The Mermaid Manor
A Dreamy Place To Call Home
BY: KATHLEEN MCGOWAN | PHOTOS BY PATRICK MCGOWAN
Back in 2012 Tracy Beaulieu was retiring and she knew one thing for sure…She didn’t want to stay in Dallas. It’s where her roots are but it’s not where she wanted to retire and find her dream home. After all, she had always wanted to live in a small town near the ocean.
Tracy looked at the map and began to formulate a plan to find her new home. What a great feeling that had to be to set out on that adventure knowing that she could go wherever she wanted. I must say that I am a little (very) jealous. She had lived in California and it’s too expensive. She had loved the Oregon coast but it was too cold and gray. So she revisited the Texas coast and all her old haunts down there – Galveston, Fort Frances, Padre Island. But didn’t find what she was looking for. She was looking for a small community that would welcome a single retired woman. Where she could find friends, things to do and would be welcomed. These are all important aspects that you don’t find everywhere. And she wasn’t finding it in Texas. So, she ruled out the Texas coast. Tracy doesn’t care for Florida or the Gulf Coast so the search was narrowed down to the Carolinas…Someplace she had never been.
From Orlando Tracy drove up to St. Augustine and met her friend Barbara, from Atlanta, and headed to Savannah where they spent a couple days. Tracy visited Beaufort South Carolina, Kiawah Island and the Charleston area and The Isle of Palms. These were all pretty little historic areas but she just wasn’t finding the sense of community that she was looking for. It just didn’t feel right for her. So, at this point, she had ruled out South Carolina and continued up to Memphis where she visited with cousins and drove around some more before heading home.
Tracy then started to concentrate on North Carolina and took off on a trip the next spring…in April, and toured into May. She went to St. Louis first to see girlfriends then on to see some cousins. She was gone for six weeks but flew home every fifteen days or so to visit and spend time with her cats so they weren’t left alone for too long.
From St. Louis, she hit Nashville and played for a few days because she had never been there before. From Nashville she went on to Asheville, North Carolina for three days and did all that stuff there, Biltmore Mansion, etc. And then went on to Charlotte for a day. Next up was Wilmington. It was high time in Southport so there was nowhere to stay but decided to drive into town and check it out. She drove down Howe Street, down to the water, sat on a swing and walked around. She walked into Lantana’s, The Silver Coast Winery and to Kay Jolliff’s office. She saw Frank Markitty in Kay’s office window so she had to stop in and say hello… At least to Frank. Unfortunately, Kay was not there but Rich Bandera was… So they visited for a bit and Tracy got the information she needed about Kay before she had lunch at Baked With Love and drove around Southport and it’s neighborhoods and streets. But, before she left Wilmington, she played one more day and decided to spend another day in Southport.
She walked in and talked to Kay and found out quickly that there was nothing in town to rent. After looking around a bit, Tracy drove by her home and decided to go in and check it out. She hadn’t considered looking earlier because the pictures were not appealing yet when she walked in, she knew.
Tracy decided that she wanted the house and was ‘gonna get it no matter what.’ It was a short sale with lots of back and forth with the bank, but she stuck it out and managed to close in September… Four months later.
The closing was done long distance and Tracy came down for two weeks in November to go through the house with builder Fred Fiss and Dave Barker, her cabinet designer, so they could get an idea what she wanted. Kay Jolliff had introduced Tracy to builder Fred Fiss and Fred had met Dave Barker while he was working in the Cabinet Department at Lowe’s Home Improvement so she knew she was in good hands.
Green Harmony, Fred’s company, has a pretty simple operating philosophy. It’s important to Fred to help his clients achieve their vision with what he calls ‘gentle guidance.’ His goal is to have them smile when they drive up and walk in their door. If they don’t smile, something is wrong. His emphasis is also to make a house as energy efficient as practical, whether old or new. That is the green part…The part that will save his clients money on their energy bills.
Dave Barker owns and operates 50 Lakes Cabinet Design and has worked with cabinet design and installation for 30 years. He has a keen sense for design and a good eye for what fits in a space and meets the clients needs and wishes. It’s important to him for his clients to be pleased with the end result and has no problem putting in the extra time and effort it takes to find just the right design materials and solutions for his clients needs and wishes.
