A coastal cottage comes to life in Carolina Beach
By CHRISTINE HENNESSEY » Photos by G. FRANK HART
When Stacey and Bob Dunn first moved to Wilmington in 2005, they purchased a home—large and brand new—in the Marsh Oaks neighborhood of Ogden. They also owned a condo in Carolina Beach, in order to have a place closer to the ocean for family trips and relaxing getaways, a double life that satisfied them for many years. As their daughter Haley got older, however, they began to feel a pull toward Carolina Beach, specifically toward the Seagrove community. “We watched Seagrove grow for nearly ten years,” Dunn explains, “and we were ready to be there full time.”
It wasn’t just the idea of living at the beach that appealed to the Dunns. The family of three also wanted to downsize, and the opportunity to build a smaller home better suited to their lifestyle, one that didn’t need as much maintenance and upkeep, excited them. When they were ready to make their move, building their own piece of paradise in Seagrove was the natural choice.
A Collaborative Process
The Dunns were introduced to Mike Poziombka, owner of Coastal Traditions, by their realtor. “Mike also lived in Seagrove, and we enjoyed the fact that he was invested in the community. When we walked through his home, we could see that everything was well done and that he was the kind of person who paid attention to detail. Plus,” she laughs, “we liked him.”
Poziombka, a military veteran, founded Coastal Traditions seventeen years ago, and has been designing and constructing homes in southeastern North Carolina ever since. Coastal Traditions only takes on custom projects, which offers Poziombka unique opportunities for creativity and innovation. Because each client is different, he spends a lot of time on the initial design, working closely with his clients to ensure their needs and aesthetics are represented in the final plans. “I’m very hands on,” he says. “When I design a home from scratch, I work with the client to come up with ideas and create floor plans.” This was important to the Dunns, especially Stacey. A professional interior designer at McKenzie Baker Interiors, she wanted a collaborative process that would satisfy her own creative impulses. With Coastal Traditions, that was exactly what she got.
“It was a lot of fun,” Dunn says. “Mike let me do my design thing. He was very flexible and willing to work with us on specific needs.” The kitchen was one of those places where collaboration was key. “Mike came to us with a plan, but he was happy to let us tweak it. We decided to extend the kitchen island and add a bookshelf to the end of it.” In addition to these changes, Dunn also had a specific vision for the color of the island. “I wanted to paint it a shade called Hale Navy to complement the Dove White cabinets,” she says. “Mike even let me bring in my guy to lacquer it, which I appreciated.”
The kitchen design also included a wet bar and when Dunn saw the plans for the cabinets above it, her interior designer’s eye kicked in again. “I knew it would be the perfect place to put my Venetian mirror,” she says. “So Mike got rid of the cabinets and we hung the mirror instead.”
Some of the changes the Dunns requested were more substantial. The original floor plan had a side back porch but, as Dunn explains, “We’re more front porch people.” They talked it over with Poziombka and adjusted the plan to enclose the side porch and make it part of the house, increasing the square footage in the process. “It’s a 9’ x 13’ space, perfect for my home office,” Dunn says. The railings on the front porch were another instance where Dunn requested upgrades and changes, and Poziombka was able to make it happen. “I really wanted something no one else in the neighborhood had,” she explains. “I found a picture of what I wanted and Mike worked with us on that, too.” The result is a railing with a beautiful, Chippendale-esque herringbone pattern that stands out in the Seagrove community, just as Dunn hoped.
From Vision to Reality
Because Dunn had a specific vision for her home, the design phase of the project took a little longer than usual. According to Poziombka, the average Coastal Traditions client takes about six weeks to two months to finalize the design of their home, and then it takes roughly another eight months to build it. “The planning phase really depends on the homeowner,” he says. “During the design phase they pick the cabinets, look at flooring, and choose tile. Once they see the picture coming together, they tend to go back and make tweaks, or choose upgrades.” Because all the planning is done up front, there aren’t many surprises once construction begins. Builder and client are both clear on the plan, which makes for a smoother process later on. For this reason, Poziombka never rushes the design process—it’s too important.
Because Dunn is an interior designer, she had clear ideas about what she wanted, and a deeper understanding of the design and construction process. “We worked together to meet her vision,” Poziombka says. “The only limitation was budget. We asked ourselves, how much can we do without spending a ton of money?”
The answer? A lot.
“We went from 3800 square feet to 2150,” says Dunn. Less home also meant that they could upgrade other aspects of the house, shifting the budget from square footage to aesthetic details, such as beautiful quartz counters in their kitchen.
Poziombka and Dunn both agree that the master suite is one of the best parts of the home. The original design included a bathtub but, after discussing it with Dunn, Poziombka decided to switch the tub out for a large, freestanding shower. The shower is 9’ x 5’, a practical choice that’s also unique and different. With a concrete bench and countertops, and painted glass, the bathroom became a relaxing yet elegant retreat.
When it came time to design the outside of their home, the Dunns enlisted Low Country Landscaping to put the finishing touches on their coastal cottage. Scott Hinson, who owns Low Country Landscaping, has teamed up with Poziombka on many projects over the past few years and they enjoy a good working relationship, which extended to Dunn. “We hit it off immediately,” Hinson says. Just like Poziombka, Hinson appreciates a collaborative process with his clients—in fact, he thrives on it. “I can sit in my office and dream up all kinds of designs,” he says, “but it’s not until the client offers their input that the project feels like it has a soul. When you can create something that is a true collaboration, that includes the heart and soul from both people—those are the projects you remember.”
For the last fifteen years, Low Country Landscaping has been providing southeastern North Carolina with outdoor spaces that reflect the region’s rich history and old world charm, and this aesthetic is clear in the soulful design that Hinson and Dunn settled on. Inspired by classic southern cities like Charleston, it includes many native plants and flowers. Palm trees are lit up in the evening by landscape lighting, while flowers such as hydrangeas, camellias, and gardenias bloom in the yard. A boxwood hedge lines the perimeter of the property, which will eventually grow to create a natural fence for the Dunns’ dog, Rosebud. Although the Dunns’ property is modest, the landscaping makes it feel larger. It even includes one of Hinson’s favorite features—a tucked away nook in the back corner of the yard, which he refers to as the home’s “secret garden.”
“The best part is that there’s no grass,” Dunn says, “so we don’t have to spend hours every Saturday mowing,” Instead, the Dunns are free to relax on their front porch, enjoying their little piece of paradise.
Living the Dream
When Dunn looks back on the journey that brought them to Seagrove, she remembers one moment in particular. “My husband and I had just signed the contract and we were sitting on the beach,” she says. “Bob asked me what I thought the house would look like, what colors I was picturing. I pointed at the ocean and I said, ‘You’re looking at it.’ I wanted a home where the inside was married to the outside, and that’s what we got. We couldn’t be more thrilled.”
Builder: Coastal Traditions Design Build, 910-386-3109, coastaltraditionsnc.com
Interior Design: McKenzie Baker Interiors, 910-762-4222, mckenziebakerinteriors.com
Landscape: Low Country Landscaping, 910-200-1489, lowcountrylandscaping.com