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Sister Act

Reimagining an eclectic cottage

By Deborah Salomon 

Photographs by John Gessner

Local residences can be relatively easy to classify: Federalist, antebellum, Georgian, ranch, contemporary farmhouse, mid-century modern, Frank Lloyd Wright-ish.

This one — tucked behind tall greenery in the heart of Weymouth — isn’t, unless “surprising, refreshing and personal” is the category. Clad in pecky cypress painted off-white, the cottage stretches longitudinally like a ranch, has bedroom suites anchoring each end in the contemporary mode, and multiple bay windows common to New England saltboxes enhanced by stained glass panels displaying geometric and bird motifs.

Add this shocker: a cathedral ceiling with flying buttresses rising over the sitting/dining area. Built in 1929, a year of financial havoc in the U.S., one legend identifies the builder as a shipmaker from Boston with the buttresses a reminder of the ribs supporting his boats.

Those buttresses are original, not so a covered backyard patio for grilling, eating and watching TV while drying off by the fire after emerging from the 42-inch deep, rectangular plunge pool, with a submerged seating ledge and water kept at 100 degrees year-round.

“We all jumped in at Thanksgiving,” says Cathy, who with her sister, Mary, reimaged this cottage.

Their story is as singular as the results.

Cathy and Mary, a year apart, grew up sharing a room in a Pittsburgh family of eight children — three girls, five boys. Mary became a nurse anesthetist at a women’s hospital. Cathy worked in the wholesale bakery industry. Each married, remained in Pittsburgh and had children, who grew up and moved away. In 2014, the sisters, now single, retired and decided they could live more economically together — but not in Pittsburgh. Too cold.

They heard good things about North Carolina’s retirement havens. Asheville was their first foray. Still too cold. Pinehurst, with a temperate climate and aura aplenty, offered the solution.

“We drove down for a week and hooked up with an agent, just to look around,” Mary says. Seven Lakes seemed promising, or maybe a carriage house in horse country. Then they discovered the charm of downtown Southern Pines, the shops, bistros, railroad station and the interesting people populating them.

Better check availability in Weymouth.

What they discovered seemed almost made-to-order. The walls and ceilings in the living /dining space were wood-paneled and, after moving in, the sisters found the stained wood too dark and painted the walls — themselves — a soft white. The dark wood cabinetry and a natural brick backsplash in the modest but adequate kitchen became creamy vanilla with a pure white island top over a black lacquer base. Cathy cooks. Mary shops and cleans up. A breakfast table for two suggests a Victorian tearoom.

“I don’t want all that granite,” says Cathy. “It’s casual, like, ‘Come on over and let’s share.’”

The sisters’ most formidable challenge was space, given the possibility of visiting children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews and friends — golfers and otherwise. Fortunately the elongated footprint on a prime Weymouth acre allowed them to convert the attached two-car garage into living space with a workroom and a laundry. A new garage was added.

“Over the years we have always attacked projects,’’ Cathy says. In high school she was more interested in mechanical drawing than cooking and sewing. “You just learn that if something doesn’t work, you do it over.”

Furniture is a mixture of hers and hers, with some delightful juxtapositions. In the small TV den a gray wide-wale corduroy sectional overlooks a frilly little bureau painted bright yellow. A dresser in the guest room is made of sanded metal. Nurse Mary explains that before built-in units, hospital rooms attended by nurses in starched white caps were furnished in metal, usually painted white, now antique shop finds.


“We each brought furniture. We didn’t buy new,” Cathy says. Even their area rugs made the trip. The familiar pieces take on fresh life placed in the spacious, airy rooms. And surprises lurk around each corner: A bathroom wall of glass bricks adds retro chic. Rather than reupholster “throne” and other chairs, they discovered a paint for fabric that dries to a nubby texture. An elongated window frames a tall, pruned crape myrtle, its gnarled, spotted trunk and branches resembling a giraffe. A huge Chinese soup tureen sits ready to serve the emperor. They point proudly to an antique transom; their mother’s desk; Granddaddy’s cigar cabinet; Granny’s enormous hope chest; and a framed wedding quilt sewn from silk ties and kept under glass.

The sisters concede that not everyone could pull off this living arrangement. At first, their other siblings’ reaction was, “How dare you leave us!” Cathy recalls. Now, they do family Thanksgiving, and their twin brothers show up for golf. After 10 years the sisters have made friends through pickleball, golf and community activities. Cathy’s latest project: watercolors.

“We live a very simple life,” Cathy says. “We’re content to sit out back or go into town. Both of us worked hard. Now it’s time to relax, to entertain ourselves.”  PS