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At the cottage, make sure the welcome mat is out

Sarah Richardson: Sarah's Cottage

Stacey Brandford

It's Week 2 of my cottage renovation adventure and we're moving into the guest rooms.

While I think that guest rooms in city dwellings are often a waste of valuable space and money, I feel completely different about cottage living. Guest rooms are a must for me. Without extra rooms for overflow - guests, friends and family - you'll miss out on creating some of the most enduring and happy memories.

A big focus of our entire project was building in space for overnight guests (two guest rooms and a cabin … but you'll have to wait till Week 6 for the cabin story!). Now, don't think that I'm being extravagant and building a hotel to accommodate my visitors … my concept takes a "less is more" approach and my guests aren't checking in to the presidential suite. Small rooms are just fine (and ensure that visitors stay for a good time, not a long time).

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The big change we made during the renovation was moving the entire east wall of the cottage out four feet - this allowed us to install a proper front entry and storage area, and it also meant the bedrooms were separated from each other by a hallway for a greater sense of privacy.

Some cottagers take the approach that castaways and hand-me-downs are good enough for guests, but I want my visitors to feel that I've created a little oasis for them to unwind, relax and have a wonderful stay.

Reduce, reuse, recycle …rethink

I was trying to find a way to save some dollars and thought ripping off all the old tongue-in-groove panelling was a waste. Our contractor removed all the existing boards carefully (read: slowly and expensively), and saved them for reinstallation later. Since the walls and ceilings were originally stained a honey pine colour, I was planning to give them a coat of whitewash and lighten the overall feel while maintaining the texture and character of the wood, which my husband loved. But even the best laid plans sometimes fail.

Once we'd moved walls, ripped out closets, reconfigured the spaces and were ready to reinstall the 10-year-old panelling, we discovered that there weren't enough boards to do the job. Then we realized that the new boards we'd bought had a different sized tongue and groove from the originals. Then we found that the whitewash looked completely different on the new and old boards.

In the end, I realized that - after paying for the boards to be taken down carefully, reinstalled like a puzzle, patched to complete the rooms, stained in a way that looked terrible and restained in a solid finish - it doesn't always work to try to reuse.

Create architectural interest The four-foot space we captured on the east came from a covered walkway. After we moved the wall out, I noticed the slope of the roof allowed for an open ceiling area above the windows. Instead of enclosing this cavity to achieve a uniformly flat ceiling, I asked my team to leave it open. In a tiny nine- by 11-foot bedroom, the extra ceiling height adds to the interest and reminds me of the quirky spaces you often find in a charming old cottage. White isn't always right Anyone who knows me knows how much I love an all-white scheme, but sometimes it looks a little lacklustre. In the early days of the cottage, I opted for all-white bedrooms. Instead of looking like a luxury hotel, I thought they had about as much appeal as a dormitory. Set against a stunning backdrop of breathtaking views, these rooms were crying out for colour (insert sound of my colour-loving husband chuckling with proud delight as his designer wife finally admits that she needs a more vibrant and bold solution). When rooms are very small, there aren't many ways to create personality and interest, so fabric and pattern are important tools. Create a colour story

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I want every room to have its own story and character. We've always referred to these rooms by their orientation, dubbing them "East" and "West" so I wanted the decor schemes to look completely unique and play on their views and exposure. "West" looks out to a lichen-covered rock, bright green cedar trees and grass, and the open water beyond, while "East" looks out to the beach and deck and gets the early morning light. One feels bright and sunny while the other feels cool and breezy. Fundamentally, I couldn't imagine schemes that didn't speak to water for "West" and sun for "East," so my colour selection became much easier and ensured the rooms had distinct personalities. The sunny shades were a spritely mix of lemon yellow and geranium pink with polka dots, florals and embroidered cotton, and the leafy shades took shape in a bold range of azure blues and preppy greens. The casual patterns give the rooms a relaxed, cheery feel - and they make me smile every time I pass the door! Move over white, I've seen the fun side of colour.

