Any lingering concerns long-time pals Dawn McKenna and Judy Floodstrand had about mixing friendship with finances flew out the U-Haul window on moving day. Could they really share a vacation home on Lake Michigan? they wondered. Then Dawn (arms full of decorative pillows and scented oils) and Judy (loaded down with napkins, toilet tissue and paper towels) spotted each other in the driveway and knew the partnership was a winner. "We laugh about that day," Judy says. "I tend to be on the practical side, Dawn's on the fluff-and-image side, and you need both to make it all work."
Click ahead to read more about Judy's and Dawn's shared vacation home. Pictured: Dawn chose clear Lucite chairs to preserve lake views.
For the past three summers, the gracious Nantucket-style home in tiny Long Beach, Indiana, has been the site of barbecues, beachside football games and giggle-filled sleepovers for as many as 27 children. (Judy and her husband, Mike, bring two kids to the mix; Dawn and her husband, Steve, bring four.) When the families bought the three-story house, however, it looked as if its best days were in the rearview mirror. Past rehabs had stripped much of its charm. And the basement? "It looked like it was out of The Silence of the Lambs," Dawn says. In short, it was perfect.
"I love houses that have a great lot and beautiful architecture that I can spray my fairy dust on and make phenomenal," says Dawn, who confesses to being a serial house renovator in addition to a real estate agent. "I've turned lemons into lemonade several times."
Pictured: Both families had vacationed on Lake Michigan for years, so buying this waterfront house was a dream come true.
Working within the home's original footprint, the families replaced the dark warren of small rooms with an open floor plan. Three new oversize bedrooms plus four pullout couches now provide sleeping for a whopping 19 beachgoers (not counting sleeping bags). More importantly, the kitchen and family room—where everyone tends to gather—were relocated to the back of the house to take advantage of stunning lake views.
Dawn took the decorating lead, bringing in a sophisticated twist on beach decor. The water-inspired palette of pale blues, grays and greens balances the dramatic dark wood floors, which are überchic but, of course, show every grain of sand. "I joke that I'm the type of person who loves Manolo Blahnik shoes but has 1,000 bunions," Dawn says. "Lighter floors would have been less maintenance, but I don't care. They made the house."
Pictured: High windows in the family room offer light and privacy, while beach views beckon outside the glass doors.
Pillows in modern prints top cottage-comfy seating wearing washable white slipcovers. Dawn likes to contrast traditional elements, such as an old beat-up wood pedestal dining table and Shaker-style kitchen cabinets, with an ultramodern Lucite coffee table and a funky zebra-striped rug. "I like the juxtaposition of city with beach. It's a little edgy," she says.
Judy had long admired Dawn's sense of style, so she was happy to give her friend the design reins for their reinvigorated beachside place. "This house is decorated so differently from my home in Illinois, which is much more traditional," Judy says. "Up here, it's freer and cleaner lines. It's living in a much more simplified way. And that is in itself a vacation."
Pictured: Stock kitchen cabinetry is budget-friendly and smart in a house full of active kids and summer fun. "If a door breaks or gets stained or scratched, I can take it off the hinges and get a new door front," Dawn says.
Splurges on a high-arc faucet and streamlined cabinet hardware modernize the look of this classic white kitchen.
Bottles, coral and starfish make an easy centerpiece. The old dining room table came from Dawn McKenna's Illinois home. "I call it the 'not-so-neurotic table,'" she says. "It's been bashed in 500 times. I can sit something hot on it. The kids can draw on it. Nothing's a problem."
Arches in the entry were part of the original architecture.
Family photos become wall art.
A tray table stands in as a bedroom nightstand. The best feature of the elegantly simple bedrooms can't be seen, says Judy: "Being able to sleep with the sound of the waves? That's awesome."
"I wanted the guest room to feel like a hotel," says Dawn, who outfitted the serene room with super-soft bed linens and mattresses.
This second family room is reserved for the teenagers to watch TV and hang out. And if the white slipcovers get dirty? They simply get tossed in a washing machine with bleach. The leaded-glass door is one of the few original items rescued from the house.
"It's just an hour from home, but here you can be in a whole different world," says Judy (left), strolling the beach with Dawn.
"As much as you think you're going to use a vacation house, you only use it half that time, so you might as well share half the expenses!" Judy Floodstrand says. Here, Judy and long-time friend Dawn McKenna offer their tips for sharing a seasonal getaway house with minimal drama.
Judy says: Set up a calendar. Every year in late winter, the couples sit down to divvy up the summer. Each family gets at least two weeks by themselves, but the families usually spend the Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day together. "Having a calendar is as fair as you can be."
Dawn says: Share everything—except closets. The master bedroom features two separate moveable closet units, one for the McKennas and one for the Floodstrands.
Judy says: Split the chores. Dawn handles the design and decorating, and Judy pays the bills and keeps the house stocked. "We're both type-A personalities but in different ways."
Dawn says: Have an exit strategy. "If either of us wants to get out, the other couple has the option to buy them out at a certain price," she says. "And if they don't want to buy them out, we'd sell the house."
Judy says: Spend time together before buying. Not only did the couples know each other for years, but they'd also put in lots of quality time. "We've spent long days together on family outings and holidays."
Pictured: The beach is a quick, no-stairs-needed walk from the house.
RENOVATIONS: Personal Touch Construction, 1628 Euclid Ave., Chicago Heights, Illinois (708/755-2251).
EXTERIOR: Roofing CertainTeed (800/233-8990; certainteed.com). Siding stain Driftwood Grey. Cabot (800/877-8246; cabotstains.com).
KITCHEN: Cabinetry Ikea (ikea.com/us). Dishwasher Bosch (bosch-home.com/us). Paint HC170 Stoningham Gray. Benjamin Moore (benjaminmoore.com). Range/oven KitchenAid (800/422-1230; kitchenaid.com). Range hood Zephyr (zephyronline.com). Table and chairs Docksta/Tobias. Ikea (see Kitchen, Cabinets).
ENTRY: Light Glass lantern. Tower Lighting (708/246-9429; towerltg.com). Paint Pavillion Gray. Farrow and Ball (888/511-1121; us.farrow-ball.com).
LIVING ROOM: Accessories Seagrass Home (847/446-8444; seagrasshome.com). Paint HC147 Woodlawn Blue. Benjamin Moore (see Kitchen, Paint). Sofa and chairs Slipcovered collection. Pottery Barn (800/922-5507; potterybarn.com).
DINING ROOM: Chandelier Tower Lighting (see Entry, Light). Chairs Slip Side parsons chair. Crate and Barrel (800/967-6696; crateandbarrel.com). Paint Pavillion Blue custom blend. Farrow and Ball (see Entry, Paint).
MASTER BEDROOM: Bird painting Seagrass Home (see Living room, Accessories). Paint Skylight. Farrow and Ball (see Entry, Paint).