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Photo by Ryan Dugger / Creative Revolver
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Renovation lessons

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Tiffany Anich Mansito and Nick Mansito's blue front door is more than a cheery hello for their North Chattanooga neighbors. For the couple, who married in 2016, the brightly painted door serves as a public display of affection for their first home together.

"This house is a labor of love," Tiffany says of the 1950s charmer that she, her husband and parents all had a hand in restoring.

Behind that entryway is an open, airy blend of rooms that illustrate a design aesthetic Tiffany describes as "California bungalow." It's a mix of "natural textures and pops of color," she says, meant to give the space "a cohesive, comfortable vibe throughout."

The revamp has given the house a lightness it didn't possess in its earlier incarnations. Before-and-after photos show the previous owner favored saturated hues — deep, rich colors that gave the rooms a cozy, cocoonish feel. Tiffany's vision leans more toward sunlit cabana than shaded shelter, as if a camera flash has illuminated the scene and spread light into every dark corner.

Some of the change was accomplished by enlarging the footprint of certain rooms. In keeping with the modern trend in home design, the space has blossomed into an open concept that envelops the family room, dining room and kitchen into one large great room. That spacious expanse is accessible from the living room through a wide, arched doorway that previews the amenities to come.

"The arch is one of the reasons we fell in love with the house," says Tiffany.

Most of the renovation was completed before the Mansitos moved in. "Knocking down walls, pulling up floors, redoing ceilings, all new wiring, new HVAC, new plumbing," Tiffany says.

They hired professional contractors when the projects were beyond the scope of the family crew, particularly when there was only Tiffany and her mother, Mary-Helen Anich, to do the work.

"My dad [David Anich] and my husband were not living here yet, so Mom and I did the bulk of the renovations ourselves," she says, hastily adding, "anything we could do ourselves, like ripping up floors and tearing down cabinets. We did not tear down any load-bearing walls."

Nick, a college English professor, trusted Tiffany's design decisions completely. "He had come up and looked at the house initially. He could see the potential. We walked through and I said, 'This is what I'm going to do — take down these walls, take up that carpet, transform these spaces.' A lot of people don't have this vision, but he was able to see it and say 'go for it.'"

The great room is now differentiated by furniture groupings, rather than walls, and coordinated by a seamless blend of colors. Walls and trim are white; seating areas here and in the living room are generally shades of beige, gray or brown. Other furniture and accents are a mix of woods and metals. Throw pillows and other textiles add mostly subtle color cues, except for the occasional burst of blue, a callback to that favored front door.

"I just love a pop of blue. I think it's the Florida coming out in me," Tiffany says of her native state.

For all the modern updates, the house retains several of the original design features that first imbued it with charm. Features like hardwood floors, high ceilings, Colonial mouldings, the graceful arch.

Tiffany knew which elements were worth keeping and which could be jettisoned during the renovations. As owner and principal designer of local interior design firm Southerly Abode, she not only has an eye for design, but the training and experience to make her ideas reality.

She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in interior design from the Art Institute of Atlanta, where she began her career with Peace Design. She later worked for the Miami firm Peeples Rionda Interiors, but her previous travels through Chattanooga convinced her that this was the city she wished to eventually call home. Tiffany moved here in 2014. Her husband, parents and grandmother have since followed.

Mary Helen now works for her daughter as a designer at Southerly Abode. Tiffany's after-hours renovation project was an extension of their day jobs together.

"It's what I do for a living, and it was really fun watching it come to life," Tiffany says of the renovation. "I'm not saying I want to do it again, but it was fun."

She's proud of the personal touch she gave the home, proud of the handiwork she and other family members contributed in some of the smaller reno projects, proud of seeing the home's potential when she and Nick found it for sale.

"It feels much larger when you walk in now," she says. "Originally, it felt very tight with all the walls not letting in lots of light. Our goal was to make it brighter."

They painted the home's exterior a very pale gray, then narrowed the choices for the door down to three blue hues, "made a decision [on one] and just went

for it," she says.

 

FRONT DOOR

* Before: The old, brown wood was in such poor condition "we were going to get rid of it," Tiffany says. "It was peeling and chipped. It looked sad." But they loved its speakeasy window and original hardware and knew it would be hard to replicate those features, so they opted to restore instead of replace.

* After: The restoration involved wood putty to fill in cracks and holes, as well as vigorous but careful sanding to remove layers upon layers of paint. "I don't know how many hours we spent on it, especially my dad," she says.

* Biggest change: Blue paint. Rather than a wood tone that blends in, the front door is now a standout.

 

LIVING ROOM

* Before: The previous homeowner had filled the space with traditional pieces in muted tones, including a pale peach sofa, pale yellow wing chair, brown-floral armchair and ottoman, peach-and-beige rug, wood furniture, and wood and metal decor on beige walls. White blinds hung at the windows.

