After moving from her hometown of Springfield, Missouri, to Nashville, Elsie Larson and her husband, Jeremy, embarked on a new journey: adoption. The 18-month process produced “an overwhelming mix of excitement, anxiety, and anticipation,” says Elsie. To give herself an outlet during the waiting period, Elsie, cofounder of the lifestyle site A Beautiful Mess, purchased a 1930s bungalow as an investment and began a top-to-bottom renovation. With $15,000 and some creative techniques, the mom-to-be completed the project just in time for daughter Nova’s arrival.
Living and Dining Rooms
“A lighter coat of paint instantly makes small spaces appear larger,” says Elsie, who went with a warm shade of white (Marshmallow by Sherwin-Williams) on the walls and untinted white on the trim and fireplace. She swapped out the ceiling fan above the dining table for a statement light fixture, which defines the eating area and makes it a focal point of the open space. Elsie added hits of green throughout the house to give it the personality she craved. “Pick your palette first,” she says. “If the whole house is decorated in one color scheme, you can move decor from room to room when you want to change things up.”
To buy: Chester olive green sofa, $1,399, and Mara walnut coffee table, $299; article.com. Natural hide hand-tufted cowhide ivory/natural area rug, $820, Sienna extendable dining table, $1,650, Methuen armchairs, $124 each, and Cristobal Semi Flush Mount, $500; wayfair.com. Moroccan wallpaper mural by Sarah Sherman Samuel, $175 per roll; luluandgeorgia.com. Phoebe rug, $1,500; appleandoaknash.com for similar.
The Living Room Before:
Before, a worn-out stone fireplace and dated red curtains made the open-concept living area feel dingy. The hearth called for more repairs than the budget allowed, so Elsie opted to close off the fireplace and make it a nonfunctional focal point.
To buy: Story on Wheels art print, $36; alisonholcombphoto.etsy.com.
To save money, Elsie chose to paint the existing cabinetry—white for the uppers and Thunderbolt by Valspar for the lowers—and finish them off with matte black hardware (easy to find at hardware stores) and a durable quartz countertop. At just over $7 a square foot, the patterned ceramic tile brightens up the space and offers a nice contrast with the dark cabinets.
To buy: Geomento ceramic tile, $7.20 per square foot, and Delta Trinsic kitchen faucet with Touch20 technology, $473; homedepot.com. Jill rug, $600; appleandoaknash.com for similar.
The Kitchen Before:
While this room posed some major challenges along the way (like a rotten subfloor), the end result is lively and livable.
The adjacent dining nook was an awkward size for most store-bought furniture, so Elsie had a colleague build the table and benches, which allow more guests to enjoy the space at once.
Wallpapering a small space (including the ceiling) can make it feel cozier. This botanical pattern appears bold up close but subtle from afar.
To buy: Ida removable wallpaper, from $48 per panel, wallsneedlove.com.
The Dining Nook Before:
Before the makeover, this space was full of potential, but the awkward narrow shape presented a challenge.
The character in this room is what ultimately sold Elsie on the house. She gave the original pedestal tub and existing vanity a fresh coat of green paint and refinished the interior of the tub with an epoxy paint (Rust-Oleum white tub and tile refinishing kit, $26; homedepot.com). A round mirror mimics the curves of the bath, while jute accents and a live plant make the space feel more spa-like.
The Bathroom Before:
The pedestal tub was the standout in this room from the beginning. The original bathtub had been painted many times previously, so Elsie didn’t feel bad giving it another coat.
This room gets a lot of natural light, thanks to a wall of windows along the back of the house. That keeps the floor-to-ceiling green paint from feeling overwhelming and gives the utilitarian space some visual appeal. Elsie didn’t want to obstruct the flow between the laundry room and adjoining kitchen with a door, so she opted for a beaded curtain to divide the rooms but keep them easily accessible.
To buy: Big Dot bamboo beaded curtain, $49; urbanoutfitters.com.
The Laundry Room Before:
This small space was underwhelming, but the windows that provide plenty of sunlight let Elsie introduce a bold paint color in the room.
Elsie brightened up the room with cream-colored walls, neutral textured bedding, and sheer curtains. To make the angles feel intentional, she built a shelving unit around the window for displaying books, photos, and mementos. An iron bed frame adds character to the room without overwhelming it the way a solid wood or upholstered piece might. Since there is no closet upstairs, a wardrobe rack provides a cheap alternative to constructing one from scratch.
The Bedroom Before:
Originally painted purple and outfitted with wall-to-wall carpeting, this sloped-ceiling space felt more like a cave than an oasis.
A fun kid’s space doesn’t require a ton of color. The vibrant blue walls were refreshed with Sherwin-Williams Marshmallow paint, and the whimsical lofted bed was filled with plenty of stuffed animals. Open storage offers easy access to toys, while a mirror on the wall opposite the window helps create the illusion of a larger room.
The Bedroom Before:
Before, the room was covered in vibrant blue paint. Elsie decided to tone down the color, while still keeping the room playful and fun.
More Ways to Save on a Makeover
My father-in-law once warned me, “Count on renovations costing twice as much and taking twice as long as you anticipate,” says Elsie. ”If you budget for the unexpected, it won’t be as tough to swallow.“ This three-bedroom bungalow provided its fair share of hurdles, but Elsie found creative ways to overcome them and keep her finances in control. When she learned about the rotten kitchen subfloor, for example, she decided to forgo hiring a professional to tile the guest bath and went the DIY route instead. She and her team watched online tutorials and spent less than $1,000 on materials. Their revised plan saved nearly $5,000.
For those interested in renovating their current home or embarking on a project house to earn passive income, Elsie has three main money-saving tips:
- Find a house whose walls can stay intact. Ripping them out will likely lead to hidden expenses.
- Save 75 percent on wallpaper by using it for an accent wall instead of an entire room.
- Hire a pro to refinish existing wood floors—it’s much more cost-effective than replacing them.
To buy: Round Vernazza outdoor chairs, $400 for 2, Black and Ivory Stripe indoor/outdoor rug, $150 (5 by 8 ft.), and Jasper outdoor accent stool, $80; worldmarket.com. Urban Barn bronze indoor/outdoor wall lights, $50 each; lampsplus.com. Gesso planter, $125 for 3; zgallerie.com. Front door paint: Isle of Pines SW 6461 in SnapDry; sherwin-williams.com for info. Plants and mulch courtesy of The Home Depot.