“You’ve got to get the details spot-on in a small home,” says interior designer Clark Collins. In his case “small” means 900 square feet in a charming cottage in Laguna Beach, California. The dwellings in the area were built in the early to mid-1900s and were used on the weekends by families from Los Angeles and Pasadena. “They were typically very small, simple, utilitarian and practical,” Collins says. His 1946 home had undergone some remodeling that had erased some of the original details, but otherwise it had not really been touched in decades. 

Collins wanted to get the details historically accurate. “These types of cottages are disappearing in Laguna; unfortunately many of them are in disrepair, and many are small,” he says. “That’s why the historic inventory and register are so important.” Restoring these cottages is a true passion, and Collins has brought many of them back to life. In this case he set out to restore the original 1940s beach cottage vibe while making the small space functional and relaxing.

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Beach Cottage 1: Grey Crawford, original photo on Houzz


Houzz at a Glance
Who lives here: Clark Collins
Location: Laguna Beach, California
Size: 900 square feet (84 square meters); 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms
Year built: 1946

“My goal for the exterior was to keep it simple and quaint,” Collins says. He added details like plant pot shelves, latticework and a Dutch door.

The city of Laguna Beach has identified homes and other structures with potential historic significance, but the register includes only structures built before 1942, so Collins’ house was slightly too young to be a candidate. However, he was able to research it himself to restore its original charm. His experience and advice regarding Laguna Beach can certainly help guide you no matter where you live.

“In Laguna the best place to start researching a property is the city property records. Find out when the home was built, who the builder was, and check the ownership records through the city or your local title company,” he says. “Then check with the heritage committee or the local historical society.” Collins also found that First American Title Company had a thorough collection of old photographs for all parts of Orange County.


Beach Cottage 2: Grey Crawford, original photo on Houzz


When Collins lifted up the wall-to-wall carpeting, he was delighted to find the original oak floors. The wood windows and mantel are also original to the cottage. He set out to replace missing original features by combing favorite antiques sources; the fireplace screen (from Santa Barbara Forge & Iron), for example, was a lucky find. It has “1946” stenciled on it — the year the cottage was built.

The home’s original pine paneling had been covered with drywall, but Collins wanted to bring the look back. He took out the plasterboard and added vertical pine paneling. In his research he found that a 2- by 4-inch detail where the walls meet the tongue and groove ceiling was common back in the ’40s, so he added that as well.

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Beach Cottage 3: Grey Crawford, original photo on Houzz


The charming built-in curio cabinet is also original to the house. Collins added lighting from the era all over the home, including the fireplace sconces, which he had rewired and refurbished. 

“Years ago I owned a lighting company; It’s become a real hobby and passion to find period light fixtures for each of my projects,” he says. He recommends combing local antiques stores, eBay and Etsy for period lighting. If you don’t want to go through the searching and refurbishing process, he recommends shopping at companies that make reproductions, like Rejuvenation.

All of the art and furniture pieces are from his personal collection. The seascape painting over the fireplace, “Windy Day at Laguna,” is by Dedrick Stuber, who arrived in California in the 1920s and painted many seascapes and landscapes there.

Paint on all woodwork throughout the house: Cottage White, Dunn-Edwards

Collins made a nautical stair railing from an old wooden oar he found in his garage. The seascape above the oar is a modern piece by Geoff Krueger, an artist who hails from Orange County, California.


Beach Cottage 4: Grey Crawford, original photo on Houzz


Also in Collins’ archives was a collection of vintage bathing suits from the 1920s. He had them repaired, cleaned and framed on linen backgrounds.

Beach Cottage 5: Grey Crawford, original photo on Houzz

With a small kitchen, functionality is key. “Nothing is fussy,” Collins says. He chose soapstone, because it was appropriate to the home’s era and incredibly practical. “I was able to have a drainboard carved into the stone, which is both practical and a nice design

detail,” he says. “I also felt the color contrast of the dark stone prevents your eye from getting bored.” At the same time, he kept the eye from getting overwhelmed; the cabinets are a simple Shaker style
Collins added coastal details here and there without going overboard. For example, the refrigerator handles are solid-brass deck cleats from a nautical antiques store, and he hung two seaweed prints on the wall. 

Sink: fireclay, Rohl; faucet: Sign of the Crab; vintage seaweed prints: Winter Works on Paper

To fit seating into the tight space, he added a breakfast nook. The wraparound bench eliminated the need for chairs and added lots of much-needed storage space. 


Beach Cottage 6: Grey Crawford, original photo on Houzz


A refurbished 1911 Brascolite antique kitchen light fixture illuminates the nook. The plein air oil painting is by local artist Robin Hall.

One of the spot-on details Collins mentioned is this sweet built-in cabinet in the downstairs bedroom. “The cabinet provides storage and a place to display beach finds and good books — both essential for a weekend beach retreat,” he says.

“The master bedroom was filled with natural light and had a wonderful ocean-view deck,” Collins says. He continued the vertical paneling throughout the entire house. “The continuity of the materials on the floors, walls and ceilings makes the cottage feel larger, and so does the light paint color,” he says. 

The caned bed adds some British colonial style, as do the linens, by John Robshaw and Peter Dunham. A dhurrie rug grounds the room with soothing texture and is durable enough to stand up 

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