How This Family Customized Their Cookie-Cutter Home with a DIY Makeover

This California family took a team approach to making over their '90s home. They focused on one project at a time and passed along the lessons they learned.

When in doubt, try it out. At least that's the thinking for Anita and Travis Yokota when it comes to updating their Irvine, California, home. The Yokotas bought the Mediterranean-style home a little over 12 years ago, seeing beyond its builder-home sameness to all the untapped potential in its 2,100 square feet. "The three items on my must-have checklist were there: a kitchen window to look out into the backyard and watch the kids, a big oval tub in the primary bath, and a kitchen island," Anita says, "This home had all three, so even with the dated aesthetics, I knew we could make it our own."

Anita Travis Yokota daughters family modern living room sofa
Anita and Travis Yokota have an all-hands-on-deck mentality when it comes to DIY. They taught their daughters (Rachel, 15; Emily, 12; Natalie, 7) how to use tools and listen to their input on projects. Edmund Barr

And make it their own they did—despite their lack of DIY experience. "I've always been a crafter, and it just kind of grew from scrapbooking to making over small furniture pieces to bigger projects that Travis and I began to tackle," she says. As the go-to adviser for friends when it came to paint colors and design advice, Anita finally took the leap and made a blog to record her DIY and design advice. From there, the home projects ramped up.

modern outdoor wood accent wall black plant pockets
Easy-to-use planter pockets allow for drainage. Edmund Barr

Their first big undertaking was the accent wall in the backyard. "Our home is a cookie-cutter California home, and I was sick of looking out at the stucco walls, so we designed the Zen, desert-like slatted walls for visual interest," Anita says. "From there, we were hooked on all things home DIY."

If you're considering an outdoor accent wall, weigh the pros and cons of different wood species beforehand. The Yokotas chose cost-saving pine. Cedar, redwood, and oak, while more expensive, are more durable. Consider sealing the wood to protect it.

neutral modern living room patterned fireplace surround layered rugs
Edmund Barr

Moving indoors, team Yokota started slow with paint, furniture, and wall treatments, then began dabbling with more skill-based projects like woodworking and tiling. The biggest project to date has been a Murphy bed. "For us, every project we do has meaning and has a purpose for our family," Anita says. "It feels great knowing you can teach yourself to do something and then go out and actually do it."

Originally dark and dated, the living room's renewal began with paint—and lots of it—to brighten the walls and ceiling. Neutral furnishings further open up the space. For the fireplace surround, Anita wanted to add pattern but stay within the room's neutral palette. This was their first tiling project, and the learning curve included turning to YouTube for measuring and cutting tips. They hired an electrician to wire the sconces. The big mirror propped on the mantel and the glass coffee table reflect light and contribute more brightness.

white kitchen blue wallpaper graphic backsplash red rug open shelves
Edmund Barr

The Yokotas opted for inexpensive changes to give their kitchen big impact until they can do a major redo. They went with a wallpaper backsplash and refreshed the formerly dark granite countertops with a durable marble-look adhesive paper that hasn't scratched or ripped, even though it's not waterproof.

fresh modern master bath freestanding tub black fixtures
Edmund Barr

In the bathroom and laundry room, the Yokotas found places to save and places to splurge. For the laundry, they went all-in on a Delta faucet and sink but saved on handmade shelves and an IKEA cabinet. In the primary bath, they wanted an oasis where they could relax and take in the Orange County sunshine, so they hired a contractor to create exactly what they envisioned. Black accents throughout offer a modern touch.

laundry room wallpaper open shelves cabinets caning baskets
Edmund Barr

For the laundry cabinet doors, Anita cut sheets of caning and pressed it into recessed panels, then used contact cement to hold the caning in place. To make caning pliable and easier to work with, soak in warm water for one to two hours.

bedroom modern rustic blue-green wall board and batten muted colors
Edmund Barr

While Anita leans towards neutrals when decorating, she was drawn to blue-green paint (Underseas SW 6214 from Sherwin-Williams) for a colorful accent in the primary bedroom. Using it on the board-and-batten treatment (Travis and Anita's first big interior project) made the bed wall a stunning focal point. "This was our first time cutting wood for a project, so it was a big deal for us! It got us going on our love for DIY projects," she says.

The Yokotas knew they wanted to install a Murphy bed in their den so the space could double as a guest room, but most were kind of blah. "We wanted something with architectural interest, not just a box in the room," Anita says. So after getting the kit from Rockler, Anita drew her Scandi-inspired design and Travis built the box to hold the bed, painted the slats and the box, and let dry before then attaching the wood slats to the box using wood glue and a nail gun. A paint sprayer helped them create an even finish.

Refrigerator pulls are the perfect size of handles to unfold the Murphy bed. Anita found these rose-gold beauties on Amazon. Sconces and art set inside the Murphy bed box create a welcoming experience when guests come to stay.

Want to create your own Murphy bed look? Start with a basic hardware kit, then let your creativity go! If you're loving the Yokotas' style, find the full how-to on Anita's blog.

woman small minimalist office nook built-in desk cabinets midcentury chairs
Edmund Barr

A little reorganization goes a long way—cue the office space where Anita writes and edits her successful design website and DIY blog. "We originally had two IKEA desks, a toddler desk on the blank wall, a printer was so squished!" To outfit the space for the family's needs, they hired California Closets to put in new cabinets. A gridded bulletin board displays inspiration for upcoming projects.

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