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A young builder takes on his own Riverland Terrace cottage with a one-man, room-by-room rehab
Patience is indeed a virtue, but patience in renovating? That’s more of a skill, a brand of domestic wisdom worth its weight in… well, it’s worth the wait. Just ask Colin Regan. He bought the 1940s
fixer-upper he now shares with girlfriend Ashley Bourland in 2006, when he moved down from Fairfax County, Virginia. He was just breaking into Charleston’s bustling homebuilding industry, and Riverland Terrace’s young demographic, old oaks, boat ramp, and pre-war character were all right up the young bachelor’s alley, but then, so was the small, somewhat dated cottage. “It wasn’t anything you’d show off to your friends, but it was livable, and that’s what I was looking for,” says Colin, whose contracting firm, River Creek Construction, is geared toward residential
redos and ground-up projects. But this was his first stab at taking on his own house. “I wanted something I could work on a little at a time,” he says.
And that’s what he got. The kitchen, for example, had functioning appliances, albeit against the backdrop of checked linoleum countertops and floors, cranberry and blue wall stencils, and dated plywood cabinetry. The lone bathroom in the house had the same linoleum, another variety of stencils, and a pea-green fiberglass tub. But it, too, worked just fine. In fact, the walls and roof were also in good shape—ideal for a room-by-room redo that revolved less around deadlines, more around straight-up livability.
“I believe the best thing you can do with a house like this is live in it for at least six months—or even a year—as is,” Colin says. “It gives you the opportunity to notice that you like this here, don’t like that there. You can really refine and edit your ideas based on how you like to live, from one day to the next.”
So a full year after moving into the 1,000- square-foot house, Colin got started. The bathroom was priority one—he modernized it with simple mosaic tile and new plumbing and fixtures, along with repairing a bit of rot around the shower stall. He rolled a corridor rehab into the same effort, creating a closet to house the washer and dryer (previously camped out in the kitchen) after removing a hidden brick chimney buried in the wall.
Then came more all-important inhabiting, more planning, more polishing of ideas. In the summer of 2009—two years after the bathroom and corridor overhaul—he was ready to take on the crux of the cottage. That is, updating the kitchen, joining it with the dining room, and replacing the small concrete patio out back with a roomy screened porch. “I knew if I did this right, the porch could function like added interior space,” he says.
That meant topping the new 10- by 20-foot concrete slab with warm, driftwood-patterned tile, pitching the roof and lining it with rustic wood beams, hanging a cozy bed swing and an iron chandelier, and even carving out a breezy cut-out connect to the kitchen that functions like an indoor/outdoor bar. “I saw this in a magazine and basically replicated it,” Colin says of the suspended marble bar top, trio of windows, and stool seating along the shared interior wall.
But perhaps most critical to the porch’s end-game livability are the pair of wall-mounted fans and the free-standing industrial one (a steal at the now-bygone Hungryneck Antiques Mall) ventilating the space. “I didn’t want ceiling fans; you don’t get the same air movement from overheads,” adds Colin. “With these, even on the stillest, sweltering summer day, this room can be comfortable. At the very least, I can be out here 11 months of the year.”
Inside, after ripping down the wall separating kitchen and dining, Colin connected the rooms by wrapping them in beadboard. Open shelving replaced the upper cabinetry, which added breathing room, and he used the same Carrera marble extending to the porch bar on the new set of lower storage cabinets he built. Wood flooring echoes the driftwood pattern out back, by way of an “antique lye treatment that embeds white detail in the grains. The effect is a gray color,” says Colin, who used it throughout the house and credits local flooring contractor John Griffiths for dreaming it up.
In addition to creating a master suite and turning a spare room into an office two years after that, Colin refined and tweaked details along the way. For instance, “Because of the relatively narrow width of the living room, I found I couldn’t get a full-size sofa in there. I’m a tall guy who was trying to relax on a little, apartment-size couch. So I built a six-and-a-half-foot-long window bench along one wall—it provides storage, plus a place to stretch out.” And remember that chimney he took out of that wall near the bathroom? He saved those bricks and reused them for the front walk, fire pit, and extending the living room chimney detail up to the ceiling.
The on-again, off-again renovation spanned six years. “I developed a plan over time and followed it. If I’d have bought the house and jumped right in, it would look nothing like it does now,” says Colin. “The point was to create a place where I can come home at the end of the day, cook a meal, and relax. When friends stop by, I don’t have to think about it. I can open up the back windows and the back door, turn on the fans, and enjoy it, knowing that everyone is comfortable.”
Colin’s room-by-room renovation at a glance
2006: purchased the house
2007: renovated bathroom and hallway, added laundry closet
2009: overhauled kitchen and joined to dining room, added screened porch
2011: added firepit, redefined landscaping
2012: added master suite and turned spare bedroom into an office
Settle In, Then Renovate: “I do a lot of work on Kiawah Island, and many of my clients buy a house and renovate immediately. I think that’s fine if you have an architect or an interior designer to help think through the rooms, ask the right questions, help iron out how you like to live. But if you’re tackling the project without the help of pros, unless the house is uninhabitable, I suggest living in it first—again, six months to a year is smart—then beginning the work.”
Use Small Space to Your Advantage: “In the kitchen, I’m a believer in open shelving—it’s a good way to retain open space in a small room. As a result, I’m forced to keep only what I need—and to keep it clean and orderly. I need that kind of motivation. Plus, I knew I could build shelving myself. It’s an inexpensive fix for good-looking storage and maximizing a tight space.”
Ellen McGauley is Charleston’s home editor. She scouts digs from Awendaw down to Edisto, reports on market trends, and lives in a single house downtown.