Family Tides–Small style by the Beach
One half of the dynamic duo behind Fairfield Moms, the online resource for family-friend events, is Amber Smith. This young mother of two is also a talented interior designer who found her true passion by flipping houses with her husband and father-in-law. “I got involved slowly, picking out the finishes for some of the flip homes,” says Smith. “At our first open house, everyone kept asking who the interior designer was, and really made me wonder if I could put my talent to work full-time doing something I loved.”
Smith has always enjoyed being creative. The Norwalk native attended the University of Rhode Island to study fashion, merchandising, and design. After graduating in 2007, she began working full-time in marketing, her minor, and met her future husband Cliff on Match.com. “Shortly after we met, we realized that Cliff’s grandmother and my father’s older sister were actually best friends growing up in Stamford,” she explains. “It’s such a small world. They showed us photos of them together as kids.”
In spring 2016, the couple purchased a small Cape Cod-style home near Penfield Pavilion. “We weren’t planning to move, but we’d always dreamed of living near the beach,” adds Smith. “There weren’t many small homes left in good shape after Hurricane Sandy — and in such close proximity to the beach — so we jumped on the opportunity.”
The home had incurred food damage from the storm, and the previous owners had already begun lifting the structure to comply with new FEMA regulations. Together, with their architect, the couple took over the project and tweaked the design elements to their own esthetic. “What should have taken three months, took six,” recalls Smith. “It didn’t help that we had a new baby.”
The main challenge stemmed from the fact that FEMA changed some of its rules and regulations, forcing Smith adjust the design, and invest additional funds. “We still haven’t seen our investment back from FEMA, but we know the decision to lift the home will be worthwhile in the long run.”
The charming 1,300-square-foot home is a refreshing change from the many jumbo “new construction” homes in the neighborhood. Over the next five years, the family plans to build out and up, but will remain true to the home’s original New England style and footprint.
“During the initial lift, we built an extra strong foundation to withstand a third level,” notes Smith. “Sharing one full bathroom between the four of us isn’t my favorite, but we make it work.”
In 2019, Smith started her own interior design business, Rowlan’ Tides, a nod to her new neighborhood and signature modern coastal/ farmhouse style. Her minimalist approach incorporates natural wood accents, white and gray tones, with pops of teal and greenery to keep things fresh.
“Even my kids know that Mommy’s favorite color is white,” jokes Smith. “Light, bright spaces keep me calm and the potential of a white room is undeniable.”
Whether it’s in her own home, or when working with clients, Smith isn’t scared to mix low- and high-end brands. “About half of my furniture is from Ikea and I’m not ashamed to admit it!” says Smith. “I wash our slipcovers every month and it still looks brand new after six years—plus it’s so comfortable.”
A self-described DIY lover—a talent she credits to her father—Smith enjoys tackling special projects in the home. Most recently, she purchased shiplap wallpaper from Target and covered the upstairs hallway. “I even asked for some new tools for Christmas this past year.” One of the biggest challenges to living in a small home is staying organized and finding creative storage solutions. Most beach area homes lack a true basement, and the open-air garage areas are prime for mold. “Our two small attic spaces that help a bit with storage and organization, but if it’s not being used, or doesn’t have a place, we donate it,” adds Smith.
To date the couple has flipped more than 28 homes in the last five years, with three more currently in progress. But with all flips, come some flops, including a foreclosed home they purchased in the Lake Mohegan area, which was rumored to have previously been a brothel. “We learned so much from that property, including where we should have focused our budget inside the house, and to always complete the exterior landscape,” recalls Smith. “It took a long time to sell, but once it did, we approached the next project with a lot more knowledge in our back pocket.”
“People might think working with your significant other has its ups and downs, but we truly love working together.”