This DIY Duplex Remodel Blends Styles to Create a Charming Home

First-time homeowners take character cues from an old house and give it even more soul with projects like a revamped kitchen and handcrafted furniture.

As a new mom, Erin Francois gave herself a break when daughter Sylvia was born. It was the first time since the age of 7 she wasn't making things. "For the first six months of my daughter's life, I bought (rather than made), "she says, adding," #SurvivalMode!" Today, Erin's sewing machine is happily humming again, designing decor and making improvements in the 1936 Tudor duplex that she and her husband, Ken, bought in Minneapolis a few years ago.

"We knew we wanted to live in the city, but as we began house-hunting, we realized we were coming up short with what we could afford," Erin says. "Ken found the duplex the night it hit the market, and we were intrigued by the financial sense it made." (They rent out the upstairs unit).

Erin Francois posing on front steps of home
Adam Albright

Erin was immediately sold on the gable roof, half-timbered facade, and arched opening between the living and dining rooms. Erin strategically deployed small DIY updates inside and outside. The entry got a style boost from a pair of planters she assembled from store-bought wooden boxes, crown molding, drawer knobs as feet, and iron pulls.

living room mix and match style
Adam Albright

Although the house had plenty of built-in charm, it needed decorative upgrades and a kitchen overhaul. "We DIYed every inch of the space together, from adding insulation to the walls to tiling the backsplash to planking the ceiling," says Erin, who blogs about her projects at Francois et Moi.

Erin revived her living room with rug-hook pillows and a cerused paint treatment on a pedestal side table her grandfather made decades ago.

living area mix and match home decor
Adam Albright

She made the Danish-style coffee table, by repurposing the top of a kid's table she found at Salvation Army and attaching 16-inch pine legs with three angled brackets. After sanding the tabletop, she gave it a smooth and durable finish with three coats of appliance-grade white epoxy spray paint from Rust-Oleum.

"The bones of our house are Tudor, so I love complementing the more traditional architecture with meaningful pieces from different eras and styles," Erin says.

diy oak table with book and home decor
Adam Albright

Erin gave new life to her grandfather's honey oak side table with a grain whitening technique.

"The No. 1 reason I DIY is if I can't find what I'm looking for in stores or if it is out of my price range," she says. "But, inevitably since having my daughter, I've become much more likely to buy something if the process to make it is super time-and labor-intensive."

Rug-hook pillows add pattern and cozy texture in Erin's living room. She made these pillows by stretching burlap onto a wood frame, drawing her design, then needle-punching the yarn in 1/4-inch increments. "It's good practice to rug-hook the outline of shapes first for clear definition, then work your way toward the middle," she says.

low slung red chair
Adam Albright

A low-slung chair is visually balanced with a tall blanket ladder and a lower timber side table, both of which Erin made. The ladder is built from two closet rods and six dowels, gradually diminishing in length, spaced 10-1/2 inches apart along the 7-foot ladder. She finished it with a two-tone look—stained (Varathane Wood Stain in Sunbleached) and spray-painted glossy white (Rust-Oleum White Lacquer).

Erin Francois, Homeowner

"I'm drawn to a mix of a few favorite styles: Scandinavian, Early American, Midcentury and Modern. If I had to describe my home in a word, it would be collected."

—Erin Francois, Homeowner

She created the side table by cutting four 20-inch-tall pieces of pine from a 6×6×96-inch post, then used a circular saw to make angled cuts in each of the legs. The pieces are attached with wood dowels glued into place.

"The key power tool here is a belt sand eras it smooths out a multitude of sins—unlevel legs, uneven top, and rough edges," Erin says.

wood top customized cabinet living room
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Erin and Ken created a floating media console, left, by attaching an IKEA Besta cabinet to the wall. The piece also stores Sylvia's growing toy and book collection. They finished the cabinet with a walnut herringbone top and brass knobs and pulls.

pre-made patterned pillow bench
Adam Albright

Ken, a commercial contractor, often partners with Erin on home projects including this raw-edge bench used as dining room seating. Ken sanded smooth the top of a 3-1/2-inch-thick slab of walnut and attached metal legs Erin found on Etsy. Erin made the seat cushion using a Kufri cotton fabric that she sewed with an envelope closure and inserted a premade pillow form. She cleverly secured the cushion to the bench with two skinny belts she found online.

