On tiny Tybee Island, Georgia, good things often come in small packages. Case in point: a once-ragged 1940s cottage that owner Evelyn Kelly and designer Jane Coslick transformed into a cheerful "pied-à-mer." Every square inch reflects an eye for function and cozy living, not to mention the distinctive brand of quirky charm that has come to define this barrier island.
Kelly, a California resident, fell in love with Tybee's funky, come-as-you-are character seven years ago when visiting her daughter, an art history professor at nearby Savannah College of Art and Design. "I was looking for an East Coast property, a place to spend time with my daughter and my grandson," says Kelly. The island, especially the historic district surrounding Fort Screven, a former military base, was immediately appealing. But the clincher was a delightful cottage she rented from Coslick on her first visit.
"I loved Jane's colorful style, and I loved her passion for these old buildings and preserving the unique flavor of the island," Kelly says. She engaged Coslick to help her find, renovate, and design a similar Cinderella of a shack ripe for transformation. She bought this one sight-unseen based on Coslick's recommendation and its ideal location: near Tybee's iconic lighthouse, a block from the beach, and by a park that was once the fort's military parade grounds.
The two-family bungalow with choppy rooms had served most recently as long-term (and long-neglected) rentals. Kelly, who used her background in commercial design to revise the floor plan, considered making it a single-family dwelling, but "it would have been one long, skinny house," she says. Plus, "small spaces force you to pare down, which is exactly what I want in a vacation house."
She opted to maintain the duplex design, and then rent the spaces when she's not in town. In the process, her team relocated walls, gutted baths, replaced rotten floor beams, and painted ceilings and walls a crisp, clean white—a Coslick calling card. "I like bringing in as much light as possible, and white helps do that," Coslick says.
The remodel introduced two screened porch additions, for a total of three, and converted the original veranda into a sleeping porch—8-year-old grandson Oliver's favorite spot. "It's like camping, Tybee-style," says Coslick, who also added an outdoor shower adjoining an inside half-bath.
The interior comes alive with a spirited mix of zippy hues, dressed-down antiques (finds from mother-daughter trips to Savannah's thrift shops), and a playful panoply of stripes, vintage florals, gingham, and casual slipcovers.
Powder room walls display a collage of salvaged boards in beachy shiplap style and make the perfect backdrop for a cheeky Mark Twain portrait by Kelly's friend Roy Mears. There are no closets, so vintage armoires do the trick for bedroom storage. And in the laundry room, appliances hide behind a fabric skirt with a midcentury mirror hanging above, turning a bland utility space into a lively focal point.
The fact that, at its heart, this cottage is a "small, uncomplicated beach house" means less worry, and encourages using and enjoying the outdoor spaces, Coslick says. "I knew immediately what it could be; I could see the charm," says Kelly. "This cottage has an easy, no-hassle feel. When you're sitting on the porch sipping tea, you let go of all your cares and just enjoy the relaxed Tybee atmosphere."