Charming Vintage French Cottage

Photography by Marcy Black Simpson

Harking back to an era when everyday objects were crafted to last, French grain sacks provided the palette and inspiration for Tim and Brenda DeWitt’s unassumingly elegant guest cottage.

When she spotted the feed sacks at an antiques market, Brenda DeWitt knew she had found the centerpiece for her guest house named Chelsea Cottage. “I wanted the space to be beautiful and durable. I wanted guests with children and dogs to feel comfortable,” she says. “That is why I love feed sacks—they are sturdy yet inviting.”

Repurposed as curtains, pillowcases, and lamp shades and used in the dog bed that Brenda created, they are just one example of her eye for the possible. After she and her husband, Tim, purchased their 1940s bungalow, they tore down a dilapidated detached garage in the backyard to make room for a guest cottage and an oak-shaded courtyard. Now, the welcoming retreat houses a trove of found objects and salvaged furniture that echoes the soft and subtle reds of the feed sacks and makes the place feel like home.

Whether she was distressing the front door to achieve the perfect patina or reupholstering armchairs she bought for a song, Brenda realized with her own two hands the charm she was seeking. The DeWitts did most of the work themselves including drawing up blueprints, building the countertops, and hanging the tongue-and-groove walls.

Because of the couple’s hands-on approach, no corner of the 20×20-foot structure is wasted, and each design decision shines with purpose. A plate rack displays and stores the dishes guests use during their stays.

“The floors are pine, so they will age beautifully. I like things that are worn, but lasting,” Brenda notes. “I don’t care if dogs run across the floor or if a friend in high heels scuffs it—that gives a place character. I love the imperfections.”

Appreciating the scale of the surrounding neighborhood composed of quaint bungalows, Brenda and Tim chose to build a two-room cottage rather than add a guest room onto their own home. Fifteen-foot ceilings and large casement windows create an open and spacious setting. Light mingles with an eclectic collection Brenda has garnered on countless mornings spent at yard sales, flea markets, and antiques shops.

An oak-shaded courtyard, where friends can enjoy a meal while seated around a zinc-topped farmhouse table, showcases the homeowners’ handiwork. Tim fashioned the gate out of lumber left over from the cottage’s construction, and Brenda laid the Tennessee flagstone underfoot.