The Owner of This Beach House Had One Request: Make It Cute

Updated 09/27/19

Design: Jill Howard, Photo: Abby Murphy

In a small coastal Carolina town famous for its hammock-making abilities, creating a blissful island escape should be an easy project. But when designer Jill Howard was tasked with updating a Pawleys Island cottage, it needed a little extra love.

"The client simply asked if I could make it cute," Howard said. "It was not cute when they bought it, to say the least. I think we achieved our goal though!"

That they did. With a mix of bright white walls and lots of accent colors, the four-bedroom, three-bath home was transformed from dark and dingy to bright and beautiful.

"The residents of Pawleys Island refer to the beautiful town as 'arrogantly shabby,'” Howard says. "We wanted to create a beautiful, peaceful home that wasn’t too precious. This is the client’s weekend home, so it’s meant to be a place to relax and unwind."

Keep scrolling to see how Howard transformed a plain space into a soothing coastal getaway.

Dining Room
Design: Jill Howard, Photo: Abby Murphy

The home includes a mix of old and new finds to give the it a laid-back, eclectic feel. Bohemian rattan chairs play well with a mod dining table and antique cabinet thanks to the clean and simple lines.

"The client purchased the beautiful cabinet you see in the dining room from a great antiques dealer in New York state," Howard says. "We complemented the piece by surrounding it with simple modern and contemporary furnishings."

rattan dining chair retro
Palecek Retro Rattan Dining Arm Chair $439
living room
Design: Jill Howard, Photo: Abby Murphy

The house is a traditional beach cottage, meaning many of the rooms are a little tight for space. The easiest fix for small rooms? A gallon or two of bright white paint.

"The living and dining rooms are quite narrow and get very little natural light, so we decided to paint the walls Benjamin Moore Decorator’s White to brighten up the space," Howard says. "The rooms feel more spacious now too."

decorators white benjamin moore
Benjamin Moore Decorator's White $43 for a gallon
close up cabinet
Design: Jill Howard, Photo: Abby Murphy

On any project, Howard looks to her design icons and past trips to find her vision.

"Travel is a huge inspiration and love," Howard said. "I also look to the great decorators who came before me like Billy Baldwin, Albert Hadley and David Hicks."

living room
Design: Jill Howard, Photo: Abby Murphy 

Her most important inspiration, however, comes from the homeowners themselves and their needs. Ensuring that there was plenty of room to entertain was high on their wish list.

"The home is often full of friends and family, so we had to make sure we provided enough seating in the small space," Howard says. "The sectional became the perfect way to provide ample seating for company, but is comfy enough to lounge when alone."

Design: Jill Howard, Photo: Abby Murphy

The architecture of the cottage also helped Howard decide how to decorate the space. She leaned into soft materials and low-fuss accents, perfect for a home just steps from the water.

"The house is a simple beach cottage with lots of character," Howard says. "We wanted to keep that same vibe with the furnishings and decorations." 

Design: Jill Howard, Photo: Abby Murphy 

For this bathroom, Howard returned to the classic pairing of blue and white. The simple sconces and Moroccan-inspired rug add a modern touch to a traditional space.

Design: Jill Howard, Photo: Abby Murphy 

Each of the home's bedrooms is filled with soft textures and lightweight fabrics. Easy living is the name of the game here.

"We selected materials that suit a beach shack and definitely went for comfort," Howard said.

cb side table entu
Crate & Barrel Entu Side Table $419 $335
double beds bedroom
Design: Jill Howard, Photo: Abby Murphy 

Each part of this home echoes Howard's personal design taste, which she calls "casual modernism."

To me, that means well-curated and livable," Howard says. "Not too precious. I love a light-filled room, with colorful textiles, natural elements and textures and a mix of old and new, high and low."

Serena & Lily harbour cane bed
Serena & Lily Harbour Cane Bed $1,998
chair in bedroom
Design: Jill Howard, Photo: Abby Murphy

The antique finds are some of the most unique in the home. Howard knows a great piece when she sees one.

"Who doesn’t love a vintage peacock chair?" Howard says. "I especially loved the intricate weaving on the chair arms."

Her design mantra is reflected throughout this space, and any room she takes on.

"I always design for living," Howard says. "At the end of the day, great design is about the people who use the space." 

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