There’s a Rowboat on Standby at This California Cottage Overlooking Oyster Farms
“It kind of feels like you’re camping, but in the best way.”
Published Mar 2, 2022 10:30 AM
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The Saltwater Oyster Depot, a restaurant serving locally harvested mollusks and regional wines, is initially what drew designer Corine Maggio’s clients, a young couple from San Francisco, to the quiet town of Inverness, California. “They love being in the middle of nowhere, so it was a place that really spoke to them,” says Maggio. The pair enjoyed being off the beaten path so much that in 2018 they decided to buy a 1,600-square-foot vacation home along the water, naturally with the oyster farms in full view. “As the sun moves and the tides shift, the inside of the house changes. It just makes you feel more connected to nature,” she notes.
The previous owners of the circa-1940s property were an architect and an artist who had poured a lot of love into the house (some of their sketches of female forms still hang on the walls today), but there were a bevy of functional issues that needed to be addressed. For starters, the only source for warmth was a wood-burning stove, so swapping out the rickety floorboards for fresh ones with radiant heating was a must. The other problem was that a lot of the walls didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling. “If someone went to the bathroom, everybody was privy to it,” hints Maggio. Promising privacy where it mattered most came next, but the designer, who worked closely with contractors Jack and Brett Matthews, didn’t close up everything completely. In the bedrooms, the roof is the ceiling, which allows you to still hear the footsteps of critters or rainfall at night. “It kind of feels like you’re camping, but in the best way,” says the designer.
“The ceiling height was a blessing and a curse,” shares Maggio. The sheer volume called for large light fixtures, so she had to do some negotiating with the manufacturers to customize the pendant lamps with extra-long cords.
Maggio chose the French Laundry–style light over the dining table for its relevance to the setting: The sheer linen shade and rope detailing reminded the designer of a ship’s sail. “This is a coastal town; the homeowners even have a rowboat that they take out,” she notes.
The water views, framed by the naturally tattered window frames, were the real focal point in Maggio’s eyes. So she decided to go with all lower cabinets in the new open-concept kitchen and tuck the taller pantry cupboards away in a separate corner. “It needed to be beautiful, but I didn’t want it to be distracting,” she shares.
Before, the only way to access the main bedroom, which spans the length of the house, was to walk outside—a huge inconvenience, to say the least. Carving out a threshold near the kitchen that connects the suite to the rest of the home was an obvious fix. Maggio continued to rework the layout by pulling the vanity out of the bathroom and placing it where a kitchenette used to be.
The designer then added a wall, to offer some sense of division between the bedroom and bath, and a bistro table by the window so the couple can get up and start their day without having to enter the main portion of the house when they’re hosting guests. The adjustment ultimately freed up room for a generous, light-filled, walk-in shower.
Maggio kept things simple in the partially open guest bedroom (there’s a pocket door separating it from the living room but no ceiling) with a crisp white shiplap accent wall behind the headboard. “I wanted it to feel like a farmhouse hotel,” she says. There used to be two full closets in the space, but the designer chopped them in half and turned one into a niche for the bedroom, outfitting it with hooks and a bench, and flipping the other crevice to do the same in the adjacent entryway.
At the end of the dock, overlooking Tomales Bay, is a tiny boathouse that can hold overflow guests, thanks to the addition of a sleeper sofa, and also function as an office. But before that, it was an artist’s studio, and before that, a barbershop. “Our contractor has been living in Inverness for more than 70 years and he used to go there to get his hair cut,” says Maggio. “It was such a fun connection.”
Another longtime resident in the area who likes to pop by is a very social seagull named Gilbert. He’s so friendly, in fact, that he’ll eat food right out of your hand. “Everyone knows who he is. I posted a picture of him on Instagram once and someone I know in New York messaged me and said, ‘Oh, my God, that’s Gilbert!’” says Maggio with a laugh. “He encompasses Inverness. Everyone’s door is open to one another. It’s just this very small and welcoming place.”