A Cottage Grows on Forest Lake

May 25, 2012
By William Thrift
Photography by John Wrightenberry

Back in the fifties when dirt roads wound through much of what is now Forest Acres, the Shealy family bought a piece on land on Forest Lake.  The family spent so much time there enjoying the lake that patriarch, Harry, built a brick grill and chimney so they could have cookouts anytime they wanted.  Eventually the Shealy’s built a cottage on the property where they would spend their golden years.  

The kitchen had dark paneling and lacked the organization of the newer kitchen space.

Fate sometimes comes in the form of a dog.  In the mid-eighties, back on Woodvine on the other side of the lake, the Garris family beagle, Bull, had an attack of wanderlust and ended up being corralled by Ms. Shealy.  She called the number on the tag and summoned Sally Garris to retrieve him.  So Sally got a glimpse of the view from the cottage, and took note of the serenity that comes from lakeside living.

Time passed, the cottage became vacant, and the Shealy’s daughter was tasked with selling her parent’s home.  The Garris’s put a contract on it, and Steve Garris recalls fondly that the daughter wanted to interview them before the sale was final because her father had once been the president of the Camellia Society and had cultivated many varieties on the property.  She wanted to make sure that the new owners would respect the plants (as well as the cottage), and the Garris’s assured her they would.

The new cabinets have the look of furniture with the arched shaker valance detailing.

Over the next two decades, the Garris’s made few changes to the original cottage until their son Robert and daughter Sally Sue had both finished college and moved out on their own.  Then it came time for them to plan for their future in the place they called home.  The Garris’s had developed a clear vision of what they wanted the cottage and property to do for them in their retirement years, so they set about making it happen.

An extension of the kitchen space, the den area is brightened by the French Decape finishing.

They had seen a renovation on their street that they liked; and they asked the architect, Tim Hance, to work with them on their extensive vision.  With plans in hand, they put the job up for bids by local contractors, one of whom was George Little, who happened to live in a straight line of sight from the Garris’s place just across the lake.


Someone along the way made the unpopular suggestion that the Garris’s simply raze the cottage and build a new home on the property.  Although this would give them what they wanted in terms of living space, the Garris’s would not consider the easier and cheaper solution.  They had come to love the spirit of the cottage, and their new plans preserved the feel of the original structure while incorporating new features like an expanded kitchen and full master suite into it.

The breakfast nook now serves as a beautiful transition from the kitchen to the dining room, with lots of hidden storage beneath the seating areas.

After selecting George as their contractor, the Garris’s moved into an apartment at nearby 42 Magnolia during the nine-month construction period.  They also worked with Kathryn Clough of Edisto Kitchens and Baths on specifics for their kitchen and master bath. Initial plans had actually relocated the kitchen to the rear of the house with a view to the lake.  However, as is frequently the case with architectural plans, things had to be re-designed after taking into consideration that Sally preferred the kitchen in it’s original location adjacent to the den.

With the kitchen located in the right place, the next challenge was fitting all the necessary elements comfortably into the space with a clear path into the dining room and sufficient space around the new island.  There were a few iterations of the kitchen layout, with the final design locating the refrigerator on the wall opposite the breakfast area and extending the wall of cabinets including the ovens about a foot further into the den.  As it turned out, this move equalized the amount of cypress-paneled wall on either side of the large den window, so it looked like that was how it was supposed to be anyway.  This also enabled counter space to be inserted along the wall to give Sally a convenient place to stage food and dishes when she entertains.

Detail of the needlepoint pillow in the breakfast nook, important to Sally because her mother did the needlework and she grew up on the family cotton farm.

Kathryn finished the island in quarry (blue) paint with an oyster (gray) glaze.  The top is China Luna Pearl marble, which compliments the Andes black marble on the main counters.  She added rounded legs on the seating side of the island close to the den, which completes the effect of the island being a separate piece of furniture in the room.

The guest room, adjacent to the den area, is gracious and comfortable and has a beautiful view.

Sally loves the new Kohler apron sink and the custom Bishop cabinets in Nordic white.  New appliances from Jeffers-McGill (some white and some black) lend just enough whimsy to keep the kitchen from appearing ordinary.  Kathryn also added an arched shaker valance in strategic places along the bottom of the cabinets to further the “furniture” appearance.  Although the kitchen is entirely new, the overall effect is appropriate to the “cottage” style that the Garris’s wished to maintain.


The breakfast nook off the kitchen provides an entrance into the formal dining room (which wasn’t part of the renovation).  By installing bench seats with drawers underneath, the nook has been transformed into a well-lit alcove where the Garris’ grandson, Daniel, likes to store books and toys.

 The Garris’s were conflicted about how to address the original cypress paneling in the den, which had darkened with age.  They liked the warm feel of the wood paneling (especially since it surrounded the brick fireplace that they planned to keep); but they wanted the room lightened up to match the adjacent, mostly-white kitchen.  They discussed and discarded the idea of painting the wood, and then considered pickling it.  But one of their builders had another idea: French decapé.  This technique (loosely translated: “remove cover”) would preserve the texture and grain of the wood.  The result transformed the den into an airy, comfortable extension of the kitchen.

Most of the new sunroom, which extends along the back of the house overlooking the new brick patio and lake, was actually the old screened porch.  The Garris’s wanted to maintain that “porch” feel while enclosing the space and incorporating it into the rest of the home.  They selected wood paneling and Wadmalaw green paint that matched the cottage’s exterior.  To add to the casual style, wicker furniture was placed under ceiling fans, and the large room was book-ended with custom built-in cabinets where Steve displays beloved items like his collection of antique bottles.

The original cottage had three similarly-sized bedrooms and two full baths.  So one thing that Steve and Sally felt they’d earned was their own master suite with a balcony overlooking the lake.  The addition extends off one end of the cottage toward the lake.  The design includes a walk-in closet and exclusive bathroom, which absorbed one of the original bedrooms.  The new master bath design incorporates Kathryn’s idea of arched shaker kickboards for that “furniture look.”  The high ceiling, balcony, and wood windows (replicas of the home’s originals), along with the lake view gives the room the feel of a chalet in some serene setting rather than a house in one of Columbia’s suburbs.


Steve and Sally knew they would love the private master porch across the back side of the master bedroom area.

The Garris’s worked with designer Karen Cheatham to decorate their new spaces, and Sally created some of the window treatments herself.  She and Steve continue to shop for various items like rugs and furniture to complement the essence of their cottage.  They also used Brooke Green for landscaping around the cottage, including the brick patio and a waterfall with goldfish – but that’s a completely different article.  Meanwhile, Steve gets to ponder small things like the design of a driving path around to the new garage (located beneath the master suite) where he stores his classic ’61 Corvette.  Nobody said retirement was easy, but Steve and Sally have gone a long way toward making it a comfortable ride by preserving and enhancing their lakeside cottage.

The new patio overlooks the new water feature as well as the beautiful lake.

Comments are closed.