A Traditional Home Gets an Update with Cottage Charm

Designer Elizabeth Morgan Albert took cues from the world outside her Northern California home and brought in natural materials, colors, and textures.

gingham bedroom with patterned wallpaper

Designer Elizabeth Morgan Albert took one look at the 85-year-old fruit trees behind a ramshackle 1960s house in Sonoma County, CA, and she was sold. Never mind the rotting siding, wacky layout, and foggy windows. Those things could be fixed. But a backyard orchard? That you don't find every day.

So Elizabeth fast-tracked a three-month reno to get settled with her kids in time for the new school year. Sticking to a limited palette of materials (heavy on the acacia wood and knotty pine) and painting almost every wall white simplified the decisions Elizabeth had to make at breakneck speed, with the added benefit of tying together the choppy floor plan. Embracing the home's quirks and filling it with her collections and some passed-down family furniture ensured the remodel didn't erase the soul of the place or of the family she's raising in it.

Before: Dark Walls

living room before remodel

Despite the large window that floods in natural light, bold burnt orange walls darkened the space. The wall color distracted from the naturally charming white ceiling beams and built-in shelving.

After: Bright White

living room

All the furniture has a story. The living room's camelback settee was her grandmother's, then her mother's. Elizabeth covered the original chintz in navy blue indoor-outdoor fabric. Another gift from her mom, the barrel back chairs have been in every home Elizabeth has lived in. All-over white brightens the living room and integrates the shelving nook.

Before: Traditional Mantel

before fireplace

Plan A for the fireplace surround was to work with the existing brick, but demo revealed its condition was too poor to save. The white mantel gave the space a more traditional look, not fitting with the homeowner's vision.

After: Wood Wall

fireplace, holiday decor, chair

Because of the condition of the brick surround, Elizabeth moved on to Plan B: incorporate the same type of wood (knotty pine) used in the kitchen. Running floor to ceiling, the horizontal boards simplify and modernize the wall. No mantel shelving keeps the fireplace accent wall the focus of the space and eliminates clutter.

Rustic Fireplace Mantel Ideas

Modern Farm Table

dining room

The combo kitchen and dining area got a major upgrade without changing the footprint. Removing upper cabinets visually integrates the spaces, and switching out a basic double sink for a deep apron-front model gives the highly visible area a showpiece. Twelve-pane windows replaced inefficient models and contribute to the modern farmhouse feel.

Before: Distancing Design

kitchen before remodel

Traditional white kitchen cupboards didn't fit Elizabeth's plan for the new home's design. Ceiling-mounted upper cupboards feel ungrounded and blocked the window's natural light. Yellow walls overwhelmed the narrow space.

After: Natural Pattern

kitchen after remodel

Elizabeth chose knotty pine cabinets despite the soft wood's rep for being easily dented. To make up for lost upper-cabinet storage, a little-used utility room off the kitchen became a pantry. White countertops and a subway tile backsplash fade into white walls to allow the natural cabinets to be the star of the space.

Navy Neutral

gingham bedroom with patterned wallpaper

Elizabeth uses her ever-growing collection of chairs as sculptural side tables. In her son's room, one of them pulls up to an antique rolltop desk that adds more storage and charm. The wallpaper is Feather by Serena and Lily.

Secret Hideout


Opening the wall over an odd waist-height cupboard revealed a big hollow space. Adding shelves, seating, and an access ladder turned it into a cozy reading nook. Light blue walls complement the shades of white and navy carried through the bed linens.

Bedroom Retreat


This bedroom creates a welcoming, cozy space by marrying warm shades of brown with soothing blue hues. A chair seat doubles as a bedside table. A twig wreath adds to the rustic charm of the space.

Clean Utility

entry way storage nook

Elizabeth solved the stray shoe problem in the mudroom by installing open shelves designed to accommodate sneakers and sandals. A utility sink makes the space work even harder.

Flexible Patio

outdoor space

As the seasons change, so does this flexible outdoor seating area. For fall, a fire pit flanked by stained Adirondack chairs takes center stage. The arrangement blends into the tiered landscaping.

Photography by David Tsay.

Styling by Eddie Ross.

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