Urban Cottage Style Blog

"Midwest Meets California" Remodel

I returned recently from visiting my sister and brother-in-law in their "new" home nestled in a country-like setting of winding roads and pine-scented air in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains about an hour southwest of Lake Tahoe. The wooded lots and rolling hills felt like I was "up north" in our native Michigan. The location also felt quite a bit like the mountain location they'd left behind in North Carolina.

But the house! Oh, the house. Other than its open plan, it was nothing like their previous home, which was a new, custom-built mountain home they'd expected to settle into for their retirement. But life, as it has a way of doing, changed. Grandbabies happened. And the grandbabies were in northern California, not North Carolina.

My sister isn't one to shy away from tough choices. With her vision, creativity, and immensely supportive husband, she saw the potential of this sorely neglected, three-bed/two-bath, 1980's ranch. With a big investment of money, labor and time, she knew she could make a light and lovely home. It has a good layout, an open plan, and large windows offering great light. With the contractor inspection revealing active termites, possible structural damage, and the need for a complete roof tearoff, they paused. Briefly. And then forged ahead.

If any of you think I'm being critical in describing my sister's home, let me just say this -- her home reminds me exactly of my own builder-grade ranch I bought near Boulder more than five years ago. Down on its luck and filthy, it hadn't seen a fresh coat of paint since it was built in 1981. Nothing of interest architecturally, stinky carpets throughout, and kitchen and baths begging for a sledgehammer. (Read about my reno in a previous post.) 

So visiting my sister's new home is deja vu for me. By the time I arrived, they had already replaced the roof, demolished a funky sunroom addition, removed all carpeting, demolished a high pony wall that created a tight and weird hallway in the front entry, gutted and remodeled both bathrooms, and freshly painted the bedrooms. 

My visit was spent wine-tasting, vintage hunting, hiking, and brainstorming interior and exterior design options with my sister. I get to enjoy the process of renovating all over again, this time offering ideas and sources while avoiding the labor, anxiety, and financial pains of it all! 

So here's our collaborative collection of design inspiration. Maybe some of this will inspire you, too.


Stefani Stein kitchen designPhoto by Tessa Neustadt

LA designer Stefanie Stein's calm kitchen colors provide inspiration for possible color choices in the kitchen, which will be gutted. The mushroom, light blue, and cream colors work well with existing furnishings and vintage rugs in living and dining room areas.

Laurel Bern Interiors kitchen inspiration

More color and design inspiration, this time creamy white and light sage in this DeVOL Kitchen designed by Laurel Bern Interiors.

Devol Kitchen design inspiration

Devol kitchen pantry door inspiration

devol pantry doors

More cabinetry inspiration from DeVol Kitchens!

An existing long, shallow closet in the hallway off the dining room will be converted to a pantry. I'm suggesting replacing existing bifold doors with tall, narrow pantry doors that wouldn't take up a lot of hall space when open and would coordinate with new kitchen cabinets and redesigned, built-in storage cabinets in the dining area.

I love these cutouts on the pantry doors, although they may prove to be too "cottagey" in the overall final design selections.

Dining Area

Ethan Allen By the Sea Dining Set

This image of inspired, casual dining is from Ethan Allen. My sister has already nailed it with an antique oak pedestal table and seafoam-blue wicker dining chairs that I hauled 1,153 miles from my home near Boulder. Imagine this look in reverse -- warm brown oak pedestal table with painted wicker chairs. 

Some sisters trade clothes; my sister and I trade furniture. Once upon a time, the table and chairs sat in my sister's charming lakeside cottage in Michigan. When she moved to her beautiful mountain home in North Carolina, the round table no longer worked and I bought the table and all chairs. Now, in her California ranch, it feels like they were meant to be here. Beautiful!

Living Area

The large windows in the living room lighten and brighten the vintage Tree of Life Persian rug that has warmed the floors of several past homes. Here with the California sun pouring in from the room's large windows, the rug's mushroom-colored background with small hits of vibrant blue and soft corals looks brighter and fresher. It coordinates really well with the blue wicker chairs in the adjacent, open-plan dining area.

Ethan Allen Shelton Sofa

My sister surprised me with news that she'd already ordered a new sofa -- the Shelton by Ethan Allen. This is a sofa I might have ordered for myself if I weren't currently reupholstering a vintage rolled-arm sofa. (Yes, this happens a lot with me and my sister. You might think we share the same brain.) This sofa has classic tufting and tuxedo arms with a slight flair. It will push the room in the direction of casual glam, and may require some other updates in lamps and fabric on vintage wicker to tie it all together. Another option: MGBW's Fiona.

Larkin chair by Mitchell Gold Bob Williams

I don't know about you, but I'd love to settle myself into this midsize club chair, the Larkin by MGBW. It's got a French Modern flair that holds up to the sofa choice. And it comes in warm ecru or beautiful blue to match other colors in the home's open plan.

There was some talk of using a recliner. If so, I hope they'll check out some suggested styles in this Laurel Bern Interiors blog post.

Master Bedroom

 guest room using vintage drapery panels
Photo by Lily Glass for sfgirlbybay

Months ago, I fell in love with this wonderfully textured, vintage-styled guest room makeover by @sfgirlbybay. And then my sister called to talk about ideas for using vintage fabrics for her new master bedroom window treatments. 

Even without seeing this sfgirlbybay image, by the time I arrived my sister had created this inviting master bedroom look with existing furniture from her previous homes -- an iron bed, vintage nightstands, and an old-world, wool rug.

Our current challenge is finding just-the-right vintage fabric for window treatments. That will be a fun search. (If you peek into my shop, you'll see that vintage fabrics are kinda my thing.) Or maybe a new fabric with a vintage vibe, like Schumacher's Pyne Hollyhock, but more colorful. If you have any suggestions for us, please comment below.

Front Entry

The home's front door is heavily paneled, solid wood with a small window and window insert that looks like heavy, scrolled, black ironwork. But the insert is PLASTIC.

Rectory Red front door
Photo by Tessa Neustadt 

My sister plans to sand down the door's worn wood exterior and has already settled on painting it a rich, deep cranberry red. (Think Rectory Red by Farrow & Ball.) I've suggested cutting out the cheap-looking plastic window insert and adding something like this iron grillework to the exterior. (If it's good enough for Emily Henderson, it's certainly good enough for us.) Similar, real iron grilles can be found inexpensively on sites such as Signature Hardware

My sister's reno plans also include installing warm oak flooring and tall baseboards throughout the house to unify the entire space.

I know that everything will come together beautifully with her artist's eye for color and pattern, her embrace of the wonderful California light, and her way of accessorizing with character-filled vintage finds and family art as well as her own art. I don't expect the final results to be the "California cool" we see so much on Instagram. It will be a unique "Midwest meets California" vibe. It won't be edgy midmod or starkly white, but will be her unique, warm style of casual, colorful, and welcoming.

I can't wait to see her final results, and hope to get the chance to show them to you.

If you have other design solutions or sources we should explore, please let me know in the Comments, below. Thanks in advance!


Couldn't resist adding this image of Ryder, my sister's Maine Coon. As you can see, he's had no trouble settling into his new digs.

All styling and photography by Heather of Urban Cottage Style, unless otherwise noted.

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