Turning a cottage into a cheerful retreat


September 13, 1992|By Rita St. Clair

Q: The generally small rooms in our newly purchased country cottage have dark plywood-paneled walls, wood floors and windows with narrow panes. As you might imagine, the place is terribly somber. Please give us some tips on how to cheer up this retreat, which we hope to use on weekends year-round.

A: It sounds as though your cottage may require some serious renovation work if it is to become a soothing, year-round getaway.

I have found that weekend houses are seldom laid out to suit weekenders' needs. The standard three-bedroom scheme for a permanent residence is often replicated in a country cottage, even when there's really little need for that many separate sleeping spaces.

So you might begin by carefully appraising the way your second home is structurally divided. Will enough guests be staying over to justify retention of three bedrooms? Does the cottage have a dining room? If it doesn't, would you like to create one? The answers may lead you to remove the partition that separates two rooms, especially if it is not a load-bearing wall. Such a relatively inexpensive modification will produce a bigger space that's likely to be brighter as well.

After you've sorted out the functional requirements, turn your attention to factors like light, color and volume. As a general rule, the furnishings should be fairly small in size and scale. Don't use any ranch-style pieces, for example.

Because of the narrow panes, it would also be wise to minimize the window coverings. Lambrequins, valances, half-curtains, shutters and blinds are all potentially good options in your situation.

Prints, checks and stripes should be of small scale, unless you have experience in the use of these patterns. Whatever accessories you introduce should likewise be modest in their size and personalized in their meaning. This is no place for bold fashion statements.

In the example shown in the photo, interior designer Margaret Gunther created a cheerful, sunny dining room by removing dark wood paneling from the walls. Properly scaled patterns on the fabrics from Sunworthy Wallcoverings helped enhance the brightness of the space, as did the gleaming white paint applied to the woodwork.

The generous use of various patterns -- all of them in a small scale, please note -- produces a more casual and personalized look. And you should also notice that the brightness here has been achieved not only by variations in color and value, but through texture, finishes and the addition of visually interesting features.

Decorative fruit plates have been mixed with potted plants on shelves and table tops. The country-style furniture is done in a luminous combination of painted finishes as well as pine that has been bleached and waxed.

I chose this model because it contains some elements that may be appropriate for your own cottage. As another example, if unwanted beams and covered ducts are an eyesore, you can cover them with coordinated border papers, as was done in this case. What's not shown here, but which could work just as well, are large geometric patterns for the floor covering, along with smaller versions on the upholstery and window covering.

There's no reason to refrain from altering a country cottage that isn't of great architectural value or interior interest. This can mean tearing down walls, painting over wallpaper and, in general, creating a whole new look that will make your weekends even more enjoyable.

+ Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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