A Personal and Cozy Christmas at the Summerville Cottage
Local art teacher Laura Watts loves home decor and finding ways to incorporate her favorite things into the home she shares with her husband of 8 years, Woody, owner and Creative Director of Watts Creative Studios. Together, in 2014, they purchased what they’ve dubbed the “Summerville Cottage.”
Since then, they’ve completed several major projects to transform it into a mix of a French-inspired cottage and a Southern farmhouse. The combo works well, resulting in a cozy and pleasing aesthetic where tastefully designed vignettes await discovery and the softly muted color palette lends a peaceful atmosphere.
“I wanted it to have a French-feel, like a Parisian cottage, more so than a rustic cottage,” Laura says. “And cozy is the perfect word—I’ve always wanted a house that feels comfy but not overly done or too formal, lived-in, but still anyone can come in and have a glass of tea or a cup of coffee.”
After traveling to France, Laura says she came home with a renewed interest in creating spaces that reflected their life as a family without too much that overwhelmed.
“They lived simply,” she says of the French homes she visited, “But every little item is appreciated, so when I came back, you should have seen the yard sale—I wanted to scale it back but still have it feel like we stepped into a French country cottage.”
Though modest in size, the character of this home from 1930 emits the warm atmosphere that Laura wanted to create. Together, she and Woody added several elements to increase the charm even more such as the wood-paneled ceiling, the converted storage space turned coffee bar just off the kitchen, and interior café-style shutters for their windows. They also updated the kitchen with a tiled backsplash, replaced the counters, and refinished the hardwood floors.
“You want your house to reflect your heart,” she says. “So, for us that means welcome and invitation.”
“All is Calm, All is Bright”
In terms of Christmas decorating, Laura says her main goal is to reflect the joy of the season. “I want to reflect calm but Christmas spirit, too,” she says.
One primary way to accomplish that sense of calm is with a set color theme, because it gives the space a cohesive feel and doesn’t overwhelm the eye upon entering a room.
Woody says he starts to notice Laura’s preferred color of the season right around early fall based on items she will pick out over time; “I saw blush [showing up] in September,” he says with a smile.
Laura’s use of blush and ivory for this season’s palette may have created a muted result, but she includes plenty of visual interest with texture, layers and a variety of items like her mix of a wooden reindeer figurine set next to a tabletop tree made of paper rosettes. While both are cream-colored, the combination of materials is engaging.
Adding Christmas to functional spaces such as the kitchen can be as simple as adding a small element, like Laura’s addition of a ceramic, vintage Christmas tree on the counter, the use of a wreath, or even placing a Christmas cookbook out on display. Choosing personal items with family history, like the Christmas tree she received from her grandfather, makes the decor fun and meaningful.
So, when does she actually start laying items out? “The day after Thanksgiving,” she says, “Because I decorate for Halloween too.” It’s a three-day process. “I’ll put on ‘The Grinch’ and just get going,” she says.
“The decor is her,” Woody says. “I carry the totes and if she tells me to hang it, I do, but the decor is all her.”
Laura’s advice is: “Don’t decorate for anyone else except yourself and your family; so many people may not put out their Disney stuff because ‘it may not look good’—but I think that’s sad,” she says emphatically. “Surround yourself with what makes you happy. You can do it in a way that ties it in with other decor, so it’s not the centerpiece” but those special touches are still there. Sprinkled throughout her home are various nativity pieces and vintage ceramic churches that were originally owned by her grandparents.
For families with children, incorporating elements that pay homage to shared experiences can be fun for them to discover. You can also display them in fun or “secretive” ways.
“We hide our favorite things on the tree,” she says, laughing. “I love sharks—so there’s a random blue shark.” And for Woody there’s a “Star Trek: Next Generation” ornament. “They’re hidden just for us,” she says. She’s also added a vintage Santa figurine and a birdhouse among other items.
Laura loves the hunt for unique items at a budget price.
She frequents yard sales, estate sales and mixes things in from regular retailers as well for a one-of-a-kind result.
“It’s all about the hunt and finding those things that remind you of family members,” Laura says. “I think of mice and think of my mom, so if I find a cute little item, I’ll randomly add it to the tree.”
And Laura doesn’t shop specifically for the season; instead, she may pick up a few new items but mostly she repurposes items she has all year. For example, she may paint something to work with her chosen colors.
Woody finds this telling of her skill and good eye.
“Even when she signs a check, it’s beautiful,” Woody interjects. “She doesn’t even try, and it’s just amazing; she’s just so talented.”
“No, I have fun, and I want things to be pretty,” Laura responds, laughing. “It’s not like I have some kind of a magic touch.”
“Oh, she does!” he says.
Surrounded by evidence of that magic touch, we’ll have to agree with Woody on this one.
Follow Laura’s decor adventures on her Instagram: @SummervilleCottage; she also teaches a variety of classes at the Academy Center of the Arts like hand lettering and soap making.
By Jennifer Redmond | Photos by Ashlee Glen