Basically there were three requirements: a garage, a fireplace and big laundry room for storage and the cat box. Tracy had never had a big laundry room so that part was exciting. The screened porch had to be totally rebuilt and the garage was built from scratch. All the windows and doors from the home were saved and Tracy uses them to create gifts for her friends in her new garage workshop.
Tracy beams as she tell me the details and I ask her if she misses Dallas? And her answer is swift and sure.
Her father’s parents were farmers and lived on a farm in Hemlock, Texas. She visited a few times and loved it. The post office, the general store, the simplicity of it all. She loved being out there and felt as if she had always been landlocked and big city locked. The only time she didn’t feel this way was when she lived in Nuremberg, Germany.
Is there anything Tracy would change? She says not one thing…It’s perfect. Only thing is it’s and older house… 100 years old this year…So she just wishes it had bigger closets. But it’s worked out just fine. She loves the layout and feels that the house is perfect.
Tracy’s friend, Janet, who’s known her all her life came to visit and said ‘this is what you’ve always described and what you’ve al- ways wanted.’ And she was right, Tracy has always wanted to live in this kind of environment. She doesn’t need to live right on the ocean but wants to be in the environment, the ambience… Of a coastal community… Of a small town on the water. All of that and to be able to walk everywhere. Somewhere that everyone knows each other.
Her joy is shared inside her home by friends, guests and visitors. Tracy traveled so much for years, that she very rarely had guests or entertained. She wanted to make sure that she had plenty of space for visitors and was able to entertain. And that she does… There’s been lots of guests, friends visiting, neighbors dropping in and lots of laughter and fun going on. That’s very important and a big reason why the kitchen was designed the way it is…It’s open and inviting.
There’s a bit of entertaining on a regular basis with a card group, happy hours when she can and porch happy hours with her Jimmy Buffet Margarita Machine. Tracy simply texts her friends and says ‘the margarita machine is out… Come on over to the porch for a margarita.”
The kitchen is fabulous, especially the appliances. Tracy always wanted funky, cool colored appliances so she started
looking around and researching online when she found the Big Chill… A line of retro kitchen appliances inspired by the 1950s look but with modern performance. They are horribly expensive (Tracy laughs) but she had to have the buttercup lemon fridge and range. It was what she wanted with her color scheme. The fridge arrived the day before she moved in and she lived in house for a couple months without a stove because she had to save up money to buy the stove she wanted. She microwaved while she waited.
The white kitchen cabinets are flawless and shines alongside the Italian glass subway tile that Tracy found online at Modwalls. She simply ordered it and had it shipped to the house. I love the handmade glass handles on the bright white cabinets.
Its an open concept kitchen that sunny and cheerful. Light bounces off the glass front cabinets and the recycled glass counter tops and the wood-planked ceiling adds architectural detail and a rustic flare to the cottage’s kitchen. There’s ample storage, plenty of lights and a butcher block island that’s well light with pendant lights and equipped with industrial styled bar stools. The island is equipped with pullouts on both ends to store small appliances. They can be accessed easily when needed and then tucked away again until needed again. It’s a perfect fresh space with plenty of room to spread out when in cooking mode yet keeps you in the mix of the action as it blends into the dining room space.
There were some issues to work around in order for this to work. For one, the original kitchen ceiling was really low and need- ed to be opened up. A small wall separated the dining room and kitchen and was cutting the space up too much. Fred fixed all of that by raising the ceiling and refiguring the space. He raised the ceiling, created a peak and covered it with wood. Dave had to cut the cabinets and molding to fit at the ceiling line and the finish is flawless. The butcher block was going to be too much so Dave decided to go with ash instead of butcher block to stay in budget and it works well with the design.
The home’s furnishings are a mixture of new and old. Some pieces were brought from Dallas and were converted to make them work. Practically everything else was sold. Tracy shares, “I really cleaned out and pared down. It was fun starting like that. I bought some things specifically for this house: the 2 plantation chairs on the porch and the 2 wicker (Havana) chairs I found at a consignment shop in Dallas. They were very expensive and I got a great deal on them.”
