Birmingham designer Mary Lauren McBride transformed a Fairhope, Alabama, rental into a welcoming waterfront escape.

By Elizabeth Hutchison Hicklin
July 17, 2021
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When Logan and Drew Mouron decided to turn their family's annual Fourth of July trip to the Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa near Fairhope, Alabama, into a monthlong Mobile Bay escape, they didn't plan on returning as homeowners. For one thing, houses within walking distance of the landmark hotel rarely went up for sale. "It's kind of unheard of," says Logan, who grew up in nearby Mobile. But the owner of the waterfront cottage she booked via Vrbo, who turned out to be her childhood next-door neighbor, was looking to sell. The Mourons jumped to make an offer. "[The house] was a bit outdated," she admits, "but it had great bones and lots of potential."

Coastal cottage back porch seating area
Credit: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Matthew Gleason

To help revitalize the home without sacrificing any of its laid-back coastal charm, Logan turned to her friend Mary Lauren McBride, a Birmingham-based interior designer. "We stayed in the house for a weekend before starting renovations just to get the lay of the land," McBride says. In the end, they preserved the 2,440-square-foot home's original footprint but reworked the layout to meet the everyday needs of a modern family with three young boys. Steal their design ideas for waterside living.

Coastal cottage exterior with shutter doors
Fairhope Cottage Bay View
Left: Credit: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Matthew Gleason
Right: Credit: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Matthew Gleason

Take Design Cues from the Landscape

"When people are here, we want them to soak in the beauty all around them," McBride says. "The setting is amazing, and the interiors play off that." Natural fibers, grasses, textured fabrics, and a subtle palette of calming blues, greens, and earth tones reflect the surroundings without feeling cliché. The shutters are in Sherwin-Williams' Sea Salt (SW 6204), and the siding is in Benjamin Moore's Swiss Coffee (OC-45).

Neutral Coastal Cottage Entry
Credit: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Matthew Gleason

Fine-Tune the Details

"Lighting from The Urban Electric Company gives the home a little bit of edge," McBride says. "We also used some fabric shades and high-gloss fixtures. We just took a few more risks—doing things differently than we might have in a primary residence—and it really set the tone for the rest of the house."

Coastal home back porch with neutral seating
Credit: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Matthew Gleason

Play Up the Setting

Capitalizing on the incredible bay view was a priority for the Mourons from the outset. McBride expanded the existing back porch and installed a trio of French doors across the back of the hybrid den-kitchen-living space to create the illusion of a much larger room. A pair of upholstered chairs, where Drew and Logan enjoy their morning coffee, make the covered porch feel extra comfy, like an extension of the den.

Carve Out Personal Space

With the large shared living area and kitchen dominating the floor plan, it was important to create secluded pockets for the family and guests. McBride added jib doors and private hallways off the entry that allow the Mourons to close off the boys' bunk room, the two guest rooms, and the main bedroom.

Natural wood cabinetry kitchen
Credit: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Matthew Gleason

Don't Be Afraid To Break with Trends

"We wanted to do something other than painted cabinets," says McBride, who took inspiration from the cottage's light hardwood floors when she settled on the revamped kitchen's slightly more contemporary white oak cabinets. A local craftsperson built and stained them a honey-blond hue that complements the floors. Light walls, casement windows, and a vaulted ceiling strike just the right balance and keep the space bright.

Dining Room with Modern Art
Credit: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Matthew Gleason

Embrace that Old-Home Soul

A deft mix of art and vintage furniture placed alongside new custom buys lends the home an immediate sense of history and personality. "I love the oversize photograph of the shrimp boats in the foyer, and there's a fabulous abstract piece that we had commissioned for the dining room," McBride says of the art collection. "We used a lot of textural fabrics to give the layered, lived-in feel of an older family home."

Remember that Bigger Isn't Always Better 

Housing two queen beds and a twin plus an excess of unused square footage, the Mourons' bedroom was little more than a glorified sleeping porch when they bought the aging former rental. "I think the space was missing a purpose," says McBride, who decreased the size of the bedroom to give the couple "a true en suite" setup with a large walk-in closet, a resort-style bath, and a view of Mobile Bay from nearly every corner. "You are truly forced to relax here," McBride says.

Coastal cottage exterior
Credit: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Matthew Gleason

Lean into the Lifestyle

"Logan has three young sons, a dog, and a husband who loves to fish," McBride says. Taking all that into account, she carefully considered the fabrics, finishes, and other soft goods she used throughout the house (like in the boys' bunk room). "Everything is meant to be lived on," she says. "It's easy to clean, so nobody is stressed out when someone tracks in dirt."

Add a Touch of Whimsy 

After modernizing the outdated guest bath with new polished nickel fixtures, a clean-lined contemporary shower, and custom floating cabinets, McBride pushed Logan to have a little fun with the space. "I love using wallpapers in small baths to add depth," McBride says. "It's not a huge investment and gives so much character. I feel like these spaces should be memorable."