Our Most Inspiring Before & After Makeovers
See how major renovations or simple decorating changes completely transformed these homes.
Have you recently bought an older house with “good bones” that’s sorely in need of a remodel? Or has your tiny, isolated kitchen bothered you for years? Whether you’re just starting to dream or ready to bring in the wrecking ball, these stories of renovation and remodeling will fill you with inspiration. Our editors have compiled this collection of our most creative and clever makeovers—loaded with ideas and advice from some of the South’s best designers and architects. Get ready to let the dust fly!
Here, in our first "before" kitchen, the old, dark wood cabinetry; a heavy island; and a dark brick stove enclosure made the large room feel cramped.
Designer Suzanne Kasler painted everything white for a serene feel and replaced the cabinetry to strengthen its architectural envelope. With Design Galleria’s Matthew Quinn, she designed the floor-to-ceiling cabinets and a handsome, furniture-like island. Glass door fronts lighten the main wall. Alabama white marble countertops, a white tile backsplash, and neutral barstools add texture to the monochromatic look.
Walls of windows made this room architecturally pleasing, but a blank white canvas screamed for a little color.
An all-white palette spills over from the kitchen to the family room for a light-filled and timeless look. With its walls of windows, the room didn’t need much architecturally, so Suzanne strategically layered in color and patterns. Dark accents in small doses, such as the newly refinished dark wood floors and wooden coffee table, contrast with the white backdrop without overwhelming it. Suzanne softened the look with a floral pattern upholstered onto slipper chairs, which is repeated for emphasis in adjacent spaces.
Before, the breakfast nook was a light-filled space, but it lacked warmth.
Suzanne transformed the existing windowed corner into a cozy eating area with substantial built-in benches that mimic the kitchen cabinetry and provide extra storage. To make the space intimate, she placed slipcovered armchairs on one side of the metal bistro table and colorful draperies above the pillowed benches on the other side.
The existing bath was overly decorated, a bit claustrophobic, and without adequate closet space.
The room was stripped down to the studs, leaving only the windows intact. Valuable floorspace was saved with narrow vanities. Just above, recessed niches with inset mirrors offer the feeling of more space. Pavers made of white marble further the airy feel underfoot.
When Southern Living Style Director Heather Chadduck Hillegas got the call from a childhood friend to renovate and decorate a cottage on Arkasas' Greers Ferry Lake, she didn't have to think twice.
Here, a stained cedar ceiling paired with stone columns give the living room a heavy feel.
The juxtaposition of wood-clad walls and ceilings with the original stone columns and concrete floors plays up Heather’s textural, earthy palette and strikes the right balance between cozy rustic and modern industrial. She painted the stained cedar ceiling to brighten the space and then added bench-cushion sofas, a foot-friendly sisal rug, a large overhead light fixture, and a one-of-a-kind coffee table.
The tucked-away kitchen was dark but had good bones.
Heather brightened the space with a backsplash made of 3- by 6-inch honed Carrara marble subway tiles and installed a grid of 16 flush-mount light fixtures controlled by a dimmer switch to cast even light throughout. To pick up the gray tones in the floor, she selected durable, hand-poured, concrete countertops.
The dining room had lots of natural light, but heavy beams in the ceiling closed in the space.
Beams were removed to allow more light to enter the room from above. Heather designed a 12-foot wooden table with a beveled zinc top to fit the narrow room. Two giant lanterns lend symmetry and balance and set the area apart from the surrounding spaces. With a skylight overhead and an expansive windowed wall, the room feels at one with nature.
A soaring ceiling made this space ripe for possibilities.
Three space-saving bunk beds stack all the way to the nearly 20-foot ceiling in the guest quarters. Heather opted for an arrangement of four chairs in a circle to facilitate conversation. For a grand yet earthy statement overhead, a 6-foot-tall empire chandelier made of rope fills the space above eye level.
A set of cabinets lacks the authority to be a focal point of the space.