Tracy packed up a U- haul trailer in May and headed to Southport. It was loaded with the furniture, old and newly purchased as well as all the ceiling fans, faucets and light fixtures for the house. She hit all the sales before leaving Dallas and had friends that worked for a few of these companies so many of the items were purchased at cost. Everything, including her scooter and all her breakables fit into a 6 x 8 storage unit. Fred had a key to the storage unit and he would go over and get what he needed…When he needed it.
It seems like a difficult task to manage a renovation from another city. But Tracy was a Trade Show coordinator for 47 years so she is very detailed, organized and task oriented.
Just off the kitchen is a spacious laundry room… Which Tracy absolutely loves. She’s never had a laundry room before so it was a must-have in this house. It even has a sink and she thinks that is just awesome. The cabinets are fitted with pullout drawers for convenience and there’s tons of storage which is uncommon for an old home. The hot water heater was replaced with a tankless/continuous water heater so the closet that use to house the old water heater was transformed into storage space and it worked out beautifully. It adds just the right amount of additional closet space for the vacuum cleaner and other cleaning goods. Tracy smiles, “It’s perfect and it was such a nice surprise.” The other perk of this wonderful space is a cabinet fit with a pullout for the litter box and a cutout in the door for the cat to enter with ease as needed. A plain door was also constructed to put on when the box is not in use.
Dave Barker, with 50 Lakes Cabinet Design, did a wonderful job with these cabinets. The concept of the window seat built- ins was there but they just weren’t right and needed to be reworked to complete the space. So Fred tore them out and rebuilt them and the seats now make not just a cozy pillow-filled spot to sit but also provide additional storage below. Tracy keeps items tucked away here and it works well… They are stowed out of sight and are easily accessible when needed. The window seat is flanked by two custom cabinets and each provides storage and showcases found items, treasures, artwork and photos.
The pictures on the walls show how long Tracy has been planning for this house. The silk sea horse paintings are from when she lived in Germany back in 1997. Tracy smiles, “It’s been my vision for ever and ever.”
Tracy’s friend Barbara came to visit for New Years and they found some additional pieces at Uptown Market in Wilmington. She bought lamps, a chandelier, some other stuff and Barbara convinced her that the hutch would work beautifully in the living room. Oddly enough, Tracy had seen this piece three times but couldn’t decide if it was the right one for her. The cat prints were found in Atlanta and had been hang- ing in a garage. Judy, Barbara’s sister and professional decorator, found a couch and coffee table at Rebecca’s, hung the cat prints, added the old closet door, picked new fabric for the couch and totally transformed the room. Nothing like profession- al free decorating.
The fireplace can’t be used yet – it needs work and that’s an expense for next year but there are plans to use it often. Tracy bought the screen at Home Goods and her friend Barbara decorated it with Tracy’s shell collection. “She did it all in about an hour with my glue gun. There’s a lot of love from my friends in here. She did the shelves too. I had too much crap and she helped me pare that down.” Tracy shares. This is a warm and inviting space just per- fect for visiting. It’s not too big and it’s not too small. It’s just right and the mix of textures, materials and patterns ties the space together quite nicely.
Tracy’s cat, Zoe, has come downstairs to visit and makes quick friends with Patrick. She sits on the back of the chair and halfway on his shoulder and watches as he previews pictures he’s taken of her home.
Just off the living area is a cozy guest room just waiting for the next guests to arrive. Tracy splurged and fit the room with two really nice and comfortable Serta beds. They were expensive beds but she wants her guests to be comfortable. Everyone loves the beds and say they are very comfy and perfect. She re-did the headboards and decided that she didn’t want them to be exactly the same – just similar. So the result is a little eclectic and funky. I like it. It works. All the creature comforts are here. There’s convenient hooks on all the doors for the guests to hang coats, robes and whatnots and the wifi information is laminated in the bedside table.
