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A Cottage With Year-round Beach Vibes

With an enviable location just a mile from Green Hill Beach, a quiet little bungalow became a couple's South County dream home

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It’s long been said that anything worth having is worth waiting for. Katie Whiting and Richard Russell came to understand this aphorism when the young couple embarked on the hunt for their first home a little more than four years ago. Like most first-time home buyers, the two had a modest price range but were eager and optimistic. “When my husband and I first started house hunting, we knew we wanted to get as close to the beach as possible while, of course, staying in our budget,” says Katie.

Patience would indeed prove to be a virtue during their tireless (to say the least) search throughout South County. “It took 16 months and four rejected offers until we found our little Driftwood Cottage – the name we’ve given our home,” says Katie.

On the plus side, the three-bedroom, one-bathroom, 1,400-square-foot ranch in South County is located just a mile from Green Hill Beach, the couple’s favorite spot, and it is easy to see why. The hidden gem is a quiet, private, family beach and is known for its beautiful and diverse shoreline (it’s technically three beaches) bordered by a lush landscape that cascades down a rolling hill to meet Block Island Sound. 

While the home’s location was incredible, “charming” may not have been the best word to describe the house itself, which boasted decades-old features like green linoleum tiles and pink countertops. But that didn’t deter Katie and Russ. In fact, it delighted them. “We knew we wanted a project house – something that needed all the cosmetic changes under the sun – and we got just that,” says Katie.

Soon after being handed the keys to cottage, they got to work. “The house quickly became our labor of love,” Katie remembers. “And while most people probably would have shuddered at the thought of it, we lived through all the construction, done by just the two of us on weekends and vacations, and loved every minute.”

The kitchen area weathered the most dramatic changes, going from a boxy, cramped space to an open floor plan where the dining, kitchen and living areas merge together seamlessly. The new design allows for a more natural flow and added space to relax or entertain. The couple enhanced the space with carefully chosen details, including a pair of beautifully crafted, carved corbels that flank the open living and dining area. “[They] were a birthday gift from Russ to me that I’d been drooling over for months,” says Katie.

They also selected high-impact upgrades including light fixtures from Restoration Hardware and a white marble bar top on their kitchen island – a space where guests intrinsically seem to gather. Open shelving in the kitchen lends a clean, contemporary feel while accessories like an antique scale and wooden stools give the space character and texture. (And pieces like the Rhode Island-shaped cutting board remind you of this couple’s love of and loyalty to the Ocean State.)

Russ and Katie have carefully chosen well-built furnishings throughout the years that offer longevity, including a number of antiques. “One of our favorite spots for antiques and where we purchased our prized dining table is Verdigris on Main Street in Wakefield,” says Katie. “They have great finds and consistently stay on top of the trends in the world of antiques. It’s a good mix of old and new. Everything in our home has a story.” 

Thankfully, Russ and Katie share similar tastes in just about everything, and while the couple, both Connecticut transplants (though Russ spent his childhood summers in Charlestown), share a passion for classic pieces, they also celebrate their adopted home in the coastal seat of Rhode Island. “I’d call our style ‘coastal bohemian’,” says Katie. “Understated coastal accents, antiques everywhere we can fit them and a comfortable eclectic feeling in every corner.”

Katie and Russ are both avid surfers and love the sea; Russ always knew he wanted to spend his life here, Katie says, and she didn’t take much convincing. That shared passion means there’s no shortage of rocks and sea shells around the house from the newlyweds’ endless beach walks. “Or ‘treasure hunts,’ as we like to call them,” says Katie. “Most of the design and decor pieces we have, I purchased as ‘surprises’ for my husband. We have an agreement that if he ever hates anything I bring home, I’ll just return it, but that hasn’t happened yet!”

Katie spends a lot of time on Pinterest and Instagram looking for inspiration. “And I’m always changing things around and incorporating new finds,” she says. Katie has recorded the progress of Driftwood Cottage and her adventures shared with Russ on Instagram as @Driftwoodgypsy

Throughout the entire multi-layered process, Russ found a new passion for construction and renovation—and a new career. He started his own contracting business, Coastal Renovations, in South County. 
Just when the couple thought their work was nearly done, they found a new project is on the horizon, and one with a strict deadline: a nursery. “South County is home and always will be,” says Katie. “We love it here and with a baby on the way, we can’t wait for our children to grow up in this place we are so lucky to call home.”