* After: White paint on the walls and ceiling softens the corners, making the room appear larger even though its dimensions haven't changed. Blue pillows brighten a light gray sofa and beige chair, whose footrest has been updated from a stately ottoman to a whimsical pouf. A record player adds a retro vibe and another bit of blue. Furniture around the seating area incorporates metal and glass.

Greenery and modern art enliven wooden antiques along the walls. Window blinds have been replaced by custom white Roman shades from Chattanooga's Simply Divine Draperies using Sunbrella fabric. They're hung higher than the windows, which visually heightens the ceiling. A large Loloi area rug in muted red, blue and beige softens the hardwood floors. A buffet/console is vintage Henredon from Tiffany's grandmother. A bar cart in a corner draws the eye toward the dining room.

* Biggest change: Removing an outside awning flooded the room with light. The Mansitos also replaced the large picture window with a modern double-hung window with multiple panes. "Boy, did that light come through [when the awning was removed]," Tiffany says. "It made a huge difference."

 

DINING ROOM

* Before: Once contained in a walled-off space that connected the living room and kitchen, the dining room's beige walls and formal lighting fixture provided little translucence. The space seemed small, despite containing only two main pieces of furniture: a high-rise table with seating for six and a coordinating buffet, both with dark wood tops.

* After: The arch between the living room and dining room frames a view that reaches to the back of the house, rather than the wall of French doors that once opened into the family room. "Now when you open the [front] door, you see all the way through to the back of the house, and I love that," Tiffany says.

With the change, the dining room now serves as the gateway into the home's open floor plan. Low-slung, Italian-made dining chairs purchased through CBW surround a simple table. Overhead is a contemporary light fixture by West Elm, its three gold rods positioned at odd angles with Edison bulbs at each end.

* Biggest change: No claustrophobia. The dining room has transformed from small and dark to open and airy. The table marks it as a dining space, but the open footprint invites foot traffic further into the house.

 

FAMILY ROOM

* Before: Red walls, soft white trim and beige carpeting began the color story in this room. A pea green sofa added visual interest, coordinating with a floral-print recliner and side chair with ottoman. Lamps were heavy. A large, dark wood entertainment center dominated one wall. Cornices topped the windows. The family room, along with a back hallway and guest bedroom, were a later addition to the original 1950 house. A set of French doors closed its entrance off from the rest of the house.

* After: Though the L-shaped sectional by Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams is ultra-modern, the rest of the room reads midcentury modern, with wood tables and cabinetry and a white tulip table by Eero Saarinen and upholstered retro chairs in a corner. Over this cozy nook hangs a contemporary lighting fixture, its three tiers laden with cream-colored tassels.

The back of the sectional provides a clean break from the kitchen/dining area, while the chaise section hugs a wall where several pieces of art, with no apparent theme, are grouped. The black walnut coffee table was custom-made.

* Biggest change: The wall that once separated this room from the rest of the house came down, and a massive support beam went up. Painted white like the walls and ceiling, the beam blends in seamlessly. "It looks like it was always meant to be there," says Tiffany.

 

KITCHEN

* Before: The main components weren't bad: white cabinets, gray countertops, stainless-steel appliances. But Tiffany says she was glad to get rid of the vegetable-print wallpaper. A pass-through window above the sink was another reminder that the family room was an add-on.

* After: There's an easy transition into the kitchen now. The wall abutting the living room holds the refrigerator and upper cabinets, which go all the way to the ceiling. "I can't stand having space above the cabinets," Tiffany says, explaining that the tops often become dust collectors. "And I know I'm not going to climb up there and dust them," she laughs.

They originally thought they might refinish the existing cabinets, but those couldn't hold the weight of the quartz countertops, purchased locally through Stone Source. So Cross Cabinets installed real wood cabinets.

Facing the dining area is a stovetop peninsula with a gleaming, stainless-steel exhaust that disappears into the ceiling. The sink peninsula faces the former family room. Its opposite side is outfitted with an overhang with three stools for seating. One end holds shelving for cookbooks and a teapot. Cabinetry and wood shelving on a wall near the laundry room offer additional stylish storage.

* Favorite feature: The brick backsplash and wall. "We added white brick, real brick, to our kitchen," Tiffany says. "I've always dreamed of a white brick kitchen." The affixed live-edge black walnut shelving came from Push Hard Lumber.

 

MASTER BEDROOM

* Before: The walls were red. The bed's metal headboard was pushed against a window. Furniture was dark, heavy wood.

* After: The bright white space is now filled with light. The bed has been flipped to face the window. Laguna bedding from Pom Pom at Home adds softness, while a custom elm headboard, made by Tiffany and her parents, adds a rustic touch. An Oly Studio capiz chandelier hangs overhead. Dressers are lighter wood tones.

* Favorite feature: Like the rest of the house, Tiffany says she has several favorites in this bedroom retreat. She especially likes the mix of chandelier, headboard and bedding together.

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