This Alabama Couple Gave Their 1,400-Square-Foot Cabin a Brand New Look
EJ and Whit Brown aren't afraid of a challenge. The intrepid do-it-yourselfers had recently restored a 5,600-square-foot historic home in Florence, Alabama, when a cabin around the corner went up for sale. "I looked at it and fell in love, but it was not move-in ready. It was a disaster," says EJ. Tucked away off a back road on a secluded 3-acre property, the 1,400-square foot cabin had been vacant for several years and was less than livable. However, the home's atypical-for-Alabama saltbox-style design and woodsy location were worthy of a downsize. "I'm drawn to fixer-uppers," she says. "If I can see the potential in a house and if we put a lot of sweat equity into it, I know we can make it amazing." The renovation tag team got to work: Whit (a self-taught handyman) took on the electrical and plumbing upgrades, while EJ (a pro thrift-store shopper) sourced unique vintage furniture, artwork, and decor. See how this old cabin got a surprising second act.
Keep Spaces In Sync
Before, old wooden doors marked the front and side entrances. Replacements with top-to-bottom windowpanes let in natural light. "They help the outside feel like an extension of the inside," says EJ. A sleek shade of black (Sherwin-Williams Tricorn Black, SW 6258) gave the facade a face-lift. "The dark exterior feels modern but still simple," she says. Next, the Browns created inviting hangout spaces, like the side porch with comfy outdoor furniture and an alfresco dining area.
"I love the hunt of finding cool things for a good deal," says EJ, who scored the round wooden coffee table for $20 at a local Goodwill store. "I look for furniture you can feel comfortable in. You can put your feet up on that table like it's no big deal," she says. Mixing thrift store finds with newer modern pieces keeps the room feeling fresh. The Browns kept the vaulted wood ceiling exposed, which helps draws eyes up to the shimmering Serena & Lily globe pendant. "This fixture feels funky but still classic," she says. A colorful gallery wall pops off the staircase's dark backdrop.
Open Things Up
Fake wooden beams overhead and bulky upper cabinetry made the small kitchen feel even more cramped. Tearing those out, raising the ceiling, and installing a larger window helped expand the room. "Opting out of upper cabinets allowed space for putting art on the walls," says EJ, who envisioned the kitchen as equal parts cooking area and hangout space. Black details—shiplap walls painted the same color as the exterior, along with the honed-granite countertops and backsplash—keep the minimalist space modern. "It's a little cabin—no one's eye will be tricked if I paint it a bright color. Plus, all-black looks chic," says EJ. A tall wooden table (built by Whit) doubles as an island.
"Because it's a smaller house, this area had to function as an entryway, laundry room, pantry, and storage area—four rooms in one," says EJ, who decided to paint the walls, open shelving, and cabinetry of this walk-through space in a poppy hue (Sherwin-Williams Fame Orange, SW 6346). On the floor-to-ceiling shelves, EJ's glassware collection is lined up alongside kitchen tools and pantry staples. On the floor, vintage rugs stand up to foot traffic, including dirty paws.
Make Tiny Rooms Count
At the other side of the room, Whit reworked the plumbing and electrical systems to push the washing machine and dryer into one corner and built upper cabinets for extra storage. EJ filled the blank space with a gallery wall where pieces by friends, family, and local artists hang alongside finds from secondhand shops and antiques malls. Her tip: Get thrifted artwork professionally framed for an upgraded look.
Add Character to a Sleepy Space
Rather than using a collection of artwork, EJ enlarged and framed old family photos to hang over the bed, which is outfitted in Red Land Cotton linens. A chest of drawers doubles as a bedside table. "I don't feel like I'm missing anything by living in a small space," she says. To prevent clutter, she established a one-in, one-out policy. "Anytime I add something new—clothes, decor, furniture—I get rid of something else," she says.
Connect with Nature
Original French doors open to an airy sunroom off the main bedroom. Wide windowpanes replaced tattered screens for better views of the wooded property. Now, it's the Browns' favorite spot in the cabin. The sun-laden lounge space is equally great for morning coffee or nightcaps. The white walls (painted Sherwin-Williams Alabaster, 7008) lay a backdrop for EJ's colorful vintage finds, like a pair of mid-century modern chairs with refreshed upholstery.
Be Bold and Creative
EJ hung a large painting by an artist friend over the bed. "The big square Euro pillows serve as a headboard," she says. The blue canvas and white linens really pop off the room's dark brown walls, painted Benjamin Moore Espresso Bean (CSP-30).
Plan To Eat Out
The problem: Limited square footage inside left no space for a formal dining room. The solution: Relandscape the driveway to create an alfresco entertaining spot. "Our table is right outside the door. Functional and easy to access, it's probably the same distance from the kitchen as an interior dining area would normally be," says EJ. A gravel floor and tall retaining wall (made of railroad ties) help the space feel more like a real room. Whit built a long table to accommodate their frequent dinner guests. "Our neighbor gave us the wood. It's old and weathered, so there's a natural patina to it," says EJ. Metal chairs from Poly & Bark keep it modern. (Bonus: The furniture can stay outside year-round.)