Tracy requested the barn doors be made for the closet and the whimsical fresh blue is very cool. The quilts are family quilts made by Tracy’s great, great aunt on her mother’s side. She looked for shams and bed skirts but wasn’t finding what she wanted so she decided to use some of her great aunts embroidered pillowcases. They are very sweet and it’s cute that they don’t match. The color combinations of the different patterns spice up the room and the beachy artwork gives extra life to the cozy space. Tracy points out that there are no ruffles here… There’s no ruffles and lace for this girl. So the bed skirts are neat and pleated linen from Ballards.
There are photos on the wall of the guests that are coming next. Tracy adds, “I always put photos of whoever is visiting. I have the last picture from when we were last together and then I take new pictures and put them here when they return.” What a nice touch.
A lovely sea glass mirror that Tracy made hangs in the nearby bathroom and it’s very pretty alongside the recycled glass counter tops and playful yellow striped walls. Tracy wanted the same recycled glass as the kitchen but they couldn’t find smaller slabs. It became a big hunt until they found Curava recycled glass and Dave knew that if his wife Jackie liked it that Tracy would like it too. Tracy just loves how it sparkles. The cabinets were ordered online and were too yellow once seen in person so they were repainted and fit nicely.
Then there’s what Tracy calls the Crazy Room. It’s her work room, office and secondary guest room. The big orange striped IKEA chair beds and nearby shelves are perfect for this bright and lively space. Tracy loves fish and cats and they fill the soft yellow walls with color and life. They all came from her home in Dallas. She has collected them and loves to see them ‘swimming around the room’. I especially like the one that is cut in half on either side of the door… Which happens to be one of the home’s original doors.
This room is a work in progress and Tracy is working to get it all organized, labeled with chalk and everything stored in it’s proper place. Especially her jewelry making supplies. The windows are covered with temporary blinds until new ones can be ordered but that’s not a priority at this point. They need to be just right to provide a bit of privacy while allowing the light to fill the room. It’s hard not to be happy in this room.
A large zebra painting hang nearby ties the color scheme together and welcomes you into the nearby full bath and adjacent dining room. The painting is also used to hide the big fuse box in the middle of the wall… Pretty clever… And it looks fabulous. Tracy smiles, “The zebra print is from Pier 1 and I love it! There’s no more of the ‘it doesn’t go’. If I like it, it stays.” I follow that same rule – surround yourself with things you love.
Tracy just loves this full bath. Fred redesigned the bathroom, reconfiguring the small space and creating a layout that works. Crystal Woody at the Pink Pelican built the cabinet with the measurements provided and it serves as the perfect spot for guests necessities… Girls need their makeup, a glass of wine, etc., And there’s plenty of space for both. There’s soaps, lotions, shampoos and laundry goods in the bottom drawer and linens are stowed in the closet. The shower stall has gorgeous, neat and clean with the same blue Italian glass tile as the kitchen. The window was redone to bring in some natural light and it is simply a perfect little space.
A photo of her old cat Big Ben, a 28lb cat brought back from Germany, sits nearby. “She was awesome and huge. She turned lights on and off….Just smart as a whip,” Tracy reminisces. Zoe, on the other hand, continues to pose for the camera as Tracy and I head upstairs to check out the master suite.
The room isn’t completely decorated and is a work in progress. The floor was painted white, there were two closets housing the HVAC and the insulation was exposed. Fred reconfigured the space and stripped the floors.
Tracy loves her bathroom and enjoys its ability to fill with great light. She found the sink in Dallas and knew she had to have it for her bathroom. The rustic, warm cabinet and the chandelier over the dressing table… She had to have them both and they are gorgeous. Dave built the dressing table to fit the space and the counter is again the same recycled glass.
The color scheme is a serene and more spa like green and it serves as a wonderful backdrop for the shrine Tracy has created for all of her little goodies and favorite things. There’s a picture of Tracy and her Dad, a gift her friend Tracy brought back from Puerto Vallarta and a starfish from her friend Janet. “They’re some of my favorite things and I like to see them everyday. They are funky things, trinkets and stuff I like. They are Me and a bit of happiness,” Tracy adds.
