This year marks the 100th anniversary of arguably the most distinct decade in American history: the Roaring ’20s. The economy grew and grew. After a devastating, four-year “war to end all wars,” Americans were thrilled to enjoy peace and prosperity. During this period, neighborhoods such as Hollywood-Rose Hill cropped up all around the epicenter of downtown Columbia. By 1924, the area was replete with bungalows and mail-ordered kit cottages as well as custom homes designed by University of South Carolina resident architect J. Carroll Johnson, a native of Sweden. The area of tree-lined streets flanked by Assembly Street and South Harden became a sought-after section of town due to its tight-knit community feel and proximity to downtown businesses.
Jenni and Andy Wilson’s current cottage on South Edisto Avenue was one of the last to be built. Even though curb appeal was lacking on the almost century-old home when Jenni first noticed it for sale two years ago, the 1923 Tudor revival, characterized by exposed timbers and cross gables, was the home she and Andy decided they wanted for their empty-nest, forever last home.
With the desire to “right size” since their three now-grown children — Virginia, Andrew, and Gray — were out of their home, Jenni aspired to oversee another design project. Fourteen years ago, she had managed the renovation of their 4,000-square-foot, 70-year-old Woodland Drive home.
“I’ve always loved historic homes, especially cottages,” says Jenni, a former docent for Historic Columbia. “Mine is a general, lifelong love of history. These homes have stories. I am also an anthropologist at heart — how people lived, organized their homes, and cooked fascinates me. I would love to know how the original owners of this cottage lived and how they decorated. Old things have romance. People ask me how I can execute design in homes without any formal experience, and I think it’s because I am just naturally interested, and I study and pay attention.”
The South Edisto home is Jenni’s third renovation project; the couple’s first home was also in the Hollywood-Rose Hill neighborhood, but the remodeling details were minimal in the first house compared to those embarked on in their current home. Jenni says she perused countless magazines, websites, and Instagram posts and visited sundry antique and home specialty shops to determine the distinct elements she would choose for the cottage.
Andy, who is part owner of ARM Environmental, says, “I recognize how talented she is with color and space. I don’t have that talent, but I get to be the beneficiary of hers. She can envision intuitively what she wants, and I have complete confidence in her abilities.”
Shortly after the Wilsons purchased the property in early 2018, Jenni began working with Veronica Russell, a local interior designer, who took Jenni’s rough sketches and drafted a footprint and design details. “She took my general ideas and brought them to life,” says Jenni. A local contractor and subcontractors carried out construction work. The cottage’s new life was completed in mid-September 2019.
The Wilsons decided to remove the wall off the back of the house beyond the kitchen and add 1,000 square feet of living space. The new section includes a den and study that lead through an arched entryway to a master bedroom and bath. Ten-foot ceilings in the original part of the cottage are replicated in the new section as well as 8-foot doors in keeping with the home’s other tall doors.
The back exterior of the add-on is board and batten style, flowing seamlessly from the original front part of the home so that it appears to have always existed.
“Our desire overall was to have the renovated interior and new exterior section blend gracefully with the historical part of the house,” explains Jenni. “We wanted to protect the architectural elements on the front of the house while renovating the inside and adding square footage for modern living.”
For example, the cottage’s renovation involved duplicating window and baseboard trim and incorporating those elements into the new construction. Old hand-blown windows were maintained, while new windows were added with the intention of keeping the same style frames throughout the renovated and added areas.
The original square footage of the two-story South Edisto Avenue cottage was around 2,000 square feet. Much of the front part of the home, sitting room and dining room especially, were left alone, other than new paint on the walls and trim. Plus, maple floors were refinished with the stain color changed somewhat to reflect a gray-brown tone to blend with new flooring in the addition. The walls throughout were painted Sherwin Williams ‘Cotton White,’ with the ceiling painted a Sherwin Williams gray-green called ‘Nebulous White.’
The kitchen was expanded where a side porch was previously located but is essentially the same space. “We regained that space and put the door in a different place,” says Jenni. She researched enamel stoves and selected, after much deliberation, an ILVE Italian 48-inch, black-enameled range with brass claw feet. The island is made from reclaimed heart pine from the house. One of her other favorite finds was affordable hammered copper sinks for both the kitchen and the open pantry/bar area.
Natural stone, or quartzite, countertops and backsplash complement custom-made English cupboard-style cabinetry, built by local craftsman Scott Collard, who also constructed cabinetry for an added powder room and the master bath. “He did a beautiful job,” says Jenni. “Vertical shiplap and select cabinets with brass mesh fronts are other design elements.”
The 100- to 200-year-old reclaimed French terra cotta floor tiles are the pièces de résistance. “The tiles are reclaimed from French monasteries, barns, industrial buildings, and farm houses,” says Jenni, who admits she was very excited to have found an unexpected source for them: Vintage Elements in Greenwood, South Carolina. Plus, a kitchen focal point is the acid-washed, steel vent hood, which was made by The Heirloom Companies in Campobello, South Carolina.
