The Lafferty and Bernard families have never met, but if they ever did, chances are it was on a nature trail.
The two couples have recently retired to the south and have built homes amid vast woods with walking paths and stunning water views. For Pam and Jed Lafferty (who landed in Cape Charles, Va.), a strip of sand and the Chesapeake Bay sparkle behind their home. Mary and Tim Bernard’s home in South Carolina is accented by ancient live oak trees covered in Spanish moss and miles of deep water river.
These perspectives demanded windows – and lots of them. The Laffertys and the Bernards both lit Old Oyster (SL-1934) from southern life House plans, attracted by their wide offer, as well as spacious porches and terraces in the back. And it’s no surprise that the retreats they’ve designed in these magnetic natural settings have sent a siren song to their families. “Our grandson walks in through the front door and out the back with a fishing pole,” says Pam.
If the Laffertys knew one thing about their future, it was this: they would retire to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
It is the site of five generations of memories, thanks to the grandparents who lived there and the years spent taking their two children and grandchildren to the coast during summer holidays. As the Laffertys, who previously lived in West Chester, Pa., neared retirement a few years ago (she from a job at QVC and he from an agricultural science company), they visited real estate listings in Rehoboth Beach during their annual vacation. And that’s when they realized there was a popularity issue.
“It became more and more frustrating to encounter more traffic, fewer beaches and higher prices,” says Jed. “It just wasn’t working for us.”
Then one day in 2018, their daughter suggested they go to Cape Charles, Virginia. On the four-hour drive home from visiting him in Richmond, Pam took a detour. Believing that the city should have excellent access to water and the beach, she decided to pass.
“I came across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, saw the sign for Cape Charles, and crossed the main road,” she recalled. “I hit the bay and looked at the dunes. Then I turned around the corner and saw the LOVEwork sculpture and thought, ‘Wow. You can see the bay, the fishing pier and harbour.’ “She came out of the small town convinced. After a two-week visit, so was Jed. The couple spotted a piece of land a few minutes walk from the bay and decided that if they could buy it, they would commit. In the spring of 2019, it was theirs and they walked the dirt, describing the Old Oyster house plan they had chosen to their son, daughter and family.
“It has a very classic Lowcountry style with porches and a large central hall,” Pam says of the plan, which made architectural sense with the historic buildings in nearby downtown. With visions of whiteheads and sunsets over the Chesapeake Bay, she made a big adjustment: flipping the second floor of the plan to put the two bedrooms in the back so they open up to a deck – and this view.
While Pam ran the interiors, Jed, whose background is in agriculture, got her hands on dirt from their land and the local stash. “A naturalist and I formed a stewardship club, if you will,” he says. The group helps maintain the scenic beauty of the area and has set up blue bird boxes along the trails. Jed also found a community. “That’s where I first met some of our neighbors,” he says. “With COVID, we weren’t going out, but we could meet people walking, biking or hanging out at the beach.”
The Laffertys are still new to this way of life. “We’re just starting to get a taste of what it’s going to be like here,” Pam says with a smile.
San Francisco would be a tough act to follow. When the Bernards moved west from their longtime home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, they relished life in the middle of the California city. With retirement just a few years away, the couple visited the larger coastal towns of South Carolina (near Mary’s parents and sister), looking for the same. Hilton Head Island, Beaufort, Bluffton – they hit ’em all and love ’em.
But then, on a whim, Mary visited Spring Island. “When you come here, there’s a whole different vibe. It’s a nature reserve where people live, and it’s really something that we had no idea what we wanted until we let’s see it,” she said. Tim fell just as much for the 3,000 acres of largely untouched nature, the low-density development, the community farm, the mix of deep-water river and marsh views, and the residents. “People here are so interesting,” he says. “It’s fun to be with them and learn new hobbies.”
In May 2014, the Bernards purchased land framed by two large live oak trees and envisioned their home sitting exactly between them with the limbs arching over the roof. To bring this idea to life, one team would suffice: Allison Ramsey Architects. The house plans had the open-to-nature features they wanted, but Old Oyster ticked all of their boxes: a master bedroom on the first floor, a dedicated entertainment room away from the main living areas, and deep porches on both levels that would look out over the 5 mile water view of their 2½ acres.
For the holidays, they opened up the kitchen, family, and living rooms to each other. They closed off part of the porch to create a changing room to wipe the paws of their two black labs. Enclosing part of the other side allowed them to expand the main bathroom and closets. “I’m a clothes horse and I need storage for Christmas!” said Mary. “It’s the floor we live on – and we pay for the roof above – so I wanted to use every square inch of space.”
They also added a guest suite above the garage, hoping to entice their two children and families to visit. In fact, at the start of the COVID pandemic, their son and his pregnant wife decamped from New York to South Carolina (under the advice of his doctor) to give birth safely. The Bernards’ daughter also moved in for a few months, staying in a guest bedroom on the second floor. In May 2020, the couple’s first grandchild was born, and the Spring Island community welcomed her with a drive-in baby shower.
“Never in a million years would we have guessed we would be under one roof, but the house has grown beautifully with us,” says Mary.
However, most days on the island are more relaxed than that. Mary and Tim will walk the dogs, stopping at The River House for coffee with friends. Mary may be planning the next event for the Spring Island Floral Guild, which she chairs. Tim might do some work before he lights up the smoking room and invites a few couples over for dinner. One of them might even sneak up to the porch bed to take a nap. “It’s both a typical day and an ideal day,” says Tim.
It’s hard to get a more iconic coastal look than the two-story, 3,951-square-foot Old Oyster plan (SL-1934) developed by Allison Ramsey Architects. The wide porch opens to a double-height foyer that extends into a classic central hall that separates the public living areas from the private ones. “You can look out the front door and see out the back, and immediately you have an idea of where you are,” says Pam Lafferty. At the back of the house, two levels of screened porches (one with a fireplace) frame the water views and catch the breeze. A master bedroom on the first floor makes this an ideal family getaway; guests have the entire second story to themselves.