This Family Gave Their Tiny '80s Home a Contemporary Makeover

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 aspect. 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.

black painted house with red door
Seth Smoot

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

Find the best shade of red for your door here.

coat hooks
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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

fireplace living room

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

white living room remodel black fireplace
Seth Smoot

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.

White shelf with décor next to large framed photo
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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

white kitchen with floating shelves
Seth Smoot

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.

white bedroom with striped navy accents
Seth Smoot

In the primary 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.

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The primary 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.

bunk beds
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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

Concrete Jungle outdoor lounge
Seth Smoot

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

poolside lounge area
Seth Smoot

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 look.

Get inspired by these cozy outdoor rooms.

pool house
Seth Smoot

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.

white ikea pool chairs privacy screen lol plant
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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.

pool side lounge
Seth Smoot

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.

Updated by
Ryan Reineck

Ryan Reineck is an art director based in New York, New York. His work as a photo stylist and story producer has been featured in national publications, including Domino and Better Homes & Gardens.

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