Best Before and Afters of 2016
There’s nothing more inspiring than a drastic before-and-after transformation story. It’s the ultimate success story of sorts, proving no home is too small, too disorganized, or too dated for a little paint and elbow grease to fix. In 2016, we saw more than a few home renovations we loved—all inspiring, all full of ideas; from how to revamp a drab exterior to how to capitalize on even the smallest of interior spaces. It wasn’t easy when we set out to narrow down our favorites, but we gathered three before-and-afters that are chock-full of small space hacks, approachable home improvement ideas, and inviting, colorful rooms.
We kicked off 2016 with a compact Wilmington, North Carolina, charmer in our January issue. Designer Shannon Crain put every inch of this 600-square foot studio to work as she transformed it from a banana-yellow box to a light-filled and livable space.
In our hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, we saw a humble 1941 cottage be reinvigorated with its original colonial charm, thanks to a few clever architectural updates. Sleek windows, an expanded entry, and sharp architectural landscaping pushed this small home to its full (swoon-worthy) potential.
Finally, Southern Living got to peek inside the home of one of Charleston’s beloved artists, Lulie Wallace. She and her husband, Harrison, worked with friend and designer Angie Hranowsky to conquer the choppy layout of her 18th century single house and fill it with her own bright, playful patterns and art.
A Wilmington Jewel Box: The Living Area Before
When Shannon Crain first laid eyes on this studio apartment, it was banana yellow and cobalt blue. As an interior designer, she knows that every color has a place, but she was certain that these two in particular did not belong in an 1882 Georgian apartment in the historic section of Wilmington. The colors, of course, didn't worry her. Repainting would be easy. "I was focused on the glorious windows and the fact that they opened onto a roof where I could grow herbs," she says.
A Wilmington Jewel Box: The Living Area After
Crain worked backward, beginning with the end in mind. She decided how she would use the space and then followed her own strict rules as to what was allowed in. “Create zones to meet your basic needs—eating, sleeping, dressing, and living. I measured everything and drew an elaborate floor plan before moving in furniture. The kitchen was easy. Focus it on cooking and eating. The main room took more experimenting. I didn’t want the bed to be the focal point, so we pushed it against the wall so it’s out of the way and feels more like a daybed.”
A Wilmington Jewel Box: A Defined Living Space
Rugs are key to defining separate areas within one room. Here, a sisal layered with a hide corrals the sofa and coffee table, creating the living area. The mantel works as a makeshift nightstand for stashing books and a small lamp. Crain also worked to maximize the apartment’s natural light: “Reflective surfaces seem to expand rooms by bouncing around the light. I have a mirror hanging over the fireplace as well as inset mirrors on my closet doors. Clear pieces also help save visual space. My chandelier shines great light but is practically see-through when it’s off. The acrylic coffee table is functional and almost floats in the room.”
A Wilmington Jewel Box: The Kitchen Before
Before, the small space was packed with too many bold colors. So Crain painted the living room and bathroom Benjamin Moore Halo, a soothing cream. She then painted the kitchen Gray Owl, by Benjamin Moore, a hue she says is complementary to the cream throughout the rest of the space, and “soft yet surprisingly cheerful.” The kitchen was also slim on storage and eating space, smartly addressed with light furniture choices and a china-cabinet work-around.
A Wilmington Jewel Box: The Kitchen After
Benjamin Moore Gray Owl, a soft gray, cleans and brightens up the space, keeping it cheery. Crain says it also sets the kitchen apart, which helps to define different “areas” in the open studio apartment. Small-space dwellers need to work every inch. The two floating shelves above the sink create more storage and help anchor the upper cabinets. Woven baskets placed neatly atop the cabinets add storage and functionality to the petite kitchen with few cabinets.
A Wilmington Jewel Box: Clever Storage Solutions
Crain had to get creative when it came to storage throughout the apartment. “Demand that your pieces multitask. My chest of drawers is also my vanity, and my desk serves as a sideboard for entertaining. One of my favorite moves was converting a china cabinet into a pantry. It’s perfect for storing groceries and allows me to stash my appliances—blender, grinder, chopper—behind closed doors.” Dry goods get gussied up in organized glass containers and jars.