The addition of a large stacked-stone fireplace creates a focal point, adds a heat source, and visually links the porch with the rock columns inside the home. Heather flanked the fireplace with handy storage for stacked wood. The furniture is made with weather-resistant materials (teak, indoor/outdoor textiles, and water-resistant cushion fill).
Lindsay Bond Meadows had a lot of listening up to do when she set out to redecorate the home of a young family. To achieve the understated elegance she wanted, Lindsey couldn't wait to rid the rooms of their heavy window coverings and dark walls.
In the living room, dark colors dominated the palette making it a heavy space.
Losing the dark colors, window headers, and formal draperies, Lindsey created a blank slate. New window shades welcome natural light, and black-and-white geometric prints make the room current. She reupholstered the sofa (formerly pink) in a white outdoor fabric, which resulted in a more up-to-date piece with classic lines.
This nook needed a complete overhaul that included banishing the dark furniture and heavy chandelier.
Creating a sunny nook here meant starting over. Lindsey chose a lacquered table that reflects light and a contemporary take on a traditional candelabra. She surrounded the table with rustic chairs and an upholstered bench, mixing in shades of white in varying textures.
The kitchen layout works, but the color and accessories were in need of an update.
Keeping the existing cabinetry, Lindsey looked to finishes and furnishings to give this cookspace a fresh feel. Soft gray paint coats the original olive cabinets, making the kitchen’s palette cohesive with the rest of the house. Lindsey replaced the stainless steel backsplash with subway tile (grouted in dark gray for a graphic look) and gave the existing barstools a face-lift with simple slipcovers made of durable outdoor fabric.
Oversized furniture cluttered and dwarfed the space.
Lindsey simplified the seating with a few large yet sleek pieces. A collection of patterned pillows maximizes visual interest. She strategically framed the view by hanging draperies over the walls instead of the windows.
A lack of light was an issue in this dining room, pre-renovation. Brown walls and brown-on-brown furniture made it a dreary space.
Light was definitely in order here. Brown walls were painted white, and brown-on-brown furniture was shown the door. Chairs upholstered in off-white leather lend a smooth look. a round, chunky,stone table replaced the oval one, which didn’t suit the room’s dimensions. Lindsey left the existing chandelier for a spot of glamour overhead. Up the wow factor—go with open shelving with distinctive lines for an artful display area.
Olivia and Walker Brock looked at dozens of Charleston’s iconic Single Houses before they found one with their coveted “Three Ps”—porch, privacy, and parking. Unfortunately, the house lacked a fourth “P”—period authenticity. Olivia, who has a master’s degree in historic preservation, considered every detail, from the shutters to the light switches, to make sure they were appropriate to the home’s era.
At the front of the house, the existing period-discordant, ornate fence and iron gate were hampering the charm.
With the multi-storied porches restored, the couple replaced the existing fence and gate with welcoming wooden ones. Clapboard siding was painted a light green with cream trim, and the fixtures were backdated with reproductions. Not least, the front door was painted a classic navy.
Thick, formal moldings and faux plaster fireplace appliqués seemed out of place.
The homeowners removed the moldings and appliqués and simplified the room’s architecture. They also added bookshelves on either side of the fireplace and replaced louvered plantation shutters with solid panels hinged in three places to perfectly align with the windowpane muntins. They coated the walls in shades of gray for a warm, subtle backdrop and filled the room with accents that lend an English Colonial flavor.
The existing kitchen looked dark and dreary.
The owners wanted their existing kitchen to look like it had been added onto the home in the 1920s. That meant shiplap walls, no upper cabinets, mahogany countertops, and unlacquered brass cabinet hardware and sink fixtures. They ripped up the 1950s floor and laid a new pine floor on the diagonal, sealed and primed it, then applied two coats of high-gloss gray paint.
The air conditioner was placed in the back of the house and compromised the layout of the garden.
Moving the air conditioner to the roof opened up a world of possibilities. The owners removed the too-wide plant beds and fooled the eye with beds running perpendicular to the façade, creating a square that feels like an outdoor room with European leanings.
