For her business and her new home, a local graphic designer finds inspiration in her family.
If Winslett Watson learned one thing living with her husband, two young children and two dogs in a 1,600-square-foot, 1930s fishing cottage for nine years, it was that good things can happen in small spaces. The small cottage — now the production studio for her personalized design company, Lettees — houses some of her most cherished memories. Within those walls, she became a new mom, a new business owner and every aspect of life was equal parts exhilarating and exhausting. Every day was an adventure.
“Sure, we can have babies with no dishwasher and just wash all these bottles by hand,” she remembers thinking, back in those days of tremendous gumption and not enough storage space. In fact, Watson and her husband, Justin, never did much renovating at all, because the plan since they purchased the home in 2006 was to tear it down and rebuild. Then, as Watson puts it, “life got in the way,” and the new house wasn’t completed until Christmas of 2017. Still, “those years in the cottage were a big lesson,” she says. “We realized we did not need a giant house. We don’t need a sitting room.”
The Watsons preferred waterfront acreage to interior square footage. They both grew up on the water, Winslett lakeside in Alabama and Justin on St. Simons Island, and they wanted their own children to experience that same easy-going lifestyle. The original fishing cabin came with five acres of land along Vernon Creek in the Vernonburg area — so much land they eventually decided to keep the cabin after all, even after they built something new.
With the help of Wiregrass Studio, a husband-and-wife architect team from Brunswick, Watson and her husband built a home almost entirely based on a vision book she put together during their nine years in the cottage. They also toured another Wiregrass project, the guesthouse of Zach Johnson, 2007 Masters Tournament Champion, before they firmed up the final design. “His real house was, like, 8,000 square feet,” she says, laughing.
The end result for the Watson family is an unpretentious 2,400-square-foot modern farmhouse with smart, family-friendly considerations made throughout. Outside, flat roof dormers and a tin roof keep things clean and coastal, and interior details like eye-catching beamed ceilings make the home look more mature. Watson, who designed the interiors, peppered a largely neutral palette with what she calls “pops of surprise”: richly hued, densely patterned Hermès wallpaper in the butler’s pantry, playful tile in the powder room, and casement windows that open up to a pass-through counter between the kitchen and the porch — cookies and lemonade are a typical request, served almost daily.
As the children grew, so did the family menagerie, and the house is now home to two dogs, a turtle named Speedy and four finches who reside in a vintage birdcage on the screened porch. Watson purchased the cage first, then the finches, who are small enough to flit in and out of the bars. “The birds were a very spontaneous thing, but they’re so pretty, and neat little pets,” she says. There’s also a moving ladder that tracks all the way around the great room, offering access to books on high shelves and leading to a loft space above the kitchen range. (For this writer, it was a total Beauty and the Beast fantasy moment). Since Watson is the mother of two boys, there’s a brake on it “so they can’t fling each other around the room,” she says. “I just have visions of chaos.”
Elsewhere inside, elements of bohemian style and classic Americana come together, and in every room, art with a personal connection to the family adorns the walls — often, it’s pieces the boys created with Watson’s help. Watson earned a master’s in graphic design from Savannah College of Art and Design, where she worked and taught before her children were born. Her past pursuits made her well equipped to serve as the home’s interior designer. “There are so many little details to think about when you’re planning a design: the imagery, the layout, what you want people to see first.” She knew she could do it but concedes that the scope (if not the actual square footage) was enormous. “This house is the biggest detail project I’ve ever jumped into.”
Watson considered her outdoor spaces just as carefully and brought them to life just as beautifully. Like those brakes on the ladder, Watson showed maternal clairvoyance when she built a full outdoor bathroom, sink and all, to accommodate her boys after sweaty football practices or a day of fishing. However, the porch — with its cool casement window feature and outdoor dining table — is far and away the family’s favorite place. “It really becomes a part of our house,” she says. “Our boys, if they don’t have school, wake up in the morning and go straight to the back porch.” And despite being on the water, they’re able to enjoy the space almost year-round, thanks to her husband’s business, Mosquito Authority, which uses a targeted, EPA-registered solution to kill mosquitoes without harming children, pets, plants, butterflies or honeybees.
When Watson started Lettees in the fishing cottage, she was making T-shirts for her infant boys, and soon people were asking where they could get their own. Her fledgling business grew organically and quickly; today, Lettees offers children’s clothes, home linens and eco-friendly jewelry for wholesale, retail and custom corporate orders. The company’s tagline is “In Pursuit of Global Happiness.” The Watsons seem to have found that in their own back yard.
Home owners: Winslett and Justin Watson
Year built: 2017-2018
Year property purchased: 2006
Square footage: 2,400 + covered porches
Number of bedrooms and bathrooms: 3 bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms
Architect/planner: Wiregrass Studio, Inc.
Interior designer: Winslett Watson
Contractor/builder: The Strong Group / Walter Strong III
Project manager: Cal Rowles
Pine flooring: Goodwin Company; installed by Cowart Floor Surfacing, Inc.
Paint: Benjamin Moore / J.D. Painting Services
Wallpaper: Hermès, Dune Estuaire
Carpet: Culver Rug Co.
Bath design: Winslett Watson
Kitchen design: Winslett Watson and Eva Shaver, Southern Woods Design and Cabinets
Windows and doors: Marvin Integrity (windows), Coastal Millworks (doors); installed by Coastal Sash and Door
Landscape design: owners and Shoreline Landscape
Hardscape design: owners and Groundworks Unlimited
Electrician: RS Willhoit Enterprises
Furniture brands: Custom porch beds, Cal Rowles; Custom boys’ beds and porch table, designed by Winslett Watson and made by master craftsman Chris Spenser
Appliance brands: Wolf, Electrolux, Frigidaire, Bosch; Livingoods Inc.
Shutters: Palmetto Shutter Company
Art: Brian Andreas, Georgi Bragg, Ester Deen, Brian Dowdall, Christine Hall, Greg Johnston, Peter Johnston, Catherine Lovett, Lori Keith Robinson, Katherine Sandoz, Ridley Stallings, Tiffani Taylor, Haddon Watson, Winslett Watson, Whit Watson, Yee Haw Industries; purchased in Alabama, the Bahamas, Savannah, St. Simons Island and elsewhere
Picture gallery install, stairwell: Out of Box Savannah
*all resources supplied by homeowners.