The Perfect Beach House

Snug or Modern: Two very different properties – which would you choose?


Chances are good that if you live in South County it’s because you love the ocean. There’s something about being close to the sea that inspires a way of living, starting with sockless shoes and working its way into a relaxed attitude. Just knowing that the surf is minutes – or even steps – away inspires a breezy feel in interior spaces as well, and even if you call a third-floor apartment in a business district home, there’s sure to be an undeniable coastal vibe inside – and maybe even traces of sand on the floor.

Aside from the metaphorical, there’s the actual: Houses by the beach. These are the homes that you pass on treks to the shore and wonder, who lives in these places? Every beach house has its own origin story: Some began as small fishermen’s shacks purchased for a song and passed down to family members. Some are newly built and stand on land where there was once a cottage (or three). Many are now owned by property companies and available to rent for various time periods. Others are owned by pop stars and more who use them as seasonal residences.

We all have our vision of the perfect beach house. Some favor a cozy cabin outfitted with upcycled finds, where plopping on a chair with a wet bathing suit is not a problem but anticipated. On the opposite scale are near mansions, which provide luxury along with expansive water views and state of the art features. We offer a sneak peek into two extreme examples: A circa 1932 cottage that packs charm into just 216 square feet, and a custom-built abode that’s 3,500 square feet with six bathrooms.


The Snug Cottage

Since June 2018, Marnee Grzebien has owned the property she affectionately and appropriately named The Snug Cottage. Known in its former life as “The Shack,” this spot is located in Snug Harbor, that sleepy village with a marina in East Matunuck that wakes up for its lively and local Fourth of July parade. “We drove by and fell in love with this coastal tiny home,” says Grzebien of the property that she uses as a seasonal rental. A local realtor and lifelong resident, she describes the spot as a darling little getaway.

Essentially a studio, Snug Cottage is outfitted in a ship-shape way, with clever furnishings to make the most of its tight quarters. There are storage bins beneath the double bed and a drop leaf table that goes from accommodating two to five. Grzebien has decorated in simple seaworthy style with blue-and-white striped bedding, pale gray walls, accents like a fish-shaped mirror, and an overall sea turtle theme – all providing location clues without being too kitschy. “It’s pure cottage,” says Grzebien. “Informal, minimalist, and coastal.”

The exterior is idyllic with weathered gray shingles, pure white trim, and a sky blue door and matching window box. A painted sign with the cottage name confirms you’ve found the right place. During summer months the property is framed by tall Shasta daisies and impatiens hang between the windows. Says Grzebien, “It’s laid-back living. Fresh air and ready for the beach anytime.” Cottage rentals like this one go quickly and Grzebien reveals that she opens it up from May 1 to October 31, and has bicycles on the property for rides to the beach. “There’s a three-night minimum stay and almost all of the nights get rented.”


Modern Beach House

About a dozen miles away in the Narragansett neighborhood of Bonnet Shores is a property deemed The Modern Beach House by the Sweenor Builders project team. Purchased by a family in 2013 to be a summer house, they soon encountered the foundation sinking into the ground due to water and drainage issues. The homeowner explains that they enjoyed the house for a few years but knew a significant renovation would be ahead. They enlisted the Sweenor team, who recommended a reverse living floor plan, a trend in coastal design where main living areas are on the higher floors to take advantage of water views. “A vertical floor plan design addressed the demands of a small building lot and tight building envelope, maximized natural light on each floor, and capitalized on the property’s panoramic coastal views,” explains the firm’s founder Jeff Sweenor. “Beginning with a tear-down of the existing structure, this design/build made sure every square inch of the new home packs a punch.”

Sweenor in-house designer Kristen Martone notes that streamlined Scandinavian-inspired interiors reflect the clients’ love of modern design and desire for a calming family space by the beach. An open floor plan pairs natural wood grains, concrete counters, and clean lines; a tray ceiling detail adds warmth to the foyer on the lower level. Says Martone, “The material selections and color palette let custom woodworking and ocean views take center stage. The result: A durable retreat that combines timeless design with modern beach living.” Shiplap and brick keep white walls interesting, and furniture is at once attractive, practical, and comfortable.

The Narragansett home was built to accommodate an influx of summertime guests across a range of ages. Standout features are its many bathrooms – six including two powder rooms, one bathtub, and three curbless walk-in showers. There’s a kids’ bunkbed room with hidden closets, pocket doors, and custom built-ins to help maximize every inch of space while maintaining the minimalist aesthetic. A bonus TV and gaming space sits opposite the kids’ bunk room on the third floor. Says the owner, “It’s polished, yet simple and comfortable. Perfect for easy-living and a family retreat by the beach.”

While very different, the two homes do have many things in common. Open floor plans that create an easy flow, outdoor showers, neutral walls and hardwood floors, sturdy fabrics and materials, splashes of blue, and any art or accent is sure to offer a sense of place. There are space-saving features like pocket doors or built-ins, and furnishings that work double-duty, like the drop leaf table. Windows are focal points and furniture is often placed to showcase the prized view. But the most important commonality? That these houses were built for folks who want to spend time enjoying time at and near the beach.


Summer Rentals

Looking to rent a place near the sea? Start your research now! We’ve assembled a list to get you started, from cottage to beach towel. Of course, also check out The Snug Cottage, listed on AirBNB and VRBO.


Ann O’Brien Realty

Durkin Cottages

Island Realty

Mansions & Manors

Mott & Chace

Pier Realty

Randall Realtors

Stanton Realty, Inc.

NOTE: For additional listings visit and find cottage rentals under Hotels & Lodging

House Needs

Rent bed linens, bath and beach towels, beach gear and games, even baby and pet equipment. Delivered to, and picked up from, your rental property.


Napatree Bikes stock includes beach cruisers and baby joggers. Delivery and pickup available. 

NBX Bikes bicycle rentals include helmets and locks. Delivery and pick up available.