Cottages & Bungalows
FANNING THE FLAMES: RECREATING MANTELS
Our Project House Villas are changing in big and small ways. One of the recent projects Sara McDaniel has tackled comprises the mantels, which are a distinct offering to the area because they depart from the traditional Southern mantel and fireplace style
Our Project House Louisiana villas are changing in big and small ways. One of the recent projects Sara McDaniel has tackled comprises the mantels, which are a distinct offering to the area, because they depart from the traditional Southern mantel and fireplace styles.
The Villas at Spanish Court are slowly awakening
from their years-long slumber as Sara McDaniel of Simply Southern Cottage renovates them.
Although they were originally used as housing, they’d been abandoned. Now, they are being transformed into boutique, short-term-stay villas for visitors seeking the charming, small-town treasures found only in Minden, Louisiana. It’s apparent that the “beauty sleep” has served the villas well, because they’re becoming even lovelier than before.
“It’s exciting to see them start to match the vision I have in my head,” Sara says.
Macro details, such as full-scale lead remediation and water rerouting, are well underway, but it’s the heartfelt micro details that truly reveal the villas’ souls and what’s yet to come.
One such micro project Sara is currently overseeing is the recreation of the old-world fireplace mantels seen in each villa.
LIGHT MY FIRE
The designer in Sara loves fireplace mantels.
“There are so many kinds, and they add so much to a room,” she says. Her personal cottage features its original mantel—a stunning surround that entirely covers the fireplace.
“Mantels are great for creativity, because you can easily decorate them for various seasons,” Sara notes. “I enjoy watching the year move through my cottage on my mantel; and I’ve used anything from pumpkins to magnolia swaths to denote the passing of the seasons.”
Sara’s principles for her mantel décor include keeping it lush, natural and full of greenery. She often uses books, relying on their colors to highlight the hues seen throughout her home: “For example, I often have pink, yellow and white books on my mantel to accent the color scheme in my cottage,” she says.
CARRY THE MANTEL
Like many features in the villas, the mantels are unique subjects that offer something distinct to the area.
“In the South, you typically have a brick fireplace surround and a big, long mantel that stretches across it,” Sara says. “You probably can’t find anything like these mantels within 300 miles.”
The fireplaces are made from stucco with a round, brick mouth, and each one features a detailed wood mantel. Unfortunately, the original mantels were covered in lead-based paint, but Sara was not deterred.
She found an expert woodworker, Webster Door and Millwork’s Nick Cox, to recreate the mantels, thus preserving their design and style for generations to come.
“Nick took pictures of every angle of the original mantels and lots of measurements to ensure he could replicate them exactly,” Sara explains. He then went back to the workshop to perform “design alchemy” to recreate the mantels.
For those looking to rehabilitate an old mantel (one that doesn’t have toxic lead paint), Sara suggests sanding off the existing paint and stain, filling in chips and nail holes, and giving it a fresh coat of paint. Through these simple steps, you can restore a mantel without losing its historicity.
While working on the mantels, Sara and the villas had a special visitor: Ted Polk, the former owner of the villas, came to check out the property after his daughter-in-law saw Sara’s social media posts.
“It was so fun to meet him,” Sara says.
Ted owned a Victorian-style home next door to the villas. He always intended to rehabilitate them but never got around to it. He spent years of his life “fighting” a natural spring that runs out of a nearby hill and into the property.
He told Sara, “Be sure to take care of that water!”
It was a funny and endearing comment, particularly because Ted had worked in geology prior to retiring; and, even in his old age, he still sees the world through that lens.
From recreating micro details such as the mantels to having a VIP visitor, there’s never a dull day at the villas. Sara embraces it all.
“Nothing is expected or routine here—and I love it!”