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
By: Elizabeth Beeler

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coastal cottage suffering from tired brickwork, wall-to-wall carpet, linoleum floors, dreary closed-off rooms, and an outdated kitchen.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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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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