Empty Nesters Refresh Forever Cottage

Empty Nesters Refresh Forever Cottage

Text By Charlotte Safavi | Photography By Helen Norman

Judy and Dusty Rhodes never met an old cottage they didn’t like. With Judy’s background as a senior designer at Whittington Design Studio and Dusty’s as a contractor, the couple has bought many homes to fix up and resell over the years. “This is the one we never flipped,” Judy says. “We just fell in love with it. It’s perfect for us.”

The couple purchased the three-bedroom, 1,800-square-foot Dutch Colonial Revival cottage in Arlington, Virginia, in 1970. The house sat on a double wooded lot, and though neglected, it had lots of great features, including French doors, a wood-burning fireplace, and potential for pretty outdoors areas. “Our friends thought we were crazy,” Judy recalls. “But it had good bones and real possibilities, and there was no job too big for us, so we bought it!”

Early remodeling included putting on a hand-split shake roof and restoring the cottage’s clapboard siding and exterior porches. A family room was also added onto the kitchen in the back, along with a side entrance into the home. Inside, new period-style moldings, refinished oak floors, and custom-made radiator covers sealed the deal. Two small upstairs bedrooms were also combined to create a master suite, and more recently, an aging-in-place bedroom (home office for now) and bathroom were created downstairs.

“When you transform the ugly duckling into something appealing, it’s a truly wonderful thing,” Judy says. “All along we resisted the temptation to move into something bigger.”

The main reason the cottage continues to work wonders for the couple is that they allow it to evolve, never shirking from a refresh or resisting an update. For example, the kitchen’s cabinets were recently redone with paint and hardware, while its stainless backsplash and granite countertops are new.

“We want to make our cottage look like old people don’t live here—to keep it light, airy, and bright,” Judy says, “to give it a youthful vigor, like we had when we first bought it.”

To achieve her design objective, Judy picked a largely neutral taupe palette—“the color of an elephant,” she says, “brown with gray or gray with brown”—with pops of vibrant color through easy-to-switch-out accessories. Orange is a current favorite. Judy also donated of a lot of her furniture, replacing old pieces with new finds. The same approach was taken with books and tchotchkes.

“I wanted to start with a clean slate. Our furnishings are eclectic, but having clean lines, comfort, and easy maintenance are key,” she explains. Transitional-style furniture, lightly layered home accents, largely unadorned windows, and lived-in outdoor areas all contribute to Judy and Dusty’s fresh-faced, constantly evolving cottage.

“Once you find a place you love and can continue to transform it, as time moves on, you can live forever in that same home,” Judy says. “It’s an unusual luxury; not many people can say they still live in their starter home.”