River Retreat

Driving down the road that leads to the Trotter’s property, you can feel yourself loosen from the world’s grip and priorities as your surroundings change from shopping centers to homes and then finally to forest. Upon crossing the fence into their driveway, the forest gives way to a magnificent river view that stuns guests into blissful silence and gratitude.

The Trotters have found a magical place to move their family and they’ve made more smart choices to cultivate the life of their dreams. They’re currently building their main house, which is perched atop the hill and will boast magnificent views of the river and forest lands. And though the main house is sure to be spectacular, it will be difficult to challenge the property’s older resident in charm. This occupant has been on the property since the 1940s and is one of the most unique structures in the Southeast. It is a boathouse turned cottage, and it holds a history and a beauty that can only mean one thing: a renovation project.

Renovations. We Southerners can’t resist them and the Trotters are no different. When they saw the boathouse and heard its history, there was no question that they wanted to restore it to new glory. The story of the boathouse begins in 1944, when construction began on the J. Strom Thurmond Dam at Clark’s Hill. The dam brought a variety of opportunity and gifts to our community, like preventing floods and encouraging renewable energy. However, the gift that concerns our tale is a lone and unsupervised barge that came floating downriver.

The property owner thankfully rescued it, brought it up to shore, and began rudimentary construction to make it into a permanent structure. A photograph, dated March 10, 1951, shows the barge turned cottage in all of its black-and-white glory, and is evidence of a proud owner many moons ago. There the cottage sat, rudimentarily finished, until Bill and Jennifer Trotter walked onto its bank.

From the moment they saw the boathouse, the Trotters knew they wanted to restore it. They envisioned turning it into their own river cottage, a beautiful and cozy place that could withstand Georgia clay and the craziness of lake-fueled kids and dogs. It is this vision that is so crucial to a project like this, a quintessential labor of love.

“It became much more of a production than we planned,” Bill Trotter admits. “Once we fixed one thing, we found another. Everything was rotten and it started snowballing. We ultimately stripped it down to the studs.” At one point, they had to lift the entire structure up in order to reinforce the sub floors to ensure they could support the tile and marble of the new kitchen and bathroom.

For such an undertaking, the Trotters brought in the geniuses at Brittany Cason Interior Design. Brittany helped to bridge their aesthetic dream with their active lifestyle reality. From the very beginning, the Trotters focused on livability. While they did not want a replacement house, they did want a retreat that was usable all year.  Brittany says the ultimate goal for the space was to ensure that it was super casual and inviting, a place that you can sink into without worrying about stains. The Trotters were also dedicated to preserving the character and quirkiness of the original boathouse. For example, there are latches that secure any window, in case tides turn uncertain. And the original heart of pine cabinets and cast iron sink set off the perfect tone for the center of the house. This self-control in renovation projects goes deeply rewarded, as the space maintains a touch of the aesthetic and history from which it hails. The Trotters’ vision and perseverance have resulted in the ideal meeting of character and convenience.

It’s difficult to pick a favorite part of the cottage, but conversations continue to circle back to the view. The eating room is Brittany’s favorite room, where she says “you have practically 360 degrees of windows and you feel like you’re floating in the river.” But the view doesn’t stop there. Jennifer Trotter loves that there’s a view in every room, and she and Brittany decided to let that be their artwork. The final touch? Jennifer framed the kids’ artwork—a splash of vibrant and playful colors that juxtapose the white, blues and greens of the décor and the river. It is this sort of simple and understated beauty that blesses the entire house with a calm charm. Add a custom-made fire pit and loved ones, and remove Mom’s worry about stains, and you have the family retreat.

The Trotters, among other renovators, will tell you that renovations are anything but easy. But through the frustrations, surprises, and hiccups comes the resurrection of a unique piece of history within which your family plays a part. Furthermore, the Trotters’ river cottage exemplifies the delicate balance that is possible through smart renovations and appreciation of history. The home holds on to past character, while also offering modern convenience. It is livable as well as beautiful. And lastly, it epitomizes the refreshing approach of utilizing natural aesthetics to reach understated elegance. Because of the Trotters, this piece of Georgia history lives on to collect new tales. And thanks to their vision and veracity, it is sure to be a future of laughter and love.

This article appears in the May 2017 issue of Augusta Magazine.

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