In a major deviation from the standard showhouse fare—wherein the average dwelling boasts approximately 37 living rooms, 22 celebrity designers, and about a gazillion dollars worth of kitchen appliances—this year, the staff of Country Living went for something a little humbler. Instead of a traditional mansion or amply-stacked urban townhouse, the magazine selected a 1,000-square-foot beach bungalow. Instead of building a home (or, in the case of last year's CL House of the Year, three cottages), they revamped something already standing. And, most importantly, instead of engineering an impeccably decorated house meant only to be photographed, they provided a new home for a real person. That real person is Marian Lizzi, a Manhattanite, who, six years ago, snatched up a little property in Breezy Point, N.Y., the beach on Rockaway Peninsula her parents met and where she spent her childhood summers. It's also one of the many East Coast communities battered by last year's Hurricane Sandy.
Less than a year ago, Lizzi came home to sodden ruins; her beloved beach bungalow had sat in 30 inches of ocean water, destroying most of her belongings and priming her bungalow for mold and decay. "We were expecting it to be a wind event so I took everything I had outside and put it to the ground down low," she said over the phone. "Everything was washed away."
Breezy Point, which sits on the far west end of Queens' Rockaway Peninsula, a stripe of land strung between Jamaica Bay and the ocean, had been completely filled in by saltwater. "I'm told it was a raging river, with six feet of rough water that lifted foundations," she said. "Every single house had serious damage."
The gutting began immediately, and Lizzi started posting the destruction photos on Facebook. "It was an unbelievable scene," she said. "Everything was filthy and smelly. It looked like someone had ransacked the house. They were incredibly sad photos." The weeks slogged by, defined by weekends tearing out carpet and saying goodbye to things like her vintage Penguin book collection—she's an editor at the company now, so the loss was particularly acute. Near the end of 2012, she found out that Country Living was looking to renovate a home devastated by Sandy. She sent in her photos.
In early January, she heard from the magazine. By February, the team was touring the space; by March, demo began; in April Lizzi was approving color swatches ("Knowing that they were moving so fast and that there were so many moving parts, I basically stayed out of their way."); and in May, the photo shoot took place. By June, the house was furnished, glossed, photographed, and primed for Lizzi to sink into the (indoor!) hammock for the summer.
The design team, spearheaded by HGTV's Emily Henderson, had a lot to do in less than four months. "It was pretty much a wreck," Henderson said over the phone. "Even if it hadn't been damaged; the paper floorplan and the layout weren't working for her at all." The team knocked down a few walls, transforming a "patchwork of petite rooms" into an open living plan, made even airier with a collection of fresh green paint and a coat of white for its exposed beams. "Yes, we wanted to make it livable again, but we also wanted to make it beautiful and way better than it was before," Henderson said. "She's young, she's cool. We wanted it to feel a lot more young and cool." The light aquas ("a really happy color," but "not intense") got punched up with persimmon and hot pink ("pops of happiness") and grounded with medium-tone recycled hickory flooring.
Henderson, known for her layered aesthetic, sprinkled flea market finds throughout, "stuff that you could tell has been around for decades and decades and decades. Stuff with a lot of integrity and personality," Henderson said. The mix is casual and unfussy: a Saarinen table, an antique icebox retrofitted with glass, vintage oars, a cabinet of pale blue glass bottles, and, because this is a beach house, a couple of wrist-thick chords of nautical rope. Ah, but Lizzi's favorite part? "There's a hammock inside the house, which is basically the greatest thing ever."
· Country Living House of the Year 2013: After the Storm [Country Living]
· All Showhouses posts [Curbed National]