The horror stories of rainbow colors, wet carpets, dirty dilapidated surfaces — and a resident colony of spiders as big as the hand of homeowner — usually come as unexpected surprises to visitors of this pristine Wilmington, North Carolina traditional brick residence. Lisa, the designer behind , purchased the home with her husband Justin at foreclosure a year and a half ago. In order to make the abandoned space habitable for their son Ayden (and a pack of pets including black Lab Bailey and three cats called Gnocchi, Boris, and Milly), the pair has spent 18 months improving this 3,050-square-foot structure built not-so-long-ago (relative to its awful condition), in 1997.
With a passion for renovation and design, as well as a tendency to adopt stray animals, Lisa and Justin had wondered, “Why not take on a stray house in need of love?” They previously flipped a home to sell, and the experience gave them the confidence needed to tackle this project for their own. Since every single surface here needed to be refinished, it also gave them the chance to personalize finishes and colors to their taste rather than for resale. They had an incredibly tight budget, so they did all the work themselves along with some help from Lisa’s father. On move-in day, the dark-stained floors were still drying from refinishing, so they had to climb through a window on the second floor and live up there for four days until the downstairs hardwoods were able to be walked upon! In addition to her design practice, Lisa owns a home decor booth at local antique shop . She and Justin are constantly on the road hunting for antiques and unique pieces, or doing refinishing work until the wee hours of the morning. They almost always have paint under their nails and in their hair, and survive on coffee, but wouldn’t trade it for the world.
The pair are old home lovers at heart. Lisa always thought they would wind up in a house like the one from the movie Father of the Bride, so her goal is to make this new house feel old. She’s accomplished that by adding decorative touches and salvaged materials everywhere she can. For example, an antique mantel and bricks from elsewhere in the state suggest a faux fireplace in the dining room. Lisa and Justin added crystal doorknobs throughout the house and exposed wooden beams wherever they could. They still have a long wishlist of projects to complete, including adding beams and moldings to the family room to make it feel cozier and less contemporary. They are also expecting a large load of locally-sourced raw wood as open, floating shelves in place of the upper kitchen cabinets. Lisa imagines that anyone who takes on a huge renovation must feel like their home is never done. For her, the blank canvas is a perfect showcase for all the vintage finds and rustic touches she adores. People still tell her she’s crazy for designing an entirely white house with a five-year-old boy and four pets, but to her, each one of those things just makes it home. —