After spending her growing-up summers on Lake James with her parents, Flaim Cupp and her husband, William, left their rambling house in Fort Wayne not quite 10 years ago in favor of a Lake James cottage they’d bought in 1989 as their own summer getaway.
We’re talking a lake cottage here – not C-O-T-T-A-G-E, as is often the case with modern-day lake houses. It’s definitely a cottage. I don’t even want to make it out to be a house, Cupp says with a smile.
Yes, this cottage is of the humble variety, built mostly with fieldstone back in the teenage years after the turn of the 20th century, when farmers used to pile plowed-up rocks in the corner of their fields and wouldn’t care if you drove your buggy into the field and took ’em away for nothing, as Cupp puts it.
The place has a living and dining space, three bedrooms, a bath, kitchen and screened-in porch that faces the lake – and was something she’d admired ever since she was a child because it was about five doors down from her parents’ cottage.
I always walked by it and thought it was the cutest place ever, she says.
Someone walking by the cottage today might have the same thought – from the quaint white trellis that frames the path to the door that greets visitors not arriving by boat. Black-eyed Susans in a well-tended garden nod their golden heads in breeze from the lake.
Cupp, 60, a commercial interior designer, found the smaller living quarters curiously freeing after years of maintaining two properties. It became kind of a release of the house in Fort Wayne. We found the size of it, even on holidays, to be too much, she says.
The cottage, she says, was one of two built side by side by two families in the construction business, one a stone mason and one a carpenter. Even though small, it’s very substantial, she says.
It’s so unusual because most cottages (from that era) were built as fishing shacks. These two were built as homes. I have high ceilings and wood floors and everything. Most old places got torn down because they were not substantial.
Cupp says it was like opening a time capsule after the couple bought the cottage at an auction. Many furnishings from its last owner, a widower named John R. Moody Zent who was 90 when he died in 1988, were still there, even after surviving relatives retrieved what they wanted.
Better yet, the cottage had not been renovated on the inside. His parents had purchased it around the time of World War I, she says. He just hadn’t done anything to it, which was a blessing – no ugly carpet or paneling.
Cupp says she and her husband did make one structural alteration to the house – a 10-by-8-foot bump-out addition to the kitchen which doubled its space and required knocking down a wall. We were without a kitchen for seven or eight months, Cupp says, but the renovation brought a lake-overlooking kitchen window.
In keeping with her philosophy, the changes kept the cottage feel – white, country-style cabinets with bead-board insets, wrought-iron hardware, grayish-white marble countertops and pine flooring that matched the rest of the floors in the house. The focal point is an electric replica of a wood-burning stove. I think makes the kitchen, Cupp says.
You have to be authentic, she says. If it’s a 1960s home, you put on a 1960s addition. I think that’s a mistake a lot of people make – they don’t pay attention to the architecture and style of the home. People try to make something into something it can’t be.
Cupp has decorated the house with period-appropriate antiques – she spent a lot of childhood time in her parents’ used furniture and antiques store in Fort Wayne, and many items, including a white wicker living room set, were scavenged from there.
Bedrooms have a shabby-chic feel, with white-painted antique furniture, quilts and botanical prints against white walls, which she says makes the house feel bigger and cooler in the summertime. With a small house, that’s important, she says.
In the main living areas, she changes color schemes according to the seasons. In the summertime, I have more yellows, oranges and teals with navy blue, but in the fall, I change out my area rugs and table toppers and pillows and blinds and switch them out to red and cream and gold with navy blue.
She says she still uses the old Willow ware dishes and silverware that came with the house and a built-in corner cabinet in the dining room is overflowing with other keepsakes.
She’s also placed several items she found that belonged to Zent – his World War I dog tags and St. Christopher medal and a sepia-toned photograph of him lined up with his Air Corps unit in France – near the entrance to the living room.
I lean toward older things and things with character that have a past – the fact that everything has been in someone else’s home and if the object could talk, it has stories it could tell us, she says. There’s a kind of spirit or an energy to all the old or secondhand things.
She and her 68-year-old husband also have renovated a space over a two-story garage at the back of the cottage, turning it into an office area. They recently salvaged another cottage from down the road, moving it to the rear of their property to serve as a guest house.
But one of Cupp’s proudest moments came when Lavon Eyster, Zent’s next-door neighbor, dropped by a few months after the auction.
They were friends and played cards as couples before his wife died. She was very sad when he died, Cupp says.
She came through it after we had painted it and updated the wiring and cleaned it up. She cried. She said, I thought this place was going to be demolished. I know they’re smiling in heaven because it looks like they never left.’
So I’m the preserver of this cottage. In a way, I feel like I’m the granddaughter they never had.