How do you make a tired midcentury home on the Jersey Shore feel like the ultimate Mykonos escape? Leave it to Nicole Cohen, an artist, blogger, and photographer with an exceptional eye, to completely transform a space using only crafty cosmetic updates and a few very lucky vintage finds. When she and her husband purchased their summer home from a decorator in the beach town of Deal, New Jersey, it had seen better days—the floors needed to be refinished, the ceilings needed a coat of paint, and the whole space needed a revamp. But Cohen, who has a penchant for nostalgic spaces she calls "granny chic" could already see the potential.
Leaving most of the original midcentury details intact, she reworked the space to feel like a breezy European beach escape—minimal and airy but still layered and deeply rooted in history. With only a few clever cosmetic updates, some very thrifty vintage shopping, and a few favorite IKEA pieces, she was able to create a high-end look without the price tag to match. Step inside the dreamy beach house Cohen shares with her husband and three children—you just might want to move in for the summer.
"We bought the house last spring from a lovely woman who was a decorator, and I immediately fell in love with it," explains Cohen. "The house has amazing midcentury bones and some stunning hardware and details that I just knew I wanted to preserve! Over the past year, we would head out there on weekends, and I would basically bumble around collecting furniture from my in-laws' basements and our local antique stores." The One Room Challenge gave Cohen the push she needed to finish the house just in time for summer.
The house in its original state had seen better days. Ceilings and floors needed repainting, and built-in cabinets needed updating: "In the living room, we built in the sofa and renovated a dishes cabinet into what is now a shelving unit. We did minimal renovations, just painting and cleaning up a few areas. The hardest part of the project was figuring out what to do with the living room floors—which are just painted plywood!" Cohen gave them a fresh coat of white paint to create a bright and airy space.
While the space may look incredibly high-end, Cohen was extra creative in mixing high and low items in the space: "The living room is long and narrow, with a giant atrium in the center of it, so I added the low built-in seating because I thought it would anchor the vintage screen and provide a lot of casual seating in the space," she explains. Around the long sofa, the photographer mixed IKEA furniture with vintage finds and simple jute rugs.
"I had been collecting vintage chairs for years, so I naturally wanted to find space for them in the home," says Cohen. "I acquired them over time—some I found on the streets of NYC, some are from art fairs, and others are vintage finds bought online." At the center of the space is a large chinoiserie screen, which the photographer decided to build the sofa around. All the colors in the living room were picked around the colors of the screen.
"The aesthetic goals in the space were just to be minimal and to create a mix old and new and casually comfortable," explains Cohen. "Since it's a summer home, I went for a lot of texture. I was collecting a bunch of different shells, rocks, and pinecones with my kids, and that became the inspiration for the materials that would ultimately go in the space."
In the den, Cohen again used a vintage piece to inspire the scheme of the space: "We bought the floral sofa from the previous owner—and that's what inspired my fabric choices. I wanted to keep the den warm and cozy since this is where we watch movies and light fires." To create a sense of comfort, the photographer kept the paneled walls and layered different natural textures, leaving the color palette very minimal, save for a few hints of green.
"I had a giant white-oak coffee table custom-made to balance out the huge sofa," explains Cohen. "That along with the custom sisal rug instantly transformed the space." She stripped the floors and repainted the ceiling in the room but left many of the details intact.
Cohen describes her style as granny-meets-minimal modernist—something she has clearly perfected. The blend of nostalgic items from the past along with ultra-clean and minimal pieces create a space that's entirely original and otherworldly. "I've always wanted to do a minimalist room, and I've literally never succeeded until now," she explains. "Everything in here is special. That's why I love the space! There is no filler furniture. It's all very thought out and comfortable."
This goes to show how while you sometimes need a little push to get projects finished in a timely manner, it doesn't always pay to purchase everything at once—sometimes, the best rooms come together over time with the help of a little curbside scouring or online shopping.
Next up, how to live that coastal life when you're in the city.