When Susan and Jeff Johnson purchased their four-bedroom cottage in Nashville, Tennessee, they wanted to bring it up to speed while making it livable for their growing family. To jazz up the scheme, they teamed with designer Gen Sohr to give the home a stylish look and play up the family-friendly vibe.
Pictured here, the pre-renovation kitchen was in need of a complete overhaul.
Removing the wall with a pass-through window opened the room to the adjacent living area. Susan wanted the new kitchen to be sunny, with glass-front doors to counter the lack of natural light. She chose white for custom cabinetry and quartz countertops for a look similar to marble without the price tag or maintenance. A hefty island has ample room for cooking, entertaining, and homework.
The diminuitive den had the potential to be a bigger space thanks to a small bedroom beyond the den wall.
Combining the breakfast area, small bedroom, and den allowed ample space for family and friends. Light pours into the added French doors. Gen upped the ante with a mix of fun patterns and a gallery wall of art.
Before the renovation, the breakfast room was actaully the family room.
The breakfast nook is also used for craft projects. Crisp white paint transformed the fireplace and bookshelves, and the dated mantel was replaced with a mod mirror. Gen enlivened the blank canvas with a graphic chevron rug and Roman shades made from an overscaled, blue-and-white floral print.
What happens when a self-proclaimed “non-beiger” buys a traditional home that’s completely covered in neutrals? In the case of Bailey and Pete McCarthy: major redecorating! Bailey, a decorator, writer of the lifestyle blog Peppermint Bliss (peppermintbliss.com), and owner of the Houston-based bedding company Biscuit, is best known for vibrant spaces.
Before, the sunroom was a colorless room that needed a dose of panache.
Bailey went for drama in the home’s sunroom, where rich browns and olive greens now dominate the once white-and-gray space. She enveloped the entire room with a dark brown hue in a chic, laquered finish, lending a warm, cozy feel. She redesigned the built-ins to house the television and to provide more closed storage.
Here, the white kitchen didn't appeal to the homeowners' love of color.
The McCarthys replaced their lower cabinets and gave the uppers new life with glass doors and brass hardware. Tired of white kitchens, they drenched the space in deep, dark green in a glossy, laquered finish. A collection of white dishes, an impressive La Cornue range, and a white subway-tile backsplash bring balance.
This dull space was in need of whimsy, color, and pattern.
A hand-painted floral wallcovering became just the colorful foundation this room needed. Every other color choice plays off of the wallpaper’s hues: the apple green rug, a pair of chartreuse gourd lamps, the hot pink velvet upholstered bed, and patterned linens. The room’s focal point is a canopy, edged in silky, green tassel trim. For the canopy’s interior, Bailey chose multiple yards of ivory silk for a luxe look.
With an awkward layout, this master bath seemed cramped.
Bailey relocated the tub and tucked it into a cozy surround that includes a pair of glass-shelved cabinets and an inset beveled mirror. The mirror adds sparkle and enlarges the space, while the rows of open shelving give the room lots of storage and a vintage-apothecary feel. The millwork’s lacquered finish adds depth and polish, and the traditional marble hexagonal tile is a nod to the home’s 1930s roots. Bailey made sure to save room for a facing pair of marble-topped washstands with polished brass legs.
Shannon and Ted Holt were faced with a common dilemma: Their kitchen had good space and had been recently updated, but the end result just didn’t suit their style or tastes. The couple called on Birmingham designer Melanie Pounds, who instantly knew that the heart of this home wasn’t in need of a complete renovation—just a few tweaks to make it a more cohesive, functional space for the family.
A few minor updates were all this kitchen needed to make it shine.
Melanie gave the kitchen continuity by removing the upper cabinets and installing open limestone shelving to match the countertops flanking the stove. A metallic tile backsplash, updated pendant lights, a sculptural range hood, and some conversation-piece barstools complete the look.
The dining room had great light, but was too formal for the family's needs.
The formal dining room was replaced by a more casual, inviting spot for everyday family meals. Melanie added a series of freestanding closets with upholstered doors accented with nailheads. The center one opens to reveal a home office nook with overhead shelving to conceal clutter.
