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before and after

Before & After: A Cozy and Sophisticated Bungalow for Dad

by Annie Werbler

In addition to running interior design and lifestyle blog Thou Swell, high school senior Kevin O’Gara decorated a historic home for his dad in Atlanta, GA, all while navigating the college application scene. Inspired by “a mix of traditional and contemporary design,” Kevin set out to create a modern and sophisticated vibe that also felt lived-in and homey. The 1920s bungalow graciously allows for entertaining, which happens often as Kevin and his two sisters come to spend time with their father. Kevin’s dad gave his son total freedom with the decorating – he just had to approve it and stay within budget! As an homage to dad’s time in San Francisco as a young man, Kevin made his collected photographs from that era take center stage in the entry hall, and then designed the room around them, including a painted checkerboard-patterned floor. They also inspired the rest of the house with their moody and sophisticated aesthetic. Kevin had so much fun with this project because his dad gave him the freedom to explore, but also because it was his first multi-room endeavor. He was dealing with a very realistic budget and a substantial amount of space, so he mixed high and low to put all the rooms together. It was also exciting to carve out functional spaces for himself and his sisters when the family spends weekends together, with the girls in the front bedroom and Kevin taking his spot on the living room sleeper sofa. They also have a proper dining room now so dad can entertain again, which he loves doing – Kevin says he’s a fabulous cook!

In eight months of hard work, the house received a total transformation. The dark color of the entry walls makes that space feel distinct. The most intense part of the entry design was the floor – Kevin didn’t want a runner and felt the room was too empty without any floor treatment, so he found inspiration in a wood-and-black checkered pattern spotted on Pinterest. After trying to replicate it themselves and succeeding through the sanding stage, the family finally outsourced the end of the project because the squares needed to be exact and not chip with wear. Unlike the floors, Kevin was not able to paint the back room as his dad is renting, so instead he hung white IKEA curtains to set up a sunroom or greenhouse scenario in that section. Though the terracotta tiles on the floor were hard to play down, Kevin kept the rest of his color palette cool to balance out the warm tiles. With those undeniable designer instincts and a compelling passion for homes, we can’t wait to see how Kevin plans his education and career from here. —Annie

Photography by Kevin O’Gara

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Kevin O'Gara spent the most time decorating the living room of his father's Atlanta bungalow because it has the most furniture of any room in the house.
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The living room has an iconic Cabbagetown fireplace, but neither it nor the original crown moldings were being highlighted by the previously-bland beige wall color.
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The living room serves triple duty as a living room, office, and bedroom.
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The home's original ornate wooden mantel remains untouched, displaying historic family photographs.
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Vintage Ficks Reed lounge chairs add a muted wooden finish to the scene.
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The tall ceiling is enhanced by full-length tone-on-tone drapery, and a classic sleeper sofa provides a pop of color to the room. Kevin had fun selecting fabrics for custom throw pillows to add a bespoke touch.
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An airy spot by the oversized window makes for a practical bar and desk area.
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The glass tabletop surface doesn't add bulk to the room, and a natural wood chair relates to a large storage cabinet beyond.
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A soothing green Behr wall color for the dining room is appropriately named "Lotus Leaf."
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The existing shelves provided good storage but felt too closet-like, so Kevin replaced them with a contrasting bookcase for decorative dining vessels and cookbooks.
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Kevin loves the dining table he found for the room, but feels it's just a bit too large for the space. "The lesson there is to measure the room before you buy the table!," he says.
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Detail of simple placesettings on the dining table.
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Vintage mid-century dining chairs reflect wooden tones in the fireplace mantel, though from a different era.
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An antique corner cabinet makes use of an otherwise wasted space.
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The bonus back room receives amazing light through garage doors softened by drapery sheers.
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Kevin managed to work the existing terracotta floor tiles into a crisp modern design scheme.
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A mix of patterns, textures, and finishes produces a uniquely fun vibe in the back room.
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Vintage-inspired lines reference the style of other pieces throughout the home.
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When Kevin first saw the home, he felt the entry felt more like a hallway and less like a welcoming space in which to arrive. The wall hooks were the first things to go – he wanted it to be a landing pad, but not a dumping ground!
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Because it is the first room guests would see, Kevin wanted the entry to make a bold statement with his dad's photographs lining the wall.
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The moody "Pencil Point" by Behr paint color provides a dusky backround off which personal accessories stand out.
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Sleek finishes make way for a dramatically-upholstered seat cushion fabric.
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A simple table in the entry grounds the gallery wall, mirrors opposite make the hall feel larger. The checkered floor gives the space a classic decorative element.
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The front bedroom was the only room painted fresh, pure white, so Kevin decided to leave it be.
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In this bedroom, two twin beds allow both of Kevin's sisters to share the space.
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A whimsical but modern light fixture adds to the playful nature of the decoration.
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Designing a shared bedroom for two people proved tricky for Kevin. Although they're similar in their personalities, the older sister is more restrained and neutral in her personal style, while the younger sister prefers more color and statement in hers.
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Kevin was able to find a middle ground in decorating this room to suit both sisters, as well as provide a soothing space where they could work, sleep, or relax.
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Floor plan of the Cabbagetown bungalow in Atlanta, GA.

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