Cottage-Style Comeback for a 1950s Stucco Ranch
This 1950s home sat empty for years—until a new owner with an eye for cost-conscious design revived it with a welcoming open plan and a warm, rustic look
Sometimes a house has to wait awhile for the right owner to come along, someone with vision, who can see past a place that looks a little down on its luck. That was certainly the case for the forlorn pink stucco house on a main street that many visitors travel as they arrive on St. Simons Island, just off the coast of Georgia. For eight years, the house sat empty, and the once-pert tropical-colored cottage became an unfortunate local landmark, increasingly hidden from view by a tangle of tall grass and bushes.
Shown: Homeowner Kim Kelly created this inviting open-plan kitchen as the centerpiece of her Georgia cottage.
But the wheels of fate were turning. For two years, Kim Kelly took note of the house each time she went by. "It was hard not to notice it," she says, "because of the color, of course, but also because the place seemed so sad." She also observed something else: a weathered, handwritten For Sale by Owner sign.
Kim, a federal agent specializing in sex crimes, was on duty at a nearby Georgia facility, training other agents. She was renting on St. Simons during her stay. "It was my last assignment before retiring," she says. "I still had my house and some furniture in Southern California." But she'd been captivated by the charms of the South.
"People here are so polite and so nice," she explains. In fact, they reminded her of the people she'd met in Sesto, Italy; she lived there while studying at the University of Florence and fell in love with the country's easy-going ways. After school, Kim would pursue a grueling and stressful career, but in Italy she learned the value of a slower kind of life. "It was like that in Georgia, too," she says. She could imagine settling down on St. Simons Island.
Kim called the number on the faded sign and made an appointment to see the house. She invited Scott Beveridge, a good friend who is also a contractor, to come along. Inside, black mold had pockmarked the walls and ceilings of the two-bedroom, one-bath cottage. Despite the blight, Beveridge quickly determined that the 1950s-era house was well built. The walls were solid: cinder block covered with brick and a layer of stucco.
Shown: Placing her dining table in the kitchen, Kim made room for a simple desk area nearby.
Kim's creative side immediately went into full operational mode. She'd renovated her California house and started a part-time interior-design business several years earlier. "I saw the working fireplace and the beamed ceiling, and I thought, "How can you go wrong with this?"
Shown: An Italian house-number plaque adds charm to a tiled niche.
So she bought the property, relishing the idea of fixing it up, from the nuts and bolts to the last decorative flourish. Contractor and client assessed what would lie ahead as they renovated the bedraggled house. The first order of business was getting rid of the mold. "We just had it scraped off—that part was easy," says Beveridge. Total cost: $5,000.
Other, more expensive issues loomed, however. At the top of the to-do list: updating the wiring and the HVAC system and replacing the galvanized-steel plumbing with PVC pipe. The tiny, dated kitchen would need to be gutted. To gain more space, Kim proposed bumping one exterior wall out 3 feet. And, finally, she wanted a master suite and a connecting screened porch.
Shown: A barn-light sconce from Lowe's helps brighten the kitchen, which has a polished wood-plank ceiling.
The hard part turned out to be opening up the thick exterior walls—in the back, to make way for the bedroom addition where a tiny room had been, and in the kitchen. During the demolition, Kim and Beveridge were pleasantly surprised to find that there was brick behind the drywall. Another bonus: the discovery of rafters and wood planks above the kitchen that had been hidden by an 8-foot-high dropped ceiling. Kim left the wood and the weathered brick wall behind the kitchen sink exposed because she loved their rustic look.
Shown: She gutted the original galley-style kitchen, and her contractor made sense of a remaining support post and beam by creating an arch that hovers above her farm table. The room's tumbled-travertine-marble floor, exposed brick wall, and wood ceiling make it feel like a special, separate space.
"This house is really all about the kitchen," Kim says. "It was always going to be the focal point." When a wall that had closed it off from the main room was taken down, the kitchen came into its own. Kim's plan was to place a 7½-foot farm table directly under the arch that Beveridge crafted to hide the post and support beam where the wall had been. To make up for work surface lost now that the wall was gone, he used the bumpout, on the side of the kitchen where a door to the outside once stood, for the stove and flanking cabinets. Lost in the shuffle was some storage space, which Kim was actually glad about, as she was looking to downsize and simplify her life. "I got my pots and pans down to five pieces," she says proudly. "Besides, I can always add a pot rack if I need to."
Shown: A freestanding storage piece with a butcher-block prep surface is tucked between the cabinets and the table.
To save money, Kim did some bargain hunting. The barn light over the sink was $20 at Lowe's. The cabinets in the kitchen are from U-Save Cabinets and were discounted because they were floor samples. She painted them gray, then glazed them brown and added Pottery Barn hardware for a look that complements the rustic decor. On eBay she found a copper farm sink for $300—"a steal," she says. The refrigerator ($900) and dishwasher ($300) were a fraction of their retail cost at an estate sale. Even the 2-foot-square travertine-marble slabs for the kitchen floor—a luxe touch—were found at The Home Depot, a bargain at just $1.88 per square foot. The rest of the house still has the original oak floors, but Kim chose to use the marble as a way to set off her kitchen as a distinct space.
Shown: Found on eBay for $300, the rustic copper farm sink works well with the brick wall and live-oak countertops.
The other addition was a master suite with French doors opening onto an extra-deep screened porch. Essential for keeping the bugs at bay, the wood-framed porch wraps around the back, with another set of doors opening into the living room to allow breezes to move through the house. "It also brings a lot of natural light inside, and it's so peaceful," says Kim.
Shown: French doors in the master bedroom open onto the breeze-cooled porch.
During the construction, four months in all, the designing pair did not neglect the exterior of the house. Although the pink paint had been its trademark, Kim decided to calm down the facade with Sherwin-Williams's Universal Khaki, which gives the house a handsome, timeless look. Sprucing up the 75-by-130-foot lot was another priority. "We completely gutted the landscape," says Kim. The small backyard now has a rough-hewn-marble patio, and, in the front yard, Kim designed four raised beds for organic gardens, had an irrigation system tunneled in, and dug a well to supply it. She did much of the dirty work herself, planting marsh grasses and rosemary hedges that now flourish along river-rock pathways. "I keep clippers in the front and tell my neighbors to cut their own rosemary," she says.
There was one thing Beveridge did that surprised both contractor and client. "We removed the rickety aluminum carport that somebody had attached to the front of the garage. It made almost a bigger difference than anything else we did," he says. Revealed: a brick arch over the carriage doors, each with a little window, and the cottage's original well-thought-out symmetry. "You could tell whoever built this house really loved it," Beveridge says. And it's also obvious that the person who lives in it now loves it even more. Her decision about staying in Georgia? That's been made, too. Says Kim, "This is where I will spend the next chapter of my life."
Shown: The wood-framed screened porch, built 10 feet deep, has a corrugated metal roof.
The small two-bedroom, one-bath home gained a master suite and a screened porch, for a total of about 1,600 square feet of living space. Inside, the kitchen was opened up to the living room and bumped out 3 feet. Outside, a metal carport was demolished, and the pink exterior was painted a warm, neutral khaki.