A Wilmington Jewel Box: Maxed-Out Closets
Crain had to get equally creative when it came to clothes storage. “Make it work. My shallow closet was not at all efficient for storing dresses, long skirts, or coats but became extremely useful once I installed shelves in the bottom half for holding shoes and handbags,” she explains. “Everything is in plain sight—which means no more shoving things in the back where they’re as good as gone. Above the shelves, I hang tops only.” Nicely arranged jewelry and hats double as decor.
A Wilmington Jewel Box: Gussied-Up Windows
"Make windows the star,” Crain says. “There's no reason to be loud with color when the room's architecture can speak for itself. However, I did highlight the 12-foot-tall windows with blue curtains hung just below the ceiling in the living space. In fact, you can actually give the illusion of a higher ceiling by hanging window treatments from the ceiling, not the top of the window frame." A sturdy book stack works as an adjustable end table next to the desk, which sometimes doubles as an extra table.
A Birmingham Cottage: The Exterior Before
“It was the sort of house you might drive by without noticing," says homeowner Caroline Little of this Birmingham, Alabama cottage. "It had great bones but felt very outdated." Little knew the secret to the exterior makeover's success would be staying true to her home's existing 1941 structure. So she carefully selected a team, architect Corbett Scott and landscape architect Paul Lell, who focused on enhancing the Birmingham home's original Colonial charm with adjustments to the windows, entryway, and landscaping.
A Birmingham Cottage: The Exterior After
"I wanted to make adjustments and work with what was already there, bringing out the good attributes and muting bad ones," says Scott. The collaboration between Scott and Lell was vital. "You want the landscaping and the architecture to harmonize," explains Lell. With upgrades that included new windows and bluestone pavers, this home received a face-lift that has all the neighbors green with envy. Plus, a hidden addition off the back makes more room for living, without changing the home’s historic proportions.
A Birmingham Cottage: A Welcoming Entry
Flattening the entrance's peaked roof and expanding it into a real porch was the key to creating a "distinct entry for the home," says Scott. The new squared-off parapet, punctuated with 1-foot-tall finials, adds drama and depth to the exterior. French doors with a fresh Chippendale spin complement the Colonial home's English roots. Curved muntins on the French doors and spherical finials on the parapet play off the rounded boxwoods lining the front of the home.
A Birmingham Cottage: Sleek Dormers
Windows played a big role in this home’s exterior update. To give the chunky dormers a cleaner and sleeker feel, Scott installed casement windows with end-to-end cornices extending above. Seen here, the siding, shutters, and trim got also an instant refresh with Benjamin Moore's Swiss Coffee. This creamy off-white paint is classic and clean without making the house look too stark in the afternoon sunlight.
For the roof shingles, Little chose gray (rather than black) to warm and lighten the exterior.
A Birmingham Cottage: Balanced Windows
New 8-foot-tall double-hung windows with fewer, larger panes have taken the place of the previous stocky, busy windows. It was important to Scott that the windows be long enough to balance the steep roof and the rest of the house. He kept the height but lowered the bottom of the frame to the floor and opted for sleek new six-over-six windows without transoms. He then paired the windows with slender, three-banded louvered shutters, both pretty and practical. They're less prone to warping and stronger than shutters with fewer bands.
A Birmingham Cottage: Thoughtful Landscaping
Bluestone pavers were installed in the grass to carve a distinct path leading to the revamped front door. Fitting the pavers into the grass also softened the style of the walkway. "We didn't want the hardscape to dominate too much," explains Lell.
As for the greenery, Little favors boxwoods, and Lell was happy to oblige. He says, "We wanted to play up the house's theme of ‘rich in detail but also quite simple.’" The answer? A cluster of American boxwoods in various sizes is lined up behind a low-clipped "Wintergreen" boxwood hedge. The emphasis on formality and scale echoes an English garden in a manner that's architecturally sound and doesn't take away from the home's facade.
A Charleston Single House: The Kitchen Before
When it came time for the Charleston, South Carolina-based artist Lulie Wallace to try her hand at decorating her 18th century single house, the self-admitted color fiend knew she was going to need help pulling it all together. To keep her bubbly style from veering too cutesy or frenetic, she called on friend and interior designer Angie Hranowsky to design a home that’s vibrant yet also calm and relaxing.
First things first: The artist needed to prep her canvas. Fortunately, her architectural intern husband, Harrison, was up for the challenge. He redesigned the clumsily configured 1,700-squarefoot, two-bedroom/one-and-a-half bath home into a two-bedroom/two-and-a-half-bath charmer with space for accommodating overnight guests and a brand new baby. And here’s the best part: He achieved this without adding an extra inch.
