6 Tips for Living in a 660-Square-Foot Cottage
Photographer Josh Gibson and his interior designer wife, Michelle Prentice, weren't looking to downsize when the small outbuilding behind their home came on the market in Beaufort, South Carolina. Beaufort’s historic preservation laws prevent historic structures from being torn down, so they decided to purchase the property. "It became clear that we should restore it to use as a guesthouse and Airbnb rental,” says Prentice. “It was uninhabitable when we got it. There was no insulation, it had only one window unit, and the floors were squishy,” says Gibson. “At first, we were just going to fix the structural issues and slowly work on the exterior, but then that became a complete yearlong gut renovation.” Along the way, they uncovered the home’s deep history. Footings for a 6-foot-wide fireplace found in the foundation and building-material inconsistencies revealed that half of the cottage was built in 1880 as a working kitchen for a larger house in the neighborhood. The second half of the home was added in the 1940s. Because of this, they nicknamed it “The Cook House.” As construction continued, the couple stayed the course, restoring the old Lowcountry cottage with both its integrity and their budget intact. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” say both Prentice and Gibson. Here are their tips for tackling a small cottage renovation.
Make The Most Of Your Small Space
Make Your Porch a Priority
"Always make room for porch conversations,” says Gibson. He widened and deepened the front stoop, turning it into a porch that’s 28 by 8 feet. “Lumber comes in 8-foot lengths, perfect for seating groups, and we didn’t have an inch of waste,” he says. Rather than crowd the porch with furniture, they hung dueling porch swings and encourage guests to pull out chairs. Trim applied above the original door aligns the top of the door and the tops of the windows. New nine-over-nine double-hung windows by Lincoln Windows match the cottage’s original versions, but the shutters (newhorizonshutters.com) are painted Dulux’s Light’s Out (50BG 08/021) to add definition. This shade is discontinued but can be color-matched by Glidden. New wood siding painted Glidden’s White High Hide and a painted metal roof that is “more durable than a plain metal one” help push the house into the 21st century. Asian star jasmine is an even lower-maintenance option than grass.
Avoid That "Brand New" Look
“Don’t let it look brand-new,” says Gibson. “We planned on using drywall, but we realized what a disconnect that much newness would be in this old cottage. Instead, we ‘sort of’ splurged on shiplap.” Rather than custom shiplap boards, Gibson and Rye applied tongue-and-groove #2 pine flooring to the walls throughout the house. They puttied the more egregious knots and painted it the same white (Benjamin Moore’s Pebble Beach 1597 cut at 25%) throughout the home. “This is one of the most important things we did to maintain the house’s integrity,” says Gibson. The moldings and baseboards are simple poplar 1 by 4s cut and nailed to the walls.
Keep Lines Clean and Conceal Anything that Distracts
When you're working with a small space it is imporant to do what you can to open the space. "To make [the kitchen] look bigger, run countertops along the wall; don’t let them turn a corner. I also wanted to make this space feel clean by hiding the appliances.” Michelle Prentice and her husband, Josh Gibson, worked with contractor Sean Rye and used semi-custom Lowe’s cabinets to cover the dishwasher. “It was tricky,” Gibson admits. “But if you stare at anything for three days, you’ll figure it out.”
Get Creative with Cabinetry
When you''re living in a tiny house, you're going to fit a washer and dryer wherever you can. To make sure it didn't standout, Gibson and Prentice took two standard cabinets pegged together conceal the washer and dryer. Gibson wired the pantry (to the right of the dryer) with outlets to power appliances. In fact, he had the house wired with 27 outlets for convenience.
Don't Sacrifice Style for Space
A discontinued white four-poster bed from Ikea makes the small room feel grander. With no room for table lamps, sconces (the Paulo Small Bracket Light from Circa Lighting) were the only choice. The bedposts also help hide their cords.
Make Your Own Closets
“Squeeze space out of every inch,” says Gibson. They had Rye add built-in wardrobes to the two bedrooms to serve as closets. “We used ¾-inch plywood because it takes up less space than traditional cabinetry and we could fit in a window seat,” Gibson says. In this room, the two wardrobes are only 52 inches tall. “They’re big enough for a coat or dress,” Prentice says. “Going all the way to the ceiling in here would have made the room seem smaller.” The left wardrobe is wired with outlets for a hair dryer or makeup mirror so guests can use it as a vanity. Sheers on the bed and the windows add privacy without suffocating the space. The addition of shaker-style pegs is a clever storage solution
for a home without much closet space.
Know the Numbers
“Do the math first,” says Gibson. “We knew we wanted to have a full-size shower and that we should make it as narrow as possible—30 by 63 inches was the smallest we could go without bumping into the shower curtain.” From there, the duo researched the smallest fixtures available. They built a custom vanity around Kohler’s Caxton sink (which is 14 inches wide). It hides a garbage can and a hair dryer—things no one wants to see. On the opposite wall hangs an antique spice rack that’s 40 by 40 inches and can hold 10 rolled towels and toiletries. Because the rack is only 6 inches deep, the door doesn’t hit it. Guests are assigned numbered pegs for their towels.