Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - August 22, 2014

Urban design meets cottage chic

When husband Art and I married, we decided we would alternate who would plan our annual late-July anniversary celebration. So when I planned a trip to Wisconsin's North Woods in 1993, it was with the expectation it would be a one-time event. But we liked the experience so much that we went again the following year, and then bought a cottage that same fall.

Now most people probably think that a cottage vacation is relaxing ... and it is most of the time. But as any property owner knows, keeping that property up is a never-ending job. Every year, we have worked on some major project. One year, we had to put a new floor on the porch because the builders had put the vapor barrier on the wrong side, causing the floor joists to rot. In the earlier years, we rented the place year-round. Some of the renters let water flow over the back of the kitchen sink. More rot! So we replaced the kitchen sink and part of the plumbing. Last year, with the light-weight porch door looking every bit its 20 years, we replaced it with a regular new exterior door - a project that led to repainting part of the porch interior as well.

Other projects fall more into the category of home improvement. We moved a gas wall heater so we had room to add cabinets with a counter top. The old TV was junked in favor of a space-saving digital wall model. For some years, we struggled with the original gas stove. If the door near it was opened briskly, it would blow out the pilot lights. If the pilots were turned up, they generated carbon monoxide. We finally just replaced the stove.

Some of the improvements, rather than requiring lots of muscle and time, have been more decorative or utilitarian. These include things like adding towel bars, shelves in the bathroom, lamps, end tables and hooks for jackets and fishing gear.

But we are constantly facing trade-offs. Since we go to relax, how much time do we want to spend doing projects? And, since we are only there a short time during the year, how much do we want to invest in making these changes?

Still, there is something very liberating about having a place that is a getaway that goes beyond the time spent relaxing. The temporary and secondary nature of such a place means you feel OK about doing things that you might not do in your home. So the floor lamp that was looking a little worn at home seems to fit right in at the cottage next to the old chair by the TV. And the odds-and-ends cabinets we purchased at deep discount at a local hardware store hold our set of mis-matched dishes, extra rolls of toilet paper and paperback books.

Art inherited his Aunt Ione's cross-stitched pair of cardinals and another of two chickadees that I wouldn't have hung at home. Yet somehow they seem to fit right in at the cottage while also serving as a reminder of her. This year, I bought faded matching nature prints - one with the Kansas meadowlark and one with the Wisconsin robin. I'm not sure yet where I'll hang them, but I think they'll fit in nicely with our other birds. Another year, I bought a kitschy map of Wisconsin - one with tiny deer, cows, farmers, Native Americans, potatoes, fish, cheese, furs, lakes, rivers and other iconic Wisconsin images. It hangs on the wall next to our second-hand microwave - also inherited from Ione.

In past years, I purchased old Three Lakes postcards, framed them and put them on our end tables. I also bought two plates - one a sort of Currier and Ives winter scene with "Three Lakes, Wis." imprinted on it. Another has the logo from the Northernaire, a local late-1940s-era resort that was famous for drawing big names such as Bob Hope. The old resort is now gone, but our plate lives on!

Among my favorite ways of decorating is with natural stuff - pine cones from trees nearby, porcupine quills and turkey and ruffed grouse feathers from Art's fishing jaunts, and rocks and driftwood polished smooth from Lake Superior's shores. I call them my "nature tableaus." I even got ambitious enough this year that I planted some hostas and black-eyed Susans in a bare spot by the outside steps.

Our biggest project this time was figuring out what to do with all our frying pans. We wanted to get them out of our over-crowded cabinets. We considered various options. Peg board? Nah - too much chance of the hooks coming off every time we took a pan down. Single metal strip with hooks? Nope! Not enough room for all of them. Art finally came upon the idea of using dark, marble-looking countertop pieces as a backdrop for the pans. We bought two - at $1.29 each - wood glue, wood trim, screws and decorative hooks. Total cost: about $10. I told Art it reminds me of fancy modern kitchens and I describe the effect as "urban design."

So our cottage has a kind of mish-mash style - a mixture of what interior designers might call shabby chic, utilitarian, urban design, cottage character, nature-inspired.

Like much of life, I guess it is a matter of how you look at it. This combination of different elements in our home would strike me as things that just don't go together. But at the cottage? Well, I don't really care. It's eclectic and I like it!

Left: Art fixing latch plate on door installed last fall; middle: our new frying pan holder; right: the map of Wisconsin plastered with small icons designating what each area is noted for.

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