Instead of the house ending at the kitchen, it now has a wide opening to a den with French doors to the back exterior. Light floods the space. Certified air-dried French white oak flooring provides the transition from the kitchen’s terra cotta flooring. “It was harvested in the Lorraine region and sawn in Rupt-de-Mad in the Lorraine,” says Stefan Hartung of Vintage Elements. “We import this sawn oak and carefully engineer it here. We altered the color by reactive solutions rather than stains and dyes. The Wilsons’ finish was also lime-washed for an even more complex patina.”
Vertical shiplap throughout the den and hallway as well as custom floor-to-ceiling bookcases ensure the marrying of old with new. Bookcases, equipped with brass library lights, are flanked by a new cast-iron Victorian-style gas fireplace by Valor Company.
“Finding the fireplace was kind of a coup,” says Jenni. “The new gas fireplaces just don’t look like anything that should be in a historic home. But I searched and searched to find something that is solid cast iron and curved that works efficiently and has a remote. That was a happy day when I found that fireplace! And that’s one of my favorite things in the house. Everyone thinks it’s always been there.”
Off of the den and near the existing stairway to the second floor, which includes two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a (future) grandchildren sleeping/reading nook, is the powder room. “I designed the vanity console to look something like a Victorian washstand and used antique stair spindles that I bought off eBay,” says Jenni. “Honed Carrera gold marble vanity top and un-lacquered brass fixtures give it a historical feel. The woven rattan mirror is a family piece owned by Andy’s parents. The bathroom doors, hardware, and the transoms are repurposed from the original house.”
Just off the new study, which is adjacent to the den, a Tudor-style arched entryway provides an anticipatory hidden gem experience before entering the new master bedroom. Jenni says she enjoyed selecting just the right details to make the space their retreat.
“The closet doors are salvage doors that I found and had stripped of their old paint,” she says. “The cross-gabled bay off the master bedroom was designed to replicate the original on the front of the house. The master bath has Carrera marble tile floors and countertops and an open shower. The dark green custom cabinetry and wainscoting, along with un-lacquered brass fixtures and vintage decor, give the space a historical feel but also one of timelessness.”
All of the Wilsons’ existing furnishings, some antiques and many family heirlooms, fit beautifully into their renovated cottage.
“I did not have to buy or recover one new piece of furniture. We definitely did not have room for all of our furniture but were able to use what we already had. People comment on my ‘collected’ decor. It’s true that the decor is a result of a lifetime of vintage market shopping and family antiques. I’ve always had a cottage aesthetic, and it was so much fun to finally have a cottage to decorate. My philosophy is that if you can figure out the design style that you’re drawn to, you don’t have to worry about it going together because it naturally will. And anything that has a story to tell is always more interesting!”
Each of the Wilsons’ grown children, the older two of whom are beginning to consider more permanent homes of their own, have made claims on leftover furnishings and accessories, which are currently stored.
To finish off their renovation project, front-of-the-house paint colors Sherwin Williams ‘Roman Column’ for the stucco and ‘Evergreen Fog’ for the timbering and trim transformed what was formerly staid brown. Mullions in the windows are painted a dark green as additional contrast. The door was painted Sherwin Williams ‘Copen Blue.’
“I wanted to lighten it up and soften it,” says Jenni. “I love neutrals and wanted the interior color and vibrancy to come from the decor and the exterior color and vibrancy to come from the landscaping.”
She adds, “I’ve named my house ‘Sweet Olive Cottage’ because I love olive and sage green tones. They’re my favorite to use as accents.”
Another novel find to the right of the arched, paned front door is a brushed stainless steel with brass trim letter box. “I wanted something slightly whimsical and fun for the mailbox. It looks like an oversized envelope.”
Although the Hollywood-Rose Hill cottage’s yard space is a postage stamp compared to their one acre on Woodland Drive, it suits the couple, who want to minimize yard chores. “We loved our yard on Woodland, but as we are aging, a cottage yard appealed. I love to get my hands dirty and gardening, but don’t want to be overwhelmed. I will have a small herb garden off the back of the kitchen in the spring.”
Also, in the spring, they will invest in landscaping the back space. Just before Thanksgiving, they installed French-style parterre landscaping to complement the home’s front exterior. Jenni explains parterre as a formal garden consisting of plant beds arranged in symmetrical patterns and separated by connecting paths. The Wilsons’ cars are parked in the back, and a “cozy” grilling patio will be added where Jenni and Andy can sit outside and enjoy the surrounding lush vegetation.
“It’s a dream for me,” adds Jenni, “and I’m thankful I was able to find this sweet little house and have fun transforming it. It excites me to think of rescuing old structures. I feel like we’ve given this house new life for another hundred years or so. It should continue to grow old gracefully, just as I hope we do.”