Skip to content

Little Gem

Good things come in small packages

By Deborah Salomon  

Photographs by John Gessner

“Perfect” is an imperfect word when applied to houses. But once in a blue moon, it fits: A small dwelling that, through careful staging, appears larger; a historic Pinehurst property neither castle nor Tara; furniture of several different periods and provenances that hangs together harmoniously; a hydrangea-lined walkway and a garden surrounded by a wrought iron fence, designed for sitting and sipping tea with neighbors.

The finishing touch is a sweet black Lab named Ritter, same as a Pinehurst street. Most mornings Ritter walks Judy Davis to The Villager Deli, where the owner enjoys breakfast and the dog greets friends, old and new.

Above: Photographs of pre-renovation

They live in a cottage, circa 1,500 square feet, on the outer ring surrounding the estates Pinehurst is famous for. These cottages, built for teachers, shopkeepers, resort employees in the 1920s — later rented to military personnel -— are, one by one, being renovated as mini-showplaces for golf-loving retirees in search of mild winters, upscale amenities and likeminded neighbors.

Davis grew up in Virginia and South Carolina, worked in marketing in Ohio until retirement in 2013. Along the way she discovered Pinehurst while attending a Peggy Kirk Bell “Golfari” at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club. What followed became an odyssey of purchasing, renovating and moving out of several properties in this outer ring until she found her historic gem.

“You could call me a serial renovator,” Davis says with a laugh.

Beside the front door hangs a plaque proclaiming Sally House 1927, named after A.B. Sally, its builder.

This time the youthful grandma and former Pinehurst Village Council member had a new objective: aging in place. It meant two showers but no tub — no sills to trip over. Instead of a conspicuous ramp out front, an attractive brick version slopes off the back porch. Topping her list of practicalities is a generator powerful enough to keep the whole house humming if Duke Power can’t.

Realtors recognize the aha moment when a client walks into the just-right house. Davis experienced hers when she noticed the door that separates the public area from bed and bathrooms. She saw beyond the dark, geometric wallpaper and a kitchen devoid of personality. With the assistance of architect Christine Dandeneau, familiar with the area from living a few blocks away, Davis assumed the task. “I didn’t want an open floorplan,” she says.

Since the house has no family room, great room or, in ’60s-speak, den, the living room is lived in. A scaled-down sofa is upholstered in a neutral toile print. The area rug is grasscloth, the side chairs comfortable, and the coffee table a contemporary Plexiglas over wicker. Press a button on the long console chest and a TV screen rises from its depths.

“I don’t like to look at a blank screen all the time,” Davis explains.

Topping it off while adding height and volume is an inverted hip ceiling done in a textured pattern. A variation of this mode appears on the dining room ceiling over an oval table with an unusual rough finish, where Davis holds meetings as well as dinner parties.

Beyond the lived-in room, Dandeneau enclosed a narrow porch for an office, with window seat and built-in bookcases displaying a first glimpse of Davis’ McCoy pottery, a prized American collectible from the mid-1900s, appearing throughout the house as vases, pitchers, mugs, teapots. This pottery, along with paintings depicting fruit, flowers and dogs, provides bursts of color against French vanilla walls uniting the rooms, as do original floorboards whose imperfections add character. Davis is particularly fond of stylized canine art by Stephen Huneck, an internationally recognized Vermont folk artist and creator of children’s books featuring, coincidentally, his black Lab named Sally.

Dandeneau agrees that working with a small space requires ingenuity. Davis looked at a shallow closet in the dining room and saw a bar/storage nook. Off came the doors, in went cabinetry, a counter, unusual lighting fixtures wired into the sidewalls, the entirety painted a rich aubergine. She keeps the everyday dishes there, since the kitchen has only one wall-hung cabinet, back-lit to display fine china.

By some sleight-of-hand that kitchen — with exposed brick, multi-angled ceiling, wall-mounted shelves, footed cabinets and splashy art — does not feel cramped despite the gas range and refrigerator. Instead of an island, Davis placed an antique school desk and chair on a small rug, decorative and useful. Extending beyond the kitchen, an addition to the house provides space for stacked laundry equipment, a window and storage.

The result: European flair, American practicality.

Two bedrooms, also modest in size, prove that queen-sized beds fit just fine if other pieces are kept to a minimum. Two large and thoroughly modern bathrooms plus an adorable powder room might have surprised A.B. Sally in an era when nobody gilded the loo.

Who would know better than Ann Dixon, Mr. Sally’s granddaughter, who lives nearby in a similar cottage? The two met while dog walking. Dixon recalls visiting Davis’ cottage as a child and provides town history so important to its new owner/curator.

The result?

Adorable. Charming. Traditional yet trendy. Practical, personal and innovative. In a word . . . perfect.

“And the best part is I get to live here,” Davis says.  PS