Feel like there's no hope for your little place? Learn how one couple transformed their dreams into reality.
Small House, Big Style

They knew it was a good fit from the start. "I loved the Austin stone and the shape," Trish Sheats explains. "This was not your run-of-the-mill house, and we could see it had the character we were looking for--under the burglar bars." What a good description of the 1,300-square-foot house she and husband Morris purchased when they first moved to Dallas.

At first glance, however, most people would have passed it up. Window units were still in place (although central heat and air had just been installed); the roof had seen better days; and the burglar bars hid the home's cozy, cottage appeal. But for Trish and Morris, this house had lots of potential. Along with a convenient address and a delightful shade tree, it had the most important attribute any young couple looks for--a big backyard. "We knew we could add on," Morris says.

And add on they did. But not until the exterior got a budget-friendly face-lift so the house would suit their style the minute the moving van arrived. Plus, they realized that two phases--cosmetic changes first, then an addition--were necessary to fit not only their needs but also their budget.

With Trish's experience as an interior designer and Morris's willingness to take on any project, this can-do couple shows us how basic changes and preliminary planning are the key ingredients to successful home improvements.

First Things First
The Sheatses know curb appeal is important, so they started on the front, making certain that new elements would fit the existing proportions and style. Upon moving in, they removed all the burglar bars and window units. "That alone made a difference on the outside," Trish says. Paint was inexpensive and easy. The door, for example, is the original, updated in a rich green. New shutters are another nice complement.

Because they weren't afraid of a little yard work, they improved their landscape by moving things around within the yard and eliminating overgrown bushes. "We transplanted most of the boxwoods in front from another section of the house," Trish explains.

Inside, everything was repainted to freshen it up. "Colors age," she says, "so even an existing neutral color may not work because it's the wrong shade." Initially, the kitchen received the most attention. The floor was replaced with hardwoods, and existing cabinets were painted white to lighten the small space. A year and a half and a new baby later, the real renovation took place.

Planned to Perfection
Before tearing down the back wall, Trish and Morris really did their homework. As a designer, Trish knew the importance of making plans and gathering information. She drafted a solid floor plan including all their specific wants long before a builder was contacted. When the time came, Trish and Morris took five bids before deciding on a builder. "I noted names of contractors who were doing work in other areas of our neighborhood," she says, explaining how, in addition to personal referrals, they found a reputable builder.

The new space added 550 square feet to the house, including a casual dining/living area, an office/closet, and a secondary bedroom for their son that connects to an existing bath. "Our goal was to keep the new in proportion with the old," Trish says. "It had to have a smooth transition."

Access was created from the old house to the new area by removing the kitchen door and surrounding wall. A bar for dining fits inside the cased opening to join the spaces. Measuring approximately 18 x 28 feet, the addition meets all of their needs and makes the house live much bigger than its 1,850 square feet.

The room is alive with color and warmth, reinforced by a mix of comfortable and colorful accents. "Color makes me happy," Trish says. "Morris really wanted it to be a bright, cheerful room as well, because we knew this is where we'd spend most of our time." And because they recently added another member to the family, the expanded space was completed just in the nick of time. Trish smiles, knowing they will likely outgrow this house too. "It will be tough to leave it," she says, "because it is where my family started." Luckily for the next young couple, it's been broken in.