Preservation Awards: Coker Cottage honored for renovation
Coker Cottage used to be a bit of an eyesore in its Union Street neighborhood. Then Bobby Coker and his wife, Phyllis, decided to give it a facelift, hoping to make it fit in better with its more upscale surroundings
“Our goal was to make it clean and neat and comfortable,” Bobby said. “We weren't trying to stand out by any means.”
But their work on the two-story house attracted a lot of attention, and the reaction was positive. In January, the Historic Aiken Foundation gave the Cokers its Wilds-Lipe Treasured Home Award.
“It's nice to be recognized for what we did,” said Bobby, who works at the Savannah River Site. “We didn't even know this award existed.”
The Cokers moved to the Aiken area in 1981. In 1997, they purchased Coker Cottage as an investment. Back then, the house didn't have a name. It was divided into three apartments, and there was a garage apartment in the backyard.
“We think Coker Cottage was built around the mid-1920s,” Bobby said.
The Cokers were happy to collect rent from the house's tenants at first. Then they began noticing that property values were rising significantly in the historic area where it was located.
“We decided to remodel it and sell the house that we were living in at the time,” Bobby said. “All of our three children had left and gone to college, and we knew that they weren't going to be coming home, except to visit.”
The Cokers moved into the garage apartment of the Union Street house in 2005 and got started on a massive renovation project that took a year.
“We could have built a brand new home with what we spent,” Bobby said. “We moved nearly all of the walls around inside. We moved a stairway, and we uncovered a downstairs fireplace that had been hidden by a wall and a half bath.”
The Cokers had the kitchen upgraded and got an addition built onto the back of the house. New windows, new wiring and new heat and air conditioning units also were among the improvements.
Outside, the Cokers kept the cedar siding. But they changed the design of the roof so that it would be gabled instead of flat in front. On the second floor in front, the Cokers added a fake window in the center to fill in a big, unattractive gap between windows on the left and right sides.
The couple also replaced the aluminum front door with a mahogany one they found in Landrum at a building surplus business.
“When I went before the Aiken Design Review Board to present our initial plan, they described our house as a noncontributing property,” Bobby said. “That meant it didn't add any value to the area because of the way it looked. I think they were pretty much glad that we were doing anything at all to the house.”
Added Phyllis, who works for Thomas Young's Allstate Insurance agency: “It was ugly. They probably would have given us permission to tear it down.”
Bobby figured that he and his wife would probably stay in their renovated home for only a couple of years. Then, he believed, they would sell it and build the house of their dreams somewhere else. But that didn't happen.
Instead, after the refurbishment's completion, the Cokers began to grow fond of the spiffed up residence. Eventually, they started calling it Coker Cottage.
“We really love it,” Bobby said. “We like the neighbors, and we're comfortable.”
Coker Cottage's front porch is their favorite spot. There is wicker furniture with thick cushions on one side. The other side is furnished with a table and chairs.
“We are kind of known as the Union Street porch people because we sit out here so much,” Phyllis said. “It's an extension of our living area.”
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013.