Fresh, Pretty Cottage

Soft colors, floral touches, and tricks of the trade give this young house plenty of charm.
Amy Bickers Mercer

For a lush look inside, take a cue from exterior views. The home of Marian and John Benton is a tribute to colors found in the most beautiful gardens. Bold pinks, watercolor blues, sunny yellows, and spring greens are mixed but not matched for charming imperfection in their Louisiana retreat.

Built With Character
In this case, the character was "Aunt Bee," a soft, sweet, imaginary member of the family. "We would say she owned this house. We would look at a piece of furniture and say, 'Aunt Bee got this from her great-aunt.' That's who we decorated for," says interior designer Richard G. Clements.

By creating a fun backstory starring kindly Aunt Bee, Richard and interior designer Cindy Ellett-Miciotto, both of Shreveport, helped Marian and John give their house a sense of age, even though it's only 10 years old. "It even has the sound of an old house," Marian says. The secret: The wood floors are built up on deadwood, rather than directly on the slab, so when walking on them, there is a hollow resonance.

Layered for Good Looks
"I wanted it to seem like I had gathered things over my lifetime," Marian says. "I picked up accessories in antiques stores and layered them throughout the house. Each one looks as if it has been sitting there for 20 years and has only been moved for dusting."

Richard and Cindy also helped Marian steer clear of matchy-matchy fabrics and accessories. "It's hard for people to grasp that, with colors, you should blend more than match," Richard says.

"In any European style, you don't want your colors to exactly match. They don't throw everything away and start over like we do." To avoid this, vary the finishes on furniture in one room. Pair a stained wood piece with a metal table or a hand-painted buffet. Mix a variety of floral prints. Opt for slightly faded materials. Hint: Use a fabric inside out for a muted version of a bold pattern. Don't strive for perfection; go for a well-loved and worn appearance.

Walls That Talk
Another trick for getting that cozy cottage feel is to add visual texture on the walls and ceilings. A wallcovering in the living room and dining room has the appearance of a faux finish. The mottled blue emphasizes the sense of age, Richard says. In the kitchen, a beaded-board ceiling adds texture. A punchy shade of green paint tops the room with color. Another wallpaper, this one with a small floral print, sets the room's color scheme of green, yellow, and white.

"Wallpaper adds dimension to a room," Richard says. "You can choose something subtle. It doesn't have to be a pattern."

Sweet Retreat
The layers of cozy comfort continue in the master bedroom. The windows are dressed in ruffled draperies, valances, and panels. More floral patterns on the bed and an upholstered armchair continue the theme.

Marian has a hard time choosing one go-to room in the house. "There are different things I love about all of them," she says. Luckily, there's no need to pick a favorite. Every room offers the cottage charm and relaxed attitude Marian and John were striving for. Aunt Bee would be proud.

"Fresh, Pretty Cottage" is from the February 2007 issue of Southern Living.