One Southern fixer-upper got the transformation of a lifetime when a young couple decided to take it on. The challenge: Do everything themselves.

By Lauren Hedrick Laurey W. Glenn and Jessica Thomas
June 28, 2019

Elizabeth and Whit Brown’s home in Florence, Alabama, is full of surprises. Towering columns and a porch outfitted with white wicker are textbook Southern Colonial. But inside is an unexpected and personal mix of old and new, traditional and modern. But the biggest surprise? The fact that they pulled off this makeover entirely themselves.

They bought the house (sight unseen for Whit) knowing it would be a massive slow-and-steady project. Over three years, they scraped wallpaper, wired light fixtures, tiled backsplashes and floors, spruced up kitchen cabinets, scraped more wallpaper, and pulled out yards and yards of pink and blue carpet. Elizabeth hunted through secondhand shops for most of their furniture, and Whit built the rest, including their dining room table and kitchen island.

When it came to decorating, Elizabeth didn’t let the old-house details tie her hands stylewise. A coat of white paint (Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace) now covers most of the interior, modernizing the dentil molding and wainscoting while maintaining a sense of the architecture. “I wanted to respect the original character,” Elizabeth says. “But then, because I used white almost everywhere, I could do whatever I wanted in terms of furniture.”

Courtesy of Capstone Realty

And that she did. In the dining room, glass bubble chandeliers offset more traditional elements and black unifies mismatched chairs. The Browns love to entertain (they had 40 guests for Friendsgiving last fall), so their dining room had to work for a crowd. Whit built the large farmhouse table and installed a second electrical box in the ceiling so they could hang two chandeliers to suit the long, rectangular room. Elizabeth hung art in a loose, horizontal arrangement to span the wall.

Despite all the DIYing it took to bring the house into 2019, Elizabeth and Whit had no doubt that they could make it theirs. “I could just see it,” Elizabeth says. “I could see past the dust and the cobwebs and the wallpaper, and I just knew that this house had so much potential.”

Courtesy of Capstone Realty

Revamping the kitchen was first on the to-do list. “We liked that it’s a cozy kitchen; it just needed some brightening,” Elizabeth says. They replaced the appliances, updated the existing cabinets, and tiled the backsplash, but it’s the turned-leg island table Whit built that really opened the space.

Chrome Bertoia stools, a mainstay of modern decor, pull up to Whit’s butcher-block island. The original cabinets look brand-new thanks to this DIY hack: Whit replaced the panels of upper cabinet doors with glass panes secured with small brackets. Subway tile that runs to the top of the cabinets looks both classic and modern.

Courtesy of Capstone Realty

In the living room, a secondhand floral sofa that could go dowdy in the wrong hands looks fresh paired with a boxy burl wood table. The blue sofa was one of Elizabeth’s lucky thrifting finds. “I bought the sofa before we even closed on the house,” she says. “It’s down-filled so really good quality, and I knew that floral was going to look amazing in an all-white room.” She updated the sliding glass doors by removing decorative muntins and painting the frame glossy black.

When Whit and Elizabeth moved in, a second living space had pink wallpaper, baby blue carpet and trim, and a random sink plumbed in the corner. They eventually turned it into the “fun” room with a wet bar and pool table. Affordable IKEA cabinets are topped with a remnant piece of granite from a local stoneyard. Dark gray walls complete the chic but masculine look Elizabeth wanted.

Courtesy of Capstone Realty

The wainscoting and cast-iron claw-foot tub are the only parts of the bath Elizabeth and Whit kept. They reglazed the tub’s interior and painted its exterior flat black. They stripped the wallpaper, replaced the vanities and fixtures, and laid a new herringbone tile floor themselves.

Courtesy of Capstone Realty

New hardwood floors weren’t in the couple’s budget. So in the rooms where there was subfloor under the carpet, they had pine plywood cut into 8-inch-wide planks, laid them in varying lengths, then sanded and painted them white. The vintage decor in the bedroom is an ode to the home's beginnings.

Courtesy of Capstone Realty
Laurey Glenn

Like nearly every other room in the house, the master was wrapped in dated wallpaper. White paint and neutral carpeting provide a fresh backdrop for a collection of thrifted furniture and art. Framing the four-poster with art makes it look even more substantial.

The backyard is designed for entertaining with a lounge spot and a dining table to seat 12. Elizabeth wanted the coffee table, built from basic 2x4-inch boards, to be big enough to fit a cheese board or to put your feet up after dinner. Plenty of greenery keeps the space looking fresh.

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