Bright White Bungalow
Historic Birmingham Bungalow
When you catch yourself spending a lot of money on rental apartment upgrades, like under-cabinet lighting and a built-in office for your breakfast room, it’s probably time to stop renting. This realization convinced Jacob Dorsett and James Laughlin, who studied architecture at Virginia Tech and now apprentices for an architect, to buy a fixer-upper where Laughlin could let his skills and money work for them—without fear of losing a security deposit. After a few weeks of searching, the couple found a three-bedroom Craftsman bungalow from 1923 in the Forest Park neighborhood of Birmingham.
Though the home was plumb and level, it suffered from an unfortunate 1990s kitchen-and-bath renovation and some ill-made decorating decisions. But its crowning glory—25 large windows and a hilltop location—assured Laughlin and Dorsett that this would become their open and airy bungalow. “The integrity of the house was completely preserved; it just needed a fresh vision and buckets of white paint,” says Laughlin. Here’s how they fixed it.
Problem #1 & Solution
Rooms were overwhelmed with a color mishmash.
Solution They used 70 gallons and multiple coats of white paint.
The dark exterior and drab pinky beige interior were the first faux pas to go. Laughlin covered the facade and interior walls, trim, and ceilings with one crisp white (Cloud White by Benjamin Moore) to create a seamless and expansive effect. The only surfaces to retain color? The porch’s “haint” blue ceiling and floor stripes (Copley Gray by Benjamin Moore). Instead of replacing the porch’s old tile floor, he saved $1,000 by painting over it.
Dining room: A round table eases traffic flow in a square room. Transparent chairs create the illusion of more space.
The kitchen was chopped into three work areas.
They reconfigured the rooms to form a spacious galley.
Laughlin increased the kitchen’s size from 85 square feet to 120 square feet by taking down walls that created the adjacent laundry room and mudroom. Next, he aligned the back door with the dining room doorway (taking care to replicate the doors’ original moldings), resulting in a wide galley kitchen that flows from the back entrance into the dining room.
Countertops: Gray Lagos Azul limestone pops against the white kitchen, echoing the stropes on the porch floor.
On the galley’s more hardworking side, Laughlin replaced the bulky, traditional window moldings with a bank of casement windows that sit directly at counter height. Throughout the kitchen, he concealed appliances and pantry storage behind minimally detailed cabinetry. The stove and sink give away the space’s function, but on first impression, this kitchen feels like a light-filled rear foyer. Laughlin opted for hardwood flooring topped with an Oriental runner to further the foyer illusion.
Hidden pantry: Tongue-and-groove-style cabinetry conceals a storage wall.
Integrated elements: A cabinet-front dishwasher and waterfall-edged countertops give the kitchen a more modular, less built-in appearance.
The natural light was blocked.
They removed every single curtain. “The windows were cloaked in heavy treatments, making the house super dark,” says Dorsett. Because the home has 25 windows, the couple felt it should be flooded with light. So they left nearly all the windows bare. (The hilltop elevation guarantees privacy.) The moldings and sills lend enough decorative heft to keep the windows from feeling naked.
Living room: In need of art over the sofa, Laughlin framed six architectural sketches from his college thesis and hung them in a grid.
Problem #4 & Solution
1990s renovation buried the home's original soul.
Solution They brought it back with a few key classic details.
Poorly executed updates over the years, like generic plumbing fixtures and a seashell tile motif in the bath, diluted the home’s charm. To restore its early 20th-century appeal, they opted for classic choices like the gooseneck kitchen faucet and the small white hexagonal tile flooring in the bath (popular for bungalows in the 1920s and 1930s). Counter-to-ceiling subway tile and tongue-and-groove-inspired wood cabinetry in the kitchen infuse historical references in a modern way.
Bath: Brand-new retro-inspired fixtures (the hex tile, pedestal sink, and medicine cabinet) look original.
Problem #5 & Solution
The furniture layout seemed clumsy and crowded.
Solution They added a clean-lined assemblage of furnishings.
Big, dark-colored furniture can make small spaces feel even tinier. Laughlin deliberately limited rooms to an elevated-looking mix of light-toned and low-profile furniture. His method actually increased the seating capacity while improving the traffic flow.
Guest bedroom: With no obvious place to put a bed, Laughlin opted for symmetry and centered an extra-tall upholstered bed between two windows.