Downsizing Close to Home
At their waterfront cottage, Garner and Mary Morgan show how to downsize without sacrificing style
Writer: L. Beth Bonifant | Photographer: August Selckmann
The storybook Greek Revival-style cottage has half the square footage of their former home, but size isn’t the first thing you’ll notice when you arrive at Garner and Mary Morgan’s new address.
This compact abode sits at the end of the road, perched on a point of land overlooking St. Clement’s Bay. Despite its smaller stature, this pert dwelling struts a large inviting front portico with khaki brown shingle-style siding and other appealing features eliciting a great big warm and welcoming effect.
The Southern Living Design house plan was constructed in 2016 by the previous owners as a guest house for their daughter and her growing family. But only a couple years later they decided to sell both their large house next door and the charming bungalow.
The Morgans were already living just around the corner a few doors down at Creekside, the spacious family home with a pool they built in 1991. After raising two sons and living there 27 years, talk of downsizing increasingly crept into conversations.
Dr. Morgan was preparing to close his office in the Mechanicsville family dentistry practice he began in 1980. The Morgan’s oldest son Luke, now a dentist himself, purchased the business nearly a dozen years ago re-establishing it as Luke M. Morgan, D.D.S. & Associates. Now it was time to take another step back and watch the next generation succeed.
Meanwhile, the longtime empty nesters began to focus on finding a smaller, more manageable property that would enhance this next phase of life.
Garner preferred to remain on the water while Mary wasn’t quite as committed. After looking in different areas of St. Mary’s County she was surprised to discover the new cute cottage right at the end of her road was for sale. Initially dismissed by her husband as “too small,” the couple quickly recognized its perfect potential.
Elements such as a first-floor master bedroom suite opening onto a large wrap-around porch and an open concept living space were no-brainers. But the discovery of a full-size unfinished basement for storage and the widespread water views wowed Garner. Mary was instantly won over with the upstairs dormer bedroom, dubbed the bunk-room, that could accommodate their four grandchildren.
Other amenities like the vaulted ceiling bonus room and two additional bedrooms upstairs for visiting adult children sealed the deal.
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING
It would be the following year before the Morgans felt ready to complete their transition after purchasing the property in 2018. Downsizing is not a weekend project – it’s a lifestyle change that requires realistic expectations and tackling specifics at a steady pace.
One of the biggest obstacles besides selling their house was reducing inventory.
Creekside was generously appointed and decorated with fine furnishings and jewel tones. Moving into the cottage would require careful consideration of use, size and scale while converting the color scheme to a new cool fresh palette.
Mary sold some furniture to antique dealers, hosted yard sales, gifted sofas, donated truckloads to churches and threw away a lot. After a friend’s daughter lost everything in a house fire, the
Morgans gave her their dining room set. Almost everything else they kept would be repurposed, refinished or reused in a new way.
Other furniture had been in storage, quality pieces acquired in earlier years, like the Henredon dining room table with chairs and Ethan Allen four poster bed with matching set and bookcase.
FEATHERING AN EMPTY NEST
They began making minor improvements to the new house, adding a gas fireplace in the master bedroom and converting the wood-burning one in the living room; both mantles were embellished with rails of whitewashed wood with carved details from the deconstructed Ethan Allen bed. In an upstairs bedroom the original headboard is now mounted to the wall serving as a floating headboard. The stained wood armoire and pine bookcase flank the living room fireplace after receiving coats of the same complimentary whitewash.
Schoenbauer Furniture Service in Charlotte Hall refinished the dining room table and chairs in a light ash oak wood tone that blends effortlessly with the blue and white color scheme. Other furnishings were reupholstered; even Garner’s favorite recliner now sports a blue and white slipcover.
Screen was added to the open-air wrap-around porch which connects conveniently to the living space on one end and the master bedroom on the other.
Mary admits it’s one of the features she enjoys most. “I can watch the sun rise over St. Clement’s Bay each morning, and I don’t even have to get out of bed.”
Temperatures permitting, the Morgans and their guests often enjoy dining in the protected outdoor space. Breakfast, lunch, dinner or crabs — all taste better on the porch! A walk-in pantry and laundry room align with the kitchen and a small study, packing a lot of function into this carefully designed space.
Upstairs the floor was raised in the vaulted ceiling bonus room. It was Garner’s idea to be able to see the water out the windows while he and his friends are seated at the table in his new poker room. When the players aren’t counting chips or calling someone’s bluff, they can also admire the decoy collection displayed on the walls.
Each decoy was hand-carved by Garner’s father Buck Morgan and his grandfather Garner Gibson. Gibson was a popular local boat builder back in the day.
GRANDKIDS SPOILED HERE
The whimsical bunk room has beds tucked into all four corners and a feature wall papered with blue, green and white fish in a light blue sea. Orange lamps were updated with a fresh green topcoat to color coordinate, and all the metal beds have a glossy finish of matching white paint. A large closet space acts as a secret playroom in this fun-filled niche shared by three girls and a boy.
When Julia requested a chandelier, Mary found a diminutive plastic crystal fixture illuminated by batteries. Never underestimate Nonnie!
ACCESSORIZE THE OUTSIDE
The Morgans have added exterior features, too.
Connected by a covered breezeway, they constructed a detached garage in the same color and shingle style as the house with a stone veneer exposed foundation. Paver sidewalks went in last year, and a matching patio out back was just recently completed.
Wood raised beds make tidy vegetable gardens near a property line planted with Little Lime (Limelight) hydrangea against a cherry laurel border. The lawn swing under a big shade tree is the perfect spot for breezy breaks. With a pier permit now in hand, I expect Garner’s pontoon boat and a few crab pots will soon be parked at their water’s edge.
The Morgans are enjoying this new adventure, proving it’s possible to downsize without sacrificing style.
And the best part is … they didn’t have to look very far. •