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Welcome back: the return to your home away from home. Photo: Stephen Harris

The Hercun's family summer residence in P.E.I. Photo: Stephen Harris

The return to your home away from home

Debbie Hercun and her family may live in Calgary, but their hearts beat to the rhythm of the East Coast. Careers took Hercun and her husband Jason, both from Halifax, away from the Maritimes but they bounced between the U.S. and Canada, eventually landing in the western city with their children Carter and Avery.

“We’ve been around,” says Hercun, an elementary school teacher. “But every single summer, we’ve always gone home to Nova Scotia. That’s where home always was.”

Then the family started renting cottages on different parts of P.E.I., thinking it would be fun to explore the island a little bit.

“It’s just such a little treasure to us. I mean the first time we went to P.E.I., we’re like, how did we miss this all our lives? We just fell in love immediately with the landscape, the people, the beaches,” she explains.

The Hercuns also fell in love with the north shore of the island.

 “We have rented places on other shores, but Cousins Shore just really spoke to us, just walking that beach in the evening, the sense of peace there. And having that sunrise come in on us in the mornings, it’s just so beautiful.” 

While the family made regular trips east, Hercun says they always mused with the idea of having some property by the ocean to call their own. Her mother’s house in Halifax was their home base for many years. When her mother passed away in 2015, Hercun knew her family still wanted that tether to home. They wanted to maintain that sense of place even if it was not her family home in Halifax, and they were open to exploring the possibilities of the mainland and the island.

“That’s when we found our little piece of land,” says Hercun, remembering a day when she was out for a drive in a seaside neighbourhood where they had spent some time before.

They saw a teeny tiny sign that said “Land for sale” on the side of the road in Seaview and they knew they had just slid into home base.

In the summer of 2016, the Hercuns interviewed builders and met Bill and Cheryl Harnett of Bluewater Designs. 

“When we met them, we knew that we could trust them,” says Hercun. “They had taken us around to some of the other properties they’d built on the island. When we saw their former clients greeting them with hugs at the door, we were like, ‘OK, these are the people we want to build with.’” The long-distance build started in September 2016.

“Jason made a trip in November and then I was there again in the spring,” says Hercun. “It was finished in July of 2017 and we just had the most amazing experience.”

The Hercuns appreciated the open communication they experienced throughout the process. They knew how they wanted the property to perform, and the builders were attentive to details. It made what could have been a daunting experience, anything but. They were a team regardless of the 3,000 kilometers of playing field between them. “We would do it all again with them,” says Hercun. 

Windows that stretch along the waterside of the cottage maximize the views from almost every room of the interior. 

“You look out at what I call the back, but a lot of people call the front, the beach side, you see that gorgeous ocean and the beautiful sand. And then when you look out the other side, you’re looking at the rolling farm hills and to me it’s almost like the best of both worlds.”

Hercun considers herself a bit of a minimalist and is confident in her own style. She had a vision for the property before they even poured the foundation. For her, it was about having the structural bones put in place.

 “We told them everything we wanted and they drew the plans to customize our ideas. And I had quite a voice myself in all the finishings. So, the design on the inside, they were willing to let me have a voice for a lot of it.”

Connection to family and opportunity to make new memories were the inspirational concepts of the design and were as much of the vision for the build, as the floor plan. 

“That was the No. 1 thing for us. Obviously having the view of the ocean, but just being able to celebrate that beautiful spot with family,” adds Hercun.

Her priority was to design a space that would be visitor friendly. They wanted to hit a home run creating a home base for all family and friends. With a few cottage seasons behind them — and prepping for their return in 2022 — Hercun just might have hit the ball out of the park. 

There are two master bedrooms on the main level, each with its own full bathroom, on either side of the house. In between is the main living area, a big open gathering space that’s the centre of the home, including an open kitchen and dining space with a huge dining table. 

“We love cooking all the fresh produce that is growing on the island,” says Hercun. “Being in that kitchen and being able to look out at the ocean when we’re cooking, I mean, that’s probably our favourite thing.” 

Hercun found the kitchen island in Calgary and had it shipped east. It’s a piece that inspired the other elements of the design. 

“It was slightly beachy, a little worn looking and a good size. I knew it would be a great place to cook and look out at that water; a great place for people to gather around.”

Hercun says she chose open shelving for the kitchen to help guests feel comfortable and at home where they could see and grab what they needed. 

“I have three sisters who are my life. And so when we’re together, it’s kind of like our place. And Jason’s family as well. There’s no ‘us having them’, we’re just all there together.”

Hercun says while they’re at the cottage, the vibe is bare feet and total chill out. As she points out, there’s really nothing formal about the house. 

“In the morning, having coffee in the back, when the sun’s coming up and then sitting on the front stoop in the evening, having a glass of wine when the sun is going down is so simple, but those are sort of the things that we love the most.”

In the front of the house there’s a small cozy TV room for watching movies on a rainy afternoon or night. There’s a wood burning fireplace in the main living area, for chillier, drizzly days. 

“We’ve also come back for Thanksgiving,” says Hercun. “Having that wood burning fireplace in the fall is just wonderful.” 

In the front of the house there’s also a nice mudroom and laundry room — a great space for throwing beach towels — with a half bathroom too.

Upstairs, there are two bedrooms for the kids with a full bathroom in between. “There’s a loft space up there as well. It’s really quite lovely to sit up there and read, or we do yoga or exercise, or just being able to be up high like that and look out to the ocean is really quite lovely.”

Over time, Hercun has slowly filled the space. “I love being on the island and going to all the little antique stores and finding special pieces of furniture that way. I love mixing the clean lines of the house with an old piece of furniture. I’ve got some nice old tables and an old church pew as a bench, one in the bathroom and one in the mudroom.”

In the dead of winter out in Calgary, the family breaks out their photos. The memories they’ve built together take them right back to the island.

“Probably around April every year, when you might smell a little bit of rain, that’s when everyone starts talking about craving the ocean air, the salt, the humidity, and just making those family memories on the beach with the kind-hearted people of P.E.I. who are amazing neighbours,” says Hercun. “It really is sort of becoming that home away from home.” 

East Coast Living