Seahill Reno: Add Mid-Modern Style to Ugly 80’s Beach House

When you undertake a renovation project to add great modern style to an ugly 1980’s house it’s important to get your priorities in order…

The first task of this project was to give the poor beach house a really great name, and fast! It was the same as calling our weak and sickly rescue kitten Mr Fitz after the legendary New Zealand Rugby captain Sean Fitzpatrick in the hope a tough athletic nature would come with the name.

So it was that Seahill was born;  a pretty, beach appropriate name, in the beginning attached to a ferociously ugly box of a house…but in the end it was just right.


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The house needed a reconfigured floorplan and a complete overhaul of the interior to make use of the great (potential) space that would turn it into a dream-worthy coastal holiday home..but the most pressing issue was how to deal with the seriously ugly exterior and the lack of a welcoming ‘face’ and entrance.

Initially it was a struggle to visualise an exterior style that would lead seamlessly to the ‘urban rustic’ feel I knew would work so well for the the interior.

In the end I decided that the brutal brick box ‘style’ could lend itself to a beachy take on Mid Century Modern look by reducing the power of the brick and creating a strong focal point of the much needed new entry. While I accept it’s a loose interpretation of the beautiful lines of Californian Modern that style did provide inspiration to work with the existing blunt linear structure. When combined with the addition of an welcoming pure beachy blue door and a sand pathway, the ugly duckling that Seahill had been was gone and she now had a street presence that nestled into the side of the dune and the coastal woodland context.

Initially it was hard to keep that vision in mind especially once the weed plants were cleared and Seahill’s true ‘features’ were exposed.

She was truly grim!



Only this (very) rough drawing of how I knew the house could look to keep the concept fresh in my mind;
especially on the days when it seemed quite impossible that  Seahill could ever be a house with any curb appeal.

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The exterior plan included-

  • strong linear elements of two deep fascia: one at the top covering the existing guttering and the second as a feature through the middle of the building. Aiming to reduce the impression of height and also clearly define it as a two story home
  • a dramatic 2.4m high front door
  • a north facing courtyard enclosing the living space adjacent to the new ground level living areas
  • a beach style boardwalk entrance path lined with the local grasses and (subject to planning permission) a double carport with a continuation of the grass garden as a ‘green’ roof.

*Crying laughing is probably a normal reader response at this point but remember Skyhill went from this…

Version 2

to this…
(in less than a year)



Emphasizing the strong lines of Seahill would give a clean modern look…But there was another factor in the creation of the new “face’ of the house…

…that was the major issue of the dreadful, dark and completely non-beachy, RED BRICK.  It was a dominating bully without a wit of charm or style;  ok perhaps a little Rustic but with absolutely no Urban Cool…it was just RED, and a really UGLY RED at that!

I couldn’t let that red stay: it was shouting ‘dark and suburban dreary gloom’ all over the project. Dreams of a cool, Mid Modern(ish), ‘blend into the environment’ beach-house-getaway were all at risk if I couldn’t find a way to give the house a revamp that looked like ‘one of the tribe’ in the local area.

At the beach it’s all about light, neutral colour palettes that tone with the greens, taupes, greys and fawns of the local coastal woodland.
Just to give you an idea I snapped these on my walk to the village one balmy evening at the beginning of the project…



What options could work in this situation? How could I to make the horrors of that red gloom disappear with the least fuss (and cost) possible.

There were three main options…

  • Rendering: This was my choice on a previous project and it can be counted on to give a crisp finish. It could turn Seahill into a perfect crystalline sugar cube house…but it’s expensive when done well and bright white wasn’t on the list of approved colours for the area (yep the local council has a list…’the good, the bad and the ugly’ and there’s always that pedantic local official who keeps an eye out for non approved colours). Even more of an issue from a design perspective was that a (gorgeous) brutal modern exterior would require the interior to be completely stripped back to achieve a similar crisp edged finish inside …and that wasn’t an option in terms of time and hence money.
  • Bagging: This option wasn’t as expensive as render and the rough sandy texture would have worked with an urban rustic vibe yet I was concerned it would have flattened the linear feature of the brick without attaining the hard crisp look of the render. The result could have reduced the visual interest of an already virtually featureless house but without adding the edginess to make it a style element in itself. (I was also concerned that it can also look like the ‘quick and dirty house flip’ option).
  • Painting: This was probably the easiest and least costly option, spray it on, and that’s it. However I was concerned that the harsh seaside environment might cause the paint to fail and sometimes painted brick can have a cheap plastic appearance. After lots of research I chatted to a local painter (always go local if possible because they know the environment well) who assured me that spraying a low sheen paint would give a durable finish, keep the texture of the brick while delivering a virtually flat appearance. While the amazing Finish houses of Alvar Aalto in their stark white livery tempted me, in the end I chose a pale grey to reduce summer glare and keep on side with the local planning authorities.


There’s a tremendous improvement in curb appeal even if it’s a little stark without a carport or well grown garden softening  the off-street parking area.

Best of all it was achieved without the cost of radically changing what was, and remains, stylistically a blunt object of a house.

The light grey works well on the exterior and in the second floor veranda I decided to switch to white for the the look fresh that echos the wide white trim around the entrance door and window.

The Caribbean blue is truly perfect, on the new front entrance and on the shutters that shelter the veranda from the hot afternoon sun

…it’s the colour that defines Seahill as a beach retreat perfect for a long, long, slow summer.

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 (Warning #cattax …)


The rescue kitten Mr Fitz has grown to be the most tenacious, tough and wonderfully athletic little beast
…albeit with a slightly lopsided gait and cowboy bandy front legs…but they don’t slow him down.

Remember there’s a lot of power in a name!