Peek Inside this Beachy Fixer-Upper

A home that no one wanted was scooped up by a designer with vision, finding new life and a bright new look on the shores of Perdido Bay.

In Little Palm Cottage’s living room, the wallpaper is the star of the show. The other items are the supporting cast. The vintage coffee table was reimagined as an ottoman and paired with a bold, modern fabric to make it more interesting. Photos by Summer Ennis Ansley

Tucked away on Perdido Bay, a short sail from Pirates Cove, a newly renovated cottage brings a slice of Old Florida across the state line to nestle among Alabama’s scrubby oaks and saw palmettos.

Known by owners Suzanne and Stephen Winston as Little Palm Cottage, the Josephine, Alabama, home — complete with cheerful decor, a spacious deck for entertaining and kid-proof furnishings — is a space designed to share with friends. “It’s beach chic meets mid-century modern,” Suzanne says. “We like quirky and fun.”

Winston (known as Suzie to her friends) is an established home renovator and interior designer based in Montrose. The self-styled “Queen of Fix and Flip” says she tries to stay true to the original manner and architectural period of each home she works on. “I wanted to figure out what kind of style this home would give us,” she says.

Along a similar vein, she incorporated the local landscape into the cottage’s design. “The history of where we are is so much more Old Florida than Alabama,” she says. Winston found inspiration in hearing that Josephine was the site of a popular resort in the 1920s. It sparked her imagination to think about what the area must have been like when it was a bustling destination, and she decided to design the home as a throwback to beach life from that era.

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Suzanne Winston and her four-legged companion, Petunia, welcome visitors to Little Palm Cottage. The bright coral front door and bold lime green eaves set the tone for what’s to come inside the diminutive cottage with major style. Suzanne’s husband, Stephen, designed the custom metal Chippendale railings.

Getting to Square One

While every home renovation project is a journey, this one has taken a more literal turn than most. Originally built on state Highway 181 around 1939, by 2016 the cottage’s future was uncertain, as developer Mike McElmurry made plans to build on the land on which it sat. McElmurry, a friend of Winston, knew Suzie had previously moved a home that had gone on to be featured in Southern Living. He offered to give her the cottage if she would take it off the property.

The cottage had seen better days. It had been considerably repurposed over the years, having been, at one point, an office for a dairy farm. “The floor plan made no sense,” Winston says. However, Winston has an affinity for old homes with good bones, and she could see the underlying potential.

So Winston and her husband Stephen, a Fairhope family physician, decided to move the cottage to their property in Josephine. They had bought the land with a dream to build a beach house after their son Tripp, now 13, went to college; it seemed like a good fit.

Winston hired Florida-based Ducky Johnson House Movers to transport the house. On the morning of the journey, the moving crew arrived on-site before Winston, and they got to work. She found herself caught in a traffic jam on Highway 181 and wondered what was causing the holdup. “All of a sudden,” she recalls, “over the tops of the cars, I saw the roof of my house going by.”

The house trundled its way along Baldwin County’s highways and county roads, a man perched on the roof to move limbs and lines out of the way. In one nail-biting moment, it crossed Fish River Bridge in a tight squeeze, hanging over the side of the guardrail. On its arrival in Josephine, the movers discovered that code restrictions prevented them from setting it down in the spot where Winston wanted it — around which she had designed the cottage’s gracious deck. But Winston took it in stride. “My plans adapt,” she says.

Winston worked with Len Love of Love Construction and Perdido Beach Trading Company to retrofit a pair of vintage screen doors with Palmetto Stripe wallpaper in Lake Worth Lagoon by Palm Orleans. Love added barn door hardware and hung the former screens as sliding doors to separate the living room from the kitchen. Winston says they can turn the living room into a spare guest bedroom in a pinch.

Combining Form and Function

Little Palm Cottage has taken on new life in Josephine, with a reconfigured floor plan and sunny decor. Refurbished vintage and antique pieces amplify the throwback theme.

Winston made fabric choices with ease of use in mind. The living room furniture has been upholstered in Sunbrella fabric and accessorized with indoor-outdoor pillows. The rug in that room, a pretty Jaipur in beachy blues and greens, is an outdoor rug that can be taken outside and hosed off. All of it looks at home indoors. “The fabrics have just come so far,” Winston says.

Likewise, the exterior fixtures are designed to be hardy in order to withstand life on the water. The custom metalwork deck railing was designed by her husband and crafted by their friend, Eddy Osborn. Winston also points out shutters and braces that were made in metal rather than wood; the less time needed for maintenance, the more time to be spent sipping margaritas with friends.

Eventually, the Winstons will build that beach house they’d originally planned, and Little Palm Cottage will become a guesthouse. For now, though, with its shady porch and lime green overhang beckoning, it sits on its own as a welcoming family oasis.

Choose a few splurge-worthy accents to elevate your less expensive pieces. Suzanne paired Quadrille wallpaper with Formica countertops and sewed fancy tape trims onto affordable Roman shades.
The dining table features a fun mix of playful prints and natural elements.
A bunk room offers plenty of places for kids and guests to rest, with a bold wallpaper accent wall and a map of Pleasure Island by local artist Melissa Smith finishing the look. White bedding feels clean and crisp, is easy to mix and match among brands, and bleaches well at the end of a vacation!
A bright white bathroom continues the home’s color scheme with green and blue tiles and tropical art.
Swinging ratan chairs, fun artwork and bright pillows create a welcoming spot to watch the water, while cocktails are easily passed through the bar window.
The home’s old farm sink was moved outdoors to the grill and outdoor shower nook.

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