In an age of smartphones and same-day delivery, buzzwords like “bigger,” “faster” and “newer” are often associated with better. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case for this cozy, 1923 Atlanta cottage. Charmed by the home’s intimate size and Dutch Colonial-style architecture—particularly its sloped gambrel roof—a pair of empty nesters immediately knew they’d found the perfect downsize. And although they were in love with the bones of the property, achieving their dream domain would not be without a few revisions.
Imagining a simple refresh, the couple called on general contractor Kevin Kleinhelter, with whom they’d worked in the past, for advice about who might renovate it. He suggested architect Ryan Duffey, who revealed what a gem the home could become. “It started with ‘We love this old house and just want to tweak a few things,’ ” Duffey recalls, “But it grew into a complete reinvention.”
The wife, who works in fashion and possesses a strong sense of style, was clear on her personal preferences, but not overly prescriptive about them. “I just knew I didn’t want large, open spaces,” she says. “I wanted a cottage with modern and clean lines. My thought was always, ‘Okay where am I going to sit and read a book?’ I wanted every room to be warm and cozy, but also functional.”
Duffey says every phase of the project felt like an adventure, thanks to clients who were open-minded, engaged and inquisitive each step of the way. “Every conversation was just, ‘What do you think is cool? I like that—Okay, let’s do it,’ ” Duffey recalls. “They’re really easy and approachable; she exudes such a great sense of style, and her husband is always in a suit, always so dapper. Their house is an extension of that; it’s attractive and pulled together, yet nothing is overdone.”
For the renovation, Duffey was careful to remain largely within the home’s existing footprint—apart from construction on the posterior that “essentially tore the entire rear off the house to be rebuilt slightly bigger.” Because maintaining the home’s existing scale and clean lines was a priority, Duffey kept the original roofline intact, updating it with graduated Vermont slate tiles that get progressively thinner as they reach the top of the house. “It’s a very traditional way roofscapes were done in the Cotswolds,” he explains.
Kleinhelter came through by installing structural reinforcements to support the heavy new slate, which otherwise would have risked overburdening the 1920s building. And for the rear build-out—which houses a second-floor master bedroom and rustic porch—Duffey designed overhangs purposefully low to match the rest of the home. “The additions now feel like a complete thought rather than a random one,” the architect explains. “All of it looks original.”
Landscape architect Graham Pittman was instrumental in capturing this cottage feel while reflecting the personalities of the clients. “His laid-back nature fit them very well,” Duffey explains. “He didn’t rush decisions, but let the landscape unfold alongside the construction. As the house began to materialize, he would explain his ideas in real time.” Pittman complemented Duffey’s architecture with structured plantings that become progressively untamed as one moves through the property’s new gardens. Beyond the clipped wintergreen boxwoods and Holly ferns that punctuate the façade, organic layers were woven in with Japanese maple, weeping willow, native azaleas and lustrous hedges like Chindo Sweet Virbunum.
Back inside, Duffey re-engineered the floor plan to improve flow, incorporating strategic combinations of modern and rustic details. “The clients have a real love for materials, as well as the craftspeople who made everything,” he explains. “So, with everything we brought into the house, they wanted to know, ‘What’s the story behind this?’ ”
Duffey responded to his clients’ love of hand detailing by removing the original crown molding and applying plaster to both walls and ceiling. Softly demarcating rooms for a sense of intimacy are arched doorways and reclaimed oak ceiling beams, a material that in turn converses with the antique heart pine floors below. Borrowing an element used for the home’s foundation, lime-washed brick reclaimed from a cotton mill is reiterated throughout the residence. Duffey employed the same material as accent walls in the guest suite and kitchen—the latter’s inspiration lifted from a photo of a French scullery presented by the wife.
Relocating the stair from the front entry to the back of the house established better flow between the entry and living room while facilitating more generous furniture layouts. “I love natural elements that don’t look too rustic,” says the wife, who counterbalanced antiques with contemporary pieces and local artwork curated over the years. “It’s how my husband and I live—just casual and for everyday living more than for entertaining.”
Over the course of the project, constant collaboration allowed the architecture and interiors to converse—with harmonious results. In the master bedroom, for example, a low bed tucks between two windows and beneath a vaulted ceiling Duffey designed to feel like part of the original residence. “We wanted to be sure it wouldn’t feel like a new house,” the wife says. “And it doesn’t. It’s intimate and warm. It feels good to come home to.”