With its natural beauty and a plethora of restaurants and quaint shops, the Connecticut coastline offers the perfect getaway for both a day trip or vacation. Friendly locals share their idyllic towns during the summer months and weekends with out-of-towners — many of whom drive down from the Greater Hartford area to enjoy a waterfront lunch or a visit to a seaside cottage that’s been in the family for generations.
A retreat from the hectic rush of their daily lives, the coast offers much needed calm and relaxation. So much so that many want to experience this feeling year-round — not just on a Saturday or a few weeks in the summer. Whether renovating an old cottage or buying brand new, they’re packing up and downsizing their home and life to one that’s simpler.
For Southington natives, Sandy and Jason Dizenzo, they have no regrets about leaving their 3,700 square foot home for a Cape Cod-style house in Old Saybrook that’s half the size. A renovation of the interior by Lovley Development in Plantsville, included taking down a wall in the galley kitchen to open up the space and maximize views of Long Island Sound. And, while she loves looking out at the water from her outdoor patio, Sandy says it’s the overall simplified living that she loves the most. “We used to spend so much time doing yard work, and now we can get it done in a day or two and enjoy walks by the water and quality time with our family.”
The couple, who both commute to their jobs, say that the move has only been positive — even for their two kids, who quickly acclimated to the town’s high school and middle school.
“My daughter thanked us the other day for moving,” Sandy continues. “It’s really been amazing for all of us. We’re living our weekends on a daily basis.”
According to Sue Darmon, a Realtor in William Pitt Sotheby’s Essex office and the Dizenzos’ buying agent, many people coming through open houses are from Greater Hartford.
“They want a change. They’re looking to leave the big house and land behind for a place by the shore that’s still convenient for commuting. Instead of waiting to retire, they are saying, ‘why not do this now?’”
Penny and Steve Sigal fit this stereotype perfectly. For 30 years, the couple lived in South Windsor, where they raised their family. When they started thinking about retirement, they wondered if they should head to Florida like everyone else. But, heading to the shore was a natural fit. Both Penny and Steve spent childhood summers on the shoreline — Penny at Saybrook Manor and Steve at Ocean Beach in New London and then Old Lyme, where their own kids learned to love the beach at an extended family summer “hub,” as they called it.
“Our move is still ongoing,” says Penny, who tapped Old Lyme-based Point One Architects to renovate their pseudo-Dutch Colonial. “We both still work in the Hartford area, where we have an apartment. But, we spend as much time as possible in Old Saybrook. The pace of life is gentler. We love being outdoors, walking, biking and kayaking, enjoying the scenery and the fresh air.”
President and general manager of Waterford-based Brom Builders, Joe Mastronunzio says that people gravitating to the shoreline is nothing new. However, the next generation of families who’ve been coming to these beach communities are changing the character of traditional seaside getaways.
“They want to keep traditions alive and relive their youth, but they are finding that the cottages that they once rented have outlived a useful life. They have old windows and dated heating and plumbing systems. They want extra bedrooms and bathrooms. The charm is not quite as they remembered,” he explains.
“People want a modern cottage,” says Sabrina Weisberger Foulke, AIA, a principal with Point One Architects, who’s seeing more and more clients like the Sigals come down to the shore to renovate or build new. She’s also part of the team behind a design and lifestyle blog, Your Modern Cottage, which educates its audience on the importance of designing a space where you can find calm from today’s frenetic pace. “Many want to embrace today’s amenities, while capturing a sense of nostalgia for times past.”
Determined to improve their cottage’s livability without sacrificing its quaint seaside charm, Anita and Wolf Mielert also hired Point One Architects to design and oversee its renovation. Living in Simsbury, the couple already had a summer home in the Cornfield Point neighborhood of Old Saybrook, and as luck would have it, a waterfront, vintage 1932 Cape in need of restoration went on the market around the corner.
“We were ultimately thinking about a bigger place to retire and where our grown children and their families could come and gather,” says Anita.
While the cottage has new paint and shutters, its size remains the same. “It looks similar to the way it always looked,” continues Anita, a longtime preservation advocate and past advisor to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “It was important to me to keep the New England feel of the house and that it fit in with the other beachside homes.”
While keeping the existing footprint, a spacious feel is created by opening up the interior walls. “The open living space allows for a small intimate group, yet also a large gathering in the same space,” she says. Upstairs, the architects expanded dormers on either side to stretch the home, enlarging the bedrooms and giving it a second bath.
The kitchen cabinets are painted a beautiful, watery blue that mimics the sea. It has a vintage feel, yet it’s outfitted with modern amenities, as is the cozy breakfast nook at the end of the porch. It boasts built-in cabinets housing an ice maker, recycling center and beverage refrigerator for easy entertaining.
An open living room, dining room, and kitchen is a selling point for Whiting Farms Commons, a 55 and over, active adult community in Niantic, built and designed by family-owned Rodgers Development. Completely new, with no renovation or preservation needed, each classic, New England standalone home is surrounded by the natural beauty of the rolling hills and forests of Niantic.
Just a mile and a half from the beach and Niantic village, owner Jonathan Rodgers says, “These homes allow people the privacy of having their own home in a beautiful neighborhood. Like a condominium, an association takes care of the lawn and snow removal, so there’s no upkeep.”
“I’m seeing people move here because they have a connection to the area. They want to be close to their kids, who have jobs in the area, and their grandkids,” continues Rodgers, who says that this age bracket really does want to downsize. “Our biggest seller has been a single story, 1,700 to 2,000 square foot ranch style house.”
“It’s not about more space,” adds Foulke. “It’s about designing the space that you have so that it works for you. Yes, it should be aesthetically pleasing, but it needs to also flow well and streamline the clutter, so that you feel relaxed or energized to take more time with family, friends, nature and yourself.”
From the interior’s soft greens and pale blues to bare floors that are easy to sweep away the sand, the Mielerts relish the casual, easy living that their shoreline cottage provides. “Neighbors are friendly, and people are always out and about. There are always cool breezes and we can hear the waves gently lap the shore,” says Anita, who learned that Bliss was the name of the family that originally owned her house. Inspired to adopt it, she hung an oval plaque over the entry door: Bliss By-the-Sea. This seaside cottage’s name aptly captures a promise of simpler days from the moment you turn the door knob.