Margaret Ruth Little's new book is a celebration and a history of one of the most recognizable vernacular house types in the Upper South, the Carolina cottage. The one-and-one-half-story side-gabled cottage -- with its most distinctive feature, an integral front porch known as a piazza -- offers not only beauty and hospitality, but a rich history. Intertwined with this history is the author's own account of rescuing and living in a 1775 cottage near Raleigh, an experience that inspired and helps shape this charming book.
The Carolina cottage appears by the mid-1700s in the eastern Carolinas. Substantial landowners and merchants favored the cottage type because of its sophisticated plan of one or two main rooms, rear and attic bedchambers, and piazza, as well as its adaptation to the hot and humid climate. Little explores, and refutes, the long-held assumption that the cottage's origins are Caribbean. She chronicles the cottage's parallel existence in South Carolina as a summer retreat built along the coast or in the pine barrens, where plantation families lived during summer months to escape malaria and yellow fever.
The cottage remained popular as a small farmhouse or tenant house until the 1900s, but has reappeared in recent years as a nostalgic Carolina reincarnation. Little explores the cottage revival not just for the aesthetic appeal of its compact form but for its humble efficiency, breezy open-air living room, hospitable corner bedrooms, and the happiness that comes from simple, healthy living.
In an engaging blend of the architectural and the personal, Ruth Little opens the door to a long underappreciated regional house form. Her 'Carolina cottage' is a modest and graceful dwelling grounded in a tradition of comfort and hospitality, in which the deep, broad porch is integral structurally as well as socially. Drawing upon her experiences of rescuing and living in such a house, as well as tracing the type across time and landscape, she invites us to see the richness of a seemingly simple building form. This is a very good book to read on a porch, if you can find one.
--Catherine Bishir, Senior Architectural Historian for Preservation North Carolina, author of Southern Built: American Architecture, Regional Practice
Anyone looking for an entertaining trip into the past will want to read Ruth Little's book. Anyone wishing to get a solid grasp of the authentic historic context of Carolina cottage design features--gabled versus hipped roofs, floor plans, rain porches, stranger (aka, preacher) rooms, and even color preferences (light blue to keep away flies)--will want to study this book.