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Ship Shape: How To Create A Contemporary Coastal Retreat

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Ship Shape: How To Create A Contemporary Coastal Retreat

June 21, 2023

In 2010, Marta Nowicka used a small inheritance to buy an unprepossessing bolthole by the sea. “It was in a terrible condition,” she recalls. “It hadn’t been touched since the 1960s, and when the last tenants moved out the entire place had been vandalized. The floorboards had been ripped up and all the copper piping had been removed. The windows were smashed, the walls graffitied, and there was rubble and rubbish everywhere.”

An experienced interior architect, Marta saw past the debris and destruction and decided to embark upon a slow, budget-conscious renovation of the unassuming end terrace at Jury’s Gap: a group of nine white coastguards’ cottages overlooking Camber Sands in southeast England.

the kitchen diner extension in marta&#8\2\17;s coastguard&#8\2\17;s cot 17
Above: The kitchen-diner extension in Marta’s Coastguard’s Cottage: “It’s turned the entire space from nice to perfect.” Photograph by Voytek Ketz.

Having recently completed a final—and fairly major—phase of renovation work, the once “creepy” cottage has transformed into a contemporary coastal retreat that Marta rents out via DOMstay, a succinct collection of design-led holiday rentals. Here, she shares her advice for creating a contemporary coastal retreat.

Photography by Felix Speller, except where noted.

camber sands. photograph by voytek ketz. 18
Above: Camber Sands. Photograph by Voytek Ketz.
the view of the cottage from the beach. photograph by voytek ketz. 19
Above: The view of the cottage from the beach. Photograph by Voytek Ketz.
the recent kitchen extension, with far reaching views over the grassy dunes. 20
Above: The recent kitchen extension, with far-reaching views over the grassy dunes.

1. Embrace sea views.

“Sometimes, the most significant quality of a coastal retreat is the location, so make the most of it,” says Marta. “While it’s not always easy to come up with the perfect scheme, I’d always advise keeping the best view for the room you will be spending most of your time in.” For Marta, that space is the kitchen, which has recently been remodeled. Marta added a generous window above the countertop that provides expansive views of the dunes and distant shoreline.

marta&#8\2\17;s father found this table in an outbuilding while working on  21
Above: Marta’s father found this table in an outbuilding while working on an historic estate in Poland. “My whole childhood was spent around that table,” says Marta. “A lot of good times have been had there.”
marta has embraced a thoughtful &#8\2\20;mishmash of styles&#8\2\2\1; t 22
Above: Marta has embraced a thoughtful “mishmash of styles” throughout the cottage.

2. Mix old and new.

“While modern luxuries can make us feel comfortable, objects with history have an undeniable charm,” says Marta. Her kitchen-diner is a case in point. Here, the utilitarian stainless-steel Ikea kitchen is paired with a gnarled 500-year-old wooden table inherited from her father. The Antelope chairs—designed for the Festival of Britain by Ernest Race—introduce another design era.

the attic bedroom features a triangular book nook. 23
Above: The attic bedroom features a triangular book nook.
bare plaster walls contrast with a crisp, white chimney breast in the first flo 24
Above: Bare plaster walls contrast with a crisp, white chimney breast in the first-floor bedroom.

3. Add texture to walls.

“Tongue and groove panelling is a great way to add texture without compromising the modern feel of a beach house,” explains Marta, who has used both vertical and horizontal panelling on walls—and ceilings—throughout the cottage. It also helps to conceal built-in storage, as seen above the wet room in the kitchen extension, below.

marta&#8\2\17;s prized jøtul wood burner. concealed storage makes use  25
Above: Marta’s prized Jøtul wood-burner. Concealed storage makes use of the double-height kitchen ceiling.

4. Invest in appliances.

“Choosing the right stove, refrigerator, or kettle can really make or break the design of your coastal kitchen,” says Marta. “Investing in the right appliance—even if it seems like an insignificant detail or unnecessary expense at the time—will always be worth it in the end.” Her retro white enamel Jøtul wood burner is “the crown jewel” of her latest renovation.

the terrazzo lined wet room mimics the texture of the landscape. 26
Above: The terrazzo-lined wet room mimics the texture of the landscape.
natural accessories and unexpected artwork in the basement bedroom. 27
Above: Natural accessories and unexpected artwork in the basement bedroom.

5. Layer natural materials.

“An all-white interior can still feel warm and inviting if you break it up with natural materials,” Marta advises. In her cottage, terrazzo tiles in the bathrooms mimic the pebbles on the nearby beach. Wood, rattan, bamboo, wicker, and jute abound whilst linen and cotton throws protect soft furnishings from wet swimsuits and sandy feet.

the stairway to the attic bedroom is modeled on a ship&#8\2\17;s ladder and 28
Above: The stairway to the attic bedroom is modeled on a ship’s ladder and features an authentic mooring rope.
nauticalia and tongue and grove in action in the bathroom. 29
Above: Nauticalia and tongue and grove in action in the bathroom.

6. Upcycle nauticalia.

“No coastal home is complete without the occasional nautical reference. Just don’t overdo it,” cautions Marta. “Rather than buying new, allow yourself to be inspired by your surroundings; be creative about the ways in which you might use a fish-trap or a bottle that’s washed ashore.” From the first floor landing, a steep ship’s ladder climbs up to an attic bedroom. The handrail is a mooring rope.

N.B.: See also Marta’s remodeled ambulance station in Rye.

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Frequently asked questions

Who is Marta Nowicka?

Marta Nowicka is an interior designer and the founder of Marta Nowicka & Co., a London-based studio known for creating contemporary and unique spaces.

What is a contemporary coastal retreat?

A contemporary coastal retreat is a design concept that combines modern elements with coastal-inspired aesthetics. It aims to create a relaxing and airy space, incorporating natural materials and colors reminiscent of the beach and ocean.

What are some key features of a contemporary coastal retreat?

Key features of a contemporary coastal retreat include large windows to maximize natural light, light-colored walls and furniture, natural materials like wood and rattan, and accents inspired by the beach such as seashells or ocean-themed artwork.

What tips does Marta Nowicka provide for creating a contemporary coastal retreat?

Marta Nowicka suggests utilizing a neutral color palette with pops of blue or green, incorporating organic elements like plants and natural fabrics, and embracing a minimalist approach to keep the space clean and uncluttered.

Can a contemporary coastal retreat be created in any location?

Yes, a contemporary coastal retreat can be created in any location. While the design concept is often associated with beachfront properties, it can be adapted to urban or inland settings by incorporating coastal-inspired elements and materials.

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