A Contemporary Makeover for a Tiny '80s Home

Realizing their yard had more potential than an addition to their 1,195-square-foot home would, this couple started their renovation outdoors.

Whenever interior designer Leyla Jaworski hears people say they want to start renovating a small house they just moved into, she thinks, "Why don't you give yourself a minute to see how you're going to use it?" It took Leyla and her husband, Scott, some 1,576,800 minutes—three years— before they knew what worked in their modest 1980s home in Sacramento.

When they finally tore into things, they started in the backyard. A covered patio functions as a sun-shielded living area and shelters their only dining table. A tiny prefab outbuilding gave them a guest bedroom. The backyard reno inspired the light, bright interior, where new windows and glass doors create a happy marriage between both worlds.

Black paint gives the house a modern vibe. Scott jokes that the family lives in an Oreo because it's white on the inside and black on the outside. A new glass door—painted vibrant red—ushers in light. Light also bounces off an oversized metal "J", representing the couple's last initial.  

Door Color: Heritage Red (PM-18), Benjamin Moore

Find the best shade of red for your door here.

The wall immediately inside the front door became a simple entry with wainscoting and double hooks. A red Turkish-style rug reflects the red paint on the other side of the door. A subtle piece of art finishes the entry vignette.

See the essential items every entryway needs here.

Before: Bland in Beige

The vaulted living room was originally full of variations of the same color: a blah beige. The lack of variation and texture within the foundational surfaces of the space made the room fall flat. Only a window and a glass door let in natural light, leaving the space feeling cavelike and inundated with dark shadows.

After: Bright in White

The revamped fireplace—a tile surround and MDF mantel—has a clean, modern look. Leyla used a can of black Rust-Oleum high-heat spray paint to cover the brass firescreen. Glossy ceiling paneling and light-colored furnishings keep the space looking bright and large. New black doors swing out so they don't intrude on living space. The gray, white, and blue color scheme from outside continues into the house. Dabs of blue throughout the decor ground the neutral palette.  

Leyla stretched display space with a tall shelving unit that, in white against white, doesn't overpower the smaller bar cart. Leaving sufficient space between the items on display ensures that the look is curated, not cluttered. A large urban print gives the space a modern feel. The contemporary elements of the space are balanced with a collection of small green plants.

Before: Dated Kitchen Finishes

The kitchen was plagued by outdated, honey-colored cabinets and peach-toned ceramic tile. A gray vinyl countertop and backplash made the space feel dark. Hovering top cabinets cut the living room and kitchen space in half.

After: Contemporary Neutrals

Removing cabinets left of the sink took the kitchen from a hemmed-in U-shape to an airy L with room for an island. Layla opted for affordable IKEA cabinets instead of high-end lacquer; concrete floors require little maintenance. Steel piping secures pine boards for mod shelving.

In the master bedroom, Leyla added wainscoting and crown molding, which she painted to blend with the walls. The simple scheme of muted navy and white makes the space feel clean and cozy. For inexpensive artwork, she enlarged $10 downloads from Etsy onto lightweight architectural plan paper at a copy shop.

Copy these ideas to transform a room with crown molding.

The master bath uses gray subway tile and gray-and-white mosaics to create a dynamic space. The deep tub and tropical plants make the bath area feel like a luxury spa. Glass panels give the sense of privacy without blocking natural light.

Six-year-old Jake's bunks fit into what was the adjoining room's closet. Scott built the loft for about $60 and covered the walls in 1×8 boards to resemble shiplap. Like in the kitchen and living room, hints of blue carry throughout the space.

Before: Concrete Jungle

A backyard full of discolored and dated concrete slabs didn't scream "inviting." A pavilion sat awkwardly placed in the far corner, but without furniture, there was nowhere to relax and enjoy the spot. While there was plenty of outdoor space, there was nothing to fill it, making it feel stark and cold.

After: Entertaining Hub

The homeowners embraced California's outdoor lifestyle to gain extra living (and play) space. Clean concrete slabs serve as the base multiple entertaining areas, and small patches of grass and greenery make the space feel natural and inviting. The living space uses a U-shaped sectional to create a cozy conversation area. Layers of pacific blue pillows give the outdoor living space a casual vibe.

Get inspired by these cozy outdoor rooms.

The prefab unit next to the pool is what Leyla calls their "summer home." The extra 120 square feet was her office but morphed into a guest bedroom and nap spot. The bright blue bedding mirrors the blue hues of the pool, while the painting on the wall is in the same style as the piece above the living room fireplace.

See more pretty pool houses.

The horizontal-slat redwood screen blocks a slope and provides privacy. The funloving LOL in big wooden letters was a flea market find that adds a playful tone. White plastic chairs offset the rustic feel of the screen.

A pale pergola covers the outdoor dining area. The black and white farm table keeps the space casual while also following the exterior's color scheme. A simple swing hangs from the pergola's frame and serves as extra seating.

Check out more outdoor dining ideas.


  1. The photos are a bit confusing and many of the big changes are not mentioned like a swimming pool and added building in back or the large added window in their family room with smaller window switched out with new doors.

  2. I was a bit puzzled with some of the comments complaining about their choice of white for the walls, since this is a GREAT (and inexpensive) way to add an illusion of spaciousness in any dwelling with minimal square footage or a choppy floor plan. It is a lovely renovation. My personal preference: instead of cheap Ikea kitchen cabinets, I would've done a refurb on the old ones, as they look to be of higher quality---it's a bit of work, but keeping them would've elevated the whole room.

  3. This home is NOT the least bit attractive!!! All that cheap wall art and wainscotting (done on the cheap) is ridiculous: In a few years, the next owner will rip it all out!!! And, shiplap has had its day, several years ago!!!

    1. what what does your house look like is wrong with you your mean the house looks awesome and kudos to saving money where you can put your house on here so we can peck you apart no one cares what you think so shut up

    2. Agreed, it may not be your style but it is the preference of the new home owners. If you have nothing nice to say just don't say anything

    3. Everyone has different tastes. To disparage a home you do not live in is just rude. If you don't like the style that's fine but don't be rude about it.

  4. Beautiful home and garden.Every person is entitled to what ever style makes them comfortable.

  5. I am sick to DEATH of seeing nothing but Minimalism and WHITE everything! It's cold, uninviting, and has zero character. ENOUGH!!!!

    1. Rude much? If you don't like it that's fine but just move on. The people who actually live in the home are enjoying it and that is all that really matters. It isn't my style either but I don't live there so my opinion doesn't matter. You do what you want in your own home.

  6. I too live in a 1,100 s.f. home and think they have done a stellar job with everything. It is fresh, modern and inviting. Incorporating their back yard space in the way they did is beautiful. This is a space that can be redecorated easily if they want to in the future. I love the diy touches and think they wisely used their money all over their property. Bravo!

  7. although some people are not in favor of all the white, I like it and it looks really great. I myself like white but I like pops of color. I have a red sectional in my home.

  8. I prefer colored walls to all this white white white-on-white that seems to be the current thing. But I could get used to having a bedroom in its own tiny little house-- cozy! (If, that is, there is a bathroom in that tiny little house. Would hate to have to scamper around the pool area in the dark when "nature calls." :)

  9. Way too cluttered.

  10. Absolutely beautiful!❤️

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