This North Carolina Home Features Traditional Design with a Twist

After redoing nine houses, this North Carolina DIYer knows a thing or two about personalizing a new space and making a house a home.

Jennifer Holmes is practiced in the art of redoing houses to suit her family. In 15 years of marriage, she and husband Jonathon have bought nine homes.

Their latest place in Burlington, North Carolina, where Jonathan coaches college basketball, is newly built and needed few changes, so Jennifer focused on customizing the rooms to suit her "traditional with a twist" style. "I am not typically drawn to new houses because I like to do projects," she says, "and in a new house, it feels wasteful to rip out and replace brand-new things. In this house, I was trying to make it work for us, adding things to it without completely overhauling it."

living room wing chairs fireplace
Brie Williams

The avid do-it-yourselfer, blogger of Dear Lillie Studio, and Instagrammer is nearly fearless in taking on new tasks. In this home, she painted walls and the kitchen island, swapped out nearly every light fixture, put up wallpaper, and installed board-and-batten wainscoting in several rooms. "I don't mind failing," Jennifer says. "I learned through trial and error, and I started small. You can watch YouTube and read manuals and practice. If you mess up, it's OK. It's just decorating."

family on grey couch with dog
Brie Williams

The Holmes family, Lillie (13), Jonathan, Lola (11), and Jennifer are no strangers to starting over. In their new home's living room, their much-loved wing chairs gather in front of a just-built fireplace mantel, combining old with new. The French door and window are dressed in layers of traditional fabric panels plus matchstick shades for privacy.

dining room chandelier wing chairs
Brie Williams

Jennifer is savvy about saving money to get the most from her budget while occasionally splurging to rev up a room. "If you have one splurge piece, it can make your eye think everything else is higher end, even if they're not at all," she says. For example, the chandelier is a pricey purchase from Serena & Lily, but the window blinds are from Walmart. The seating is also merrily mismatched, with wing chairs at the ends of the table and four French-style chairs along the sides.

kitchen large range hood dark island
Brie Williams

With new appliances and cabinets already in place, the kitchen needed just a few changes to elevate the whole room. Jennifer swapped out the cabinet hardware and faucet for brass-finish versions, introduced casual bamboo seating, and swabbed the island with nearly black paint.

Though Jennifer likes to tackle almost any project, she knows when it's time to call in a pro. Building the vent hood was one such occasion. She knew she wouldn't be able to hold it in place by herself while installing it, so she hired it out.

kitchen backsplash herringbone tile
Brie Williams

White subway tile is a classic for a kitchen backsplash, but Jennifer one-upped this choice in two ways. She selected 2×8- inch tiles (narrower and longer than standard), then she opted for installation in a herringbone pattern. "That makes the backsplash look fancier," she says, "but it's really just cheap subway tile."

laundry room closet
Brie Williams

One of the first things Jennifer tackles in a new house is upgrading the closets and pantry. In the entry closet, she dismantled the wire shelving, papered the walls with a charming buffalo plaid, and installed sturdy plywood shelves and a wood hanging rod. "I find that if I make a closet look pretty, I actually keep it clean!" she says.

Once a closet or pantry is dressed up, the family is motivated to keep it looking nice. Plywood is a solid choice for shelves, and wallpaper adds color and pattern for a cozy feel.

master bedroom tan theme bedspread
Brie Williams

In the primary bedroom, Jennifer originally put the bed on another wall, "but it ate up space and bugged me," she says. After painting the walls a deep, dramatic black (Tricorn Black, Sherwin-Williams), she moved the bed in front of the windows. "It made the room feel so much bigger and blocked the view—in a good way," she says. "Sometimes you have to break the rules a little bit and work with what you've got, and this ended up being the best arrangement."

The natural wood tones of the dresser and matchstick blinds warm the black-and-white room. Drapery panels designed for fullness bookend the upholstered headboard.

black wall with desk painting
Brie Williams

Many black paints are not truly black; they have different undertones. Always paint a test strip and see if you like its shade throughout the day in all kinds of light before painting an entire wall.

bathroom double vanity black walls
Brie Williams

The same black paint that enlivens the primary bedroom does similar work in the attached bathroom to energize the space. Other changes include swapping a huge framed mirror over the vanity with two round mirrors and replacing the cabinet knobs and faucets with brass-finish versions. For the floor, Jennifer tried her hand at peel-and-stick tiles to get this look for about $100.

kids room bunk beds dog wallpaper
Brie Williams

"Lola is my dog-obsessed child," Jennifer says, which explains the pup-print wallpaper in her bedroom. Jennifer replaced the standard ceiling light with a playful flush-mount version for more zip.

Builder lights are anything but special. Replacing ceiling fixtures and chandeliers with higher-end lights will invigorate the whole room. Jennifer searches everywhere for lights and has found treasures for smaller spaces (bedrooms, hallways) at Pottery Barn Kids.

Jennifer adores the impact wallpaper has on any room but knows it can be a little much when it embellishes every wall. Her solution: wainscoting on the bottom two-thirds of the wall and pretty paper above it, as she did in Lillie's bedroom. It cost less than $200 to panel this room. "I just put the 1×4 battens on the wall with a little bit of glue and a nail gun," Jennifer says.

The combination of wallpaper with board-and-batten-look paneling is a win-win: You'll save money on pricey paper, and the wainscoting keeps the pattern from overwhelming the room. "It's a very beginner-friendly project that you can do by yourself," Jennifer says.

Anchor a hanging chair, such as this one in Lillie's room, securely to a ceiling joist that's at least 2x6 inches so it can bear the weight of the chair and a person.

laundry room dark cabinets wall hangers
Brie Williams

Even a utilitarian space like the laundry room deserves a style refresh. Jennifer built a small bench just inside the door for putting on or taking off shoes. Baskets underneath and on a shelf above serve as catchalls.

The laundry room's closet makeover inspires tidiness, according to Jennifer. She beefed up the plywood shelves with a little trim on the front edge. "I put a 1×2 piece on the front that makes it look like a really thick shelf," she says. The closet is backed with the same wallpaper as in the rest of the room for a pretty touch.

Jennifer used a leftover can of black paint to dress up the cabinets in the laundry room. They now match the washer and dryer.

And as Jennifer knows from experience, she'll happily apply the know-how gained here to the family's next redo adventure.

Updated by
Jessica Brinkert Holtam

Jessica Brinkert Holtam has spent over 20 years providing writing and editorial services, beginning with Exteriors and Flea Market Style, and continuing to work with Elegant Homes. She is the regional interiors editor of Better Homes & Gardens and regularly works with photographers, editors, and stylists. She also is the owner of Sprout Media Studios, an editorial business. Her writing and editorial work also appear in Elegant Homes, Country French, Refresh, and Décor.

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