This 1930's Charleston Cottage Gets an Incredible Makeover

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Buff Coles Cottage Exterior After
Hector Manuel Sanchez

Sometimes, it just takes being in the right place at the right time. For Charleston designer Buff Coles, that time and place was when she went with her real estate agent to view a house right up the street from this one.

Take A Peek At This Impressive Renovation

Charleston, South Carolina, designer Buff Coles proves that this small, old cottages are worth a second look.


Buff Coles Charleston Cottage Before
Hector Manuel Sanchez

Disappointed with the renovations she kept seeing that stripped any trace of history from so many century-old homes here in the city's Westside neighborhood, she felt discouraged after yet another unfruitful showing. "We were looking at a different house on this street, and I was practically in tears because it was so chopped up. Many of the old architectural features had been lost," says Coles. "Then I happened to notice this property and said, "I love how that one looks."" So what was it exactly that caught this house hunter's eye? Its history. She appreciated charming details like the antique brick fireplace, the original pine floors, and the telltale whisker-like marks on the ceiling beams from years of whitewashing.


Buff Coles Cottage Exterior After
Hector Manuel Sanchez

Coles knew her search was over. Although the gut job for the dilapidated 1930s cottage was in its final stages, she was able to slide in and purchase it before it went on the market. The timing allowed her to handpick the last details that would make the cottage her own. "Basically, all of the hard work was already done!" she laughs. But the designer still had a big challenge ahead of her. She wanted to hang on to the old-house charm without feeling like she was living in a museum. Through thoughtful color choices, smart textiles, and a few tried-and-true decorating tricks, Coles made the 1,500-square-foot space bright, breezy, and welcoming. Now, three years later, the right time and place for Coles is spending afternoons on the front porch with a rotating cast of visitors, along with her 14-year-old rescue dog, Mojo.

The Porch

Buff Coles Cottage Porch
Hector Manuel Sanchez

"A porch was a necessity for me," says Coles of her house search. The 98-square-foot space functions as an entire extra room designed to shape-shift for gatherings. Antique gliders provide an everyday anchor, but when company comes, Coles fluffs up the area. A small table transforms into a bar cart, and pillows borrowed from the interior serve as chair cushions when needed.

The Living Room

Buff Coles Cottage Living Room
Hector Manuel Sanchez

Coles focused her living room seating around a fireplace that's original to the 1930s cottage with even older roots. The brick actually came from an earlier freedman's cottage that was once on the property. Vaulting the ceiling makes the room feel larger and shows off the home's original beams. Coles left the top half of her windows un-shuttered to prioritize the view of the sprawling live oaks outside. To not detract from the architecture, Coles selected simple slipcovered furniture accented with pops of green. She used a pricey chintz, Elizabeth by Schumacher, just on the fronts of the pillows.

The Kitchen

Buff Coles Charleston Living Room, Kitchen, and Dining Room
Hector Manuel Sanchez

Coles topped the cabinets from Ikea with Carrara marble and upgraded the hardware. The island was originally one cabinet width wider, but she had the contractor shorten it to increase the area's floorspace. To compensate, she arranged a trio of Pottery Barn Beachcomber baskets above the refrigerator cabinets to add height and extra storage

The Dining Room

Buff Coles Cottage Dining Room
Hector Manuel Sanchez

For continuity, Coles used the same bold chintz fabric for the dining room curtains and sofa throw pillows. When it comes to upholstery, she jokes that she is a "walking slipcover." She prefers white ones for their versatility and says not to fear the maintenance: "It's better than a dark color because you can just spot clean when needed," she says.

The Guest Room

Buff Coles Cottage Guest Bedroom
Hector Manuel Sanchez

To maximize space for guests, Coles chose twin beds for this bedroom. She also made strategic use of a single ticking-stripe pattern by Braemore to dress up the space, matching the Roman shades with the headboards and bed skirts. To add an extra dose of fun and pattern without spending a mint on bed linens, she created each duvet cover using two twin-size, gingham-printed flat sheets to make the top and a plain white cotton lining for the bottom.

The Bath

Buff Coles Cottage Bathroom
Hector Manuel Sanchez

Coles says this bath originally felt too stark, so she took an idea from the front porch and painted the ceiling blue in Farrow & Ball's Borrowed Light (235). She used a little leftover marble from the kitchen to form the countertops. Above the sinks are standard picture frames that she had mirror cut to fit.

The Bedroom

Buff Coles Cottage Bedroom
Hector Manuel Sanchez

Balancing old and new goes for the bedroom too. The four-poster bed is from her mother. "I'm lucky to have this piece," Coles says. "I wanted to make the bed work in the space, but I also wanted the room to feel fresh and not old." Casual linens and accents like nontraditional lamps ward off any stuffy or fussy possibilities. Her last decorating tip: "Use flowers and greenery," she says. "They can distract from a multitude of sins!"

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