Tiny Treasure

It was slated for the wrecking ball, but this Chautauqua Lake cottage proved to be “too cute” to tear down. 
Jeff and Diane Steinhilber bought their Chautauqua Lake cottage with the intent of tearing it down. The retired Cleveland-area executive and his registered nurse/photographer wife were more interested in the land, a half-acre of lakefront property next door to the vacation home they already owned. But they reconsidered their decision after Diane learned the 1936 clapboard structure was one of the area’s last relatively unaltered fishing cottages. “It was really just too cute to tear down,” Diane admits. And then daughter Remy, a junior in college, informed her parents that she’d landed a summer job in sales and office management at the nearby Chautauqua Institute’s Chautauquan Daily and needed a place to live.

     “Remy’s cottage began to take shape,” Diane says.

     In late 2013 the Steinhilbers hired Libby Palmieri, principal designer at Cleveland-area-based House of L, to remodel the cottage so it was hip enough for their daughter, yet enduringly classic enough to host their friends for years to come. Their biggest challenge: utilizing the approximately 550-square-foot space so it could comfortably accommodate both Remy and the friends she planned on entertaining.

     “We could not make the space any bigger than what it was,” Libby says. “So we had to try to work within it to make it the best in terms of its functionality.”

     The designer began by upgrading finishes and fixtures in the outdated bath and kitchen. The vanity and commode were replaced and the shower-stall insert removed to make way for a like-sized tiled counterpart with hinged-glass door. Carpenters built kitchen cabinets with beadboard insets and painted them the same shade of white used on the walls and ceiling. A microwave was stashed behind closed doors next to the stainless-steel range to help keep the lone stretch of white-quartz countertop clear and the cabinetry extended around a corner into the entry hall to create more storage. Libby made up for the lack of a hall closet by adding a pair of open lockers next to the kitchen door, a feature that acts as a catchall for beach towels, bags, books and board games.

     The same style and color of cabinetry was installed in the bedroom. Libby fit a queen-size mattress in the tiny space by putting it in a built-in daybed between towers of shelves flanking the window. Drawers in the base eliminated the need for a dresser. Similarly, hooks on an opposite wall provided a spot for hanging clothes in the absence of a closet.

     Contractors then began implementing Libby’s navy-and-white color scheme, a perennial summer combination inspired by the blues, greens and neutrals she’d used to decorate the Steinhilbers’ neighboring vacation home. Painters used navy and white paints finished with a sealant to economically replicate the look of oversized tile on the original hardwood floors and make the rooms look bigger.

     “Because the pattern is on a diagonal, your eye naturally wants to expand the space,” Libby explains.

     “It’s durable,” Diane adds. “There is not a chip, a nick, anything on it.”

The living-room walls were painted the same deep navy — a move Diane describes as “a big, sort of scary decision.” But it proved to be the perfect foil for the natural light streaming through banks of windows on three walls.

“I didn’t want the cottage to feel austere,” Libby says. “So I definitely was trying to gain some sense of coziness.”

More tactile warmth was provided by an oyster area rug emblazoned with a navy diamond pattern that mimics the design painted on the floor. Libby added a drapery that can be closed to separate the bedroom from the living room.

“The sectional that we put in the living area was made with a queen pullout bed,” she explains. “So when [Remy] had company, I wanted her to have a sense of privacy.” The abundance of navy embroidery on the oyster cotton, like the Phillip Jeffries ikat-print paper on a section of wall between the bedroom and kitchen entrances, also adds texture to the room.

 Shots of navy were injected into the kitchen by scattering like-colored glass tiles in the white-and-gray backsplash and surrounding the large counter-height wood-topped table with chairs in a woven vinyl that looks like wicker. Diane points out that the table, lit by two pendant fixtures, doubles as overflow food-prep space.

“There’s a school of thought that if it’s a small space, you have to put in a small piece of furniture,” Libby says. “I always go with the opposite.” 

Libby finished the job by adding pops of orange, a bold color that infused the space with a youthful, contemporary vibe. Diane supplemented the designer’s sunny finds, which included bright Vietri dinnerware, with an area rug and striped placemats in the kitchen, a throw on the living-room sectional, and striped pillows on the bed. She also carried the navy-, white-and-orange color scheme onto the sun porch with poufs, pillows and other accessories.

When guests aren’t bunking at the cottage, that porch doubles an art studio where Diane works on her own projects and gives lessons to the neighbor’s children. Nothing she or her young students have created, however, has eclipsed the cottage décor.

“It’s like a little masterpiece,” she declares.