"I love creating projects that serve a function in daily life," Erin says. "I get such satisfaction out of putting to good use the things I've made."

diy dining room home decor
Adam Albright

Sewing is Erin's first DIY love and the first maker skill she learned. "It's helped me make a lot of custom soft goods for our own place, and I also sell pieces at a local boutique, " she says. In the dining room, Erin worked with her mother to make the Roman shades. Erin also remade the IKEA cabinet with paint and new brass hardware. The Duncan Phyfe table belonged to Erin's great aunt and the Windsor-style chairs are an affordable find from Target.

white cabinets kitchen with brass hardware
Adam Albright

Aside from the electrical and plumbing, Erin and Ken DIYed every inch of their once brown and dated kitchen. They added character to the space with a planked ceiling, new white cabinetry, subway tile, and marble counters that contrast with charcoal-painted windows and bronze hardware.

"One of my favorite moments of the overhaul is the slatted sink doors we retrofitted from the old kitchen and painted to match the new cabinetry," Erin says. (The couple reused the remaining original cabinets in the upper-level rental unit.

back hall diy storage area vintage look
Adam Albright

Erin's back hall is a typical but awkward 1930s stair that leads from the kitchen down to either the basement or out the back door. She needed the tiny space to work harder. Her solution? A Shaker-style peg rail atop wainscoting that wraps around the stairway. Painted in Kilz International Gray, the zone is now a colorful welcome and useful entry that's made special with a vintage portrait of Erin's mother when she was 5.

bedroom diy shelving hideaway
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Erin's idea for a Murphy bed in her studio was a no-brainer to avoid overnight guests crashing on the sofa. After installing the bed (which came in 1 million pieces, Erin jokes), she and Ken added IKEA shelves to one side for a built-in look and to store guest room sundries.

diy faux leather straps
Adam Albright

Erin recently added the wall-mounted bolsters to create a headboard for the bed and to narrow the gap between the wall and mattress. Other homey touches include the macramé wall hanging made by friend and fellow blogger Sara Banner, and a wood bead garland and block-print pillow, both of which Erin made.

In the studio, white metal tables on casters easily move out of the way when the Murphy bed is down. Erin keeps the room's look playful with a black tassel garland she made with Banner at her shop, The Forest Fern. Wall-mounted shelves above one of the tables keep supplies at hand and tidy. Larger items and more craft supplies are stored in the nearby closet.

"One of my tips is to gather all of your materials before starting on a project," she says. "It's a similar mentality to cooking shows where ingredients are premeasured and ready for action. The project just runs so much smoother."

master bedroom dark gray blue painted walls
Adam Albright

For a finishing touch in the primary bedroom, Erin wanted art but needed it to be a particular size to scale with her furniture. She created this 2-foot-square color-block canvas using acrylic paint in colors to complement the room. The piece's graphic design and colors pull out the hues in her bedding and contrast with the dark gray-blue walls. The room's traditional touches come from an iron bed frame, which was a discontinued IKEA piece Erin found on Craigslist, and a thrifted sewing cabinet at the bedside.

Erin Francois, Homeowner

"I want people to feel comfortable and welcome in my home. Handmade, perfectly imperfect pieces help encourage a come-as-you-are vibe."

—Erin Francois, Homeowner

Erin made a custom frame for the art in her primary bedroom by cutting painted plywood strips and adhering them to the edge of the canvas with a brad nailer.

A Sylvia's nursery is a peaceful respite at the back of the house away from the action. Scandinavian-inspired wallpaper is a nod to Erin's roots, and the modern folkloric pattern is like a fairy tale unfolding around the room. Erin and Ken installed board-and-batten wainscoting on all four walls, and Erin hand-stitched lace on the appliqué pillow she made for the glider.

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