Before & After: Cabin Renovation

I think a lot of us share a dream of buying and fixing up a little cabin in the woods, but I’m sure that if that dream became a reality, the process of renovating a full home would not be without its stresses or struggles. Long before I pursue such an undertaking, I want plenty of inspiring examples to turn to for help, and this cabin renovation will definitely be high on my list of references. Sarah Sherman Samuel, a designer and the creative director of Smitten Studio, has been slowly but surely transforming this small cabin in Michigan. She’s made sure to keep the space calming, clean and modern but not without personality. I love that each room sports a fun, bold pattern, such as big polka dots or chevron stripes, which are then anchored by elegant neutrals and contrasting lights and darks. I can’t wait to see how the rest of the space turns out. Thanks for sharing, Sarah! — Kate

Have a Before & After you’d like to share? Shoot me an email with your images right here! (Low res, under 500k per image, please.)

Read the full post after the jump . . .

Time: 5 months

Cost: Doing everything ourselves (with some big help from my parents and a few friends ), we saved A TON of money, so we estimate that what would have been a $50–60K renovation we have done for around $25K (for the entire cabin).

Basic Steps: When we first saw the sad, tiny structure, all we saw was its potential and the amazing land that it was set on. I immediately started making plans, designing and prepping for a full DIY renovation. We started on the outside, tearing off the old siding, replacing old doors, putting up new siding and then repainting. Once inside, we tore everything out down to the bare studs and down to the subfloor. The only things we kept were the old windows (I couldn’t part with the character of them), the previous owner’s sofas and the light fixture over the dining table. We then insulated the walls, re-ran electrical, re-did all the plumbing, and dry-walled. When removing all the old building materials, we saved anything that we could repurpose, like the wood from the old bunk beds for example, which we used to make a cabinet door and to frame out one of the closets.

Our home in LA is full of color, so I wanted to make our little beach cabin a retreat. Bright, white and fairly Spartan would describe the look I was going for. I did this by painting the new walls, ceiling and trim all the same white color. We then laid wood laminate flooring that brings warmth to the space. We also brought in a vintage Arthur Umanoff wood dining set from the ’50s (from around the same time the cabin was built) to bring in some historical authenticity and more natural elements.

In the bedroom, there were originally two sets of identical bunk beds. We tore them both out when drywalling the space and then only rebuilt one set, leaving a place on the other side of the room for a standard bed. We also removed a set of shelves that took up a ton of space, put in a new ceiling and wallpapered one wall.

Our advice to someone tackling a major DIY renovation would be not to be afraid to just give things a try. I think so many projects sound way daunting. Like, I never thought I would be re-siding a house or installing wood flooring with my own hands . . . but once you get into it, like most projects, you realize it isn’t so hard, and it is actually SO satisfying to see something you have done yourself make such a big difference in your home. Also, who cares if you make a few mistakes? I think the imperfections show the work and the hand behind it. — Sarah


Living Room
Paint Color: Gray Whisper by Dutch Boy
Floors: Tarkett
Sisal Rug: Rugs USA
Cow Hide: Street vendor in LA
Lamps: Ballard Designs
Curtains: A repurposed photo backdrop from one of my parties that my mom sewed into curtains
Coffee Table: Home Decorators
Badger Pillow: Donna Wilson
Patio Doors: Jeldwen

Paint Color: Gray Whisper by Dutch Boy
Wallpaper: Cole & Sons
Cow Hide Rug: Ikea
Bedding: Ikea
Wall Sconces: Restoration Hardware
Bed: Target


Bright, clean and warm. I’d like to snuggle up in front of the fireplace and read a great book, with freshly fallen snow outside. A hot cocoa by my side and all would be well with the world!


I’ve been following this renovation on Sarah’s blog and it’s wonderful to see it all together! so nice and simple!


Great job! I like the idea of painting everything all white….it pulls it together in way where it is possible to switch-out different accessories for an entirely different look. Very nice!


lovely clean and simple, I could relax here :-) Is that a Donna Wilson fox cushion?

dervla @ The Curator

This is gorgeous, i even like the “before” shots! Love those clean white couches, unfortunately with a dog who can’t stay off the couch, i’d have a hard time keeping these clean. Dying over the large polka dot sheets!!

sarah sherman samuel

Thank you for all the kind words!
Paige: the countertops are from Ikea, but the cabinets are not
Theresa: the dining set is vintage
Rinna, ha yes Donna wilson… love

You can get all the details on my blog :) Thanks Kate for the feature.

l o v e l y t h i n g s

Wow! It”s amazing what a whole lot of white paint and a great eye for details can do. I love the fireplace, the little bunks with green curtains, the sparse yet surprisingly warm kitchen…just lovely.


love it…so calming + cozy. can i ask where the brass floor lamps are from? love them.

Anne Z.

Cutest cabin ever. Congrats on snatching this place up and making it yours.


I love the simplicity and coziness, but most of all, I want that coffee table. Where is that from?


beautiful, serene, calming and utterly convincing. what i like best is your ATTITUDE….. absolutely agree, who cares if not everythingy is perfect – it’s YOUR work and your project and you did great! I wd draw the line where security and safety are concerned. I wd never touch electricity and plumbing but then I’m swiss and we are not allowed to touch anything that could come ‘alive’ and cause damage…. :)


I love all the monochrome! So lovely. The bunk beds are adorable, and I love that pop of orange on the sofa from the Donna Wilson cushion x

Amy Keller

It really is the perfect cabin! A true retreat from hectic LA.


I discovered Sarah’s blog a few weeks ago and have loved the befores and afters she shares. Great to see it all together here – it looks stunning x


Great choice to install warm wood flooring and then replicate that in the countertops! I love the update – makes it look so much more cohesive, clean, calm, and cozy!

Jenni Ozella

This before & after is totally hitting the spot for me. I live in a small apartment right now, but when we get a house, this is the kind of thing I’d love to do. Simplly awesome


Except for all the white I love this place. I just don’t understand using so much white. My favorite is the bunk beds. But I love the new floor and the kitchen. The kitchen looked so dark and small before but now it is opened up.