Photo by Richard Leo Johnson
On designing on a budget
"Sometimes you have to do them [cottages] on such a tight budget that you can just do a few things to give them a face lift and a little curb appeal. I try not to spend too much money. I try to be careful and do only what I have to do."
"I look under all the carpets because there are usually nice hardwood floors under there. I try to always do hardwood floors. If they're in bad shape and you're on a budget, you could paint them. They don't have to be refinished, there's a lot more maintenance to that."
"Everybody runs out of money. When you renovate, the unknowns show up and you can't have everything the first go-around. So we try to do it stages. In the first stage, you get everything you have to have: new plumbing, electrical ... those are they just the givens, and they're expensive. I love wood walls instead of sheet rock, but that's twice the money. If you can't afford to do wood on every wall, do it on one wall. You're always going to run out of money in this phase. So get what you can done, then go back later and do more.
"Maybe you wait a year, and just live in it like it is. I always recommend that when you buy something, don't jump in right away. Sort of look at it. Get a feel. Think about maybe something you thought was the ugliest thing about the house, because that might be what you end up loving the most. That's the truth. You make fun of things at first. The first house I did, I was making fun of these light fixtures that were Victorian and hideous. But I ended up using every one of them, because they fit the uniqueness of the house. So don't set limits. It saved me money, because nothing I picked out looked as good as those original lights did. Even though they were Victorian, they still fit the house perfectly."
"To get something you love, you don't have to spend a lot of money. You just have to be willing to adapt. It can't be perfect. You can't have a giant kitchen with all these cabinets and things. You've got to have something you can live with. The perfection is in the imperfection, that's what I tell people. It's the fact that it's not perfect when you walk in, that not everything has hard edges and is shiny and brand new, but comfortable and relaxed."
On inexpensive decorating
"I do a lot of budget houses. I like to do things without spending much money. And I can find cool stuff to go in these houses that really is just junk to somebody else, things you wouldn't even expect to go in a house."
"I collect things that catch my eye that no one else would look at. If they have this friendliness or quirkiness about them, I collect them."
"I try to find things you can't duplicate that save money. Most of my clients want to save money, which I'm good at. I don't know how it comes together to be perfectly honest. The space tells me what it wants."
"One of my clients wanted an old table, but they wanted it new. So I had it made and then had someone make it look old. That cost them a tremendous amount
of money, but it got them what they wanted and then they went junking to find old chairs that they wanted to go around it."
"I don't do expensive sofas. I use a lot of slipcovers. It's an inexpensive way to get a nice sofa. I also might use something unique for a coffee table that you wouldn't think of using (example: like an old lobster trap with a fresh coat of paint)."
Her tricks for dressing up cottages and making them feel bigger
"These are just simple little cottages, but if you put a little color on them, they sort of pop and stand out."
"As a designer. I try to keep things simple. All the stuff I do is simple and uncomplicated with just a little bit of pizzazz."
"If you want to make it look bigger and more open, then you have to put white in there. You can put color, too, on the cabinet doors or whatever."
"When you live in a cottage, your outside becomes your living space, too, because your inside space is so small. Cottages are small so you take advantage of the outside, porches, windows and natural things in the house that sort of give you that feeling that your house isn't so small, because you have all this nature around it."
Her signature style
"Tin roofs, simple windows and a landscaped yard, and then on the inside white on the walls, just because most of the cottages are small and they need to feel bigger for someone to love them. Someone will say, 'Oh, this place is so small,' but if you paint everything white and then bring your color to the door and put a little bit of color here and there, the house feels bigger. I'm addicted to old windows. The first thing people want to do is take out the old windows, and it changes everything."
"All the cottages I've done, people are happy when they come through the door. I don't know what it is. It's just the clean look of it, the art and the uncomplicated, there aren't a lot of knickknacks or signs that say 'Welcome to the Beach.'"
There's just something about these cottages. We make them so they're not perfect, but they're relaxed.
"When I walk in the door, if I don't see it finished in my head, I don't do it. I don't look at the bad. I don't look at the leaky sink or the falling boards. You have to look at the big picture."
Focusing on the essentials
Cottage essentials: a table for a family to sit around, a place to put your feet up, comfortable chairs to sit in, a place to put your drink, books and art
"Most of these cottages are so small, you can't fill them full of stuff. When you have a small space, every inch counts."
"I don't always have headboards or footboards on beds. Sometimes I just have pillows. A footboard and headboard takes up about 6 to 7 inches. You've got to be able to walk around the bed, because some of these rooms are about the size of a Queen-size bed. So I use a lot of Murphy beds and daybeds or old shutters for headboards."
"Everybody has to have a casual space at the beach, it should feel informal. You can't make a beach house too formal. People have to be comfortable. If you bring me a chair and it's not comfortable, it can't come in the house, because nobody's going to sit on it. There isn't a lot of room. The rooms are small, even in the oldest houses. The porches were big, but the rooms were small."