In 2014, Sara McDaniel fell in love at first sight. But it wasn’t with Prince Charming – instead, it was with a charming cottage in Minden.
“I was just driving around Minden and drove by this house. Instantly I knew,” she said. “I just knew in my spirit that it was supposed to be mine… Then began this love affair with this house.”
A native of Webster Parish, McDaniel had moved away to follow a career in sales. She never intended on relocating back to her home state. In fact, the only way she would return was under the condition that it be to live in the perfect home – one that met her requirements: must be an old home, near an airport, must have at least three bedrooms and two bathrooms, must be roughly 2000 square feet, and located in a safe, walkable town.
But over time, McDaniel began seriously thinking about returning to be closer to her family in Springhill. She scoured the area for the home that fit the aforementioned requirements. Her search took her to Jefferson, Texas, Texarkana and even Little Rock, until one day she drove by the dilapidated cottage on McDonald Street in Minden.
One problem: the home wasn’t for sale and at the time, there was no one living in it. So, McDaniel began the second leg of her journey – to find the owners of the property. “I tried first to knock on the door, and see who owns the house and nobody answered. I looked up the tax records, found a name, sent a letter, they didn’t respond,” she said. “I just Googled and Googled and finally found an email address for one of the homeowners’ sons and that’s how I got my first response.”
Built in 1926 by the Fitzgerald family, the home still belonged to relatives but was not being lived in. The cottage was originally built as a guesthouse with the Fitzgeralds’ main house nearby. Following 22 months of correspondence with the Fitzgerald family, McDaniel and the homeowners came to an agreement.
Once the belongings were removed from the property, it was finally time for the cleanup and renovations to begin. “I don’t know how long it had been vacant when I bought it but I know there was food dated from like 2006, 2008 still in the pantry.”
Although it didn’t look the best, the cottage’s bones were strong and the potential was great. McDaniel replaced the roof, installed new plumbing and electrical wiring. She reconfigured the floor plan, removing a hallway that robbed the cottage of valuable space and knocking down walls to open up the living area, dining room and kitchen. One of the most significant changes was in the attic. She had the attic finished, creating a second floor with two bedrooms, a separate living area and bathroom.
McDaniel is all about repurposing and recycling. Even though she altered the floor plan of the home, she kept true to the home’s roots. The original wood floors remain. The windows have bee repurposed into a green house in the backyard. The light fixtures were brought back to life with the help of C&C Electric in Shreveport. Even small details have been preserved such as the ironing board in a closet in the master bedroom; the mail slot near the front door; the original plumbing fixtures are now used as hooks in the mudroom and kitchen cabinets were repurposed as bathroom cabinets. “I tried to reuse as much as I could to keep the character,” she said.
McDaniel’s style is, well, simple. She prefers a white, neutral palette giving the home a calming atmosphere. She doesn’t like clutter. And if you’re looking to watch TV, go elsewhere. McDaniel isn’t big on watching the tube but you’ll find shelves and shelves full of books in her library.
“I do have accessories around, but I do not like clutter,” she said. “I just like simple and easy. There’s all this research about a neutral palette and how it makes things calming and soothing. It’s just a retreat and it makes me super happy.”
Her favorite area in her home, the place she spends the most time, is her back porch. “It was not here so I added this. It was just flat back here. This is where I spend so much of my time when the weather is nice.” McDaniel also built a garage with a room attached. This winter, she plans on turning the room into a craft room.
McDaniel chronicled the renovation process through social media and in a blog, SimplySouthernCottage.com. In a short amount of time, her story attracted a following — she has over 33,000 followers on her Instagram account designated to her home. But it’s not just her style or taste in décor that interests her audience. McDaniel has weaved her personal story with the home’s renovation.
“With my personal story I have a lot of hurt and heartbreak and never though I would get to this point,” she said. “I wanted to parallel my life with the restoration of the house. I’m divorced and it was the most horrible experience ever in my life. I honestly thought I was not going to come out of it. But I have and life is beautiful and amazing. I’m so thankful for that experience because I have this. I have all these amazing things that have happened because I was broken. I feel like this house personifies the joy and the beauty that’s come from my life over the last 10 years.”