Text by Bethany Adams
Nestled among the trees in a cozy neighborhood in Alabama, the Varners’ cottage underwent a transformation before it became the home the couple know and love today. “It was a one-story rancher,” says Steve Varner, who owns Spruce Renovations and knew exactly what he wanted to see in the new design. He and his wife, Anne Tilson Varner, gutted the original structure, raised the ceilings, and added a master wing and an upstairs, turning the three-bedroom 1957 rancher into a dream home.
By 2008, the renovations had been completed, and the resulting architecture mimicked the quaint spirit of a French cottage. Original stonework on the front of the home sets the tone for the home’s interior, which Anne and Steve—with the assistance of friend and designer Jenny Edwards—carefully filled with materials that would create an atmosphere of history, despite the newness of the additions.
Antique sycamore beams salvaged from a church in Ohio hang over the great room, where a fireplace faced with hand-cut stone warms the space for the winter months. “Because we love to entertain, I think that’s one thing that led to the big openness of the house,” Anne says. “It flows so well for entertaining downstairs, and then upstairs we have a lot of guests because we have family and friends who live out of town.”
The living room flows naturally into the kitchen, where an island provides a spot for pre-dinner chats surrounded by the rich, warm woods of the cabinetry. A rustic stone backsplash is dotted with copper accents Anne picked, complementing the dark tone of the range hood, and rough-hewn wood elements carry over the antique spirit of the great room’s ceiling beams.
Floor-to-ceiling windows in the dining room drench the space in sunlight, which washes over a table set with antique chargers from France. A jardiniere overflowing with maidenhair ferns and orchids hints at the Varners’ love of beautiful blooms. “We both love to have fresh flowers in the house each week,” Anne says, noting that Steve keeps orchids throughout the home.
The affinity for nature also translates into the décor in places, like in the sitting room, where framed prints featuring various species of birds line the walls. “I got those at an auction 30 years ago,” Steve says. “It was an original Audubon book that had all those original prints in it, and we had them taken out of the portfolio and made into those prints.”
Set apart from the home’s main living areas, the master suite was designed to be a retreat at the end of a long day of hosting guests. A honeyed color palette glows in the light from tall windows and glass doors leading out onto the deck. “You can open those in the morning, and it gives you a real Napa, California-type feel,” Steve says. “We rarely have to turn the lights on in there during the day because there’s so much natural light.”
As in the rest of the home, the warmth of fresh, layered textiles combined with the character of antique pieces creates an air of storied comfort. And considering the home’s background, the blended spirits of old and new are only fitting to fill the rooms of this cottage in the South.