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This MyDomaine Writer Renovated Her Beach Cottage Backyard Using Treasured Vintage Items

Jersey shorehouse backyard with pool and two loungechairs.

Courtesy of Colleen Sullivan

If there’s something we never get tired of seeing, it’s a great makeover. Whether it’s transforming a retro bathroom into a modern oasis or giving a lackluster bedroom a fresh look, pros perform these design miracles all the time.

To give designers a chance to showcase their favorite makeovers—and to bring you plenty of inspiration for your own home—we’re sharing the best before and afters we’ve seen in our series, Makeover of the Week. Take notes for your next renovation.

“After losing friends and neighbors on 9/11, my husband announced he didn’t want to wait on his dream of owning a beach house at the Jersey Shore," MyDomaine contributor Colleen Sullivan says. "With three kids under the age of 5 and a small budget, we spent a year and a half looking at homes for sale. My one stipulation? The house had to be old—not an easy mandate to fill when many of the vintage bungalows were being razed by developers."

"But one day, I saw a for sale ad in a local newspaper for a small lot and upon pulling up to the address, stumbled upon our little 1924 fisherman’s cottage. The homeowner was selling the land assuming the buyer would be knocking down the weary cottage, but we spent the next decade renovating our bungalow by the sea. This year, we decided to do something we’d always talked about—put in a plunge pool to make our backyard a true family hangout and entertaining space.”

Meet the Expert

Colleen Sullivan is a contributor at MyDomaine, TODAY, HGTV, Brides, and Business Insider. Her dream would be to see every vintage coastal home on the Jersey Shore saved from destruction.


Before photo of empty backyard.

Courtesy of Colleen Sullivan

“When we purchased the house, the backyard consisted of an oversized garden shed that stored our beach chairs, bikes, and surfboards, along with a wooden picnic table constructed by the previous owner," Sullivan shares. "We made some landscaping improvements over the years, but when the pandemic hit, we literally took the plunge and added a small 15’ by 8’ pool to our backyard. I had been collecting outdoor items at antique shows over the years so was excited to put them to use and on display.”


Tropical shore backyard with plant and pool.

Courtesy of Colleen Sullivan

“To utilize every square foot of the backyard, we laid mahogany planks throughout the space," Sullivan explains. "Sections of a vintage Woodard wrought iron outdoor set are placed all around the pool, creating multiple seating zones. To play into the Palm Springs feel, I covered the cushions in a dark chocolate fabric and lined them with turquoise piping, installed a horizontal wood fence and painted it in a deep navy blue, and placed elephant ear plants in heavy white ceramic holders around the pool."

makeover of the week

Colleen Sullivan

"A cocktail bar provides a place to serve drinks on warm summer nights and the picnic table bequeathed to us by the prior owner is where we sit for our outdoor meals," Sullivan says. "It was important to my husband and me that a backyard renovation didn’t affect the cottage’s charm—that it would only enhance it—which is a goal I feel we achieved.”

It was important to my husband and me that a backyard renovation didn’t affect the cottage’s charm—that it would only enhance it—which is a goal I feel we achieved.

makeover of the week

Colleen Sullivan

What Changed:

Bar area in backyard with tools and small plants.

Courtesy of Colleen Sullivan

  • Color theme: Hints of lime, turquoise, and a mix of white and beige neutrals give off a colorful vintage beach vibe. 
  • Pool: The 15’ x 8’ saltwater pool is only 4’ deep, creating the perfect spot to cool down and chat with friends and family.  
  • Bar: String lights drape the bar’s pergola, which coordinates with the pergolas on the cottage’s outdoor shower, arbor, and front porch. 
  • Bar stools: Teak and aluminum framed stools are easy to maintain and provide the perfect seating height for cocktails at the bar. 
  • Sconces: Bubbles were carved into the ceramic wall sconces before being glazed for outdoor protection.
  • Arbor: A tropical mandavilla plant grows over the arbor to welcomes guests to the backyard. Oversized round cement stepping stones are original to the house.
  • Garden shed: One third of the shed was converted into a finished pool room where the kids can watch TV and lounge on sectional couches. 
  • Shower: An outdoor shower was constructed near the arbor using horizontal cedar siding and a pergola top to match the cottage.
  • Landscaping:  A plant basin was created using leftover mahogany flooring, then filled with white flowering crepe myrtles. 
  • Plants: A mix of potted elephant ears, sago palms, bromeliad and variegated meezo (in the flowerboxes) and ferns (on the fence) give off a tropical feel.
  • Floor: Sun-resistant and long-wearing mahogany deck planks were covered in a clear stain to protect from UV damage.
  • Lounge chairs: Two different sets of natural-colored lounge chairs provide places to read or nap. 
  • Umbrella: A white tasseled umbrella creates a resort-like feel and provides shade on sunny days. 
  • Fence: The horizontal cedar planks were painted a deep navy blue (Cyberspace by Sherwin-Williams) to create a uniform and continuous visual flow with the cedar-clad house.  
  • Ceramic wall art: The terracotta flowers are finished in a white glaze and add a design element to the fencing.
  • Plant stand: A vintage metal plant stand holds summer herbs including basil, thyme and rosemary. 
  • Bench: A 10-foot antique bench was painted turquoise and provides a spot to rest beach bags and towels. 

Shop the Look:

makeover of the week outdoor shower

Colleen Sullivan

Indoor Outdoor Sun Lounge Chair
DAFI Indoor Outdoor Sun Lounge Chair $300.00

“These woven and wood chairs dry quickly after summer storms and can be brought indoors for use during the colder months,” Sullivan shares.

Ceramic Blooms Wall Décor
Ballard Designs Ceramic Blooms Wall Décor $79.00 $63.00

“White ceramic wall flowers were the perfect way to add a pop of art to the dark-colored fence,” Sullivan notes.

Koko II Januswood Barstool
JANUS et Cie Koko II Januswood Barstool $994.00

“We owned the bar stools prior to the renovation—they were pricy but worth the investment as they still look new over a decade later,” Sullivan notes.