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1940s Cottage Remodel Fit for a Growing Family

With a little help from relatives—and a lot of late hours—a young couple preserve and expand a tiny cottage to create a cozy home for their brood

Counter Seating

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

It must have been the right blend of naïveté and chutzpah,” says Shelley Smith Pelliccione, smiling as she recalls what does sound like one crazy scenario.

After she acquires an old, beat-up cottage on the outskirts of Savannah, she meets this great guy—a rock guitarist, no less. Early in the courtship, he drops by and finds her embarked on a DIY reno, specifically, on her hands and knees, stripping linoleum off the original Georgia heart-pine floor. His day job is project manager for a general contractor; he marries her anyway. Finding they are both meticulous with the details, though different ones, they decide to take their time renovating.

Shown: When Joe and Shelley Pelliccione met, she had already opened up the kitchen in her tiny house; after they married they collaborated on an addition. Around the corner from the cook space is a closet-turned-bar.

Architectural designer: Shelley Smith Pelliccione

General contractor: Joe Pelliccione

Paint: Pratt & Lambert Seed Pearl (walls); Farrow & Ball Studio Green (cabinets)

Refrigerator: Frigidaire

Countertops: Silestone Arctic

Backsplash tile: Walker Zanger Rue Pierre

Sink: Blanco

Faucet: Kingston Brass

Pot rack: Crate & Barrel

Ceiling light: Schoolhouse Electric

Pendant lights: Restoration Hardware

Barstools and open shelves: Pottery Barn

Dining Nook

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Then along comes a baby. Then talk of another. The cottage is getting crowded, so they start working overtime—till midnight some nights—replumbing and rewiring, painting and sanding, changing diapers. Her parents, enjoying retirement in Tullahoma, Tennessee, come for a visit and are promptly put to work. By the time a photographer shows up to document the results, everyone’s sitting around like it’s no big deal.

“Our son, Charlie, was about two months old,” Shelley says of the moment she and Joe began work on a much-needed addition, and “for the next fifteen months we worked on the house. Looking back, I am remembering it as a lovely time. But there was probably some stress in there.”

Not hard to imagine.

Shown: The dining nook in the kitchen extension holds a banquette that doubles as storage. Windows and window stain were matched to the 1940s originals; the oak table and chairs are family heirlooms.

Paint: Pratt & Lambert Seed Pearl (walls)

Cork flooring: Wicanders

Pendant light: Serena & Lily

Window stain: Minwax

Added Pantry

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

When Shelley bought the house, about eight years ago and for slightly more than nothing, it had two bedrooms, one bath, and just 750 square feet, “the perfect size for me and my basset hound, Satchel,” she says. She loved the community, called Sandfly, near a tributary of the Moon River and the Isle of Hope community. “My background is history and historic preservation,” she says. “Sandfly was forty acres and a mule, with strong African-American ties and vernacular-style houses like this one.”

Shown: A smartly painted front-facing French door opens onto a new multipurpose space with cabinets that catch spillover from the kitchen. Ceiling planks echo the original shiplap walls. The floor is cork.

Paint: Benjamin Moore Heritage Red (French door); Pratt & Lambert Seed Pearl (cabinets and ceiling)

Wall-to-Wall Pine

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

She calls the cottage “an amazing find,” but after 70-odd years it had its issues. The previous owner had been a dreamy type who focused on refurbishing the yard; his creative solutions inside were not necessarily up to code. “It was preservation through neglect,” says Shelley. “I consider it a blessing that the house made it through the years without anyone painting the wood.”

Shown: A smartly painted front-facing French door opens onto a new multipurpose space with cabinets that catch spillover from the kitchen. Ceiling planks echo the original shiplap walls. The floor is cork.

Paint: Benjamin Moore Decorators White (trim); Annie Sloan Old White Chalk Paint (armoire)

Light Fixture: West Elm

Rug: Scott Antique Market, Atlanta

Double Vanity

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

That wood is luminous old heart pine, which travels across the floors, walls, and ceilings and around the exterior, its dark red and yellow undertones adding warmth and charm. It may have even been first-growth, the kind of pine, Joe points out, you just don’t find anymore.

When he first saw the house, Shelley had already taught herself how to restore the original windows and was nearing the finish line on a kitchen remodel that involved demolishing most of one wall and opening up a dim hallway that was so cramped you couldn’t open two doors at the same time. “She was just going at it,” he recalls with awe.

Shown: The new master bath has a double vanity and a toilet room finished with palmetto-print wallpaper. The walls are paneled in boards from trees milled by Shelley’s dad.

