Carole Melnik and Brian Cudeck enjoy stones, rocks, fossils and beach glass in a big way.
They collect them. They decorate with them. They incorporate them into their artwork (his) and jewelry designs (hers). And they even match paint colors to them.
Found, recycled and repurposed objects are seen throughout their summer cottage on Lake Erie in Hamburg.
It's all part of an eclectic decor that includes 1950s lamps, a red IKEA sofa, a pocket door rigged from a folding screen and dragonfly string lights.
"Having a cottage gives me a whole new house to decorate," said Melnik, who owns A Snail's Place in Elma.
It also gives them a place to enjoy, with a 20-minute commute to her florist and gift shop and an even shorter one to downtown Buffalo.
It's a place where family, including grandchildren, can visit, camp out, explore the beach across the road.
The couple, who bought the modest cottage about five years ago, also have a home in Alden -- a former schoolhouse that was featured in The Buffalo News in February 2002.
While they did not reveal how much they paid for the cottage, they did describe it as a "bargain" and a "fixer-upper."
While they did much of the work themselves, they also hired some professionals.
They called in a general contractor to help convert the attic into an airy living space with two bedroom areas and a bath (the shower floor is made from black river stones.)
They installed floors tough enough to stand up to sand, dogs and grandchildren: laminate tiles that emulate slate, wood or concrete and, in an upstairs bedroom, cork flooring that feels good on the toes.
The kitchen ceiling was resurfaced; the cabinets painted a taupe color. They also painted rooms and installed skylights and glass block walls, to bring in more light.
Outdoors, Cudeck added a stone patio while Melnik landscaped -- choosing many hostas, arbor vitae and perennial grasses, which she loves. One of them, Arundo donax, has grown more than 12 feet tall. Some of the plants came from their other house.
This cottage, with its grayish-blue wood exterior, has plenty of quirks. The ceiling in the upstairs bathroom is so low, for example, that the couple installed a skylight above the sink not only for light but also to create some extra headroom for taller people brushing their teeth.
And there's plenty to look at. Cudeck, a retired blacksmith, crafted the two railings -- one from driftwood; the other, from metal and rocks, to which he added a clear sealer.
"It makes them look like you pulled them out of the water," he said.
He also jazzed up an outdoor lamppost by designing a fish from steel for the top. He calls it "a '57 Chevy fish" because of the retro shape of its fins and tail lights.
Cudeck works primarily in metal and glass. Another of his fish designs, this one made from stained glass, beach glass and other found objects, now fills the six windows of the garage at the back of the deep lot.
For an old tree in the backyard that shades the patio area, a chandelier hangs from one branch and strands of white Christmas lights from others.
Bowls and buckets of fossils, stones and rocks are found throughout the place -- both inside and out.
When choosing a new color for a wall, Melnik has been known to take a shell, stone or other item to the Aurora Paint Pot in East Aurora so a paint can be created in the same color.
"She drives us nuts," laughed Bob Groth, owner of the store.
"She's good at color, and when she wants something, she wants it. You have to come up with it," he said.
For example, a shell was the inspiration for the pinkish color in the front living room, a color that changes with the light, Melnik said.
The walls in the dining area are either plum or a taupe-like color called Hot Spring Stones, from Benjamin Moore.
"It's the color of a rock," Melnik noted.
Melnik, a seasoned garage sale shopper, landed some real windfalls for the cottage -- from a coffee table to window treatments.
Melnik found the five wood blinds in the front windows at a garage sale for $40. The top treatments also were a steal, she said.
As for her approach to decorating the place: "It can be beachy without being all lighthouses. It can be the natural stuff we have found," she said.
"You can find something and repurpose it, make it into something new. You can find a piece of wood on the beach and turn it into a shelf," she said.
Or a rock can become a part of a railing.
And in this cottage, it has.