This 9-foot-deep apartment in New Orleans was living rather small until designer Nathan Drewes came to its rescue with big ideas for taking it back to its 1830s glory.
Before, the narrow living room needed strategic furnishings to make the most of its modest footprint.
To give the eye a rest from the abundant color and pattern of the accessories, Nathan skipped patterned upholstery. He instead opted for tactile velvets and shimmery silks in solid shades of deep pink, mustard, and light blue.
You have to be friendly in this house because it’s so small,” says Kevin Walsh of his lake cottage in Hot Springs, Arkansas. When he and Brett Pitts began searching for a weekend home, they wanted space to relax and entertain. The house that caught their attention was a dreary 1969 rancher. Because it had a vaulted ceiling and a large wall of windows overlooking Lake Hamilton, Kevin knew they could transform it into a fresh, sunny space.
Here, a brick fireplace and dark, raftered ceiling needed to be lightened up.
Kevin kept the scheme consistent in the living area, where the brick fireplace surround is painted white. A pair of simple white occasional chairs and a cool, hide-covered ottoman provide a more personal arrangement than large sofas for sitting down for a conversation or checking out the ever-changing assortment of artwork and collectibles on the mantel.
Dated cabinets and a bulky refrigerator meant this space was in need of a redo.
To avoid moving the plumbing, Kevin kept the kitchen's original footprint but updated the cabinetry, appliances, and fixtures. He replaced the dated cabinets with easy-to-access open shelving and Shaker-style lower cabinets. Instead of a bulky refrigerator, he installed a two-drawer version in the wet bar area, just across from the kitchen, placing prominence on cocktails rather than frozen treats.
A bulky sofa, loveseat, and chair filled the space in front of the windows.
The dining table and four open-backed chairs anchor the expanse of glass, allowing the commanding view of Lake Hamilton to take center stage. “After that, it just made sense to put the seating areas in the middle of the room,” Kevin says.
The existing bedroom was small, dark, and contained odd furnishings that were out of proportion.
A new white headboard draws the eye upward, lending height and polish to the room. Matching clear-glass lamps and two mirrored night- stands keep the space airy and provide symmetry.
Fran Keenan—magazine editor-turned-interior decorator—has an eye for old homes begging for new life. When she and her husband, Matt, looked to trade their colorful Birmingham cottage for a larger, more family-friendly one, they set their sights on a 1930s English Tudor that had never been renovated. Mesmerized by the light streaming in through banks of windows and besotted with the location (within walking distance of an elementary school), the Keenans saw past the imperfections and designed a new house with an old soul.
Before, dated carpet and lackluster furniture didn't allow this space to shine.
For the main living space, Fran chose a cream backdrop of Lime White by Farrow & Ball. A pair of short sofas helps the long, narrow room feel cohesive, while modern, edgy prints keep the look from appearing pastiche.
A metal awning and vinyl siding hindered the curb appeal of the Keenan's home.
Fran and Matt removed vinyl siding to reveal the 1930s pine exterior. The lap siding was restored and painted a warm gray to connect the house to its landscape. Windows were reglazed and painted a darker shade of gray to add interest. The metal awning was scrapped, and the original screened porch was glassed in to create the study.
Busy floral wallpaper and a choppy flow did not add to the appeal of the pre-renovation dining room.
Fran nixed the windows on the far wall, opting instead for French doors to connect to the exterior and visually pull the eye through the space. She removed the busy floral wallpaper and bathed the walls in the same color as the adjacent living room for a better sense of flow. A mix of seating and an antique area rug keep the room from feeling stuffy.
Living in a horse stable isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But for horsewoman Sam Cato, the draw was irresistible. This house sat under the trees on a former estate, a shingle-style cottage that no one would guess had started life as a stable and carriage house. Sam teamed up with Charleston designer Melissa Ervin to bring this house back to it's equestrian roots.
