Beachy Cottage Makes a Comeback

The Hillmans transform a 1950s rancher into a permanent family oasis with coastal character.


Photography by Richard Leo Johnson

Photography by Richard Leo Johnson

Dawn Hillman likes houses that beg for a makeover. In fact, she seeks them out.

So, when she and her husband, John, looked to purchase a home for their family of four, they set their sights on older houses in the Isle of Palms area of South Carolina. It wasn’t long before they were taken with a ranch-style home located on a flat lot within walking distance to the local elementary school and the beach.

Placing emphasis on location, the Hillmans saw past plenty of imperfections and embraced the idea of restoring the coastal cottage suffering from tired brickwork, wall-to-wall carpet, linoleum floors, dreary closed-off rooms, and an outdated kitchen.

Over the next few months, Dawn and John worked nights and weekends overhauling the home, completing most of the work themselves. With a background in interior design, Dawn wanted the house to feel bright, airy– and maintain the charm of an old beach cottage.

Coastal Chic Makeover

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Open and Airy

The homeowners cut an opening into the wall that once divided the kitchen and dining spaces to promote conversation between rooms. An added bonus: an eat-in bar– ideal for families with young children. Dawn sewed together grainsacks and used them to upholster the barstool backs. Photography by Richard Leo Johnson

Cooking in Style

Dawn and John ditched the existing wall oven and replaced it with a range and convection oven to allow space above for the cased opening. “The original wall oven and cooktop were peach-colored,” says Dawn. “So, they needed replacement anyway.” Photography by Richard Leo Johnson

Lighten Up

An affordable brushed nickel pendant from IKEA affords task lighting over the cast iron sink while offering vintage flair. Photography by Richard Leo Johnson

Before: Dated and Faded

The original kitchen overlooked a windowless garage. Lifeless wood cabinets pleaded for a few coats of paint. The home’s original laminate countertops, dated appliances, and faded linoleum floors were all in desperate need of attention. Photography by Richard Leo Johnson

Dingy Dining

Before the remodel, the dining area lacked character and charm. “It had zero personality,” says Dawn. “The architecture was pretty much a blank slate and we knew it needed some help.” Photography by Richard Leo Johnson

Coastal Dining

In the dining room, heart of pine wood flooring replaced dirty wall-to-wall carpet, while boards placed horizontally onto the walls speaks to the home's cottage history. A rustic metal pendant purchased from a local artist and suspended from rope makes a nautical statement. Photography by Richard Leo Johnson

Cottage Nook

In the dining area, a coat closet is transformed into a cozy nook, which easily accommodates shoes, jackets, and scarves. It provides a place to set mail before entering the home. Dawn outfitted the vignette with beach-inspired prints and a classic blue-and-white palette.

Counter Appeal

Dawn and John traded the laminate countertops for Formica edged in metal to add vintage flair and swapped the metal sink for a cast iron original. “In every way, we wanted the kitchen to reflect the way a kitchen would have been built almost a half century ago,” says Dawn. Photography by Richard Leo Johnson

Breezy Style

John removed upper kitchen cabinets and built custom wood shelves to display dishware. The upper shelf rests atop a custom bracket, while the lower shelf is installed directly into the wall’s studs for a sleeker look. The shelving puts stoneware and collectables on permanent display. Photography by Richard Leo Johnson

Functional and Chic

Dawn and John converted the existing garage into a laundry space just off the kitchen. Dawn coated lower kitchen cabinetry with white paint and replaced existing pulls with polished nickel hardware. Photography by Richard Leo Johnson

Saavy Work Station

John reused cabinetry removed from the kitchen and installed it over the existing work station to maximize storage. “I love the idea of a designated home office,” says Dawn. “It works double duty, housing our family computer along with bills and paperwork.” Photography by Richard Leo Johnson

Sliding Style

A handcrafted sliding barn style door operates on a tract, making the most of tight quarters. “Not only does the door save space in the narrow hallway, but it’s fun for the kids,” says John. “We painted it sky blue to set it apart from its surroundings.” Photography by Richard Leo Johnson

Remodeling Breakthrough

First on the list was to connect the dining room with the adjacent kitchen via a large pass-through window. “Before, the kitchen was completely shut off from the rest of the home,” says Dawn. “Now, the kitchen and dining areas flow seamlessly. Plus, we have a convenient eat-in bar for our sons Jackson and Harrison.” Underfoot, they replaced existing carpet and linoleum with wide, heart-of-pine wood planks. In lieu of sheetrock, they installed wood planks horizontally onto walls throughout the home, adding character inch by inch. “Homes in the area were constructed this way decades ago,” says Dawn. “Wood lends character and history to walls that can’t be matched by any other surface.”

In the kitchen, Dawn and John kept the original galley plan, but opened the space up by replacing upper cabinetry with shelves. They tiled the backsplash themselves with sleek subway tiles purchased from their local home improvement center and topped counters with durable, inexpensive Formica. “Formica is an excellent alternative to pricey granite, marble, butcher-block, or tile countertops,” says Dawn. “Not only is it easy to clean and maintain, it’s in vogue again and makes a hip statement in a kitchen, bath, or laundry room.”

Then, they underscored the Formica’s vintage appeal with metal edging, painted lower cabinets white to brighten the look, and installed an industrial pendant with period appeal over the sink. Appliances were upgraded with stainless steel counterparts to increase the dwelling’s resale value.









Just beyond the kitchen, Dawn and John converted the home’s garage into a laundry space and guest bedroom. Because of the home’s open plan, Dawn wanted the laundry room to be attractive and maintain the barefoot-friendly vibe. They created a work station above the washer for folding clothes and added shelving and cabinetry units above to provide a place to store essentials. In order to accommodate larger household items, they left space below the counter. Dawn skirted the opening with a striped café curtain suspended from a tension rod to lend the look of an old beach cabana and keep the space from appearing utilitarian.

In the nearby dining room, they transformed a standard coat closet into a recessed niche with seaworthy style. The nook provides a place to sit upon entering, or hang coats and beach gear. “If you want the look of an older structure, you have to weave nooks and crannies into the plan,” says Dawn. “Old houses have quirks and imperfections throughout and you must stay true to that authenticity.”

Throughout, Dawn decorated the cottage with simple furnishings and accessories in an array of sea glass hues. “I wanted a home that we could really live in– nothing fancy, nothing formal,” says Dawn. “This is a simple house, but it’s welcoming and relaxed.”

Without a doubt, the humble cottage proved worthy of its renovation. And to those who enter, the house recalls a bygone beach era. “Life here is so simple,” says John. “We love living here. It’s the ideal family home.”

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