Photo: Michael Kovac / Contributor / Getty Images
On “Good Bones,” Mina Starsiak and her mother, Karen Laine, have shown themselves to be pros at making small spaces feel open and airy. In their newest Indianapolis renovation, they show how to creatively transform a grungy, run-down house into a bright and inspiring artists’ cottage.
In the episode “Cottage Becomes Artistic Oasis,” Starsiak and Laine are tasked with renovating a house that a local arts nonprofit has bought for a mere $6,000. They plan to turn it into affordable housing for artists.
The top challenges? For one, the house is tiny, just 790 square feet. The nonprofit also has a tight budget of $90,0000 to spend on renovations, which won’t go far, given all the work this place needs.
Check out how Starsiak and Laine pull off this makeover—and learn some budget-friendly home improvement tips that can help make your home feel spacious, even if you’re dealing with limited square footage.
A vertical garden brings the outdoors in
When Starsiak initially shows Laine the one-bedroom, one-bathroom home in the Garfield Park neighborhood of Indianapolis, they discuss tearing down the walls and windows of the enclosed sunporch, to create a real outdoor front porch.
Later, however, they learn that the sunporch sits over the foundation and has heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) ductwork, which means it needs to be completely closed off from rain, snow, and moisture.
Creating an outdoor front porch just isn’t feasible for this house, unfortunately.
Starsiak and Laine come up with a clever alternative. For less than $100, they build a vertical living garden inside the sunny three-season room and fill it with edible plants like basil, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, and chives. The result is a beautiful green design element that’s also functional.
“The porch couldn’t become part of the house, it had to stay a porch, and had to be closed back up,” says Laine. “We’re bringing the outdoors in.”
Mismatching brick can be whitewashed
On demo day, Starsiak and Laine discover a hidden brick chimney in the kitchen. The brick is in pretty bad shape, but they decide to give it a fresh makeover that lets its original charm shine.
Rather than painting the brick to cover it up completely, they decide to whitewash it, a process that lets some of the original red brick peek through. The chimney now complements the modern white kitchen without detracting from it.
“You kept the texture of the mortar and the brick, and you’ve added a whole other layer of interest and texture,” Laine says, after finishing the chimney project.
Neutral colors create a blank slate
Since the home will someday be rented out to artists, Starsiak and Laine decide to keep the design color palette light and neutral.
Not only does this help make the tiny home feel bigger, but it also creates a blank slate for the future tenants. They’ll be able to add their own colors and decor to match their style.
“Since this house is really small, I think it’s important to keep the colors light and neutral, so it doesn’t end up feeling cramped or claustrophobic,” Starsiak says.
Open shelving up high creates storage in a tight space
After moving the previously closed-off kitchen into the dining room, Starsiak and Laine realize there isn’t anywhere to put upper cabinets. They love the home’s original windows and want to keep them in place.
They come up with an ingenious solution to add more storage to the kitchen, while boosting the home’s unique vibe. They install rustic open shelves above the kitchen windows, then transform a vintage ladder into a funky, makeshift stepstool.
The result is reminiscent of a multistory library, with ladders leaned up against the walls to reach the higher shelves of books.
“There are few things I like better than open shelving in a kitchen, and with those beautiful windows, this is going to be fantastic,” says Laine.
The right color flooring adds warmth
The home’s interior color palette mostly consists of white, off-white, and gray. It’s bright and full of light, yes, but Starsiak and Laine also want the home to feel cozy and inviting.
They select a warm, honey-colored flooring to help balance out the light-gray walls and all-white kitchen. Then they extend the flooring into the enclosed porch, to make the entire house feel more cohesive.
“It feels a little more connected,” Laine says.
Classics are always in style
Though Starsiak and Laine aren’t afraid to experiment with bold colors and textures, in this renovation, they keep the design classic, with white kitchen cabinets, butcher-block countertops, and large white subway tiles for the backsplash.
The lesson here? Classic design choices never go out of style, and they’re always a smart choice for making a home look clean, refreshed, and modern, especially if you’re on a budget. In many instances, simple is better.
How do this home’s good bones clean up?
In the end, Starsiak and Laine manage to stay within their $90,000 budget—and the finished product is a small masterpiece.
The classic style serves as the perfect blank canvas for the artists who will someday rent out the home, and the cottage’s abundant natural light and bright decor will allow its residents to thrive as they create works of art.
Starsiak estimates that the house—bought for a mere $6,000—is now worth $110,000 to $120,000.
And, thanks to Starsiak and Laine’s thoughtful renovation and design touches, it’s now the perfect spot for artists to focus on their work, rather than on how they’re going to pay their rent.
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