Melissa and Sam were drawn to the panneling in the original living room. It became a key component in the makeover design.
In addition to replacing the oak floors, Melissa removed the chair rails to show off a continuous stretch of original V-groove paneling. She replaced the dark wood mantel with a larger, painted version inspired by a Georgian design, and she bathed the room in a pale, crisp gray (Stony Ground by Farrow & Ball). She also removed the built-in cabinet doors, replacing them with V-groove doors for consistency.
This long room was begging to be broken up into separate, functioning areas.
The task of divvying up the slender room and allowing it to function as separate areas was tricky. The center of the room was the prime spot for the crystal chandelier, so Melissa placed the table beneath it. The result: a center table that opens up for buffets for entertaining while serving as a divider for the two seating areas on either end.
The existing 1980s-era kitchen was dark, with a poor layout and dated appliances.
Melissa removed the tile floor and replaced it with French antique oak, added white painted cabinets topped with marble, and installed a new range and custom hood flanked by cabinetry, making the once-empty center wall the new focal point of the room.
Sam and Melissa knew this formerly lifeless small space could make a big impact if outfitted properly.
In the attic-like guest sleeping quarters, stained wood trim went from dark and heavy to a crisp linen hue. Melissa outfitted the space in 90 yards of toile, which was paper-backed to hang as a wallcovering and also used on the chair, bedskirt, shades, and lamps for impact. The wood floors were painted the same color as the trim (Linen White by Benjamin Moore) to help the room feel more spacious.
Michele and Andy Topka were happily tucked away in their quiet Charleston-area cul-de-sac, but as their family grew, their traditional home started making them claustrophobic. The Topkas teamed up with architect Heather Wilson and interior designer Jen Langston to rework their home with a more family-friendly layout and fresh, natural style.
Here, a poorly designed addition hampered the flow of the living room.
Jen and Heather joined the indoors with the outdoors by eliminating poorly designed additions to the back of the house, resulting in one living area with a wall of transom windows and French doors overlooking a deck and backyard pool. Heather went not out but up with a 17-foot-high vaulted ceiling. Reclaimed wood beams ground the airy space, and a fireplace grabs the eye and serves as a focal point in the room.
In the kitchen, generous windows and pretty original wood floors allowed the team to save money and just focus on the details.
The team removed the existing fireplace and broke the large room into two separate spaces more suited to the family—a quiet study and a dining room with two sides of windows. The abundance of windows floods the space with natural light. The owners saved big by retaining the original wood floors, stripping them down and oiling them to the perfect patina.
Previously, the kitchen lacked functionality witha a jutting island and awkwardly placed refrigerator.
Heather and Jen reconfigured the kitchen, forgoing upper cabinets, lightening walls and floors, and designing a refrigerator surround that looks like rich wood furniture. They also straightened out the island, creating a more functional space. A Viking range in a custom shade of blue—and surrounding lower cabinets in the same hue—added a bold pop of color.
This couple dreamed of a perfect little ramshackle cottage in need of TLC, but once they started looking, the reverie came to an abrupt halt. Not only did they lack the funds for a renovation, but they also lacked the know-how. So they refined their search to already-updated cottages that just needed cosmetic and decorative face-lifts. This 1920s bungalow was their pot of gold. After some 12 months of projects, they finished the cottage makeover and couldn’t be happier with the quirky but cheerful, traditional-meets-mod results.
Drowning in a sea of beige, the original living room lacked appeal.
With the ceiling painted a faint shade of blue and walls that went from beige to crisp white, the room was quickly brought up to speed and became a canvas for furniture, art, and accessories. The couple gave the existing mantel an upgrade by painting it the same color as the walls (in a semigloss sheen) and replacing the hearth’s builder-grade tiles with leftover pieces from a patio installation.
The sitting area located off the main living room was the perfect place to experiment with color.
The walls went from a boring beige to a soothing and unexpected shade of gray-pink. The newly stained ebony floor set the stage for a large outdoor lantern that was painted and rewired for indoor use. It makes quite a statement for not a lot of money.
