Spending high-quality family time together has always been a priority for Peter Rotelle and Oona McCullough. Last year, in the midst of planning renovations to their Avalon beach home to create more space for entertaining, they discovered a nearby house for sale that already had much of what they were looking for.
“The home is on Pennsylvania Harbor, and I grew up a par-5 away in the summers,” said Rotelle, who lives in Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill neighborhood when he isn’t at the beach.
They had already applied for building permits on their existing house, so the thought of buying a new one hadn’t crossed their minds. And the home screamed the ’90s — “there wasn’t one wall that wasn’t wallpapered,” recalled Rotelle, owner of Rotelle Studio(e), a custom home builder in Chester County. “But when I got up on the second floor and looked out over Cedar Island, I instantly went back to being 8 years old.”
They bought the house and updated the entire interior, including the kitchen, bathrooms, floors and wall treatments. The beach-inspired décor includes lots of white and shades of blue, with a mix of rustic and contemporary features.
“This house afforded us the room where we could entertain large groups of people,” McCullough said. “Now that centers around our teenagers and young 20-something who love to have friends visit. It’s our place to hang out, relax, and enjoy time with family and friends.”
They call the house Busy Living Too, an homage to the 125 acres of preserved open space Rotelle owns in Chester County called Busy Living, borrowed from the movie Shawshank Redemption. “That’s our lifestyle: busy living,” he said.
One guest room is designed around a painting he bought at the Manayunk Arts Festival. Its pastural Chester County scene reminded him of his campground. In the same room sits a beautiful maple table, inlaid with black walnut, which he built at the campground’s saw mill.
The main living area is an open space where the living room, dining room and kitchen flow from one to the next. Lots of windows bring in natural light while showing off the water view. Family members spend most of their time on the back deck or on the water.
“We’ll go to a public dock a mile away and jump into inner tubes and float, ending up back at our house,” he said. “It’s like a lazy river.”
“We love our outdoor space — our decks, the ability to cook outside and entertain,” McCullough said. “We can watch the sunset and actually watch the sun rise, as well, because we can see it from each angle.”
Beyond the breathtaking views, the 3,500-square-foot, five-bedroom house can sleep 25 guests, including two guest bedrooms with king-size beds. Two other bedrooms are designed as boys’ and girls’ bunk rooms with multiple beds and their own bathrooms. Kids Morgan, 20, Owen, 19, Chase, 18 and Nora, 15, have no trouble filling those spots with friends.
“We love having all the kids down with their friends,” said Rotelle, who installed a fast-food restaurant-style deli bar where guests can make sandwiches. “The home is built to have people and to be lived in.”
The kids’ lounge features a shuffleboard table with couches and bean bag chairs.
An avid cook, Rotelle enjoys grilling the fish he catches or whipping up a homestyle breakfast on his outdoor griddle. “There’s nothing like cooking breakfast outside,” he said.
McCullough, now working from home, has made an office in a space in their master bedroom. “During this period in our lives right now, I feel very fortunate that I can escape up to the third floor and have my little enclave and be able to get my work done while enjoying the beautiful view,” said McCullough, director of investment relations for Urban Outfitters.
During the pandemic, Rotelle turned a bedroom into what can best be described as a sporting goods haven, where friends and family can borrow everything from a surf board to suntan lotion. Called Surf ‘n Such or the Shop, the 150-square-foot space is a water sports lover’s paradise, complete with all the equipment one might need to skateboard, surf, wakeboard, or fish — the family’s summertime hobbies.
“The inspiration was a Costa Rican surf shop mixed with an Orvis store,” Rotelle said. “I like having everything neat and tidy.” The floor is made of 15-inch wide scarlet oak planks from a tree he cut down at the campground.
“The whole premise of the house is to make the living space really comfortable and have space for close friends and our kids and their friends to hang out,” he said. “We’re really grateful we have that opportunity.”
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