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Cottage Charmer

Set in a well-preserved 19th-century resort village, a once worn-out little house becomes a soulful second home

The Homeowners

Photo by Brianne Williams

A century ago a seamstress lived and worked here, hemming dresses and sewing draperies in one of the front bedrooms. Today, a pair of lifelong friends share this restored circa-1917 cottage, set on the periphery of the carefully preserved village of Pinehurst, North Carolina. The town was laid out in the 1890s as a planned resort community, and period homes grand and small still line its picturesque curving streets, as well as more modest dwellings, such as this one. “One part of the village was for the resort workers, with horse stables, blacksmith shops, and simple homes where employees lived and worked, like this one,” says Marilyn Barrett of the house she and Catherine Vrdolyak own and share.

Shown: Homeowners Marilyn Barrett (left) and Catherine Vrdolyak and their dog, Scarlett, on one of the property’s brick garden paths.

A New Porch

Photo by Brianne Williams

Because the cottage had been used as a live-work space, where customers were greeted and goods stored, it had devolved into what Cathy, a Chicago-based lawyer who spends about three months a year there, calls “a patchwork of rooms.” Floorboards in some rooms ran north to south and in others east to west, ad hoc closets colonized space in the bedrooms, screened porches had been tacked on here and there, and low ceilings darkened the interior. Together with architect Christine Dandeneau, hired to restore and reinvigorate the house, the two women agreed that the inside needed to be gutted to the studs.

Shown: Tapered columns and wide trim dress up the new porch; a transom window marks where a second entry had been. The house’s windows are new; the siding and front door are original.

Windows: Andersen Windows & Doors

Front porch: Rocker, Cracker Barrel

Outdoor pillow: World Market

Maximized Ceiling

Photo by Brianne Williams

“I didn’t even start drawing my plans until the interior had been fully demolished,” Dandeneau says. “It makes my life as an architect so much easier if I can see completely and exactly what I’m up against right from the start.”

Upgraded plumbing, wiring, insulation, and windows were givens. The original floors were salvageable in all but a couple of places. But the decision with the most dramatic result was to remove the ceilings, except for a section over the two bedrooms, which became the floor of a sleeping loft. Doing this revealed the underside of the steeply pitched roof, with its original rafters and 1x6 roof decking. To increase the feeling of loftiness in the little house, Dandeneau raised the existing collar ties too. “After consulting with the structural engineer,” she says, “we shifted them up for even greater effect.”

Shown: The roof structure was exposed, collar ties raised, and insulation installed on top of the original sheathing to maximize the ceiling heights.

Paint (walls): Pittsburgh Paints’s Silver Feather

Countertops: Caesarstone

Range: KitchenAid

Range hood: Broan Nutone

Kitchen island butcher block: John Boos

Sconce lights: Restoration Hardware

Glass canisters: World Market

Farmhouse Sink

Photo by Brianne Williams

“The exposed roof structure and vaulted ceilings are among the first things that draw people into our home,” says Marilyn. “The roofline raises your eye upward as soon as you come inside and it makes the small footprint feel much bigger.”

The roof had been leaking, badly, and for some time. The contractor on the job, Ron Davidson, sistered some rafters, while replacing damaged sections of sheathing and adding boards as needed to reinforce the structure. He rubbed coffee grounds on the new wood to help it blend in with the old.

Shown: In the kitchen, a farmhouse-style sink sits on rustic supports; a salvaged shutter, cut to fit and installed horizontally, conceals the storage space below.

Farmhouse sink: Kohler

Faucet: Kohler

Tea towels: World Market

Sunny Dining Area

Photo by Brianne Williams

To enable the clean expanse within, Dandeneau and Davidson collaborated to add needed insulation on the outside of the roof structure. Self-adhesive waterproofing membrane went down directly on the existing roof deck, two 4-inch layers of rigid foam were tacked on top, then plywood sheathing was screwed down before being covered with standard underlayment and shingles. Wide 1x12 fascia boards along the gables and eaves, with 4-inch trim along the top, finish the edges of the built-up roof.

Shown: The wall between the kitchen and what had been a sunroom was removed to make space for a dining area. The vintage work lights operate on pulleys.

Antique Pulley Lights above table: Railside Architectural & Antiques, Aberdeen, NC

Black walnut table top: from Alan Tingen Custom Woodworking, Apex, NC

Table steel base: from Protech Metals/Pinehurst Blacksmith, Pinehurst NC

Galvanized tray: World Market

Studio Door Charm

Photo by Brianne Williams

All the exterior doors are painted red, including the one to the writing studio, to symbolize a welcoming household. Arbors, fences, and garden paths extend the property’s charm outdoors.

