Design Inspiration Home Tours

Honestly, We’d Downsize for This Surfer-Cool Cabana

This guesthouse is what small space dreams are made of.

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“I love making a small space feel like it’s worth the big effort,” says designer Christina Kim, founder of Christina Kim Interior Designs, who was tasked with the seemingly impossible job of making a tiny, 300-square-foot cabana work for her clients—a couple with a teenage daughter—in three very distinct ways. Based in Manasquan, New Jersey, the cabana, which was once an old storage unit, was in need of some serious love: Outfitted with office carpeting and orange-toned wood ceiling beams, the nondescript, yellow room needed a completely new look—a project Kim was happy to take on. “Luckily, I’ve spent a lot of time living in apartments in New York and Paris. I love a small-space challenge!” she says.

The cabana, initially part of a detached garage in the couple’s home, was a storage space that looked like it was still stuck in the 1970s. Deciding that they wanted to do something new with the area, they enlisted Kim to help it transform into an entertaining space, office, and bedroom all in one. “My clients requested three uses for the space,” explains Kim. “The husband travels a ton for work, but he works from home a few days a week. There is no shortage of overnight guests here, and pool guests need a place to change and relax. And of course, it needed to also be a bar area—a place to watch the game!”

As Manasquan is a quiet little beach town, the surfer vibe came naturally to Kim while she was designing the space. Starting with the giant painted surfboard at the entrance, the entire home exudes a Cali-cool feel, and the mix of blues and teals naturally bring to mind the soft colors of the ocean. The bar area brings the inside out, perfectly encapsulating that indoor-outdoor vibe.

“I was going for a cool vintage New Jersey-cabana feel,” says Kim. “These little beach towns here have old-school boardwalks with benches and gazebos painted these perfect washed out shades of mint green and white. My main envelope for the home was actually white, and I used texture and pattern to add interest in a quiet, muted way.”

For instance, in the living area, white bunk beds are punctuated with sea green throw pillows with intricate white patterns, a pale mint rug, and a yellow and green surfboard that reminds one of the sea crashing against a sandy beach. “I wanted to make sure that there was a ‘pierced’ quality to things, so nothing felt too enclosed or claustrophobic in this small space,” says Kim. “I kept all of the color on the ceiling, to keep the eye moving upward.”

The bunk beds and built-in shelving were some smarter

small space hacks

, with the vertical space in the home being utilized as much as the horizontal space. Some textured accessories, including plants and a casual surf-inspired book, kept the cabana true to its theme.

Even though it lacked space, one great thing that the old spot did have was the beamed ceilings. “They were a plus for sure because of the added height and airiness, but the existing beams were by no means the beautiful, rustic kind,” elaborates Kim. “Before I came onto the project, there was talk of covering up the beamed ceiling with a drywall ceiling: Thank goodness that didn’t happen! I loved the idea of painting the envelope of the room white and the ceiling an old-school boardwalk mint green (Benjamin Moore Sage Tint). Those drab ceilings became the room’s best feature with just a little paint.”

As for the study area, Kim decided against an old-school study table in order to stay true to the cabana’s earthy, relaxed vibe. “The custom office nook feels very carved into the space,” she explains. “In fact, every element in the room is deliberate, and there is actually very little movable furniture. I wanted to create an easy-to-care-for space without a lot of things in it to knock over or keep track of. The theme was well-appointed and somewhat minimal.”

The small kitchenette serves as the main entertaining area of the home, with clean lines and a long, comfortable bar area that serves as the main spot to relax with a drink or snack. A mix of open and closed shelving adds contrast and airiness, while the bar accessories work with shine and brass for interest. “The shelving is lit, so it looks gorgeous and dreamy at night,” says Kim. “And I found the most beautiful slab of White Macaubas quartzite with the slightest bit of green running through it.”

Outside the home, sleek, natural chairs work as another way to enjoy the home, and Kim also installed folding windows to really blur the lines between the indoors and out. “The structure itself was nondescript, but I loved the portico situation right away,” elaborates Kim on her vision. “Even if the New Jersey weather doesn’t always cooperate, that covered area allows for a little protection, which meant that my clients could enjoy it outside of the summer months.”

See more spaces we love:

This Pattern-Perfect Home Captures the Essence of SummerThis Sophisticated San Diego Home Is Subtle Glamour at Its FinestInside an Artist’s Bold, Rebellious Georgia Home

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Nikhita Mahtani


Nikhita is originally from Mumbai, India, but has called NYC home for over a decade now. She’s a huge fan of nutrition and fitness, and spends most of her free time researching the latest trends and easy, healthy hacks. She also loves to travel—just don’t take her anywhere cold.