Captivated by their lakeside views, this Alabama couple turned a floor plan upside down.
A peaceful 1,000-square-foot home sits nestled in a forested area of historic Blount Springs, Alabama. Only a nearby rushing waterfall breaks the silence, a stark contrast to bustling Birmingham, which is just 33 miles away. While the area’s quiet charm first lured the couple to this community surrounding Blue Hole Lake, it is the comfortable oasis created by textile designer and interior decorator Heather Chadduck Hillegas and architect James Laughlin that keeps the owners coming back. With views of the emerald green lake in mind, they built a two-story cottage with a reverse floor plan (the bedroom on the first level and the living area on the second level). “It’s like being in a tree house,” Hillegas says. The second floor’s 14-foot vaulted ceiling gives it an airy ambience, while rough-hewn beams provide character. For a cozy yet cohesive look, almost every wall is covered in horizontal wood paneling. These are just some of the ways Hillegas opened up the space. “We needed the texture of the horizontal wood to add interest,” she says. “No surface is left unadorned. There is very little drywall in the house; where we used it, we wallpapered it.” Laughlin enhanced the proportions outside with a few tweaks—every inch matters in 1,000 square feet. Steal the best small-space decorating ideas from this inviting lakeside cottage.
Straight & Narrow
Clean lines, unobstructed paths, and hidden closets expand the entry. “In the original floor plan, the staircase was a switchback, but that would have cut into the size of the living area,” says Hillegas. “We changed it to be an L-shaped stairway along the wall to allow for a larger living room, though the stairs are narrow and steep.” A vignette (created with a table, a round mirror, and a lamp) at the rear of the entryway draws your eye right into the home, past a drop zone with iron hooks and cabinets that are tucked under the stairs.
“Dark wood floors work for every lifestyle,” says Hillegas of the 5-inch, 100-year-old reclaimed walnut planks used throughout the home.
Twice as Nice
“This home lives large thanks to smart planning,” says Hillegas, who relied on a favorite design trick: symmetry. She centered the room around the concrete fireplace and then outfitted the space with pairs: two built-in bookcases flank the fireplace, a couple of slipcovered swivel chairs from Lee Industries sit in front of them, and matching floor lamps rest at each end of the sofa. “Designer Phoebe Howard told me this Alex Super Luxe Queen Sleeper Sofa (mgbwhome.com) is the comfiest pullout,” Hillegas says. “Bed linens can go right in the trunk.”
It can be hard to define individual spaces in an open floor plan, especially if you want to add color to a wall, so Hillegas suggests picking a strong white with a bit of depth (she used Sherwin-Williams’ Toque White, SW 7003) and then painting every wall that same shade. This creates a light, bright room that can be layered with texture and other decorative details. Rough-hewn beams were added to the 14-foot vaulted ceiling to age the cottage, but a large painting by Catherine Booker Jones that hangs over the fireplace is the pièce de résistance. “We commissioned it to feature colors used throughout the house,” Hillegas says. The painting hangs on drawer slides so it can be pushed up or pulled down to hide the TV.
Create a Corner Office
A narrow concrete desk placed near the front dining porch serves as a spot for writing and can double as a bar when entertaining guests. “We used a lot of concrete in this house,” she says. “I love the color and modern feel of the material.”
Center of Attention
A custom 6-foot-wide chandelier unifies the open kitchen and living area, illuminating the entire space without relying on a hodgepodge of overhead lighting options. This simple iron fixture also contrasts with the white ceiling. “I especially like the combination of dark and light elements,” says Hillegas. “I prefer to have some grounding moments in a room.” For a sense of continuity, every “hardworking” piece in the space is in a natural iron color—from the hinges to the doorknobs and curtain rods.
“I prefer to include at least one old piece of furniture in every room,” says Hillegas, “especially in a kitchen where everything else is new and functional.” The French antique trestle table in the center can serve as an island, a prep station, and a dining table as needed. The short stools are slipcovered in a sturdy material (Rough ’N Rowdy in Ash; perennialsfabrics.com) and can be pushed entirely underneath the table.
“A farmhouse sink is one of the prettiest things you can put in a kitchen,” says Hillegas. “Kohler sells them in various sizes that can work anywhere.” She selected a single-hole, gooseneck Rohl faucet with only one handle to avoid crowding the tight space. She also fit in a full-size Jenn-Air range as well as a slim (18-inch-wide) cabinet-front dishwasher. “A farmhouse sink is one of the prettiest things you can put in a kitchen,” says Hillegas. “Kohler sells them in various sizes that can work anywhere.”
The kitchen cabinets are painted Sherwin-Williams’ Agreeable Gray (SW 7029) in a durable semigloss finish, a smart choice for a workspace.
Out in the Open
Laughlin pulled out a signature space-saving design and built sleek shelves across this kitchen window. They let in light while creating additional storage. A selection of the homeowners’ go-with-anything white pottery lines the shelves without obstructing the woodland view. The single upper cabinet sits right on the counter, mimicking an old hutch and helping the kitchen fit in better with the adjacent living area.
Walls and Ceilings Need Attention Too
The walls throughout the house are made of white-painted shiplap to provide a textured backdrop, but plain drywall clads most of the ceilings. Hillegas dressed them up with simple wall-papers (such as this subtle geometric pattern, Clara B in Heron; sisterparishdesign.com) for just the right touch of “notice me” interest.
Max Out Porches
The original plan for this porch had no exit, but adding the split stairway provided quick access to the water and softened the look of the tall stone foundation, which gives the cottage an elevated tree house feel.
The home's laundry room was designed to be under the back porch, taking advantage of valuable unused space.
A Grand Plan
Combining both beautiful and functional elements can be a challenge in small rooms, but Hillegas reached that hard-to-achieve balance. Heavy Quadrille curtains (Alan Campbell’s Tate in Dark Grey on Tint) extend over two sets of French doors for privacy as well as over the cased opening between the bedroom and the foyer, creating a plush effect. Restoration Hardware’s 19th C. French Iron Canopy Bed has an airy feeling, while a nearly wall-to-wall braided-jute rug radiates warmth. “In compact spaces, I try to leave only 6 inches from a rug’s edge to the wall,” says Hillegas. She slipcovered the headboard to match the bed skirt for an extra pop of pattern. A pair of blue vintage nightstands flanking the bed offers storage and a little color. The antique armchair adds a masculine edge.
You always need attractive places to hide things in a bath. “I like a vanity with some closed storage and an open bottom, not a clunky cabinet,” says Hillegas. Local craftsman Allen Deal made this custom console that has a deep drawer, which was built around the sink’s plumbing. The console rests on legs to make it feel more like a freestanding piece of furniture. It’s topped with a modern concrete counter, which is juxtaposed with the vintage-inspired Kohler Pinstripe faucet. Simple iron hooks mounted on the wall keep towels within reach of the shower.