Habit + Habitat: Sarah Stern

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Ever wonder what the folks at terrain do when we're not in the garden? In our monthly series, Habit + Habitat, we're finding out by asking one person to share a favorite habit and a beloved habitat. This month, we’re chatting with Associate Buyer Sarah Stern about settling into her recently-remodeled beach house, a tranquil space filled with summer fun and family memories.

terrain: What is your role at terrain? Can you describe your typical day?

Sarah: I buy gifts, textiles, and accessories for terrain. I love my job because on any given day I use most, if not all, of my senses to evaluate product-- smelling candles and lotions to pick the perfect scent, feeling the weight and texture of a soft linen tablecloth, tasting multiple mustards to find our favorite for the summer, and of course looking at potential product all day long. I also do a lot of “looking” at Excel spreadsheets. It’s taking a toll on my eyes!

terrain: What’s the one word that describes your habitat—your recently remodeled beach house, and your habit—hosting barbecues at the beach?

Sarah: Tranquility. Even in the crazy and cold months of winter, I can close my eyes and think about sitting in my living room with the sea air blowing in. It brings me an indescribable sense of peace and tranquility, and I’m very attached to the house because of that connection. This is a family home that was on the market before Hurricane Sandy; my parents were moving to Vermont and I was so heartbroken over the impending loss of my favorite place that I couldn’t even talk about the subject. Then Hurricane Sandy happened and we had 3 feet of water sitting in our house for a month. Renovation was a complete gut job, and my husband and I took on the responsibility and decided to buy the place.

terrain: Can you tell us a bit about your house at the beach?

Sarah: Our lovely little beach cottage is located in Beach Haven Terrace on Long Beach Island. It was built in 1915, and is one of the only original homes remaining on the island. Before Sandy, a huge storm in 1962 destroyed a lot of real estate. Since then, people have been leveling homes to build larger, more profitable estates. It’s such a shame that this is happening all over the Jersey Shore, because there’s something so much better about cottage living down the shore as opposed to mansion living! The home itself is less than 900 square feet. There are two small bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen open to a dining area, a large loft upstairs that sleeps 6, and a generous back deck. 

terrain: What are some of your favorite spaces in the house?

Sarah: I love our living room. It’s so tiny and quaint, but we put in two very comfortable love seats and a record player that is usually playing an album from the 1960s. It’s also the best place in the house to enjoy the sea breeze that makes shore living so special. When we remodeled, we knocked down the wall between our bedroom and the living room and installed a barn door in its place. It looks great and allows my husband and me to sleep with the sea breeze when we’re the only ones staying in the house.

I also love our backyard and deck. As often as I can, I’ll purchase zinnias from one of the many New Jersey farmstands we pass on our trek to the shore, then use beautiful, summery flowers to flood my deck with color. Thanks to Adirondack chairs and a square table that easily seats 8, this is a flexible space for eating, drinking, grilling, socializing, or just relaxing in the sun with my pug, Agnes. I also love our back deck because it’s where I most often run into my neighbors, who are close friends of ours. 

terrain: What were some of the challenges and most rewarding parts of the remodel?

Sarah: The most challenging part was saying goodbye to the wonderful spaces and things that had been so much a part of my life. For example, my mother had a beautiful set of the most comfortable sofa chairs you could imagine. When she purchased them from a friend, they were hideously upholstered. She spent several back-breaking days reupholstering the chairs before they took up residence in the shore house living room. Seeing those chairs waterlogged on the corner with the rest of the trash was very painful for me. I’ll never forget that.

However, I love remodels in general because they’re hugely rewarding experiences. Besides the barn door mentioned above, we made no structural changes. Our house feels like the original home, but updated with new everything – walls, floors, appliances.  Painting the house bright white gave me the opportunity to have so much fun with color. I took more risks with color in this house than I did at home in Philadelphia, and I think the risk paid off – the décor feels light, playful, and perfect for the shore.

terrain: How often do you host beachside barbecues? What are some highlights of entertaining in your new space?

Sarah: I try to barbecue at least one night every weekend and host get-togethers as often as possible because I love entertaining friends! There is always music playing and everyone pitches in. Some of my favorite tasks to delegate are peeling corn, slicing tomatoes, and doing dishes (we have no dishwasher so everything gets hand washed). My husband, Chase, is the one responsible for lighting the charcoal grill (always with a chimney, never with lighter fluid!), but I like to do the cooking. After everything is eaten and the last dishes are put away, everyone sits down for a game. Scattergories is my personal favorite.

terrain: What are some of your signature dishes or drinks for summer cookouts?

Sarah: Last week, I made my mother’s softshell crab recipe for the first time. She grew up in Annapolis, MD, where crab recipes are passed down through generations. The secret to a great crab recipe is to use as few ingredients as possible and let the crab stand on its own. I also make a Caprese salad for every summer barbecue I host. Who can resist Jersey tomatoes in the summer? Certainly not me! As far as drinks are concerned, I always have summer shandy on hand. This year I discovered a grapefruit shandy from Harpoon Brewery and I’m hooked!

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