Get vintage value

Old cottages are chock-a-block full of timeworn treasures, and every piece of furniture tells a story. New cottages require far less maintenance, but can often exude far less charm. I'm not known for sacrificing what I want, so my goal was to have an efficient new space with all the charm of a century cottage. Lucky for me there's an easy solution. Vintage dressers, mirrors, accessories, tables, footstools, lamps and other accents can be picked up for a fraction of what you'd spend to buy fresh-from-the-factory furnishings, yet these preloved treasures are often better quality and immediately add a sense of history to your space. Flea markets, consignment shops, estate sales and auctions will get your country home outfitted in no time flat.

Rethink the art

Our cottage is shut down for six months of the year, so temperatures can be in the nether range and the moisture levels can vary. This is no place for valuable art. The temperature ranges from sweltering hot to shivering cold and we have no central heat (or heat, period), so it's important to have a stash of extra blankets and quilts on hand when needed. Since storage is always at a premium and I'm a card-carrying quilt addict, I decided to make my collection of vintage quilts part of the decor. I bought old brass and iron door handles and hung them on the wall like towel bars to showcase the quilts' beautiful colours and designs while ensuring that an extra layer is always close at hand.

Take it for a test drive

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If you've ever spent a sleepless and uncomfortable night in a guest room, there's likely a simple reason why … the owner has never actually slept there and has no idea what you experienced. You may feel a bit like Goldilocks, but you really should sleep in every bed in your home to assess what works and what doesn't. Is the lighting adequate for reading? Is there enough space to put away clothes and necessities? Is the bed comfortable? Are the pillows good or did you wake up needing a chiropractor? Do the drapes work to block out the early morning rays? If you don't know the answer to these questions, you may want to check in to your own guest room and experience it first-hand.

Stash and stow I loved all the new changes that my renovation brought, but was particularly excited about my new front door (in the past we'd always entered through a wide sliding door in the living room and everyone tended to dump all their "junk" right inside the door - lovely!). I outfitted my entry area like a ship (making every inch efficient) and added a nautical reference. The doors are slatted shutters to keep the air flowing through, the hardware on the cupboards is vintage natural brass and the area is divided into hanging space for coats, shelves, drawers and an open place for hooks. Beach toys, kids' shoes, raincoats, life jackets, flashlights, masks and snorkels, and outdoor gear now all have their own place - and, thankfully, I don't have to look at it in my living room any more! Nothing makes a busy woman happier than order in the house.

Where to buy it

WEST BEDROOM

Checkered floor runner - IKEA, ikea.com or 1-800-434-IKEA

Doris headboard - Sarah Richardson Design, sarahrichardsondesign.com

Drapery fabric - Designer Fabrics, designerfabrics.ca or 416-531-2810

Dresser, white stool, wooden fish, sailboat - Flik & Co., flikandcompany.com or 647-439-8697

Fabric on headboard - Schumacher available through Bilbrough, bilbroughs.com or 416-960-1611

Sheets - Pottery Barn, potterybarn.com or 416-962-2276

Striped coverlet - Cynthia Crawford Antiques, 705-732-8249

Vintage window frame - Legacy Vintage Building Materials & Antiques, legacyvintage.com or 905-373-0796

Wall mount iron bar - The Door Store, thedoorstore.ca or 416-863-1590

ENTRANCE HALLWAY

Cabinetry hardware, hooks, light fixture - The Door Store, thedoorstore.ca or 416-863-1590

Custom storage cabinets - Northern Living Kitchen & Bath Ltd., northernliving.ca or 705-746-8686

EAST BEDROOM

Bedside lamps - Chair Table Lamp, 416-934-1021

Custom spraying - Benjamen Furniture Refinishing, 416-745-2559

Decorative ceramics, quilt - Cynthia Crawford Antiques, 705-732-8249

Dresser, footstool - Ritchies Auctioneers, ritchies.com or 416-364-1864

Duvet cover - Pottery Barn, potterybarn.com or 416-962-2276

Fabrics - Robert Allen, www.robertallendesign.com or 416-934-1330

Mirror - Flik & Co., flikandcompany.com or 647-439-8697

Wall mount antique brass bar - The Door Store, thedoorstore.ca or 416-863-1590

Yellow accent pillow fabrics - Schumacher available through Bilbrough, bilbroughs.com or 416-960-1611

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