and shingle siding. He admired its distinctive style, typical of Shell Beach homes of the era.
“It became my goal to someday acquire it,” he said.
When that cottage went on the market, he didn’t hesitate. McCarthy became its second owner in 1993.
The 2,500-square-foot residence was one of the first built on the Shell Beach oceanfront, McCarthy said. Aside from a 1960s addition, little had been done to it. So he immediately set about updating the space.
The project included new plumbing, electrical and heating systems. The kitchen was taken down to the studs and given a full reboot. Walls were opened up and windows added to reveal sweeping ocean views. Paint was sandblasted off of interior brickwork and ceiling beams, producing “so much sand in the house, it was like walking around on the beach,” he recalled.
McCarthy selected materials that were popular at the time: bird’s-eye maple cabinets, dark brown granite countertops and red oak floors.
The remodel was lovely, but in the ensuing years, McCarthy felt twinges of regret.
“I really hadn’t paid attention to the age of the home,” he said. “It looked like a ’90s remodel in a 1940s house.”
He also began to tire of the warm 1990s tones.
“Everything was brown,” he said. “It made the house darker.”
Three years ago McCarthy hired builder Todd Tappan to help him set things right. The new look would be coastal cottage with farmhouse influences — a style in tune with the home’s age and architecture. The house would also be lighter and brighter.
Cabinets are now a crisp white and countertops a light gray quartz. Walls are a mix of white and gray with nautical-inspired navy accents, colors that play well with the home’s exposed brick. Floors are wide plank wood with a bleached finish. Finishing touches include bead-board accents, vintage reproduction light fixtures and farmhouse-style drawer pulls.
McCarthy decorated the house with the assistance of friend Sharon Moos. Its breezy coastal look comes from weathered woods, white shutters, rattan, sisal, crisp white or off-white upholstery and deep blue accents.
In the dining area, a bleached wood table, reminiscent of a picnic table, combines slipcovered chairs and casual bench seating. In the living room, a white linen sofa with blue-accented pillows teams up with rattan chairs and a rustic table with space under its glass to display mementos like seashells. Mounted on the wall is an old door that McCarthy found at a garage sale, painted white, and inset with mirrored panels.
New landscaping was part of this second remodel. The house sits on two lots. Originally, one lot contained a pool that McCarthy removed after finding it too high-maintenance. In that space, McCarthy created a park-like garden and patio that he designed and installed almost entirely by himself.
The front portion of the yard contains mostly drought-tolerant plants in raised beds, surrounded by cobblestone pathways and boardwalks. Beach grasses and boulders create a naturalistic setting.
McCarthy salvaged an old boat and used it as a whimsical flowerbed. Gates are made from 100-year-old redwood grape stakes — an idea that McCarthy picked up from cottages in Carmel.
Meandering through the garden is a complex water feature that includes streams and waterfalls fed from a 2,000-gallon underground cistern that collects rainwater from the roof of the house.
The rear yard has a two-bedroom attached guest house and a partially-enclosed cabana with an outdoor kitchen. When McCarthy slides open a set of large glass doors, the large back patio connects with the main house, creating an indoor-outdoor space for entertaining.
McCarthy not only shares the house with his two sons and terrier Rocky, he frequently hosts community events and fundraisers. “I’ve always wanted this house,” he said,” and now that it’s the way I envisioned it, I feel fortunate that other people can enjoy it, too.”
▪ BUCK THE TRENDS: Make a distinction between what is trendy and what is timeless. This is especially critical when selecting materials for long-term applications, such as flooring or kitchen countertops. Ask yourself whether your choice fits with the architecture of the house. Would it have looked appropriate a decade ago and will it still look good 10 years in the future? When experimenting with trends, stick with features that can easily be swapped out, like draperies, pillows or accent furniture.
▪ KEEP IT LIGHT: The McCarthy house remodel didn’t add any square footage, but the house feels larger because of its mostly white walls, white cabinetry and light woods. Strategically placed mirrors also make the house feel larger and brighter.
▪ REUSE AND RECYCLE: Get creative with repurposing vintage finds and salvaged materials. At the McCarthy house, an old door became wall art when painted and inset with mirrors. A salvaged boat was repurposed as a novel garden planter. Old grape stakes add character and charm to garden gates.