Haven: Lofty changes, peaceful charm

The kitchen and dining area on the first floor of Vicki Lachman's house.
The kitchen and dining area on the first floor of Vicki Lachman's house. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)

HAVEN | Quaint Avalon cottage is doubled in size, reimagined by ambitious, well-traveled owner.

Posted: July 14, 2014

There's a small sign in Vicki D. Lachman's kitchen in Avalon. It bears four words: "No hurries, no worries."

What power and meaning those words have for Lachman, newly retired from her job as a professor of professional ethics at Drexel University, but hardly idle as she makes the transition to a less active professional life.

Down in Avalon, near a stretch of boardwalk and beach and close enough to hear the sound of the ocean, Lachman, 68, looks back on a fulfilling life, and forward to a new chapter she is writing as she goes.

"This move feels very right," says Lachman, who served in the Army and over the years has earned a bachelor's degree in nursing, a master's degree in psychiatric nursing, a doctorate in education, and most recently, a degree in bioethics from the University of Pennsylvania.

By June 2013, Lachman had taught her last class at Drexel, but the published author and expert in the dynamics of health care continues to do consulting and lecturing. She is now living in Avalon half the year and spending the other half in Sarasota, Fla., where she owns a small house.

Change, she believes, is invigorating. So was literally doubling the size of her seashore home over the last couple years, she insists.

"I knew I wanted more space, and I also knew that part of the fun would be planning and designing it myself as much as possible," she says.

So with the help of several good friends and a contractor, she plunged into the challenge of adding a full second floor to a simple Avalon cottage, and in the process creating an entire world of her own on that level.

"I basically live in the new space, and visit the kitchen for meals," she says. "It's a whole new perspective and a new way of life, and I'm loving it."

Lachman discovered Avalon in the 1980s, while her permanent home was in Chestnut Hill.

Divorced and on her own, she bought her first house in Avalon near the bay. She sold that one and bought her present house in 1989.

Initially, she used the house, a vintage 1946 bungalow, in spring and fall, and rented it out during the summer.

"I kept everything neutral and never felt that I could make it truly mine because it had to appeal to others," she says.

But "neutral," as it turned out, was definitely not Lachman's style. A spirited woman who has traveled the world and collected artifacts wherever she went, she yearned for a place where that creative side could be displayed.

That's when the notion of truly expanding - and personalizing - her space took hold.

It began outside, where Lachman enlarged her front porch and decked it out with lush plants that are the marvel of the neighborhood. Many residents on a stroll stop and at least figuratively smell the flowers.

"If I'm around, they'll ask me questions about the front garden plantings, and I'm very flattered," says Lachman.

Two other garden areas incorporate boulders, a pond with a waterfall, and a path of pebbles and inlaid pavers.

Lachman, who meditates daily, has no lack of peaceful places to practice a ritual that she believes keeps her calm and centered.

Step inside the first-floor living room of her expanded and reimagined home, and you're in an adobe world. That rich color is spread across several walls, in subtly varied intensities, and it instantly imparts warmth and sophistication. This is not a house that relies on a beachy look with various seashell displays.

For the overall renovation, Lachman decided to sacrifice a third bedroom from the 1946 version of the first floor, and used the space, instead, to add a hallway, a powder room, and a laundry area.

Art and accessories are everywhere - they range from her own photography and beloved paintings by her late father to Asian lamps, oriental rugs, and a blue-and-white kitchen that offers light and charm.

But it's the new second floor that is Lachman's pride and joy.

Through careful planning, the additional 1,000 square feet, reached by both indoor and outdoor stairways, is open and airy, yet carefully designed for practicality.

A bedroom and bath space adjoins a living and office area, set off by rich pine flooring. A large bookcase serves as a room divider between office and bedroom, and a second-floor deck offers something precious: the sight and sound of the sea.

Lachman's favorite spots are on that deck or at her computer, where the consulting work of her semi-retirement is enhanced by views of the ocean.

Art and artifacts from her extensive travels are integrated into the house, as are a collection of perfume bottles and a colorful horse blanket from Mongolia.

More artifacts are sure to be coming after Lachman fulfills one piece of unfinished business:

She has visited every continent on Earth but one. So in 2015, she will head off to Antarctica to close that gap.

"Through my work and my life, I've learned that you don't put things off," she says. "And I've also learned, lately, that home is a very nice place to come back to."

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