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Mark Holt made the dining room table out of reclaimed porch posts.

Mark and Susie Holt found their little piece of paradise, a nearly 90-year-old beachfront cottage on Casey Key Road, on a Sunday drive in 2011. The 1,100-square-foot, one-bedroom cottage was unassuming, but the Gulf-and-sky views were breathtaking, and though they rented it out seasonally for a few years, the lure of the sun and sea right outside their door was so great that they moved in permanently last summer.

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Mark and Susie Holt have captured the easy spirit of beach living in their Casey Key cottage.

“Living in Florida, it’s always been our dream to have a little beach cottage,” says Susie, a Sarasota native, who started the vintage home furnishings store Posh on Palm in Venice 17 years ago with her husband, Mark. (The couple recently relocated Posh back to town after a few years on downtown Sarasota’s South Palm Avenue.)

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“It’s so relaxing,” Mark says, pointing to the Adirondack chairs right on the beach where the couple likes to watch sunsets. “You go to work and whether you had a bad day or a good day, you come home knowing you’re going to be happy.”

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The bedroom is a romantic retreat.

The cottage is very simple—for the owners, its greatest appeal—with one bedroom and an adjoining bath, a postage-stamp sized kitchen and a large living/dining room with a 20-foot expanse of glass windows facing the Gulf of Mexico that floods the space with light and water views.

“We’ve put some lipstick on it,” Mark says. He’s added a roomy back porch, upgraded the wiring and given everything a coat of white paint; and he plans to open up the kitchen to the living area and add an island, and to build another porch on the south side of the cottage with French doors separating it from the bedroom.

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Nifty details like seashells and straw hats create an instant sense of vacation.

Meanwhile, they’ve decorated their new home with some of the architectural finds that they collect on their picking trips around the country: a big framed mirror made out of distressed barn wood, another mirror from Belgium from the early 1900s with rose garlands carved out of wood along the top, crystal chandeliers from France, a screen door from Savannah embellished with a carved wooden seahorse. Just as in their shop, sofas and chairs are oversized and overstuffed with down, and slipcovered in white muslin.

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For the Holts, it was a chance to put their coastal shabby-chic decorating philosophy to good practice. “We love the old and mix in the new,” says Mark. “We like to introduce killer vintage pieces to a room; you want a piece that pops.”

To replenish the ever-changing merchandise in their shop, they travel to big flea markets twice a year in places like New Orleans, Texas, California, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio. Over the years they’ve developed relationships with furniture dealers across the United States who give them first pick of their new finds, and they also employ a picker in Belgium and Paris.

It’s Mark’s job to repair and restore the pieces that they find. “But not to a perfect state,” he says. To the Holts, and to their many customers, chips, cracks and dings are marks of beauty. He also makes furniture and does woodworking; he built their 10-foot dining table out of porch posts. Susie is the designer. She recently completed an entryway for a national celebrity who lives on a nearby island (no name for publication, please).

Their work has been featured in many national magazines, among them Better Homes & Gardens, Coastal Living, Romantic Homes, Romantic Country and Country Living; and even in Swedish, French and Italian magazines, thanks to international customers who’ve spread the word about their

cottagey wares.

“We want to give our customers that feeling regardless of how old their house is,” says Mark. “I tell them, ‘Don’t be afraid to add old architectural elements—doors, cabinets, mirrors—without going crazy.’”

“Comfort and function are what we’re all about,” says Susie. And lots of love. |||

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“I tell customers, ‘Don’t be afraid to add old architectural elements—doors, cabinets, mirrors—without going crazy.’”


Going Coastal

Want to capture the breezy, beachy look? Follow these tips from designer Susie Holt.

Make the view your focal point. “I don’t use a lot of artwork because I think of the view as a moving picture,” says Holt. “Then I bring the outside in with lots of natural elements, like shells and hardwood floors.”

Start with a white palette—different shades of white such as natural linen, pure whites and linen whites—and complement it with soft pastel-washed blues, grays and greens.

Add architectural elements—screen doors, cabinets, mantelpieces, mirrors—out of original old wood that’s chipped and peeled. “I’m all about imperfection,” says Holt.

Slipcover your upholstered pieces. “To me, living by the water is all about beauty, function and comfort,” says Holt. “The aim is not to worry, to be able to enjoy your life. If you come inside in a wet bathing suit or track in sand, just wash the slipcovers.”

Pick one great piece to show off when you walk into the house—a huge mirror or interesting armoire, for example.

Don’t get matchy-matchy. Don’t match the end tables, for example. Instead, choose one-of-a-kind elements.



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