Vanity, sinks, and faucets: Restoration Hardware

Medicine cabinets: Robern

Wallpaper and bath towels: Serena & Lily

Rug: Target

Tile: Garden State Tile Silk White (floor and walls)

Shower Sleek

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

With plans to coffer the kitchen ceiling, Shelley took note of the extra pair of hands. She likes to joke, after all, about the wag who, “in advising people about whether to marry, told them to wallpaper a room together first.”

Joe was busy improving his own house, a roomier ranch. So they shuttled between his place and hers, building up their DIY skills and shared tolerance for separate obsessions. And when the two got serious, she brokered a deal with her dad to give up the notion of a big traditional wedding and become a renovation underwriter instead. “Joe’s house would have been more suitable from a size standpoint,” Shelley says, “but we just loved the character and charm of the cottage and the setting, so we made the decision to stay here and add on.”

Shown: The master bath’s sleek shower enclosure has mosaic tile on the floor and lining the wall niche. A sliding door (not shown) opens onto a private outdoor shower.

Round end table: Target

Master Suite

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Around this time, she stumbled upon a workshop given by an expert in architectural design, Marianne Cusato, a new urbanist and the author of Get Your House Right: Architectural Elements to Use and Avoid, who favors traditional layouts with compact practical spaces. “What a stroke of luck,” says Shelley. “There I was with all of my plans for an addition to the cottage, and the insights of an architectural designer right at my fingertips.”

Shown: The master bedroom is linked to the master bath by a walk-through closet with a new door stained to match originals. Thermal Roman shades keep the room cozy.

Bed: West Elm

Carpet: Stainmaster

Wall light: Amazon

Paint: Benjamin Moore Elmira White (walls); Pratt & Lambert Seed Pearl (trim)

On the Porch

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Cusato encouraged her acolyte to make the addition the same style as the original cottage, while taking care to avoid disjointed rooflines where the two met. Shelley drew up a plan for a set-back, gabled structure with fiber-cement siding linked to the pine cottage by a go-between space she likened to a hyphen, or the midline of an H. It would hold an entry and ultimately double as a “hidden kitchen extension,” Shelley says—hidden, meaning it wouldn’t scream kitchen as visitors walked in the front door.

Shown: Shelley and Joe Pelliccione, on the front porch, with Charlie, who is now 5, and Gillian, now 3. The repurposed window hanging overhead came with the house.

Kids’ Room

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

During their first year in the house, the couple shared a pine-lined 10-by-11-foot bedroom and a small bath, the kind of experience that can help concentrate the mind. Friends lobbied Shelley to paint all that paneling white, but she hated the idea. As for busting up other walls, that was also a no-go. “I’m not a huge open-space person,” Shelley says. “I like nooks where you can get away and a relaxing window seat.”

Shown: One of the original bedrooms has been turned over to the kids. The dresser belonged to Shelley’s grandparents; Shelley swapped in the brass pulls.

Crib: Da Vinci

Drawer pulls and curtains: Anthropologie

Rug: Seventh Heaven Antiques

Guest Bed

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Like a lot of old houses, this one also lacked places to put things: no real attic, no basement, tiny closets. “I know that minimalism and ‘tidying up’ are all the rage,” Shelley says. “But try as I might I still end up with things that need places to go.”

In other words, they couldn’t wait to add on.

Joe, who has a degree in construction science, kept his day job while working overtime to make the addition possible. “He probably still thinks I fell in love with him because he is in a band,” Shelley deadpans. “But I was much more interested in the fact that he was a contractor!”

Shown: The second original bedroom is now a guest room with a metal canopy bed.

Rug: Tuftex

Bedding: Biscuit Home

Curtains: West Elm

Sunroom

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

When asked if the renovation took place in stages, Joe tries not to laugh. The family was growing too fast. Shelley wrangled permits, and “once we started,” he says, “we went at it—slab foundation, framing….” Joe called on subs to take care of things like the new standing-seam roof and storage-packed built-ins. “Shelley would manage them during the day, and I would do hands-on stuff and set up calls and quality control at night.”

Shown: The new sunroom and its adjacent courtyard are the family’s favorite gathering spots. The decorative beams were crafted from downed trees; the budget “windows” are sliding French doors, only one of which opens.

Doors: The Home Depot

Cork flooring: Wicanders

Paint: Pratt & Lambert’s Smoke-stain Rose (walls) and Seed Pearl (ceiling and trim)

Spot by the Window

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

“Hands-on” included installing the addition’s kid-friendly cork floor, creating baseboards with subtly rounded trim, laying thresholds, cutting down doors, and doing the jambs, casings, and hinge prep. The 1940s house gave him a hard time. “They weren’t that precise back then, which drove me insane,” he says of trying to devise a consistent width for new window casings, which he crafted by ripping down trim—“and that took time.” Shelley bird-dogged the carpentry elsewhere. “I was impressed by her design of the new casework, the cabinets, and built-ins,” Joe says of his energetic young wife. “She would tweak things, like the size and shape of the trim.”

