Transforming an Arkansas Lake House

Southern Living Style Director Heather Chadduck opens up her decorator's notebook and shares the process she used to transform a mid-century lake house in Arkansas from dark and dated to cool and casual.
Story by Steele Thomas Marcoux

When Southern Living Style Director Heather Chadduck got the call from a childhood friend to renovate and decorate a cottage on Arkansas' Greers Ferry Lake, she didn't have to think twice. "The natural beauty of the home's location—a sloped point surrounded by water on three sides and shrouded by dense green foliage—is unparalleled," says Heather. The house itself, an unassuming 1960s abode nestled into the hillside and nearly camouflaged by its wood-and-stone construction, was another story.

Among the problems: a skylight-dotted roof that leaked like a sieve and dark-stained wood paneling that cast a gloomy mood. "It had the bones of a great mid-century architectural gem, but it had lost its way a little over the years," she says. "We wanted to restore the original spirit of the house by giving it a casual, collected style that celebrates the natural surroundings." Here, Heather shares her formula for the big change.

1. Take a Tonal Approach to Color
For palette inspiration, Heather walked around the sloped lakeside property with a camera. "The blue, gray, green, and white palette jumped right out of my pictures—from the moss- and lichen-covered rocks to the dense green foliage punctuated by a sea of white azalea and dogwood blooms to the range of sky and watery blues on the horizon," she says. The muted palette connects the interior to its natural surroundings, imbues a mellow mood, and gives the home a more collected, less decorated look. "Everything works with everything else but not in a matchy-matchy way," says Heather.

2. Use Exterior Materials Inside 
To reinforce the connection between indoors and out, Heather clad the run-of-the-mill drywall of the interior with the same reverse board-and-batten paneling that covers the exterior walls. The juxtaposition of the wood-clad walls and ceilings with the original stone columns and concrete floors adds tons of texture, plays up Heather's nature-inspired palette, and strikes the right balance between modern industrial and cozy rustic style.

3. Keep Furnishings Simple, Soft & Solid
Inspired by the house's mid-century architectural origins, Heather worked with the homeowners to choose furniture with a streamlined profile. "The low-slung, almost modern lines of these pieces make them feel like they belong in this 1960s house," says Heather. To balance the "pattern" in the board-and-batten walls, rock columns, and V-groove-clad ceilings, she used solid, mostly linen fabrics on upholstered pieces. Skirted upholstery in the living and dining rooms offers textural contrast and a hint of feminine panache. Subtle details like contrasting welts, tufting, and neutral-patterned pillows embellish the upholstery without diminishing its simplicity.

4. Make a Big Statement with Lighting 
Ceiling fixtures, in particular, offer opportunities for grand gestures. "Because they're usually the first thing you see when you walk in a room, they need to set the style tone and respond to the room's architecture," says Heather. Here, she chose fixtures with classic designs rendered in more casual materials, such as the living room's and guesthouse's 6-foot-tall French Empire-style chandeliers made of rope instead of crystal. The single extra-large fixtures fill the entire space of each room's high-pitched ceiling. "A light fixture can never be too big," says Heather.

5. Accessorize With (a Little) Shine 
Rounding out the house's pastiche of textures are a few reflective accessories and occasional pieces. In the living room, for example, a giant glass coffee table appears to hover just over the floor, and throughout, collections of glass jugs and metal containers adorn tabletops. "A few shiny surfaces bounce extra light around the rooms and offset the rustic feel of the wood and stone without being too fancy," says Heather.