"Because this is the most important room in the house, I planned it first," says Stimpson. "I wanted everything to blend in. The countertops are from my previous home, but we bleached them to match this house's original heart-pine floors (also bleached). The cabinet hardware is hidden as much as possible too. Look closely to see pulls at the top of each cabinet and drawer." The walls (and ceiling too) are coated with a high-gloss paint, Farrow & Ball's Borrowed Light, to brighten the space and make it feel larger.

Photo: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

When Ginny Stimpson, a self-taught draftsman, set out to remodel an early 1900s house in Fairhope, Alabama, she knew she had to set some guidelines. From the first day to the last, here is Ginny’s advice for taking on a fixer upper.

Commit to Your Vision

First and foremost, I wanted a happy and light-filled home. To do that in this small house, everything needed to line up aesthetically and have its proper place. Aligning the walls and doors created a really soothing effect. To make sure that everything worked well together, I would first draw all the walls, appliances, and furniture on paper. Then, I would block out my measurements on the floor using painter's tape.

Set Your Criteria

I'm a very utilitarian person. Before I made any decisions, I asked myself two things. First, what's going to make the most sense? And second, what's going to be the prettiest? If something looks good but isn't useful, then you won't be happy. In the kitchen, for instance, I placed the sink in the island so I could look to the right and see the bay. The cooktop went between the windows, which offer perfect views of the water.

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Build a Sounding Board

Freddie Kirksey, the lead on the construction crew, was instrumental in teaching me how to measure. We built a great trust with each other and would work through problems together. When we still couldn't figure out an answer, we Googled for a solution to make it work. Also, my best friend, Vesta Fort, is a decorator in New Orleans. She helped source wallpapers and fabrics and talked me through some of the layout and space issues.

Stay Inspired

When I flippantly told Vesta that I was tired of thinking about which sink to buy, she set me straight by saying, "You have to care about every little thing, or it will come back to haunt you in the end." To stay motivated in the midst of hectic construction, I would linger behind in the empty house after everyone had left. Then I would pretend that money was no object to free up my mind to picture the best room possible.