Destined for Change

BY Marimar McNaughton

The breeze from Middle Sound whips the palm fronds in the background fanning the far view of a brick-lined patio. The trussed steel outline of the Figure Eight Island drawbridge is visible above the masonry wall that defines the southern edge of this residential property. The gentle splash of water from a restored fountain welcomes arriving guests as does the delicate aroma of gardenias.

On this slender site Scott and Tracy Sullivan found themselves an unlikely home. On the threshold of breaking ground on a brand new house in Porters Neck the hands of fate drew them to the water to an old summer house on Edgewater Club Road overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway.

“The desire to live on the waterfront was deep rooted in us both since childhood. We had purchased a lovely wooded and marsh front lot in Porters Neck and Scott designed a wonderful house especially for our family ” Tracy remembers. “Though we loved the lot and the house design we were both aware that this was not our dream move. Three days prior to ‘breaking ground’ for the Porters Neck house everything changed ” she says. “Scott and I were reading the newspaper that morning. As usual Scott was reading the real estate section first when he casually says ‘If God has something else for us He had better show us now.’ This comment made me look up and there on the back page of the real estate section was a picture of an Intracoastal Waterway house for sale. The price was good and the house was cute and I had a gut feeling that this was for us ” Tracy says.

The cottage had been off-and-on the market for a while. “From the moment I walked in the house and onto the back porch the design instantly started coming together ” Scott says. Easy for him to imagine. Sullivan who moved to the area 25 years ago is an established residential designer with a national following and this is the fifth house he and his wife have put together in their 17 years of marriage.

“We wanted it to flow outdoors to the water and not feel like a beach house ” Tracy says. Her inspiration for their home was the Italian Riviera.

While her husband set to work transforming the interior space to accommodate their family of five Tracy turned her attention to indoor and outdoor details. Out of the overgrown landscape she envisioned gardens that would bloom all year. Tony Parker of Classic Landscapes wanted to make her happy and unify the site to the house. He sculpted a terraced lawn on the waterside a courtyard garden at the entrance and an intriguing patio and alleyway linking the two. “I think there is a mutual respect system between the architecture the site and the client ” Parker says. “What I try to do is to create a dialogue between all three so it lives in harmony here together. This terrace as well as accomplishing the Italian theme is on the same dimensional lines as the house. I actually looked at this as an outdoor room ” he says. Shaping the yard to the dimensions of the house Parker installed a low retaining wall with timbers essentially elongating the house.

In the transitional zone between the terrace and the waterfront Parker planted grasses. “It becomes very free and expansive out to the view. I used things that would blow in the wind. I’m trying to interconnect what’s on this edge naturally back into the garden ” Parker says.

He looks at each piece of the landscape as a zone. The courtyard at the front entrance extends the Italian theme honoring Tracy’s wishes for a European-style flowering perennial and herb garden outlined by Italian cypress boxwood gardenias and a lattice covered in gold flame honeysuckle. Parker planted a crape myrtle and dwarf pink Indian hawthorn. In between clay urns that cleverly camouflage the septic system Tracy planted the bed with herbs. Another line of boxwood unifies the courtyard as do the brick pads solid bands of concrete poured-in-place concrete pavers and multicolored pea gravel that line the alley way lush with azaleas and pittosporum scented with ginger lilies and agapanthus.

“Because this is the side of the garden that you would always travel by foot I wanted to break this up by changing textures ” Parker says. “There’s a gravel walk that makes noise and stepping stones that you have to pay attention to and I’ve got things that bloom left and right ” Parker says. “It becomes experiential.” In the shade of the live oak tree the plush St. Augustine lawn draws the eye down the water’s edge.

Parker was one of two people Scott Sullivan wanted to be sure to work with. The other was builder David James.

“Dave and I have been working together over the years and he’s been involved in high-end renovation. He’s also a structural engineer. I knew he was pretty savvy. I had too much invested here not to do things the right way ” Scott says. Starting a year out from their move-in date of March 2006 the house was taken back to its studs.