All the windows are new because the back of the house had to be reworked because of the pitch of the new porch. The previous porch had a flat roof so that had to be reworked and new windows added. A window was also added at the bottom of stairs to add more light. Shell and starfish light fixtures, found online at Shades of Light, adorn the stairwell and compliment the beach theme. Tracy loves light fixtures and hardware. She feels they add character and she wanted to do it right. They weren’t cheap but they work… So, again, she liked them and wanted them. So be it.
Tracy wants to do some more decorating upstairs. She wants to redo the chair covered in orange, update the bedspread, add some cushions and find just the right light fixture. She likes the orange chair but will most likely change that when the new colors are set but for now it’s just fine. She lived upstairs for several months because there were boxes everywhere downstairs – besides there’s really no rush.
There’s plenty of storage up here for winter clothing to be stored in plastic tubs and a big closet with windows and plenty of space for stowing the necessities.
As we head back downstairs to the living room, Tracy points out a lamp that she has had for probably 30 years and a small cat statue that was her mother’s sits nearby. She guesses that it’s about 68 years old and remembers it sitting on her mother’s fireplace. She shares that she’s been saving stuff forever for this house and it all works… She’s done a fabulous job.
Tracy had decided to name her house The Mermaid Manor so when she met Crystal and Woody, with the Pink Pelican, she requested they make her a custom mermaid swing for her giant sized porch. The mermaid swing was made to be a little wider than normal and long enough to lay down on and sleep. It’s just perfect for Tracy and yes, she naps on it.
It is a wonderful oversized front porch decorated with seasonal pieces, rocking chairs and plenty of color. There’s even a tiny little rocker for the little people that stop by because they do like to rock too. Tracy’s friend Barbara talked her into that purchase… She likes stuff like that Tracy shares and smiles.
A mermaid mailbox, funky yard art and beachy whatnots welcome guests to the porch and Tracy had fun putting that together. The front yard is wide and welcoming with a semicircle drive. Tracy put out 35 bags of mulch by herself, took care of the weeds and enjoys her plant choices but she wants to make a few changes. She plans to widen the driveway so it’s wide enough for 2 cars to circle around and add a few small palms alongside plants that look nice all year. She loves the hydrangeas but they just aren’t pretty all year. But that’s still up in the air, it was more about the front porch and getting that done so, there’s no rush.
The toughest decision?
I don’t think I had one.
What are your plans for the Holidays?
My home is on the Christmas Tour thisyear and that’s very exciting!
How many times did you see the house, in person, during the renovation?
Just one time…When it had been taken down to the studs. I had complete confidence in Fred and Dave and I had remodeled 2 homes in Dallas so I know very well how to organize this kind of project.
How did you land in Southport & how long have you lived and worked here?
12 years ago, I met my future wife while out on a kayak tour for my birthday while vacationing on Oak Island. Emma Thomas, owner of The Adventure Kayak Co. was leading the tour that day. I asked if she was single. With a grin she did give her number. As a result, I did move to Southport 11 years ago and did marry Emma 9 years ago. I formed my company, Green Harmony Inc., as a way to make a living in Southport building homes. Initially I built a home on Bald Head Island for my business partner and architect.
Anything you would want to change? Wish you had rethought? What you’d never change?
Problem solving is fun for me. I put a lot of thought into the design while listening to my customer’s desire. Tracy’s house is a wonderful example of this. The description went from “yuck” to “wow”. I wouldn’t change a thing.
What were some of the easiest/toughest decisions for you to make about the home?
Determined to do things right, while trying to conserve my clients money. Advising a client if this is a wise decision or good investment in the big picture sense.
What is your background?
I started 50 Lakes in March of 2016 with my wife Jackie after installing cabinets for 30 years. I liked design and saw things I wanted to learn more. So I completed a 2 year Kitchen & Bath program got an Associates Degree in Interior Design in 2009-2010. I met Fred while I was working at Lowe’s Home Improvement designing cabinets
How was it working with Tracy?
She was only here for 4 days during the entire process but she had sketched out what she wanted in a notebook and we went from there.
What was your favorite part of this project?
I was able to work as the cabinet designer and builder. I was able to be creative and design with few limitations.