Not so long ago, Summerville was a small southern town, where the homes in the historic district had big porches, big lots, and big trees. Our client grew up in one of these homes and when his parents retired, he and his wife took over the ‘Big House,’ and built a small cottage on the same property for his parents to move into. Now it is time for one of their children, the third generation, to take over the Big House, and for them to move into the cottage.
Our clients had lived many years in the distinguished big house. Tall, with vast porches and staircases on a generous wooded corner lot, the home was the third home of Charleston’s famed federal judge Henry Augustus Middleton Smith who retreated there from Charleston to escape the mosquitoes in the summer. The father of our client, a military man, bought the home in the 1960’s and it was in this home he raised his family and our client grew up. It was through kind deliberation on his parents’ part: in 1980 they offered to give him the big family home if he would build them a smaller one story cottage on the property.
They were aging, they said, and the big house was just too much…
Our client build a 1600 square foot cottage on the footprint of an old servants cabin on the property. When the cottage was originally built in the early 1980’s, there was very little understanding about the physical needs of an aging population and how to optimize the amenities for aging in place. The rooms were on the small side, especially the bathrooms and all the doors were too narrow. Because the airflow was poor in the cottage, visible mold had developed overtime. The crawl space was also very damp. However, despite some of the homes limitations, our clients parents lived very happily in the home until they died a few years ago.
For more than 30 years, our clients lived happily in the ‘Big House’ where they also raised their children. However, just as his parents had, the couple began to feel overwhelmed by the big house and the stairs. They initially requested Swallowtail prepare a feasibility study to see if their big house could be renovated to accommodate their hobbies and lifestyle and stay within their budget. They loved the design solution to renovate their home, but decided the construction costs were too high. Since they did not want to leave this magnificent property in such a wonderful location, they began to consider renovating the cottage to make it their new home.
“We wanted to live in the same way we lived in the big house”, said our client, and with the 1,000 sq foot addition and interior rearrangement, “the cottage has all the functions we need. We are very excited that we remained on the property, and that the wheels have turned a full circle.”
They asked Swallowtail to prepare a new feasibility study to renovate the cottage. Happily, the budget and design for an addition and renovation met with their approval! The most important goal for our design was to accommodate the needs this couple might face over time… wide doors for easy maneuvering with a walker, large bathrooms so a caregiver can easily assist, low maintenance finishes, and adequate lighting over counters and in all of the rooms.
Our second goal was to design a home that would support the active lifestyle of the couple. They needed a dining room big enough to seat the family at Thanksgiving, a large sewing and painting studio for the wife, a small writing room for the husband and a Library large enough to fit a bridge table, and a of course, a porch to sit and enjoy the view. The design of the exterior also had to fit the character of the historic district in this prominent area of Summerville. Like many older Americans, the homeowners wanted a home that would accommodate their needs as they aged, but they did not want it to look like or feel like a hospital or an institution catering to older adults. They wanted their home to feel comfortable and personal, a perfect fit with their needs, personalities, and hobbies.
Following in his parent’s footsteps, the couple sold the big house to their daughter. Now, if you drive past that distinguished tall white house in Summerville, you might see their daughter along with her husband out working in the yard or doing some house maintenance work with their children–the fourth generation of this family to live in the ‘Big House.’ Tucked to the side of the big house, you might find our clients sitting on their screened porch and enjoying an aperitif before dinner. As the second generation starting the next phase of their lives in this sweet little cottage, they make change look very comfortable and easy.