Do-It-Herself Cottage Style

Borrow inspiration from one girl's labor of love to renovate your own cottage.
Amy Bickers Mercer

Haskell Harris isn’t the first woman to fall for good bone structure and more than a hint of trouble. She won’t be the last. After all, girls dig scars. But this tale of fixer-upper infatuation paid off with the house of her dreams.

Stormy Beginning
The neon green exterior wasn’t blinding enough to hide the cottage’s potential when Haskell bought it in 2006. It had a huge lot in an up-and-coming Birmingham neighborhood, great flow, really good bones, and a multitude of windows. Unfortunately, it kept its flaws hidden until the commitment was made.

“That first night, my sister [and roommate], Chandler, plugged in her TV, and the socket started smoking and sparking. Then Chandler went to take a shower and we couldn’t get anything but mud to come out of the faucet!” Haskell says. “It was like that movie The Money Pit.”

It was an inauspicious start, to say the least, but Haskell stuck it out. She worked through rotten floors and walls, faulty wiring, a nonfunctioning kitchen, and bad plumbing. She devoted nights and weekends to her new relationship. She hired and fired a series of contractors before collaborating with mentor and friend John Harrelson, a carpenter. John’s wife, Christa, an engineer, gave Haskell advice about hiding her laundry area.

“It was like two angels fell out of the sky. They taught me how to do things for myself that I couldn’t afford to do otherwise,” Haskell says. 

Creativity and Compromise
Months passed during which Haskell lived in her bedroom and ate takeout. Slowly, as finances allowed, things came together. For weeks, Haskell would lapse into something akin to a paint coma, during which life was a blur of color and rollers and brushes. Kitchen cabinets went in, and later a sink and countertops arrived.

Recalling those days, Haskell frequently uses the phrase “like $2” to emphasize the low-cost way in which she made over her “shack.” She lists the times when she fell in love anew: upon choosing her budget-friendly gray cabinets; when hand-me-down furnishings from her childhood home fit perfectly; when she discovered the perfect palette in a package of gourmet marshmallows.

“They were the softest, most sophisticated colors I’d ever seen. Pale pink, pale blue, cocoa, cream, and pale gray―I based all the paints on those marshmallows,” Haskell says. “The chalky finishes remind me of studying in Italy and visiting old villas and churches. The paint looks like it’s been there a long time.”

Haskell credits her parents with teaching her that anything can be made beautiful. “Both of my parents are house romantics. After they got married, my dad built a really humble farmhouse for my mom. In my mind, he created the most picturesque spot in the world. There was something about that farm that made my soul feel at ease.”

It was in that can-do spirit that Haskell made this once-forlorn shack into a home sweet home.

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