1940s Cottage Makeover

Maggie Griffin creates a colorful, cozy house that hits a sweet spot for both designer and client.

It’s no secret that Instagram is an endless mine of design resources. In the case of a South Carolina homeowner, it was the tool that allowed her to connect with Maggie Griffin, whose work she had long admired. Her request was for help with the interiors of her newly purchased house. What followed was the proverbial match made in heaven as Maggie discovered she and the homeowner shared a similar design aesthetic and a love of color.

A blue and white chinoiserie wallpaper makes for a bold entryway.

Photo by Brian a

When Maggie first laid eyes on her client’s recently renovated 1940s cottage in Greenville, she was swept away by the charming structure. “I was so tickled with what the previous owners had done with the renovations,” she says. “They preserved the architectural integrity of the old cottage while updating its functionality for modern living.” The designer was also impressed by the purchases her client had already made. “She has such a great eye for decorating, but she didn’t have time for the scope of this project on her own.” A busy physician, the homeowner needed Maggie’s expertise in creating cheerful, layered rooms that would welcome her at the end of a hectic day.

Mudroom with built-in bench in nook and red and white Thibaut wallpaper on walls.

Photo by Brian Beider

In this mudroom, Maggie Griffin hung a Thibaut wallpaper in a geometric print to bring interest to an otherwise utilitarian space.

Maggie’s first step was to address the mudroom/laundry space, which opens to the parking area and is what her client sees first when returning from work each day. She swathed the room in a subtle geometric print in red and added a comfortable built-in bench for setting down bags. “I call it the ‘plop-and-drop,’ ” says Maggie. She then created an equally welcoming front entry full of color confidence with a blue chinoiserie wallpaper.

Screened porch with white wicker furniture, colored pillows and garden stools on a blue and white rug.

Photo by Brian Beider

For the screened porch, Maggie gave the client’s existing outdoor furniture a fresh look with colorful pillows and garden stools.

Furniture throughout the house includes many pieces from the client’s childhood home, lending an organic, collected quality. Maggie showcased those items with plenty of color and pattern, but she also mixed in some contemporary elements. For example, while the antique armoire sits in the front parlor and feels very traditional, the designer paired it with an unexpected grouping of four club chairs around an ottoman for a more modern vibe, as well as to create a space for quiet relaxation or intimate gatherings.

1940s cottage dining room with antique table and chairs, blue and white lamps and china on sideboard.

Photo by Brian Beider

Arrangements of ranunculus, roses, and hydrangeas form a lush centerpiece on the dining room table. Maggie layered colorful china by Ginori on creamware from Scott Antique Markets.

Similarly, the dining room features an inherited table and chairs, but Maggie updated the space with pretty box-pleated slipcovers. “The space definitely feels feminine,” she says. Taking cues from the artwork, the designer added window treatments in blue and chairs covered in a buffalo check. For the table setting, she used daringly colorful Oriente Italiano china on grass cloth placemats, along with plenty of flowers. “Setting a table is one of my favorite things, and the flowers are the soul of it all,” says Maggie. “I chose coral roses, white ranunculus, purple hydrangeas, and blush garden roses.”

Kitchen with blue cabinets and island, brass light pendants over island.

Photo by Brian Beider

Maggie brought bold color to the kitchen by painting the cabinets Knoxville Gray by Benjamin Moore. An orchid grounded with greenery creates a focal point on the island, while a smaller display of anemones on the counter behind brings a fun pop of purple to the room.

One area that did require more than just décor was the kitchen. “It was ho-hum,” Maggie says. “We replaced the countertops with quartz, changed the backsplash to subway tile, and painted the cabinets Knoxville Gray by Benjamin Moore. It’s moody but fresh.” Wicker barstools add natural texture to the space. In the keeping room off the kitchen, the designer chose a pair of sofas to accommodate a crowd.

Primary bedroom of a 1940s Greenville cottage with a sofa set into the bay window.

Photo by Brian Beider

A dreamy Schumacher wallpaper sets a restful tone in the primary bedroom. A sofa by Kravet nestles into the bay and a bench by Ballard Designs serves double duty as a coffee table or seating.

Fireplace with white mantel flanked by built-in bookcases filled with blue-and-white porcelain.

Photo by Brian Beider

The blue hues of the room continue in the painting by Emily Ozier over the mantel.

For the main bedroom, Maggie created a special place customized for the client. “We enveloped it in restful color,” she says. The large space with built-in shelves, a fireplace, and a bay window is swathed in a pretty wallpaper of climbing vines. Maggie layered jute carpeting under an Oriental rug to cozy up the room and brought in a new bed that looks convincingly antique. “The bathroom also is very big, so we decided to make it feel more like a dressing room by adding a wing chair and covering the walls in grass cloth,” says the designer.

Twin beds in a guest bedroom with dark olive painted walls and sloping ceiling in a Maggie Griffin designed cottage.

Photo by Brian Beider

Walls painted in a rich Dark Olive by Benjamin Moore give the twin bedroom a handsome, earthy quality.

On the second floor, three guest rooms accommodate all configurations of visitors. Twin beds in the mossy green retreat under the eaves suit visiting nephews while a floral-accented double bed in a clean white room often welcomes a visiting parent. The king-sized bed in the third guest space offers comfort for a couple.

Guest bedroom with iron bed and animal-print pillows and side chair in a 1940s cottage.

Photo by Brian Beider

In this guest suite, Maggie created a serene retreat with soft hues and a grass cloth wall covering. An elephant garden seat and European shams in Kravet’s classic Le Tigre velvet speak of exotic world travels. Floral arrangements of roses, carnations, mums, daisies, alstroemeria, hydrangeas, Queen Anne’s lace, and thistle add color to the mostly monochromatic space.

Like the rest of the house, each room is a little different with personal flavor, colorful accents, and refined finishing touches. And for this client, those are the things that make it feel like home.

Four dark blue chairs grouped around an ottoman in the parlor of a 1940s cottage in Greenville.

Photo by Brian Beider

Walls covered in grass cloth by Thibaut lend a cocooned feeling to the intimate seating area in the parlor.


Maggie Griffin shares her thoughts and theories on taking any space from boring to beautiful.

  • Wallpaper in rooms with very little fabric, like bathrooms and powder rooms, adds personality, especially if you pull a bold color from the wallpaper for the cabinetry.
  • I like adding wallpaper in utility rooms, such as a laundry room or mudroom. It’s unexpected and fun.
  • Hanging wallpaper in a foyer provides a color punch when guests arrive and can set the tone for the rest of the house.
  • To make a bedroom cozier, add wallpaper with a small print as the backdrop of the space. It provides a little whimsy, color, and pattern.
  • Murals have made a comeback as of late, and I love using them. The dining room seems to be the most popular space, but many people are also using murals in bedrooms.
  • I love hanging tonal wallpapers in primary bathrooms where serenity is key. Powder rooms, however, are the places to play up the drama and go bold.
  • Grass cloth can add interesting dimension and texture to a space while also adding color. There are so many wonderful weaves now, many of which are hand-painted. They completely elevate an ordinary space into a high-end room.

By Lydia Somerville | Photography by Brian Bieder

See more from Maggie Griffin on her website and by following her on Instagram.