Secondhand Furnishings and DIY Handiwork Transformed This Outdated 1973 Ranch

This industrious North Carolina couple coaxed their woefully retro ranch out of the past with the triumvirate of renovation: rescuing, refreshing, and reusing.

There's not a wall, floor, or window that didn't receive some TLC from Jeff and Catherine Whittaker when they overhauled their Charlotte ranch. The couple honored the home's '70s heritage (and saved major money) by rescuing vintage furniture from thrift stores and estate sales, refreshing scores from Craigslist and Facebook, and reusing existing pieces for the couple and their three girls, Hazel, 8, and 6-year-old twins Margot and Louise.

"We tried to blend new and old in our renovation and in decorating the house — a mix of modern and vintage just gives you a collected feel that's really unique," says Catherine, an interior designer with Design Post Interiors. "Jeff and I are of the mindset that if you can incorporate even a few pieces of vintage furniture or elements original to the house, it's worth it to add interest."

"Plus, older houses have so much character," Jeff says. "For me, the older the house, generally the better."

catherine and dog on front porch with blue door
Brie Williams

Their 1970s ranch was a time capsule for its era, and every room needed updates. The Whittakers pulled up gold and brown shag carpet and particleboard subfloors, closed some doorways and moved others to finesse the layout, vaulted ceilings, painted walls, overhauled the kitchen, and scoured secondhand sources for furniture and accessories.

The Whittakers kept the best '70s elements, including this slate porch that extends into the entry. About 12 trees needed to be cleared from the property, so Jeff paid someone $300 to bring a portable sawmill and cut the pines into shelving, a fireplace mantel, and more.

"Our biggest goal was to make the house feel bright and open," Catherine says. "We wanted it bright and happy and really livable." The result is a sunny ranch that's befitting the 2020s.

Jeff and Catherine considered IKEA cabinets for their kitchen, but a local shop had better prices. Because Jeff is handy and loves a project, he and his brother installed them over four days. Jeff tweaked a pair of over-refrigerator cabinets to fit under the apron-front sink in the island.

The storage bank consists of six upper cabinets stacked two wide and three tall. Jeff built a wood platform to elevate them off the floor. Catherine found one of the chandeliers at a neighbor's garage sale for free. She commissioned a local lighting shop to create another to match it. Two for the price of one!

modern white kitchen with black accents
Brie Williams

All the windows are original, but Catherine and Jeff painted the frames and muntins black to contrast with the white walls. Instead of white Shaker-style panels like on the rest of the cabinetry, stained tongue-and-groove boards dress one side of the island.

The vent hood of tongue-and-groove boards is a Jeff original. The hardwood floors were professionally installed, but to cut down on labor costs, Jeff ripped up the old vinyl and crumbling subfloor himself.

kitchen liquor cabinet with diy wine rack
Brie Williams

Jeff converted one corner of the kitchen into a dry bar and drink station, complete with beverage fridge. He built a wine rack out of 1x lumber to utilize a narrow spot between the cabinets and beverage fridge.

In very groovy '70s fashion, one corner of the living room featured a wet bar behind bifold doors. The Whittakers converted the space to built-ins for display and storage. Catherine commissioned the painting above the fireplace from a local artist she discovered on Facebook. "I love original art," she says. "It's a worthwhile investment."

a-frame ceiling living room with dog and daughters
Brie Williams

Vaulting the ceiling revealed that cinder blocks met the roof line instead of the fireplace bricks. Jeff sheathed the wall in white-painted tongue-and-groove boards for a cohesive look.

White paint everywhere turned the room from dark and dreary to bright and fresh. Jeff built a slim rack next to the hearth to keep firewood in easy reach.

The furniture—a mix of new and vintage—is family-friendly. Catherine checks consignment stores to find higher-end pieces at great prices, including a sofa and chairs that were in great shape.

black french doors and hallway mirror
Brie Williams

The Whittakers modernized the living room's French doors to the sunroom with black paint. Catherine nabbed this Lucite-and-glass table at a local thrift store. The octagon mirror has that retro shape and nods to the house's age, but it's new: It came from a Pottery Barn outlet.

The Whittakers were wise about what they renovated—and what they left alone. Once the hall bath's faucets were repaired, the bath was totally functional.

The hallway bathroom got a light facelift instead of a major overhaul: The countertops, vanity, and hardware all stayed put, but the vanity got a coat of cheery-pink paint and the dated wallpaper was stripped in favor of white paint.

bedroom with green velvet headboard
Brie Williams

Inspired by a swatch of green velvet, Catherine asked a local upholstery shop to create a headboard with the height and vertical channeling she wanted for the primary bedroom. Catherine snapped up the pricey burlwood nightstand for a song at a thrift store because its drawer was broken. It was an easy fix.

Rather than overwhelm the twins' room with pink, Catherine made sure the color enjoyed a few big pops, then balanced it throughout with neutrals.

Catherine hunted high and low for matching vintage spindle beds. She finally found two similar Jenny Lind beds from different sellers and painted them white to unify them. The pink curtains were a Facebook find. Catherine let out some of the pleats so they're wide enough to cover the big window. The hanging chair is another Facebook score. "It's vintage and so fun!" Catherine says.

CATHERINE WHITTAKER, HOMEOWNER AND INTERIOR DESIGNER

Kids' rooms are such an opportunity to do something fun and colorful, but at the same time keep it cohesive with how the rest of the house feels.

—CATHERINE WHITTAKER, HOMEOWNER AND INTERIOR DESIGNER

A neighbor who is a graphic designer whipped up silhouettes of 6-year-old twins Margot and Louise in Photoshop. Catherine framed and hung them over their beds.

catherine and daughters sitting on bed
Brie Williams

In 8-year-old Hazel's bedroom, a gleaming brass bed takes center stage. "It was really tarnished when I bought it," Catherine says, "so I spent a couple of days in the driveway with Bar Keepers Friend and the bed. It shined up just enough and kept a beautiful patina."

How to Score Home Decor Deals

Jeff and Catherine Whittaker are shopping sleuths, unearthing treasures wherever and everywhere they look. We picked their brains for tips on finding the best deals.

1. Shop Locally

The Whittakers scored big on a few items in their home by finding them nearby rather than at big-box stores: The kitchen counters, cabinets, a chandelier over the island, their upholstered bed, and several other furniture pieces all hail from local places. Shopping at small businesses lets you check out prospective purchases in person. If you're a regular, owners may be inclined to contact you when a find you have been looking for comes in.

2. Shop Often

It's not realistic to think a single trip to a thrift store will yield a bounty (though it certainly could). Instead, Jeff and Catherine make regular trips to a circuit of stores so they're looking for furnishings and accessories for the house often. That consistency pays off with big bargains.

3. Shop Everywhere

If they're planning a road trip, Catherine will scope out Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace for the cities they're going through, and once they arrive at their destination, they'll drop into local thrift shops and markets to snoop around. "You have to cast a wide net," Catherine says.

Updated by
Andrea Caughey

Andrea Nordstrom Caughey has been providing interior design insight to readers for more than three decades. She helps readers upcycle items and restore old spaces with modern aesthetics. Andrea's work has taken her coast-to-coast in search of the best home ideas, and her work has been featured in Southern Living, Better Homes & Gardens, and StyleBlueprint. She has also been involved with Dotdash Meredith as a regional editor for more than three decades. Her work has also included garden and outdoor ideas.

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