Pre-renovation wall-to-wall greige carpet put a damper on the master bedroom.
Turquoise walls add exotic flair. Wall-to-wall greige carpet was switched out for seagrass for a cottage look and layered with an antique area rug for added interest. The nondescript ceiling fan was traded for a Moroccan-inspired glass lantern that makes a bold statement. The four-poster bed tented with a custom canopy serves as the room’s focal point.
Designer Barbara Hill thinks of herself as a house whisperer—a person with a gift for listening to spaces, hearing what they once were, and envisioning what they could become. She was all ears when she discovered this century-old dance hall in Marfa, Texas. Although the building was in ruins, its history and romance told Barbara it was definitely worth restoring. After a 15-month-long renovation (and nine dumpsters full of debris!), she was able to restabilize the 30- by 50-foot structure, update the exterior, and return the inside to its original one-room design.
In the kitchen, Barbara removed interior walls to regain the original open design.
Because the kitchen and living area are now a single room, she kept the existing 10-foot ceilings over the kitchen to distinguish the cooking space. Steel sheeting covers the kitchen ceiling, echoing the fire surround. To accommodate the windows, appliances fit under the countertops.
Mismatched windows and a dilapidated shingle roof made this a cringe-worthy exterior.
Barbara swapped the mismatched windows for commercial grade counterparts and had the garish green trim plastered over. A metal roof replaced the dilapidated shingle roof, and the weedy landscape was cleaned up and replanted. The newly added porch is now a serene spot for relaxing.
When Ashley Putman and her husband, Steve, began searching Central Texas for a weekend home, she had something in her mind that’s rarely seen in these parts nowadays—an old clapboard farmhouse as clean and pure as a bar of Ivory soap. She finally found the very picture of what she was looking for—a farmhouse with three bedrooms and one and a half baths just outside tiny Fayetteville, about 90 minutes from Houston, where she and Steve live with their two young sons. The house was so rotten and termite damaged that others referred to it as a teardown; however, in her eyes, the simple silhouette, pleasing scale, and unpretentious materials equaled perfection.
Before the renovation, a boxy facade didn't exude the warmth and charm the couple were looking for.
Existing concrete on the lower porch was replaced with wood, and entry stairs were repositioned for central placement. The rusty tin roof was upgraded to a standing-seam, metal variation, and a two-story brick chimney was added to the facade. Shutters were attached upstairs for consistency.
All this farmhouse needed was a porch facelift in order to up its curb appeal.
New first- and second-story porches brought back essential farmhouse charm to the 19th-century home.
Old panneling and wallpaper made this living room drab.
Ashley and Steve happily discovered a gold mine of shiplap walls under layers of old paneling and wallpaper in the living area, which also doubles as the entry. Ashley kept them simple with a coat of white paint trimmed in a warm putty color (White Heron and Sticks & Stones by Sherwin-Williams).
Seemingly installed as an afterthought, the existing stairs were steep and difficult to maneuver.
The owners rebuilt them for safety and ease of use. The stairs now allow space for a powder room beneath.
This cramped kitchen didn't work for Ashley and her husband. Looking to expand the kitchen's footprint, they looked to the connected mudroom for added square-footage.
The homeowners demolished a mudroom to add 200 square feet to the kitchen and master bedroom above. To become a functional cookspace, the kitchen was stripped down to its studs and rebuilt. Against a backdrop of bright white open shelves and stainless steel appliances, Ashley added a painted island topped with butcher block to add warmth and soften the industrial edge.
The original bathroom was cramped and outdated.
Ashley and Steve demolished the existing bath and added square footage to create the new master suite. Vintage-style materials, such as beaded board and small hexagonal tiles, give the bath an English country look and lend the authenticity of a historic original.
Neither warm nor inviting, this master bedroom needed some work.
All the items in the bright master bedroom—the tufted upholstered headboard, natural wreath commanding the wall above the bed, bold-striped blanket, and plush duvet—attest to Ashley’s talent for edited style that never ignores intimacy and comfort.