Seventeen years ago, Jean Herring moved to Morro Bay to begin a new life. In doing so, she also gave new life to a small and outdated beach cottage.
The cottage was built in the mid-1960s by Jean’s late husband, Jack Letsinger, who was a real estate developer. The couple lived in Porterville and used the cottage as a vacation home.
“It was small and easy to keep clean — just two bedrooms and two baths,” she said.
In 1993 as Jack neared retirement, the couple began making plans to move into their beach home full-time. In the midst of this, Jack passed away. With the sale of their old home already set in motion, Jean decided to proceed with the move.
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“It seemed like the ideal time to do it,” she said.
She contacted a local draftsman and general contractor for a remodel that would make the cottage more livable. Her first priority was more space. Having previously lived in a 5,000-square-foot house, the approximately 1,000-square-foot cottage seemed far too restrictive for Jean and the frequent houseguests she anticipated.
The draftsman eked out more space by turning an oversized carport into a master bedroom and bathroom. A covered porch became a laundry room. Added space for the living and dining room was borrowed from the back deck. They added on a new garage and an art studio for Jean, who has been a watercolor artist for 30 years. The remodel would increase the size of the home by around 1,200 square feet and also give a French cottage-inspired exterior to the formerly boxy home.
Times had changed since the 1960s and the cottage’s small, segregated rooms seemed outdated. The new floor plan opened up the living room, dining room and kitchen into one free-flowing space.
Jean was selective about which interior materials to replace. She kept the original inexpensive wood cabinets but replaced the doors with more decorative painted wood panels. With new granite countertops, a center island and updated appliances, Jean felt as if she had achieved her dream kitchen.
The house was originally built with their two teenaged children in mind. The floors were heavy-duty commercial linoleum, designed to stand up to sand tracked in from the beach and dunes that lie just beyond the back deck.
Jean had the linoleum replaced with wood floors. She chose a different material to suit the theme of each bathroom: river stone, ceramic time, and marble.
Jean, who is an accomplished seamstress, sewed the pillows, draperies, Roman shades and some of the bedcovers for the home.
Three years after she moved in, Jean met Peter Herring in a widow’s group. A romance developed, and soon, Peter was helping her put more finishing touches on the house.
“He’s so handy and he likes to do these projects,” said Jean of Peter, who is retired from Polygram Records and is also a published author.
The addition of the garage and studio created a courtyard that Jean had begun to turn into a Zen garden. Peter helped to complete the space by adding rocks, boulders and flagstone.
Peter also built deck furniture, made concrete pedestals to display a pair of decorative concrete fish, and helped Jean make two new custom interior light fixtures.
A few years ago, Peter and Jean decided it was time to add some warmth to the interior. When Jean originally moved in, she kept the walls white. With Peter’s help, she chose a soft palette of neutrals and earth tones.
“I tend to get tired of bright colors after awhile,” she said. “I went with soft, warm colors because being so near the ocean, things tend to feel cool.”
Jean brings interest to the neutral palette with a wide range of textures such as plumes of curly willow branches, sea grass wallpaper in the bedroom, and woven baskets that she even uses as wall art.
For years, Jean has collected Asian art, furniture and artifacts from antique stores around the area. She freely mixes ethnic pieces with contemporary furniture and accents for an elegant but eclectic look.
The couple applied their decorating skills to a new business when they opened Central Coast Blinds in 2002. Last year, they married and decided to retire from the business to enjoy life — and their redesigned beach home.
“It was always a fun place to visit, but when we remodeled it to make it a home, I felt like this is where I want to spend the rest of my life,” said Jean. “It’s absolutely everything I ever thought it could be.”