I wanted to keep the rustic feel, so my intent was to change the cottage as little as possible. I started to consider how to furnish it once the paint had dried.

Whitewashed walls and gray floor
Whitewashed walls and gray floor

After I finished cleaning and painting, I went on a hunt for furnishings. Not to stores. To the barn, to the attic, to other parts of the farmhouse. What could I do with what I already have? The previous owner, with her primary residence in Chicago, had lived here only during summers, so when I bought the property, she left nearly all her furnishings behind. The farmhouse had two bedrooms—at least, that’s the way she had seen it. I saw it as one bedroom, mine, and a dining room where her guest bedroom had been. I already had a full-size bed, hardly touched, needing a place to go.

Also in the barn, I found a small dusty table with chairs, a small cabinet with chipped paint that would do nicely as an end table with storage. I called the good men in my life to come help, and with all hands ready, we hauled the mattress up the hill. A new bed frame had the bed in place in no time. I picked up an inexpensive carpet remnant to put on the main floor beneath the bed, adding a bit of comfort and warmth to that room. The table fit perfectly in the corner below the ladder.

I had thought about repainting the furnishings … but then I reconsidered. All I had to do was clean. The marks of time only added to the comfort of the cottage. It was small and inviting, and in the evenings, with the lights on, the little cottage had a honeyed glow that was timeless.

A welcoming glow…
A welcoming glow…

Meanwhile, David worked away at the deck outside. Within a couple days, the deck was in place. It felt almost like adding a third room to the cottage, a room with a spectacular view. The cottage was on a forested hill, so in all directions were tall trees, leaf trees and pines, where birds sang, squirrels scampered from limb to limb, an occasional rabbit bounded through, and sometimes, a deer or two would wander by.

In keeping with the whimsical angles and unexpected swoops and curlicues that showed up here and there on the cottage, David had opted not to add a rectangular deck, but purposefully misaligned it. The deck would start a couple inches out from the wall rather than extend directly from it, and rather than giving it a straight rail, David gave it a bend in the middle, which also made the deck fit nicely around a nearby pine tree. Perfect.

A crooked little deck for a crooked little house…
A crooked little deck for a crooked little house…

What else? Books! I’m a writer, and of course, hand-in-hand with that, a book addict. I can always use more shelves for more books. Up and down the hill I trekked, with armload after armload of books. I brought Thoreau’s Walden, the story of a man living in a cottage in the woods. I brought up a selection of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, building a small library. Something for every literary pleasure. On the walls, I hung artwork by my father, artist Viestarts Aistars

Hung with my father’s art…
Hung with my father’s art…

I put pens and pencils in a mug and put them on the desk. I put paper pads in the desk drawers, along with paints, markers, colored pencils, sketch pads and paint brushes. I recycled area rugs another friend no longer wanted in a redesigned room. I brought up linens for the bed and made it up, folding back the sheets. I bought new pillows, choosing woodsy and humorous designs—bears, wide-eyed owls, sleepy cats.

On a new shelf above the table went blue tin camping plates and coffee mugs, a French press, coffee beans and comforting teas. An electric burner, of course, for warming up something to drink or a one-pot meal for anyone staying overnight or having a great run on writing the Great American Novel.

Because that’s what this cottage was turning into—a writer’s den. An artist’s retreat. A place for meditation and solitude and introspection. Cottage on the Hill, said David, or just call it COTH. And may the souls who enter it find their inner muse.

Finishing touches included a ceramic fire pit on the deck with chairs and small table, plants suited to shade planted outside just around COTH, and clearing the pathways up and down the hill.

Do I plan to do more? Sure. I am thinking about a window bench upstairs inside the bay window to add another place to sit and read among the treetops, with the seat opening for storage inside. Perhaps some misaligned rails for the deck. A layer of insulation would make it more comfortable year-round. And so the list goes on. Always something with which to tinker … you know, like when you are Home.

Perhaps a window seat? Only the future knows.
Perhaps a window seat? Only the future knows.

Now I go up the hill every single day to spend some time in the cottage among the trees. Sometimes I write. Sometimes I lie back on the bed and read, while Guinnez curls up for a nap on the rug. Sometimes I sit on the deck and watch the light and shadow play among the leaves dancing in the breeze, wondering about the person who built this remarkable little place, to which I have now added my touch.

Sometimes, I open the cottage door to guests, who enjoy staying at COTH for a day, a few days, maybe even a week, to take in that sense of peace that comes from living in a rustic simplicity, in which you discover that all you ever really needed … is right here. In a simple little place on a wooded hill.

Zinta Aistars
Zinta Aistars

Zinta Aistars is a writer, poet and artist. She has published three books and lives in her farm in Southwest Michigan.

“I have been in love with words since I was a child, tracing shapes that would later turn into letters that would later string together into words and sentences. I can’t imagine being anything other than a writer.”

For more information, or to reserve the Cottage on the Hill for your retreat, contact Zinta at [email protected] .

You can also find more images and information on COTH here

COTH is located approximately 35 miles north of Kalamazoo and 35 miles south of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The town of Holland, on the shores of Lake Michigan, is about 35 miles northwest, and Allegan is approximately 7 miles southwest.