Shown: The light-filled dining nook is in a new room that holds extra kitchen cabinets, doubles as a foyer, and links the original house to the rest of the addition.

Windows: Marvin

Built-in benches: Al Walker, Cabinets by Design

Cushion fabric: Sunbrella

Pillows: Lacefield Designs

Artwork: Shea Slemmer

Baby Bath

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Not to mention the size of the shower enclosure cutout in the new concrete slab. Shelley gauged it as too small. So Joe gamely borrowed a concrete saw and hacked away around the edges. “The neighbors were probably happy about that,” he says, “at nine o’clock at night.”

Joining in was Joe’s father-in-law, Randall Smith, a retired orthodontist who apparently hates having idle hands. After dispatching felled trees from his yard to an Amish mill, he finished the lumber with a newly acquired table saw and a router. Then he got on a ladder in the new sunroom to help Joe install some of the wood as decorative beams.

Shown: Shelley found the vintage baby bathtub at an antiques market and filled it with plants.

Seat Swing

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

The two also built out an existing shed to create an in-law suite and erected a separate studio for Shelley. “He spent his seventieth birthday foaming windows and openings and hanging insulation,” Shelley warmly recalls. Her mom, Sandra Smith, and brother, Morgan, gung-ho gardeners, were deployed outside. “It was a family effort here,” Shelley says, “seriously.”

They had a deadline, after all. Daughter Gillian was due any minute.

Shown: The kids spend a lot of time on a swing seat hung from a live oak in the backyard.

Vinyl Library

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Once the addition was done, Joe decided to go into business for himself. His specialty is commercial construction, “but he’s very meticulous and has a good eye, so I’ve encouraged him to do residential,” says Shelley, acknowledging that homeowners aren’t always the easiest clients. “It’s an emotional process—it’s your home,” she says, slyly adding, “Maybe dealing with me was enough.”

Shown: Shelley chose a sophisticated shade of pale pink for the new sunroom and hid husband Joe’s dartboard behind a painting. Joe’s prized vinyl collection is on display in a custom built-in.

Built-in: Cabinets by Design

Paint: Pratt & Lambert’s Smoke-stain Rose (walls)

Closet Hangout

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

But all worth it, clearly. “The addition feels open, airy, and bright in contrast to the rich, darker tones of the original structure,” Shelley says. “The house also feels much bigger than it is because there are so many smaller areas and nooks to relax in,” including that master suite with a walk-through closet, complete with window seat, and a spa-like bath “that two very tired parents are able to escape to.”

Shown: A walk-through closet with a window seat and built-in storage connects the master bedroom and bath. The marble countertop was part of a display cabinet in a cosmetics boutique that Shelley once owned.

Cushion fabric: Sunbrella

Custom light fixtures: Cedar & Moss

Outdoor Shower

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

At other times everyone can be found gathered in the sunroom, which is something of a symbol of creative collaboration. Joe originally saw it as a man cave with a dartboard. Shelley saw it in shell pink. They agreed on the palest hue, and hid the dartboard behind a painting.

Shown: The master bath opens onto an outdoor shower screened behind lattice panels. The new roof is powder-coated metal with standing seams.

Paint: Sherwin-Williams’s Black Fox (siding) and Benjamin Moore’s Swiss Coffee (trim)

Siding: James Hardie HardiePlank Smooth Lap Siding

Windows: Marvin

Studio Shed

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Shelley, also one to never sit still, managed in her free time to acquire a master’s degree in real estate development, and says her approach is highly influenced by being a parent. “I wholeheartedly agree with Cusato that delineated space creates a cozier environment,” she says. “I love having semiprivate places to cuddle and read books with my children—or to curl up with a throw blanket and take a nap!”

Shown: Shelley uses a jaunty shed built by her husband and dad as a studio; the glass panes are repurposed display shelves from her former store.

Sconces: Barn Light Electric

Paint: Restoration Hardware’s Blue Green (door)

Floor Plans

Floor plan by Ian Worpole

The original 1940s cottage had two bedrooms, one bath, and just 750 square feet. During the renovation, it gained an 822-square-foot side addition (on the left), a new front door, a garden-facing sunroom, and a master suite with a walk-through closet. The 90-by-200-foot lot also holds two outbuildings.