Sitting Room

Photo by Brianne Williams

The effect inside is such that some visitors think the house is suited only for summertime use, since it appears uninsulated, though the cottage functions as a year-round retreat. While the exterior is largely intact, with the addition of a sitting room that turns the former L-shaped footprint into a rectangle, the interior layout is mostly new. In devising it, Dandeneau chose to use her favorite material: sunlight. “One of my obsessions is to bring in as much light as I can. I’m always looking for ways to foster views outside. That simple strategy makes a small house feel much more spacious.” Skylights in the kitchen and in the hall also bring in light and air—but only on the rear-facing portion of the roof, in keeping with preservation rules inside the village’s historic district.

Shown: The sitting-room addition off the kitchen is lined with windows to fill the interior with natural light. The wood for the new ceiling was rubbed with coffee grounds to give it a warm patina. An old factory cart, on iron wheels, serves as a coffee table.

Writing Studio

Photo by Brianne Williams

The front entry remains where it has always been, but it now makes an architectural statement from the street. Prior to the renovation, visitors could enter the house via two doors from a screened entry porch—one door led into the house, the other to the former owner’s workspace. Dandeneau closed up most of the latter opening, slipping in a transom window, now above the bed in the master bedroom.

With interior walls reduced in number and reconfigured and closets removed, the owners liken the new layout to an oval track. “Now you walk in and can go straight back to the kitchen or into the new sitting room, from which you can access the two bedrooms, which remain private,” Marilyn says. “The energy of the house now flows in a circular pattern, where it once felt like a train car.”

Shown: Marilyn Barrett’s rustic writing studio, in a former shed, is brightened with white paint and windows repurposed from the main house. As both decor and a kind of tactile scrapbook, golf hats from her travels hang on hooks overhead.

Lofty Bedroom

Photo by Brianne Williams

While most of the original heart pine floors were intact, some needed replacing. “The floor in the bathroom was rotted, and when we pulled it out we needed to fill in,” Dandeneau says. “Normally in an old house like this, you can tile over the existing wood floor, but in this case it was too far gone.”

To patch an area between the living room and kitchen, Cathy took her sister Karen up on her offer of salvaged oak flooring stored in her Chicago garage, loading the boards in her trunk and driving them to Pinehurst. “Then we put on dust masks and started sanding them down to align with the existing floors,” Marilyn says. No matter that they’re not a perfect match. “We like the patchwork quality of the different woods and shades,” says Cathy, “since they represent the different ages of the house.”

Shown: A loft sleeping area large enough to hold two beds sits above the only portion of ceiling that was not removed; the bamboo flooring and windows are new. It is accessed via a ladder and serves as storage space as well as guest quarters.

Blankets, baskets, lamps, green bowls: Target

Burlap pillows: Bella Rustica Style and Design

Alarm clock: Pottery Barn

Kitchen Pendants

Photo by Brianne Williams

Because she’s able to spend seven months a year at the cottage, Marilyn, a retired advertising and marketing writer who’s at work on a book, wanted to turn an existing shed on the property into a writing retreat. What had originally been a featureless wood outbuilding is now filled with natural light streaming through four windows salvaged from the house during the renovation. Relocated so it’s just steps from the main house, the shed shares the same exterior detailing and custom paint colors.

Shown: A series of pendant lights over the kitchen island were made from salvaged glass railroad telegraph insulators.

Salvage Rack

Photo by Brianne Williams

With the 1,100-square-foot cottage complete, the women agree that they more than accomplished their goal. “After the work was finished, one of the original owner’s descendants came inside and just burst into tears,” Marilyn says. “She saw that we’d put love back into the house. Her response solidified for us everything we felt about our work here and justified the time and money we put into it.”

Shown: An extra oak board from the house was fitted with old porcelain telephone-wire knob insulators and is used as a bathroom towel rack.

Master Bath

Photo by Brianne Williams

But proud as the women are of preserving the cottage, they’re just as thrilled to call it home. “When I walk in, I feel like I can exhale all the bad stuff in the world,” Marilyn says. She likens the house to the Spanish querencia. “It refers to a place you keep returning to, where you feel the most comfortable in life. For us, this is that place.”

Shown: In the master bath sits the original claw-foot tub, reglazed for another century of use. The slim new shower stall is surrounded with frameless glass to preserve an open feeling in the space.

Tub faucet: Kohler

Shower tile: Florim Tile

The Plan

Floor plan by Ian Worpole

The two bedrooms stayed in place, but elsewhere walls came down to allow for open living and kitchen-dining spaces. The half bath was added, and the master bath enlarged. The sitting room is new.