A Charleston Single House: The Kitchen After
Initially the kitchen was dated and closed-off. Downstairs, Harrison removed the wall between the dining room and kitchen, which created one great room that included the living room, kitchen, and breakfast nook. Then, achieving the crisp, clean look the couple wanted was in the details: freshly stained wood floors, an all-white color scheme, new quartz counters and cabinetry that extended to the door, and an island with shiplap siding to camouflage drawers. Floor-to-ceiling tile (Foundation Field Brick) draws the eye up and makes the room feel taller. Chunky bronze pulls from Rocky Mountain Hardware enhance the simple white cabinets.
A Charleston Single House: A New Dining Area
Turning the former dining area into the living room and opening it up to the kitchen gave Harrison space to design a bright breakfast nook, since the dining room often went unused anyway. He transformed his grandfather's old drafting table into a one-of-a-kind kitchen table with a new pinewood top. They surrounded it with two chairs and a built-in bench—with lift-up seats that provide extra storage. A basket-style pendant from Anthropologie inspired the home's open, airy design.
A Charleston Single House: The Living Room Before
In an efficient house, there is no room for unused rooms. So, Wallace and her husband skipped the formality of a traditional dining room and with a quick switcheroo, the dining room became the living room, and the old living room (which occupied a small space at the front of the house) became a combo den and guest bedroom. The new living room (before photo pictured here) went from awkward and cramped to nice and bright.
A Charleston Single House: The Living Room After
"I'm madly in love with color," says Lulie, who wanted to find a way to incorporate her own fabric and art into her home without going overboard. "Angie knows how to balance a room," explains Lulie. "The bold moves I make on canvas, she's able to do in a home." Indeed, Hranowsky's knack for pairing traditional with whimsical, Asian with retro, and modern with vintage provided the ideal backdrop for Lulie's works to come to life. The designer advises using a larger work for your anchor, then surrounding it with smaller pieces.
A Charleston Single House: A Colorful Living Room
"I had all of these amazing pieces of art under beds and in closets because I was too intimidated to hang them by myself," says Lulie. Hranowsky to the rescue: The decorator created groupings within the collection based on styles, weight, and frames. "I'll often lay the arrangement on the floor and take a picture before hanging it on the wall," says Hranowsky, who hung Lulie's work wherever she saw an opportunity—above doors, between windows, even wrapped around the TV in the living room.
A Charleston Single House: A Double-Duty Den
This den works overtime as a guest room. Lulie dreamed up the queen-size daybed by attaching a headboard to each end of a mattress. "It was very important to me that our guests had a queen bed to sleep in, but our house is so small it had to be a space we could also use," explains Lulie. She and Harrison turned their former living room into a combo den/guest room, which they outfitted with a daybed and a flat-screen TV so the family could use it for lounging and watching movies.
A Charleston Single House: Bright White Bedroom
"I know color on the canvas, but wall color is a whole different art," admits Lulie, who left the decorating palette in Hranowsky's hands. "Even picking the right white can be daunting!" Hranowsky chose a neutral backdrop, Benjamin Moore's Dove Wing, for the bedroom, living room, kitchen, and hallway, which meant Lulie's cheerful textiles and art could take center stage. Here, Hranowsky brightened up the deep green with pops of coral and cinnamon in the room. The Roman shades and bed curtains are both Lulie's own fabric, Tropical Jungle.
A Charleston Single House: Outdoor Living in the Lowcountry
Updating the screens on the porch gave it a whole new sheen. Luckily for space-strapped Charleston residents, the South Carolina climate is conducive to spending nearly the whole year outdoors. Since their kitchen opens onto a small screened porch, the Wallaces made sure that it was incorporated into the decorating plan. The L-shaped couch, upholstered in outdoor fabric, provides plenty of seating. Even more comfortable, casual seating options were created by piling on pillows made from Lulie's fabrics.
A Charleston Single House: Dining Al Fresco
Determined to keep entertaining despite no longer having a true dining room, the couple created an inviting eating area on the courtyard patio, setting up a sturdy 10-seat Ikea table surrounded with galvanized metal chairs. And, when the neighbors go out of town, they even take out a movie projector and watch films on the side of their house. When it comes time to dine outdoors, think double-duty decorating: A vibrant Kantha throw dresses up the patio table.