Crafting the Simple Life

SITTING IN A WINGBACK CHAIR TO THE FIREPLACE,  Billy Thurmond says, “You don’t understand until you get there. When it’s time to do it, you feel it.” Beverly Thurmond reclines in the other wingback in front of the built-in bookcases on the opposite side of the fireplace. She nods and says, “You have to get used to living in half the space. That’s not something that happens over night.” Millie, their springer spaniel, flops on the floor between them, her chin on her paws.

For Beverly and Billy Thurmond, a family practice physician in North Augusta, whose previous home was an expansive historic Victorian on Carolina Avenue for 16 years, moving to this 1872-square-feet Craftsman cottage was a significant downsizing. The three-bedroom, one-bathroom, everything-on-one-level home is 50 percent or less of the square footage of their Victorian. Though the challenge of compressing belongings into the small space has led to construction of a backyard shed to hold overflow furnishings (Beverly says, “It takes a long time to figure out what’s going to work in a size 50 percent of what you’re used to. I’m still working on it.”), Beverly and Billy are content with their transition to simplified living. “A larger house takes so much time to maintain,” says Billy. Beverly echoes, “You do feel lighter. You feel like there’s less to do.”

“We knew it would not last one-half-a-second on the market.”

Crafting 2

The Carr family bought this Lake Avenue lot from the North Augusta Land Company, formed in 1890 to purchase and sell the land on which the city was established. They constructed the cottage in 1914. Their daughter, Martha Carr Schueler, who was about two at the time the family moved into the house, lived here until she was 101. After she passed away in May of 2014, the Thurmonds acquired the home in June of the same year.

Beverly and Billy, who both grew up in North Augusta, knew the Schueler family in their youth. The two had been in and out the front door on many occasions before setting up house here themselves last December. “Mrs. Schueler would come to the door in her pearls,” remembers Beverly. She adds, “This will always be the Schueler House.”

As adults, they often drove by and admired the yard—Beverly says the St. Augustine grass is one of the hallmarks of the house—and the way the green clapboard structure tucked itself beneath the towering 100-year-old pines. “When this house came available, it was like now or never. We knew it would not last one-half-of-a-second on the market,” says Beverly.

“You come in here and it feels like it wraps around you…It really comes into its own in the winter.”

Crafting 3

Oriental rugs in an array of sizes and colors soften the narrow-plank heart pine floors. The rich tone of the wainscoting in the den and dining room, stained by the late Mrs. Schueler’s grandmother, lend cozy appeal. The same deep stain warms the mantel, the mouldings and the beams of the coffered ceiling. “You come in here and it feels like it wraps around you,” says Billy. Beverly echoes the sentiment, saying, “It really comes into its own in the winter.”

Cold evenings are kept at bay with a fire in the den fireplace, over which hangs an oil painting of bird dogs given to Billy’s father by a grateful patient in the 1930s. In spring and fall, vertical cottage windows swing open to welcome warm days. Dimpled plaster walls painted cream throughout the house provide texture, while the neutral color creates flow and gives small rooms the illusion of largeness.

In the months between purchasing the house and their December move-in date, Billy and Beverly concentrated on a few minor improvements. They had the plumbing and wiring brought up to code. They renovated the bathroom with fresh black and white tile, a glass shower and a French pedestal basin. A closet that had been added in the central hall, blocking access to the hall from the den, was removed. Opening the hallway returned Andrews’s intended flow to the floorplan.

“This house was so solid, so well kept, there were very few surprises,” says Billy. Nonetheless, one surprise pleased him much. He found the old backdoor stored away under the house. Thrilled to make the discovery, he retrieved it, cleaned it, painted it and hung it back in its former place. It now opens from the kitchen to a small porch where the washer and dryer live. Beyond that is the deck Billy and Beverly added to take advantage of the generous outdoor space.

Beverly says matter-of-factly,  “The house is what  it is. You have to conform to the new dimensions.” 

Crafting 4The kitchen, liberally proportioned for a house of its age, retains its original wainscoting and cabinets. A new double sink, replacement cabinet drawers and doors, and Corian countertops enhance the whimsical curve of the base cabinet. An addition of a cabinet surround for the stove and microwave allows a place to keep cooking supplies handy. The stove itself is even a testament to the Thurmond’s commitment to downsizing. The double oven beneath the gas range has a one-third size top oven perfect for preparing meals for two.  Between the kitchen and the dining room is a pass-through with panels that slide up on either side. The convenience enabled the cook to place items for serving in the vestibule on the kitchen side and the server to retrieve them on the dining room side. Beverly cleverly converted the small nook to a bar.

In each of the three bedrooms, wainscoting continues the Craftsman style. Gracious windows are treated with plantation shutters for privacy. With wall space at a premium, the fireplace in the front guest bedroom is the backdrop for an antique desk and the fireplace in the master bedroom gives up its position as focal point to a chest of drawers. Beverly says matter-of-factly, “The house is what it is. You have to conform to the new dimensions.”

What they gave up in house when releasing the grand Victorian, they gained in yard. “With a small living space,” says Billy, “I spend a good deal more time outside.” The lot stretches from Lake Avenue to Crestview, with driveway access from both streets. An emerald palette of St. Augustine grass is shaded by an understory of dogwoods and crepe myrtles. Azaleas and camellias, too, present their colors on cue at the proper time of year. 

These North Augusta natives embrace their downsized lifestyle in this enclave across the river from Augusta’s bustling downtown. “North Augusta life is built around home, church and Riverview Park,” says Billy. Less house affords them more time to enjoy all three. Maybe it didn’t happen over night, but everybody, including Millie, has adjusted in fine form.

This article appears in the October 2015 issue of Augusta Magazine.

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