A Charming 1930s Austin Cottage
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Name: Carol Stall Thomas, freelance writer and jewelry artist, and husband Phil Thomas, Account Tech for the City of Austin
Location: East Side; Austin, Texas
Size: 985 square feet
Years lived in: 1.5 years; Owned
Carol and Phil relocated to Austin’s East Side from another popular Austin neighborhood when they found a dark, cramped 1930s house for sale. It was a mess when they bought it, but Carol and Phil saw potential. They rented the house next door while they dived into a remodel, with the goal of opening the house up for more light while respecting the home’s history. They’ve preserved many of the home’s authentic details and elements, all while infusing it with their own personalities. The result is a charming couple residing in an equally charming cottage.
Trouble with the contractor during construction almost derailed the project, but everyone persevered and a house the couple initially described as a “wreck” was finally completed. Carol and Phil have been enjoying the home for a year and a half now, and love the airy ceilings, the natural light that now pours through expanded windows and skylights, and the architectural details they highlighted to show off the house’s beautiful bones.
The two describe their style as ‘eclectic,’ and they’ve effortlessly mixed cherished furniture finds from family members with a collection of vintage pieces. Quirky accessories and art add color. A room with stone walls, previously a garage, provides an unexpected change of level and look — and a perfect place to host dinner parties. A space-saving Murphy bed transforms a front room into a cozy guest bedroom. Though stressful for the couple, the remodel was a big learning experience. Carol and Phil have teamed up with her brother Mike Stall to create Mr. Builds, a friendly online book and program to help people with building and remodeling projects.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: (Far too eclectic to be easy.) Phil and I are both drawn to history and old things — but I’m also an artist and love the quirky. Even with our focus on old things, we end up embracing absurdly mixed styles. I love the simple craftsman and mission styles, Phil loves Victoriana. We both agree that the Machine Age craze is creative and delightful — so it’s hard to choose just one. We gave that up long ago.
Overall the house lends itself more to low key “old” furnishings and even cottage funky items — but thus far we’ve managed to avoid tipping over too B&B or cutesy by using things that are important to us, such as Grandma’s rocker, and then filling in the gaps with acquired antiques or interesting pieces. What really works is keeping it genuine even if it means our furnishings are slightly low key. We’re okay with mismatched chairs and overlapping styles.
Note the kitchen is more machine age, with its chrome light fixtures, while the living room runs to more Victorian/Edwardian. The dining room is just an amazing space and defies classification.
Inspiration: History — and knowing the original builder of this 1936 cottage was a stone mason, and finding a way to incorporate the old stone Model T type garage into a working dining room. We also wanted to keep the outer appearance consistent with the other cottages and bungalows in the neighborhood. Some folks come in and drop spaceship-like boxes or Bauhaus structures on their lot. The local legacy is important to our new community, and we wanted to honor that by keeping the style true to the ‘hood. Like my grandmother’s house and other 1930s era cottages.
Favorite Element: That’s a tough one! We love the front door from Backyard Salvage. We love our custom Murphy Bed, love the black and white floors — like the ones in my grandma’s house.
But also we find adding arches somehow lifts the mood and makes the space friendlier and more graceful. That was the first thing we decided on. We must have arches!
Biggest Challenge: First, getting light into the structure — that was a huge challenge in the remodeling process. It took a great deal of lifting and adding windows to turn the dark, closed, claustrophobic space into a bright and airy dwelling.
The living room has been a challenge too, because there is ingress and egress on almost all sides. It’s taken some thought to create a cozy area that can be comfortably occupied.
What Friends Say: It’s exciting when people walk in for the first time and draw a deep breath of surprise or say “Oh my!” When we had our housewarming party, a friend followed me around saying — really Carol it’s just amazing — really! It’s gratifying that even our most discerning friends seem to love it.
Biggest Embarrassment: The laundry room which will not hold a dryer — so we’ve gone green, using the old existing clothesline from the 1940s. That room also accumulates STUFF that is on the way to the attic or out to the studio.
Second biggest: We have yet to get the yards really where we want them. So far they’re pretty, well, natural.
Proudest DIY: My retro-chandelier light fixture I created using an old light fixture, 1930s glass telephone insulators, and glass radio strain insulators.
Best Advice: Let light be your guide — then deal with color. Also, find a good knowledgeable mentor before you embark on a remodel.
Resources of Note:
PAINT & COLORS
We call them sorbet colors. Most of our paints came from Kelley Moore shops here in Austin. If you stand in the kitchen, and look through the arch, you’ll see lemon, lime and peach. In this small space, we needed a light hand and colors that would bounce light around instead of absorbing it. The bedroom is a calmer sage, for better sleeping.
- Bathroom: (White) Country Cotton Kelley- Moore
- Bathroom: (Lavender) Greek Goddess Kelley- Moore
- Bedroom: (Sage Green) Hillsmere Kelley – Moore
- Kitchen: (Yellow) Tangerine Twist Kelley- Moore
- Living Room: (Green) Spring Glen Kelley- Moore
- Guest Room: (Green) Spring Glen Kelley- Moore
- Dining Room: (Peach) Custom mixed Peach Kelley- Moore
- Trim: (oil Based) Creamy Sherwin Williams Walls & Ceiling: (white) Pure white Sherwin Williams
The transom window stained glass –specially made by Linda Keel-Killian Gijswijt an artist in McMinnville, Tennessee who sells locally and through Ebay. The Plant stand in front of the far window is an old repurposed cabinet.
The furniture is mostly family antiques.
Photo over the couch is a series by the famous photographer Fred Hartsook is a little gem from Uncommon Objects.
- Table Centerpiece: Hand turned Box Elder Bowl with turquoise by Michael Stall.
- Chandelier with glass insulators— by Carol Stall
- Bench seat throw pillows are hand-stitched by Josette Brookes of Frodsham, UK (Phil’s mother).
- Art: Acrylic on wood, Chateau du Jehay, Belgium, by Josette Brookes
- Painting near stairs: Barbara Mcauley
- A Haitian painting I traded a custom sterling belt buckle for
- Building painting to the left of stairs: Something I picked up in Caracas, Venezuela at an art gallery
- Rooster Platter: Tiffany
- old percolator coffee pot from Architectural Antiques Salvage
- Bedclothes: Sophia Bed skirt/ dust ruffle, also Sophia ticking neck roll, pillow shams all from Country Curtains. Quilt from Bed Bath & Beyond.
- The curtains are striped semi-sheer tab top panels by Country Curtains. Pine Hoosier serving as desk (circa 1900
- “Green Lady” by Doris Bickley (long time Austin artist)
- “Reclining Nude” by Doris Bickley.
- 1908 print titled “You’re going to take a journey” by Will Grefe.
- Corner Deer Spirit Cane—Acquired in Guatemala in 1992
- Commissioned Painting by Guy Juke “Sid & Marge” circa 1987
- Custom built Murphy Bed & Book Shelves—Ben Guerrero
The window roller shades throughout the house are from Heritage Lace: The pattern is Sheer Divine Lace with matching Sheer Divine Lace curtains in the dining room and back hall area. The guest bedroom curtains are lace curtains by the yard purchased on a trip to Bristol, UK.
Thanks, Carol and Phil!
(Images: Adrienne Breaux)
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