Center City residents Lynne and Ed Berkowitz call their Atlantic City condo “a piece of heaven.” Year-round, it offers a weekend respite from their busy lives operating a pharmacy and a chance to spend precious downtime with their two daughters and four grandchildren, who range in age from 2 to 6 years old.
Lynne Berkowitz says, “In my entire life, I never anticipated living the way I am living. I didn’t know it existed — I didn’t know anybody that had a shore home” when she bought her first condo 17 years ago. Now, when the couple arrives in Atlantic City, it is as though their business ceases to exist. “I get down there and watch the first wave and all the anxiety of the week goes out on the first wave. It’s like taking a deep breath.”
The Berkowitzes, who also own a condo near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, first dipped their toes into shore real estate by buying a one-bedroom condominium in a high-rise. They doubled down a few years later when an adjoining one-bedroom came on the market. It was the purchase of the second condo that initially put them in remodeling mode as they knocked down walls to combine the two units into one. The couple, who eventually plan to retire to Atlantic City, are now completing their third remodeling there.
Lynne Berkowitz loves to cook, turning out everything from briskets, gefilte fish and chopped liver to an assortment of cookies, brownies and cakes for her constant stream of young visitors. Despite her love of all things culinary, she didn’t need two kitchens and was determined that the remodeling would let her relocate the kitchen sink so that she could view the ocean while cleaning. As it turned out, re-routing the plumbing was no easy task: the Berkowitzes sought the advice of a handful of architects before finding one who figured out how it could be done.
That person was Todd Allen Miller, an architect and owner of Ventnor-based QMA Design+Build, LLC. Miller’s group also designed and constructed the couple’s new master bedroom suite and two bathroom remodels. The condo now has bathrooms that can easily be made handicapped-accessible, with doorways wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through, should one ever be needed.
With its yellow-and-blue color scheme meant to remind visitors of sun and sea, the condo also reflects the Berkowitzes’ desire to be green; the kitchen backsplash is composed of recycled glass tiles, the kitchen cabinets are made of bamboo and the countertop came from one of the original kitchens.
In recent years, Miller, whose firm does a lot of work for shore homeowners like the Berkowitzes, has noticed a sea change in attitudes of his customers, brought on by the bad economy and sagging housing market. In the past, he says, people would tell him they wanted to build the maximum house possible within zoning regulations. Today, he says, “they are focused on what they need and where they want to be in the future.” More are paying cash. “In years past, no matter how much they spent, they would get it back” when they sold their homes. “That may not happen in the future,” Miller notes.
Typically, his clients focus on areas of their homes that are important to them as opposed to wanting to duplicate trends they see in magazines. Adds Margate realtor Judi S. Cohen, who bought her own shore home a quarter of a century ago, people with older shore homes who want to remodel often go for an open layout, knocking down walls to create larger living spaces that can serve as family gathering spots. In addition, they may add a front porch to serve the same purpose. “People don’t want a house where they stay inside; they want to utilize the outside as much as possible to hang out, watch people walk by, the old-fashioned way,” Cohen says.
“Some homes don’t call you or lead you in,” Miller observes. “A good porch is about creating an inviting atmosphere. It should be designed as outdoor living space — as a room for furniture, for outdoor couches and tables so you can sit and communicate just like inside.” Instead of a four- or five-foot deep porch, Miller recommends adding one that is eight to 12 feet deep and constructed using low-maintenance materials such as brick or bluestone.
For people thinking about adding a second-floor deck, Miller counsels against putting a large deck off a bedroom. “Walking through a bedroom to get to a deck is awkward,” he says. Decks reachable through a great room or the kitchen get more use.
One thing to keep in mind, particularly for owners of older homes, is that shore remodels may carry with them an extra complication because the vast majority of homes located on Absecon Island — Atlantic City, Ventnor, Margate and Longport — are located in flood zones. Miller points out that older homes in those areas that were not built high enough to withstand a devastating flood are subject to FEMA regulations when they are remodeled. In some cases, he says, that may mean that in addition to adding a new kitchen or some other expensive enhancement, an owner may be required to spend an extra $20,000 to $40,000 to have their house raised, too.
Once the decision to hire an architect has been made, the process of finding a compatible one begins. Northfield architect and planner Robert Kiejdan says working with an architect should be fun. “You have to have chemistry with your architect,” he counsels. To find the right person, he suggests visiting homes that architects have redesigned and evaluating their work for its practicality, functionality and use of available space. After an architect has been selected, he says, “Don’t limit yourself to the first design. You have to be happy with what is being done for you. It is easy to convince people to do something but I can tell if my clients are really happy or not.”
“You may not have a multimillion-dollar budget, but you should get a well thought out plan,” Kiejdan says. He uses a combination of computer-aided design, hand drawings and scale models to illustrate what the completed job will look like. “I don’t think anything can beat the ability to see, feel and touch the house,” he says.
Of course, there are less expensive ways to update a shore home, both inside and out. Mary Rhoads of Simply Elegant Home in Media, who has owned two homes in Avalon, says the least expensive way to give a home a new look is to repaint its interior walls, perhaps with beach-friendly colors like blues, aquas, corals and sand colors. She admits that she could not live with coral walls herself. “Know your own color palette, what is serene for you, what you like and can live with long-term. You will be buying around that color palette: furniture, linens and accessories that coordinate with that. It’s a commitment.”
Rhoads says a simple way to make a new color statement is to add decorative pillows to a living room couch or bedroom or heavy-duty, brightly patterned melamine dinnerware such as that made by Le Cadeaux to the kitchen. “It’s not expensive to create a new look,” Rhoads says.
Bringing new color to the landscape of a shore home does not require a lot of money either, although, in addition to annuals, it is best to stick to plants and shrubs that can withstand windy, salty and sandy soil conditions. Joni Cummings, sales manager at Bayview Florist and Garden Center in Northfield, says that there are at least 20 types of plantings that meet that requirement. Among them are hydrangeas, junipers, roses and lilacs. Wind conditions can even vary from block to block at the shore, according to Cummings, and that could mean that a Chinese holly might thrive on one side of the street but not the other. Perhaps that is why Cummings frequently receives phone calls from people asking for advice on what to plant and how to take care of it.
Gail Snyder is a freelance writer who lives in Chalfont, Pa., far away from the seashore. As a child, she once dreamed that the ocean was outside her Mt. Airy rowhome.