This beach home offers two great views—and some thoughtful design elements.
Buniski designed an irregular-shaped island for informal dining and topped it with pale blue granite.
Photograph by John Lewis
On a slender strand of Fenwick Island, Deb Buniski found treasure—a lot with views of both the bay and the ocean.
She’s a woman who knows what she wants, with the added benefit of being an engineer who has built a number of custom homes.
So acting as her own general contractor, Buniski set about building a 4,800-square-foot beach retreat, a place she could share with family, friends and the great outdoors.
“We’re mostly outside, on the decks or on the beach, and wanted a house in harmony with the setting,” she says.
So Buniski built her house in a modified cottage style, with the relaxed vibe, cheerful plaids and prints, and beadboard detailing of Nantucket. She gave it a modern update with an open floor plan and an inverted design so that the main living areas are on the second floor.
“I wanted lots of views, but I didn’t want a super contemporary house with lots of glass,” she says.
On the exterior, the house is a classic cottage, with gray cedar siding, white trim, a big front porch and a striking blue pulled-metal roof that’s designed to resist wind damage.
“Materials that can withstand the elements are especially important in a beach house, which is why we combined PVC trim with the cedar,” she says.
As a specialist in one-of-a-kind homes, Buniski has mastered the art of blending high-end and standard materials to create sophisticated, upscale settings.
A finish carpenter added pendant details to the massive overhead beams and trusses in the gathering space and master bedroom. Ceilings are vaulted wherever it was practical structurally.
“The volume you get from raising the ceiling makes such a difference in a space,” Buniski says.
Throughout the public spaces, floors are paved with porcelain tiles that enhance the feeling of openness. (Tiles also are a snap to maintain at a beach house, as sand is easily swept up.) The earth-tone tiles are complemented by small tiles in brown, detailed with the fossils of plants.
In the master bath, lustrous glass tiles the aqua-blue of sea glass are highlighted with fish accent tiles. Circular glass gobs create the whimsical effect of bubbles.
“I wanted the fish facing in two different directions, so I went to two different companies,” she says. “One of the most important parts of putting together a house is the shopping—and also the most fun.”
Buniski has a keen eye for color, painting the walls of a guestroom a cheerful coral pink. The foyer and first-floor sitting room are inviting in yellow, a buttery shade that might have sailed over from southern France. For the master bedroom, Buniski chose pale blue because it’s serene and reminds her of sea and sky.
The sunken seating area in the gathering space is warmed by a floor-to-ceiling fireplace made from river rocks. Built-in beadboard bookcases double as a knee wall, delineating the space from the adjoining kitchen and dining area.
“Everybody brings books to the beach,” Buniski says. “This is like having a little library.”
In the kitchen, she designed a large island with abundant storage and seating for casual dining.
“I knew it would have to be an irregular shape in order to function,” she says.
A slab of pale blue granite with silver highlights, a one-of-a-kind find at the stone yard, provides a bit of sparkle and a subliminal connection to the shimmering water outside.
Buniski’s sophisticated design sense is reflected in other details. The backsplash is accented with a row of rustic tiles depicting fish gliding through water. The backs of glass-fronted white cabinets are outfitted with the same blue beadboard that sheaths the island.
Because the kitchen is on the second floor, a trash compactor is an essential element, dramatically streamlining the age-old chore of taking out the garbage.
The professional-style range is outfitted with a deep fryer. A warming drawer comes in handy when there are lots of visitors, which makes meal times as unpredictable as the sea.
“It’s great when people are coming through,” she says. “Nobody has to stick to a timetable.”
Buniski loves the outdoors and its natural inhabitants. The bay side of her home adjoins a bird sanctuary, where she enjoys watching herons, egrets and other wildlife.
She transformed a large grill on a waterfront deck into an outdoor kitchen, anchoring the unit into a counter of cobalt-blue tiles that offers the barbecue chef a much larger work surface—and provides the grill with the heft required to withstand wind whipping off the water.
Inside the house, Buniski has learned that sun can damage fabrics and carpets, so she upholstered the cushions in a sunny dining niche in fabric traditionally used for awnings and patio furniture.
The seats lift to provide storage, an idea often employed on boats. Buniski is fond of sailing and of collecting model sailboats, which she has displayed throughout her house. The blades of ceiling fans are fashioned from canvas reminiscent of sails.
In addition to first-floor guestrooms, there’s also a small home office, a concession to life in the 21st century.
“It is astonishing how many people come to the beach and discover they need to send a fax,” she says.
With each home she has built, Buniski grows more appreciative of the elements she can’t see, the technology that enables her to operate its systems automatically. She is a proponent of smart houses, homes that regulate their own heating, cooling, lighting and security systems.
“It’s great walking away from a house and not having to worry about it,” she says.
GET THE LOOK
Respect Mother Nature. The homeowner chose natural cedar siding for her beach house to help withstand the elements. She upholstered the cushions in a light-drenched dining nook in sun-resistant fabric commonly used for patio furniture.
Pump up the volume. Vaulted ceilings make the gathering areas and master bedroom in Deb Buniski’s beach house look even larger, with the added benefit of expanding water views.
Sweat the small stuff. Integrate details such as tile insets and custom millwork into the design. Such elements create an overall one-of-a-kind feeling.
Embrace technology. Install smart wiring during the construction or renovation while walls are open so the work goes faster and costs less. Also consider energy-saving devices.