Home & Garden

Their Shell Beach house flooded — again — so they took the chance to build their dream home

The master bathroom
The master bathroom

Around the fifth time Robert and Zoe Sunderland’s Shell Beach house filled with water, they knew it was time to rebuild.

What might have been a nuisance became an opportunity: the couple could finally surround themselves with everything they love.

Built in 1985, the cottage-style, 1,100-square-foot-house was looking “tired,” said Zoe Sunderland. It was also fairly plain and generic — two words not in her vocabulary. Her style is eclectic, whimsical and artful, balanced by the staid sensibility of Craftsman design.

Designer Yvette Chaix, architect Garth Kornreich and Cullen Construction formed the team that rebuilt the house. The new house, completed in June, saved only a portion of the garage, is about 1,000 square feet larger, and is now impervious to the spring under the house that was the source of the flooding.

Chaix found a kindred creative spirit in Sunderland. “She was never afraid to do something unique or out of the box,” he said.

Out of the box also meant out of the cage — for the couple’s beloved parrots, Paco and Bobby. Sunderland wanted a way to keep them central to the household, but limit distractions from the two active (and vocal) birds. Chaix designed an aviary in the great room, surrounded in thick, laminated glass for soundproofing. A skylight, heater and water spout make the room comfortable for the birds.

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The new home features an aviary in the great room, surrounded in thick, laminated glass for soundproofing. Elliott Johnson

Sunderland has had an affinity for birds her entire life. She kept ducks and geese as childhood pets, mowing lawns to buy them feed. Any excess money went toward adding to her collection of duck-themed plates, now proudly displayed on the dining room wall.

The couple has a large and nostalgic collection of furniture, art and accents.

A mid-century modern Plycraft chair in the living room once belonged to her parents. She had it reupholstered and set alongside Windsor chairs from her husband’s grandmother, and a new but retro-styled sofa.

In the hall is a grandfather clock that was a gift from Robert when they married. Next to it sit old train lanterns that he received from a friend as a child.

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This couch is in the master bedroom. Elliott Johnson

Robert’s grandmother was an avid collector of artifacts. From her, the couple inherited numerous pieces with global provenance including Navajo blankets, Persian rugs and antique Chinese scrolls.

Other features were inspired by family. For instance, Sunderland’s grandfather worked in a Utah copper mine. Copper throughout the house pays homage to him — on the fireplace, as well as on several light fixtures and sinks.

Sunderland hints at her penchant for whimsy throughout the house. The kitchen backsplash tiles are kite-shaped, so Sunderland suggested that one edge look as if the kites are breaking off and taking flight. A hanging hot air balloon sculpture adds to the vignette.

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The kitchen backsplash tiles are kite-shaped, so Zoe Sunderland suggested that one edge look as if the kites are breaking off and taking flight. Elliott Johnson

The hall bathroom is what Chaix calls a “jewel box.”

Sunderland adores green and blue because they are evocative of water. So she selected a patchwork of vividly painted green tiles that, together, remind her of a quilt. When Chaix suggested painting the clawfoot tub a deep green to match, “Zoe didn’t hesitate in saying yes,” she recalled. The finished space is a dramatic, statement-making space.

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The hall bathroom features shades of green and blue because they remind Zoe Sunderland of water. The clawfoot tub is deep green. Elliott Johnson

Craftsman style works well as a simple backdrop for pieces with more flair.

Sunderland calls her style “modernized” Craftsman with simple moldings, lighter hues and clean lines. Chaix and Sunderland played with styles in every space.

For instance, in the living room, modern floating display boxes sit atop a Craftsman-style built-in cabinet with custom stained glass panels by Victorian Stained Glass in Orcutt. And in the bedroom suite, the bathroom is hidden behind a rolling door that resembles a barn door, but is modern in design.

Sunderland included features such as accessible bathrooms, hallway path lights and automation right down to skylights that close when it rains. These are “age in place” features that demonstrate Sunderland’s affection for her house; it is so personalized, she can’t imagine ever leaving.


START SIMPLE: Eclectic and dramatic interiors need a neutral background such as neutral walls, low-key moldings and clean-lined cabinetry. The Craftsman-inspired interior in the Sunderland house fits the bill.

ADD HISTORY: If you don’t have fabulous family heirlooms but want a sense of history in your home, try finding pieces with a story at consignment stores, antique stores, Craigslist and eBay. Among Sunderland’s eBay finds is a light from the Drake Hotel in Chicago that adds unexpected drama in her closet.

CREATE BATHROOM DRAMA: The oft-neglected hall bathroom or powder room is a fantastic opportunity to exercise your creativity. Try a bold color or a theme. Put up some wallpaper. It won’t take long to decorate the small space — or change it when your tastes change.