Cozy, comfortable and adorned with an eclectic mix of furnishings old and new, a cottage boasts its own special charms. Jenny and Stuart Smith’s home in Boonsboro has all these qualities and more; their irresistibly appealing home is the epitome of cottage chic.
Jenny always wanted a cottage. Her dream was only encouraged in her days working at retail boutique Present Thyme. Their showroom in Roanoke mixes both antiques and new furnishings with decorative accents in an eclectic style. While working there, Jenny began to acquire just the right pieces to one day furnish her home. Thanks to her ingenuity and flair for decorating, combined with her uncanny ability to know what she wants and where to find it, Jenny has put together her dream cottage.
“In my mind, I always knew what I wanted,” she says. But when the couple began to look at real estate, they saw “a whole lot of boxes.” The couple finally found their present home 12 years ago. Both the house and the property were perfect for the Smiths, though it took them several years to achieve just the look that they wanted.
Today their fairy-tale cottage is informal and unpretentious; it doesn’t rely on pricey decorative objects and furnishings to convey a sense of beauty. But it does provide Jenny with the perfect canvas to display her array of collections, showcase her artistic and decorative talents, and put her gardening skills to work.
Magical Garden a Work of Art
The Smiths’ cottage garden is a sight to behold, and they work hard to keep it in tip-top shape. “Stuart takes care of the lawn,” she says, “and he digs holes for the big trees.” Jenny’s husband also maintains the ivy growing along the outside walls of their white brick home; he must trim it weekly to keep it under control. Another important chore is watering; this is especially critical because of the many containers and window boxes they maintain. Jenny explains that these containers and window boxes are a big commitment because they dry out so quickly, but are an essential design component of any cottage garden.
Perennial catnip lines the flagstone path to the front door bedecked with Madam Caroline roses, ivy, and Carolina honeysuckle. Guests are greeted by a wreath of lavender and urns of arborvitae and ivy at the entrance. Boxwood and laurels landscape the front, and window boxes overflow with lobelia, asparagus fern, coleus, snapdragons, heliotrope and lantana.
The garden itself covers perhaps a half-acre at most. “When we first moved here, the only things growing were rhododendrons and the big oaks,” Jenny explains. Today, every bit of space is filled with plantings. A variety of ornamental shrubs and trees abound, leaving very little grass to mow.
Jenny’s special garden paths could easily host leprechauns and garden fairies. Stepping stones lead visitors every which way through the garden, from one treasured spot to the next. Foxgloves, forget-me-nots, Jacob’s ladder, azaleas, peonies and hydrangeas thrive under Jenny’s care. At every turn there is something pretty to see, from the arbor brimming with akebia (chocolate vine) to a fence line of rhododendron in full bloom. Here and there are water gardens with tiny pools and waterfalls. Jenny had them installed by the Farm Basket in Lynchburg for the pleasures of the gurgling sound of water and to encourage wildlife. Accommodating her wishes, a few resident frogs and many bird species have moved in.
Quite a bit of Jenny’s time is spent outside. “Every day I am in the garden,” she explains. “You have to keep it up!” Jenny says she designed her garden without an organized plan. As she collects plants and outdoor ornaments, she innately knows just the perfect spots to place them.
Jenny chooses her plants carefully, making sure that they will do well in her shady environment. Here hostas thrive; they are the perfect plants for this shady enclave. Though Jenny says she was never a big fan of hostas, she has slowly acquired a taste for these super stand-outs with their ornamental leaves. She buys everything locally, using Virginia Garden Supply and Rainfrost Nursery as sources for many of her plantings.
The window boxes off the back of the house are brimming with foliage. Conveniently, the box adjacent to her kitchen is the herb garden. Here sage, cilantro, parsley, thyme and basil are all ready for snipping and adding homegrown flavor to a recipe.
A deck stretches out behind the house. Urns and planters filled with ornamental fig, umbrella plants and boxwood cover the space. “The deck never suited me,” says Jenny. “So we camouflaged it!”
Collections, Acquisitions Decorate the Home
Jenny’s attention to every detail is one reason her designs work so well. In every nook and cranny there is a treasure, yet nothing is overdone. It has taken years for Jenny to accumulate these things. She always has her eye out for something special. She describes it “like treasure hunting.” Flea markets, house sales and specialty stores such as Present Thyme, Interiors by Moyanne and Portobello Road are great resources for Jenny.
Inside, the foyer greets guests with the first indication of Jenny’s gathering skills, with a leopard-print chair and a collection of antique hats hanging on an old umbrella stand. Jenny also enjoys artwork and has a special fondness for portraits, including prints, originals and photographs—some of family and others of strangers. Transferware and ironstone hang throughout the house. Majolica sits safely in a china cupboard, and a collection of McCoy pottery is on the stairwell. According to Jenny, she does not collect anything just because it is old or because of its name. “I buy it because I like it!” she says.
The walls throughout the cottage are truly unique. When the couple first moved in, everything was grey. Today, nothing is simply painted or papered. Wall treatments include stenciling, faux finishing, ragging and antiquing done by local artists, including Sonny Harlow and JoAnn Nash, as well as Jenny herself. The Smiths’ guest bath features original tile and fixtures; only the wallpaper had been replaced. But it was too white to suit her, so Jenny boldly painted over the brand new wallpaper to darken it a bit. She does what it takes to achieve just the look she wants—even if it means doing what most consider a very risky maneuver! Despite her claim of having no artistic background, Jenny’s talents shine in this charming home.
In the living room, Jenny wanted the walls to look old and faded. With the help of faux artist JoAnn Nash, they achieved just that effect. The walls range from dark mossy green in spots to a more washed out look in other areas. Overstuffed couches and pillows beckon visitors to come in and relax.
An intimate sun porch offers a cool getaway off the living room. Wicker furniture and bamboo shades give the room a tropical feel. Jenny purchased the shades at a local chain store and she did not quite like the effect, so she used strips of fabric to cinch them up. It was just the special touch that the room needed.
Jenny has a fondness for lamps and chandeliers. They are literally everywhere in the home, in all sizes and shapes. Most are ornate, and many of the chandeliers hang from a ceiling decorated with an intricate molding called an anaglyph. “I like romantic rooms!” says Jenny.
The cozy library features desks inherited by both Stuart and Jenny, comfortable chairs, and another overstuffed couch. Books fill the shelves and overflow onto the floor. Paintings, including more portraits, hang on the walls. Here comfort is far more important than pretense.
The kitchen features a new sink and fixtures, but Jenny kept the wooden cabinets, removing some of the doors to create shelf space. A tiled floor and tiled counters carry out the country cottage theme. The ceiling is decorated with hanging baskets and ivy stenciling created by Jenny.
Though compact, the Smiths’ home has all the comforts of a larger home. And while the transformation from a house to a cottage took time, visitors can probably expect to see the Smiths’ home and garden continue to evolve. “A house is never finished!” Jenny insists. She also strives for own aesthetic. “I don’t like perfect,” says Jenny. “It needs to have character.”
In fact, a great deal of the charm in the Smith house comes from the imperfections.
Designer, gardener, and artist all in one, Jenny Smith has created a beautiful home that reflects the couple’s personality and flair for cottage charm.