Every morning, when I sit at my dining room table with my first cup of coffee, this is what I see out my window (below). Our fixer-upper next door is looking pretty nasty right now. The poor little house is half dressed in its new wood shingles, surrounded by a sea of mud and accented with a big green dumpster. It’s been worse, let me assure you. When we bought it, it was covered with bright blue siding, which was partially camouflaged by the overgrown bushes and weeds (see above).
A dear elderly woman had lived there for years, and the house had gotten away from her. It was in pretty bad shape when we bought it, but at the time, that was fine with us, as our original plan was to tear it down and build a carriage house on the lot so Dan could finally have a garage for the cars. But while we were getting the plans drawn up, my mom’s health took a turn for the worse, and I wanted her nearby. We decided to scrap the tear-down we had planned and instead, do a quick, low-budget Band-Aid renovation just to make the neglected house habitable for Mom.
When she passed away, I found I wanted to keep going with redecorating the cottage. I had fallen in love with it, precisely because it was so darn ugly and had almost no redeeming value. I was eager for the challenge of making it into a welcoming gathering place for our family and friends, the perfect tribute to Mom.
As any renovation is wont to do, the size and scope of our rehab grew … and grew … and grew. To Dan’s horror, we have sunk way more time and money into the house than we could ever hope to recoup. To make it worse for him, he still doesn’t have his garage! But, Dan and I have been through this before, when we renovated our historic Greek revival in Atchison. It was a long labor of love, but the end result was worth it. I believe the same thing will be true of Mary Lou’s Cottage.
The interior of the house is pretty close to being done. I’ve shared photos of our progress in recent blogs, spotlighting the bedrooms, the bath and the living area. But the outside. Wow. It’s still an eyesore.
But soon, it won’t be. The wood shingle siding is almost up, and we will eventually paint it white. Right now, we are working with a landscape architect to finalize our plans for the garden and lawn. When we landscaped our cottage, I wanted to create lots of outdoor areas where we could gather. Now, we practically live outside when the weather is nice.
Our goal is to make the outdoor environment at Mary Lou’s Cottage equally as inviting. I am debating between two options. The first is to level the lawn to make room for a small bocce court, or a spot for picnic tables when we have big outdoor parties.
The second option is to replicate some of the lovely outdoor spaces I saw in France, filling in with fine gravel and accenting with potted plants. I snapped the inspiration photo above when Dan and I were in Normandy not long ago.
No matter which way we go, I am confident of one thing: Our big clan is going to make lots of great memories in this quirky little cottage.
Next Week … We’re having our annual Spring Tabletop Event on April 27 and 28. I’ll show you what I’m doing on my own table, and share some ideas from Nell Hill’s.
Vicki Bradley saysApril 9, 2018 at 2:16 pm
I love your blog & I fully understand you wanting to restore this wonderful cottage & respect your mother. I absolutely love the idea of you incorporating a boccie court in that yard. What a great extension of your yard as well as adding more entertainment area & exercise for your family & guests! What great memories fir your grandchildren to remenpber playying boccie with their grandpa! I like the french garden too, but feel its much to formal for a lovely, casual lakeside cottage. You are blessed to own these properties. Thsnk you for sharing them with us.
Diane saysApril 9, 2018 at 3:35 pm
Doug would vote for the Bocce court, that way he would no longer have to fret over my dreaming, plotting, planning (on the verge of threatening) for one.
Susan saysApril 9, 2018 at 3:35 pm
You will make this cottage a beautiful tribute to your mother. Every project you touch turns to magic. Looking forward to seeing you in Lincoln soon.
sandy mccune saysApril 9, 2018 at 4:06 pm
What a great post! Mary Carol is just like us. Can’t wait to see what the next door house looks like.
So many of us have dreamed of grand homes and realized it will take a lot of work. I know you will turn it into a wonderful family home. Let us see what wonderful changes you will make.
franki saysApril 9, 2018 at 4:32 pm
This is so exciting…baby steps, etc. etc. Our daughter purchased the “rundown!!!” cottage next to ours and slowly, slowly is renovating it to their style. Fortunately, she and her husband (and now the 10 yr old and 13 yr old) are very handy and are doing all the work themselves. Each “step” is a thrill!! We’re watching you…..franki
Karen saysApril 9, 2018 at 7:05 pm
Love this post and am anxious to see the end results. But I know it takes time, and I’m ready when you are! What a wonderful idea to have it a family compound for all the family to gather! Your Mothers memories will go on forever. Memories are made from this togetherness that no one will ever forget! I love it!! Family time is the best!
Lisa Mercado-Fernandez saysApril 9, 2018 at 7:36 pm
The French cottage you photographed as an option reminds me of Audrey Hepburn’s home. European and pretty, but there is something about lovely landscaping and room or white tents and picnic tables that just sing America the beautiful. Since I was born in the city with a country heart and eventually moved to raise a family in the country, the last thing I ever want is gravel. I want lush grass to walk barefoot in. It looks beautiful with checkered picnic blankets down for spontaneous picnics. Looks lovely beneath white picnic tables or farmhouse tables and makes a lovely rug for a white tented event. That’s my opinion. What a wonderful project. Get Dan a garage! haha. God bless, Much love. Lisa xoxo
Connie LaRue saysApril 10, 2018 at 12:49 am
Cannot wait to see the progression to completion! It is a tender project because of the loving care you provided your mom in her final years there, right beside you two…..you always were the best daughter! Whatever you decide on landscape or interior will no doubt be perfect as it always is! Thanks for continuing to share with your adoring followers and supporters of many, many years
I wish you and Dan and your family many years of good health to make precious memories at the cottages❣️ Keep on until you have a whole row which will include garages!
Vicki Sewell saysApril 15, 2018 at 12:03 pm
Can’t wait to see the finished product ! Love your taste and books. It all just makes for such a cozy atmosphere for us and our family and friends !