Cottage Comforts

Cottage Comforts: Interior designer Kathryn Long takes a two-room, mountainside house through a series of rehabs and fills it with heirloom antiques and clever finds of all kinds
WRITER: 
PHOTOGRAPHER: 
Share this

Wander antiquesmalls and Saturday morning auctions and you’ll find veteran hunters like Kathryn Long, for whom green principles like “reuse,” “recycle,” and other conservation-minded building blocks are, quite frankly, old hat. The interior designer and longtime owner of Ambiance Interiors in downtown Asheville cites finds ranging from an oversized kitchen hutch originally built into a house in Virginia to two clawfoot tubs donated by a demo company in Hendersonville, both of which now reside in her renovated cottage. “I’ll find old vases, furniture, dish towels— linens of all kinds—and put them to use in my own house. It’s all part of being my mother’s daughter,” she explains, adding that she’d go with her to estate auctions that were held in “fabulous oldmansions in Asheville. I watched as she spotted pieces that, for one reason or another, had been discarded. She’d find a use for these things when others couldn’t.” In her own living room outside of Asheville, she points to a long, 1920s-era sofa she adopted nearly 30 years ago. “My parentswere at yet another auction—my uncle was an auctioneer, so you could say it’s in our blood— and they got tired of standing,” she explains. “No one was bidding on this sofa, so they sat down on it. It was just this lonely old piece in the corner of the room. They liked how comfortable it was, so they took it home for $25. It’s since been recovered twice, but really, you can’t find anything better to lay down on.” In fact, there isn’tmuch in Long’s house that hasn’t been reused or reconsidered, rescued or reconfigured, and the structure itself is no exception. The no-frills, circa-1950s building was just 800 square feet when her family bought it in 1970 to use as a guesthouse. “When we found it, it was almost like an outbuilding, comprising two rooms with a single door entry,” says Long. Not until she entered graduate school at the University ofGeorgia did the house even have visitors, aside from the occasional cleaning and airing out by hermother. “At first, I’d stay here because it was a place away from home to live during college breaks,” she recalls. “Butthen, I just started getting this wonderful feeling about the ugly little house on the hill.” So while the up-and-coming designer finished school, even jetted off for year-long stints in Europe and Manhattan, the “ugly little house” waited for her. “I knew I was going to come back to Asheville, and I knew I wanted to live in that house,” she recalls. “Because the house faces East, it has great Feng Shui. Light floods through in the mornings, and in the afternoons it filters down the mountain in the back. That’s what really got me hooked.” Making It Home Loving the house and living in it, however, meant that adjustments both major and minor were on the horizon. “I’ve gone through 20 or 30 different sketches for this house,” says Long. “I knew there were possibilities, and I just kept revising and adding on to get to what I really needed.” There have been four additions, to be exact. At the time Long bought the house from her parents in the early 1980s, though, such lofty structural ambitions were still a long way off. Herdesign firmwas only a fewyears old, and she still wasn’t sure which plan would be the right plan. Thus, the first of many adjustments would focus on necessities. “There wasn’t one closet to be found in this house,” she laughs. The first go-round not only gave Long her much needed storage space, but also replaced small inefficient windows, wood paneling, and wood flooring and added a sunroomentry on the southern corner of the house.In the rehabs that followed, Long slowly and steadily reworked the house to meet the potential she saw fromthe start. The addition of a bank of windows along the frontmade the most ofmorning light, while expansion of the original bathroom—the only one in the house at the time—made way for a tub and accompanying powder room. A third rehab added the living room, a spacious screened porch, and a second floor for use as her bedroom. “I was always very conscious of how everything would relate to the original rectangle,” says Long, noting the incorporation of dormer windows upstairs as a way of retaining the house’s shape. “Itwas challenging because I was always wary ofmaking the house too big.” By the time the fourth overhaul was complete, incorporation of “a few feet here and a few feet there” would triple the size of themodest structure.Of course, trading in the ugly duckling image for that of a rambling country cottage made a European-style garden a necessity. Along with other blooms, she planted lilacs right outside the windows of her bathroomso that the fragrance blows in with the wind down the mountain. Early-Century Appeal All along, it seems, Long’s brand of second- and third-generation furnishings have been right at home—some brought in asmore space calls for them, others just migrated from one room to the next. In either case, each is part of a collection within a collection and verymuch a part of modern-day life in the cottage. Old baskets, quilts, and glassware are inherited from Long’s mother, while recycled fabrics in the form of vintage tablecloths, bed linens, and dish towels find their way into every room. Of particular note, however, is a collection of bark cloth, a fabric named for its rough, woven texture. “It became popular in the 1920s and was seen in households through the ’50s,” says Long, noting that all of her throw pillows aremade from scraps of the retired fabric. “My travels to France—I go almost every spring or fall—have had a significant influence on the way I furnish my home,” she admits. “The French just have a way ofmaking a room comfortable. They really understand how pieces should relate to one another. For instance, chairs are neither too close to one another, nor too far apart. I’ve always been fascinated by that.”Indeed, seeking out such domestic perfection has been a work in progress for the interior designer, one that began 32 years ago when the cottage on the side of the mountain came into her family. In themeantime, the ugly little house (turned patient little house) sat quietly while its owner added a little here, subtracted a little there.After all, itwas only amatter of time. Like the passed-around sofa in the living roomor thewell-used linens in every room, the little cottage didn’t have to be perfect—it just had to have potential. Local Resources Ambiance Interiors, 27 Broadway St.. Asheville, (828) 253-9403, www.ambianceasheville.com Renovation by Tom Hayes, LLC, 22 Linden Ave., Asheville, (828) 253-2607 Landscape design by Jerry Snow, ASLA, 30 Watauga St., Asheville, (828) 252-3074 Rock terrace by Tom Mainolfi, Carolina Native Landscapes, (828) 665-7234 Landscape management by Snow Creek Nursery & Landscaping, Inc., 226 Clayton Rd., Arden, (828) 687-1677, www.snowcreekinc.com Favorite haunts: L.O.F.T., 53 Broadway St., Asheville, (828) 254-4054; The Screen Door, 115 Fairview Rd., Asheville, (828) 277- 3667; Stuf Antiques, 52 Broadway St., Asheville, (828) 254-4054; Village Antiques, 755 Biltmore Ave., Asheville, (828) 252- 5090, www.villageantiquesonline.com