Coastal Chic

Years in the making, a once-dated oceanfront cottage on Sea Island is transformed into a minimalist-chic getaway.

Swept away by the charms of Sea Island, Georgia, the late Jae Portman, an avid sailing enthusiast and son of international architect John C. Portman Jr., surprised his family in 1995 with the purchase of a 1950s ranch-style cottage. His wife, Barbara, was thrilled with the oceanfront locale and, despite the home’s dated interiors, the couple found themselves too busy enjoying the island’s warm summers and ocean breezes to find time for renovations.

Twenty years later, Barbara, now spending most of her days in New York City, finally decided it was time to commence the much-needed refresh discussed so long ago. To get the ball rolling, she reached out to Rob Kjellander, whose company Cottage Concierge was charged with the maintenance of her beloved vacation home. Knowing that a complete interior overhaul was required, Kjellander tapped Chad Goehring of architectural firm Harrison Design to remedy the home’s choppy configurations.

Goehring transformed the mazelike layout into an airy, open-concept floor plan by eliminating walls and absorbing square footage from unnecessary closets. “With older homes, it’s very typical to have all these closets, so we had to figure out ways to clean up the clutter,” says Goehring.

“Chad helped us transform the original Francis Abreu plan from 1953,” says Kjellander. “Abreu was personally picked by the founders of Sea Island to design residences on the island, and he was the leading architect of his time. Recognizing that history—and reinterpreting it for today’s living—was important to us.”

Today, the home’s front entryway leads to a spacious foyer that gives way to a well-appointed chef’s kitchen to one side and a combination living-and-dining area to the other. Both were originally cramped individual spaces closed off from one another by wood-paneled walls made of wormy chestnut. Instead of tossing the removed panels, Kjellander enlisted a local carpenter to transform them into beams that now grace the common areas’ raised ceilings.

To complete the transformation, Barbara called on her niece, Atlanta-based interior designer Alissa Portman Beard of Alissa Portman Interiors. Both women share a love of clean, modern lines, a style that serves the beach home well. “My vision was to create a very understated look,” says Beard. “I wanted to have a sense of tranquility wash over you once you stepped inside.” Beard employed a strict palette of whites, sandy taupes and deep blues, employing a minimalist-chic approach to allow the once blocked ocean views to shine.

“As a team, we were able to create a brand-new house; yet not a single exterior wall was moved, nor did we raise the roof,” says Goehring. “The home feels a billion times brighter and livelier than it ever was. It now looks like the fresh beach cottage it was always meant to be.” 

ARCHITECTURE Chad Goehring, Assoc. AIA, Harrison Design. (912) 634-9603; INTERIOR DESIGN Alissa Portman Beard, Alissa Portman Interiors. PROJECT MANAGER Rob Kjellander, Cottage Concierge. (912) 268-4092; LANDSCAPE & HARDSCAPE Edward Tankersley, Southern Resources of Georgia. (912) 434-6220;