James who has built a number of houses from scratch that Scott has designed for other clients says “I like the major renovations because it’s amazing to see the ‘before and after.’ There’s more of a ‘wow’ factor when you start with an old run-down house. When you’re done it’s a nice new house ” he says.

To the 21-year-old 1 800-square-foot home they added 700 square feet expanding the kitchen and the entrance on the west which allowed the addition of a foyer a powder room and a ground-floor bedroom and bath for the Sullivans’ elder son Tyler 15.

“In a renovation you want it to be completed so people can’t tell what was added on. The old and the new have to blend in and become one ” James says.

Structurally the house did not change nor did the foundation but James says they redid most everything re-plumbed and rewired and upgraded the HVAC. “He didn’t have bathrooms and kitchens in the same places ” James says. “It was 80 percent redone. If you were building that house today you’d build it up a little higher. Trying to fit everything in the crawlspace was challenging.”

“Scott and Tracy were great to work with because Scott has the architectural know-how and Tracy really had a vision for the interior from day one ” James says.

They hired Dolores Timco of J. Lauren Interior Design in Tidioute Pennsylvania who flew to North Carolina several times walking through the house during the renovation shopping with Tracy for finishes and furnishings designing some lighting and decorative pieces.

Timco wanted to bring in Italian motifs while remaining loyal to the Sullivans’ wishes true to the Carolinas and faithful to the waterway.

From her white Carrera marble island in the kitchen Tracy gazes beyond the dining table and through the living room where elegant furnishings and family pieces meet contemporary Italian drapes and accessories. She is transported back to Florence and Venice Italian cities she and Scott have visited.

A tumbled marble floor in the foyer extends the Italian conceit. In the powder room Timco suggested some Venetian plaster finishes.

“Tracy had a family piece an old icebox she wanted to use in there ” Timco says. “We selected the stone top and the bowl and the little chandelier.”

Venetian plaster was also selected for the master bathroom above the open tub. “We broke up the marble tiles on the walls with the little glass cabochons ” Timco says. With sleek aqua glass sink basins she brought the ocean into the bath surfaced with Carrera marble counters floor tiles and bath surrounds.

Sharing a bathroom at the opposite end of the hall are bedrooms for Joshua 13 and Sarah 14. For Joshua his is a place to stash his gear — a telescope a keyboard and baseball glove. For Sarah a ballerina her room is her sanctuary a study in pink and gray.

Initially Timco says she thought the house was going to be an enormous challenge “Because of the size and the situation but it ended up being so much fun to be able to be that creative with the space and the Sullivans were so easy to work with and so quick to catch the vision that I had because of Scott’s design background and Tracy’s interest.”

“We’re really proud of it ” Tracy says. “Emotionally we invested a year ” Scott adds. From their second-level porch adjoining their master suite Scott and Tracy drink in the view. A hammock swings in the breeze and moored to the lofty retreat is a settee of casual furniture. “This is our favorite spot in the house. In the spring the boat traffic is a nonstop show and in the winter it’s wildlife city. There’re a lot of things to look at here. Every morning is new.” Scott says. Tracy adds “This is what we’ve been working toward for 17 years.”

Giving an Older House a New Face

These contractors helped make it happen

Scott and Tracy Sullivan

Sullivan Design Company

David James and Company

Appliances: Page Appliance
Fixtures/Hardware: Ferguson
Plumbing: Intracoastal Plumbing
Electric: SKC Electric
Flooring: Tom Jackson/Wood Floors
Tile: Apex Tile
Painting: Coates Painting
Cabinets: Kitchen & Bath Galleries
Carpentry: David James and Company


Landscaping: Classic Landscapes
Pavement/Driveway: DJ & Co.


J. Lauren Interiors: Dolores Timco
Master Bedroom: Dorothy’s Classics
Living/Dining Room: Lillian’s Custom Window Treatments
Wallcovering Installation: J & W Wallcovering