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Originally published Friday, June 22, 2012 at 8:01 PM

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Keep a beach-house renovation all in the family

Two decades of salt air, storms, houseguests and wet dogs took a toll on the three-story beach block property.

The Washington Post

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BETHANY BEACH, Del. —

F or 20 years, the Burns family made awesome memories here in their cedar-sided beach house on stilts. They learned to fly kites and ride boogie boards and even met future spouses. Most summer weekends, Kevin and Nancy Burns and their three kids couldn't wait to hear the crunch of gravel in their driveway as they pulled in after a three-hour trip from their home in Maryland.

But two decades of salt air, nor'easters, houseguests and wet dogs took a toll on the three-story beach block property. In 2010, with kids grown and two grandchildren on the way, Kevin and Nancy, both 62, decided it was time to shore up the place for the next generation with a renovation and redecoration.

"We needed to do some extensive work. We wondered who we could get with the right combination of design talent and construction and project management skills," Kevin says. The right person was sitting at their dinner table: daughter-in-law Erica Burns, 31, a Washington, D.C., interior designer married to their son Ryan, 33. The two have a 10-month-old daughter, Elle.

Erica has a degree in construction management and previously worked for high-end residential builders. "I can read plans and understand sequencing, and I know a lot about finishes," she says.

She also was familiar with the patterns of life by the sea among the extended family, which includes Ryan's sister Kate Coleman, 29, married to Joe Coleman, 31, and their daughter Lindsey, 1; Ryan's sister Jaime, 36; and three dogs.

"It was so important to me," says Erica, who got engaged here to Ryan. "It's where my family will be going for years."

The house had lots of great relaxing spaces inside and out. On the main level, a living room, kitchen and dining room are all connected, and there's a screened porch off to the side. "It's a very communal type of atmosphere that can accommodate a lot of people," Erica says.

There are two bedrooms and a bath on the first floor and a family room that holds the only TV in the house. Yes, that's on purpose: Kevin and Nancy have always felt that limiting TV to one room encourages conversation and reading in the rest.

On the second floor, there's a master bedroom and adjoining bath and two bedrooms with another bathroom. Up a narrow spiral staircase is a loft where you can escape babies and dogs.

Kevin, a venture capitalist, and Nancy didn't want too much change. It was important to preserve the casual, open feel of the house. But it was showing its age. The original plan was to renovate the kitchen and bathrooms, replace carpeting with wood floors and redecorate in a cottage style. The builder-grade details on the fireplace and trim needed to be improved. There was a deadline: the work should start October 2010 and be completed by Memorial Day weekend 2011.

Like any renovation, there were surprises. They uncovered extensive water damage requiring replacement of the cedar siding with cement board plank. Although unfortunate and costly, it led to more improvements: a bigger screened porch, new windows and the opportunity to create a spacious sun deck on the second floor. "It's the cool new favorite place to go now because it's breezy and has a view of the beach," Erica says.

One of her favorite makeovers was the master bath, where a monster Jacuzzi tub (so 1990s) that nobody used was replaced with a large open glass shower lined with subway tiles and a new white marble vanity.

Nancy wanted a white kitchen with marble counters, a bit tricky for a beach house where kids will be spilling juice boxes and adults will be mixing margaritas.

Instead of marble, Erica went to Charles Luck Stone and found Antico Namibian White granite, which is less porous and shows fewer stains than marble.

Nancy and Erica agreed there would be no baskets of shells or wooden signs saying "Beach This Way." Erica says they "focused on colors and textures that remind you of the beach." They painted walls the color of sand (Winds Breath by Benjamin Moore) and chose a cotton rug in a sea blue.

Erica and Nancy selected reclaimed wooden tables and white slipcovered sofas. The bedrooms are spare and restful. They kept a few old things, including wicker porch furniture and quilts, which have a cottage look.

Throughout the 8-month redo, the family stuck together. "A lot of people said I was crazy for doing this with my in-laws, that it was a recipe for disaster," Erica says, "Not true." She says only a few things required a little convincing of Nancy, such as going with granite instead of marble and replacing Palladian windows with a more contemporary style.

Nancy says, "Now the house is better in so many ways. And with a new roof and good siding, it will last longer for our kids and grandkids."

As Erica wrote in the first entry of the construction blog she kept for the family: "We will miss the days of cold/scalding hot showers, low bathroom vanities, jammed doorknobs, stubbed toes on loose deck nails. ... But we must move forward and welcome the new changes with exciting memories to come!"

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