From Bunkhouse to Family Home

A college professor takes on the project of his dreams when he remodels a former Coast Guard bunkhouse into a rustic, modern home for his family of four.


Robert Vettese with his wife Tayla and sons Miles, 5, and Gus, 2

Robert Vettese with his wife Tayla and sons Miles, 5, and Gus, 2

By: Jen Jafarzadeh L'Italien

For Robert Vettese, the passion for remodeling started with a dream home set right next to a lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. His family unexpectedly fell into their dream home after selling their first house really fast (in only 10 days!). Once the contract was signed, they looked at just five homes. Their current home was the last house they saw, and it was beyond their budget. “The first thing I remember noticing about the home was the loud, crashing sound of the ocean,” says Robert. The house sits right next to Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. “I couldn't even fathom in that first showing that we might live in a home where the ocean was our soundtrack.” As luck would have it, after a few weeks of going back and forth, they settled on a price with the owner and finalized a purchase and sale agreement. “It’s still unbelievable that it worked out for us,” says Robert.

From Bunkhouse to Dream Home

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The Old Dining Room

The original dining room was floor-to-wall unpainted wood, and the ceiling tiles made the room feel even smaller. The light fixture was outdated and did not produce enough light for doing homework at the dining table.

A Much-Used Dining Room

“We are surprised by how much brighter the dining room is after painting and drywalling the ceiling,” says homeowner and college professor Robert Vettese, pictured here with his wife Tayla and sons Miles, 5, and Gus, 2. “We almost exclusively eat in the dining room. I’ve always loved houses that have used and abused dining spaces. I’m looking forward to meals, homework and games in this room in the years to come.”

From Tile to Drywall

The dining room ceiling was composed of 1 x 1 tiles. Robert pulled those down and installed drywall. The walls in the dining room are pine beadboard. The family painted the walls in the summer. As the air in their Maine home got dryer over the winter, the walls shrunk a bit, which has caused some cracks in the paint. It will take a day of caulking and repainting to fix. The bench at the dining table adds a relaxed feeling to the space. The sign is from an antique market in Arundel, Maine.

Painting as a Family

Robert and Tayla chose this house in part because they could slowly remodel while living in the house. But living through a remodel, with two young kids, is a big challenge for sure. “Anytime I’m trying to do something in the house, my kids love to hide my tools or stick their hands in paint,” says Robert. He found little projects for his kids to do. “While we were painting the dining room, we gave our oldest son Miles one of the walls to paint. It was kind of a glorious mess, but it kept him busy and he got to feel like he was helping.”

Separate Dining Space

The dining room and their younger son’s room used to be connected by a doorway. Robert walled off the doorway between these two rooms to create a dining space. The walls in the dining room are an off-white color called “Sugar Sugar” by California Paints. “I think we originally liked the name more than the color, but it looks really great on the walls,” says Robert. The two small prints on the wall are from Schoolhouse Electric. The artist is Becca Stadtlander.

Cabin-Style Bedroom

Before they bought the house, a second story was added on, and then the woman they bought the place from added more room by connecting the garage to the home. The walls in 5-year-old Miles’ bedroom are also painted “Sugar Sugar” by California Paints.

The Old Fireplace

The former owner had an eccentric style, evidenced in the tiles she chose for the gas fireplace in the living room. The tiles featured inspirational words like "create", "live,” "flourish” and “flow.” The couple knew the tiles had to go, but they weren’t sure what to do with the fireplace at first.

Fireplace Demo

The family had a wood stove installed in their first home, and it was a great addition, especially during the cold winter months. So that’s where the plan started: demo the fireplace and replace it with a wood stove. But once Robert removed the fireplace, it opened up the space and really added some square footage to the room. The brick chimney that was behind the gas fireplace was a feature that the couple both liked. So they decided to keep the space open and installed the wood stove next to the brick chimney.

Installing a Window Seat

The couple came up with the idea for a built-in bookshelf and a storage bench. They decided to add a window above the bench. When Robert demoed the space, the corner ended up feeling pretty open. So that’s when the couple hashed out the idea for a window seat. They also fell in love with the exposed brick chimney, which added another layer of warmth with the wood and painted walls. As a bonus, the storage bench solved the problem of where to put kids’ toys. Tayla spends most mornings sitting in the window seat with a cup of coffee looking for deer or other forest creatures. The window added lots of light and makes the living room feel more spacious.

Mixing Up the Woods

Robert loved the idea of stretching the bench from the bookshelves to the brick chimney. For the bench, he used poplar plywood. For the bookshelves, he used pine and walnut. “I was really pushing to keep the bench natural wood, but we decided that with the pine walls and wood floor, it might be too much wood,” says Robert. “The white really sets off the fireplace, chimney and wood walls.”

Built-in Bookshelves

The new bench and bookshelf added a great feature to the home. By taking out the gas fireplace and tiles, the couple took the first step in making the house their own, stamped with their own style. “I was nervous about how the walnut accents would look, but I think they add some character to the space,” says Robert.

Pop of Red

The red wood-burning stove was on sale when they were shopping around. Robert and Tayla thought the color fit in with the Scandinavian cottage style they were going for in the house. “We were nervous about the red, and we’d actually planned on painting the sides black,” says Robert. “But it’s really grown on us, and it’s hard to imagine the room without it now.”

Gather 'Round the Fire

The family got a great deal on the wood stove because of its red sides. Robert saw it at the local wood stove shop. They were looking for one with a large window, so they could see the roaring fire. The graphic pattern rug is by local Maine designer Angela Adams.

Added Storage Space

This stove also has a place for wood storage underneath, which was an added bonus. “It’s probably the one thing people comment on the most in our home,” says Robert. “It really does function as the heart of the room.”

A Spacious Feeling

The remodel added only minimal physical space to the living room, maybe 20 square feet. But what significantly changed was how the space feels and can be used. The gas fireplace used to take up an entire corner of the living room, and it seemed to narrow the space. Once Robert pulled out the fireplace and built the bench, the space really opened up. With the new window, it feels even bigger.

The Old Kitchen

There were a few problems with the kitchen. The main issue for the family was the lack of counter space, especially for food prep and cooking. “We love to cook, so immediately the lack of countertops was a problem,” says Robert.

Installing Modern Upgrades

“The house faces south, so we get amazing sunlight in the front during the morning and towards the northern side in the evening,” says Robert. There wasn’t a dishwasher in the original kitchen, and a dishwasher was definitely on the family’s must-have list! Robert pulled out one of the bottom kitchen cabinets, which had three drawers. The space was right next to the sink and a dishwasher fit perfectly there.

Lucky Find

While looking at one of the local lumber shops, Robert found a solid maple tabletop that the shop had put together for a customer who ended up not purchasing it. The shop sold it to Robert, and he built a small open shelf system to fit next to the cabinet he’d pulled out for the dishwasher. The maple countertop fits perfectly on top of the cabinet and shelves.

Making It Personal

The couple loves the kind of kitchens and dining rooms that get used a lot — for snacking, talking, drinking and even homework. They’ve scouted some fun items for their home at antique stores over the years. The computer table is from a favorite antique market in Belfast, Maine. “The knife magnet, setting the cookware near the stove, the olive oil pourer — these are the personal touches that make their way into our kitchen space,” says Robert.

Hide-Away Trash

“The wood stove, built-in bench, new window and hide-away kitchen garbage have been my favorite parts of the remodel,” notes Robert. In the dining room, they removed a small closet, which had been a pantry. Now they split up pantry staples between one cabinet for food and another drawer for baking goods.

Pretty in Poplar

The couple fell in love with the wood floors in the kitchen and dining room when they initially saw the house. The wood floors are stained poplar boards. These simple floors caught Robert’s eye the first time he saw the home. He plans to get them refinished one day. “I wish we had one more counter for things like a blender or KitchenAid mixer,” says Robert. “As it is, those kitchen tools are tucked away in cabinets.”

Chopping on Wood

The wood countertops are made of maple. Robert purchased the first counter surface as a remnant, and he built the second one to match. Eventually, the couple plans to get rid of the blue Formica countertop where the sink is and swap in more maple or maybe some type of stone. “I love the maple though,” says Robert. “We cut right on the countertops, and over the years, I look forward to making more and more nicks with my cooking adventures.”

Matching Maple

Robert built another maple countertop to match the one he’d bought at the lumber shop. These two countertops are on either side of their new stove. They are functional, beautiful, and fit the couple’s rustic modern style.



Tayla spends most mornings sitting in the window seat with a cup of coffee looking for deer or other wildlife.

Tayla spends most mornings sitting in the window seat with a cup of coffee looking for deer or other wildlife.

The house is about 70 years old and has gone through several big changes. Originally, the house was a bunkhouse for the Coast Guard station that monitored the two lighthouses in the neighborhood. “From what my neighbors tell me, the house was about a quarter mile away from its current location,” says Robert. “The Federal Government sold the lots in the neighborhood in the ‘40s or ‘50s, and whoever bought the lot also bought the bunkhouse and eventually had it moved to the lot.”

Besides the location, the house offered one big bonus. Robert and his wife, Tayla, felt the house was ideal in that they could live there and slowly do renovations. Robert, an associate professor, worked on all of these projects during semester breaks and odd weekends. One obvious place to remodel was the kitchen. Robert’s full-time job is at a local community college teaching literature and writing, but before becoming a teacher, Robert worked as a cook in Alaska about 15 years ago. “I learned not only how to cook, but also what a functional and fun kitchen needed to be,” he says. Robert wanted to make the kitchen a space that’s easy to cook in with the remodeling projects he tackled. “The personal touches are elements that reflect this cooking experience in my life.” The big space change in the kitchen was adding more countertops and built-ins. The general space has stayed the same but it functions better as a kitchen. The galley-style kitchen leads to their dining area. “It was important to us to have the kitchen and dining room close to one another,” he says. The remodeling in the dining room made the room a distinct separate space, with a fresh updated style. The living room was the real star of Robert’s remodeling work, as that space started with the removal of a fireplace and ended with the addition of a well-loved custom-built window seat and set of bookshelves.



The remodeling in the dining room made the room a distinct separate space, with a fresh updated style.

The remodeling in the dining room made the room a distinct separate space, with a fresh updated style.

Robert was inspired to remodel by looking at the amazing places his friends and family have created for themselves. “Thinking that we could do that with our own home was motivating,” says Robert. As with most DIY remodels, another motivating factor was budget concerns. Materials can be quite expensive, so doing the work yourself lowers the cost of any remodeling project. “I am just interested in things,” says Robert. “I get excited to learn new skills and ideas. All of the projects we completed have been amazing learning processes, in both their successes and failures.”

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