Jenna Cook and Brandon Curry are a couple that know what they want and will make the efforts to make it happen. They’re also not afraid, or unfamiliar, with living in a construction zone on the road to restoration and renovations. Brandon is a realtor for Sotheby’s and Jenna is pursuing her degree to become an elementary school teacher. Jenna and Brandon moved into their 1,800-square-foot, 1926 house in Ferndale, MI — with their beloved cat, Richard, in tow — the day it closed just over a year ago. Since then, they’ve been working on modernizing their nearly 100-year-old home while also highlighting its traditional charm, and are now just nearly “done.”
Last on the list is turning their basement into a home theater, craft room, and laundry room. Once the basement is wrapped up, they’ll finish the house by remodeling the upstairs bathroom. With the exception of the flooring and installing new windows, they’ve done nearly all of the interior work themselves. However, it’s not all work and no play for this couple — in their downtime (when he’s not soaking in epsom salts to recover from a strenuous house project) Brandon can be found fixing up his vintage Land Rovers, or serenading Jenna with songs and interpretive dance as his heart inspires him. Jenna loves interior design, baking, traveling, and reading — the last of which makes their charming little library all the more perfect.
The act of creating a home together, and living through the process of their renovations, has brought Brandon and Jenna closer and given them a deeper respect for one another. Follow along to get the nitty gritty on the transformations they’ve brought their house through over the last year.
Photography by Jenna Cook
Image above: The downstairs bathroom makeover involved bringing it a more classic look that nodded back to when the home was built in 1926, with some modern amenities and charming Hygge & West wallpaper to boot. “Welcome to the world’s largest half bath,” Brandon jokes. “This bathroom had the same cabinets and countertop as the kitchen, except the bathroom vanity cabinet was strangely low to the ground. The tile was a continuation of the kitchen tile as well. When we removed the kitchen flooring we removed the bathroom flooring and removed the vanity and counter as well.”
Brandon notes that aesthetics weren’t the only concern in the bathroom update: “
Hardwood flooring replaced the tile floor with an air vent added so the bathroom can actually be used in winter.”
Ever the DIY enthusiasts, after being unable to find someone right for the job Jenna and Brandon embarked on installing their wallpaper themselves. “So we grabbed some Miller High Life and decided to tackle the job ourselves. A few hours later, after three panels were hung, we realized just how hard wallpapering could be (turns out the glue we bought was mostly the culprit for it being so difficult),” Brandon admits. “After searching again, we were referred to an amazing woman who came in and finished the bathroom for us in about two hours on the cheap. The way she wove the pattern together was almost as hypnotizing as the stories she would tell us while working about how she restores and races vintage muscle cars.”
Jenna is the first to admit that it wasn’t love at first sight for the both of them upon first seeing their house. “Brandon hated the exterior of the house so much that he didn’t even want to look at it when we were house hunting. It was painted what we call ‘Lee Jean’ blue with a reddish color brick. But once I got him to schedule an appointment, the second we walked in I knew this was it. It had a library,
two balconies, a giant back deck and oh-so-much potential. We’ve since painted the exterior (including the brick) and put in landscaping. We now call it our forever house and every day Brandon talks about how much he loves this house.”
The walls were canary yellow with greyish blue accent walls. We scraped off the popcorn ceiling (quite a task as it was actually a stucco texture) and skim coated it with plaster. Several coats and sandings later the ceiling was smooth again. The ceiling was then painted white as well as the walls,” Brandon explains.
There was slate tile with glass bead inserts in the grout. It was very strange and equally unattractive,” Brandon notes of the fireplace’s previous look. “We carefully removed all tile and cement in hopes of being able to salvage the underlying brick and tile. Unfortunately, these were in such poor condition that they were not salvageable. Initially the plan was to brick out the fireplace and then paint the brick white. Instead we decided to use a black travertine hex tile for the hearth with grey grout and then shiplap for the surround. As this is a heat sensitive area, we had to improvise and thus settled on installing cement backer board with fiber cement smooth lap siding on top.”
More restoration than renovation took place in the living room. “
The four original front windows had been replaced in the 90s (estimated) with one large window. This window didn’t match the style of our home at all. It was incredibly cheap and made us feel like we lived in a big fish tank. This was one of the first things we did to the home as well, replacing the window with three Pella double hung windows which matched the style of the house,” Brandon explains.
“Plaster is another nemesis of ours that we have had to battle,” Jenna teases. “Our living room had a textured, plaster-covered ceiling which we immediately scraped off and sanded down (a huge undertaking) then skim coated it to make it smooth again. Any touchups on the walls are difficult, too, as we have discovered that at one point in time a previous owner put plaster over the original hand painted wallpaper.”
The trim was original to the home and in great condition. Unfortunately, it was not our taste as we felt it darkened the room and took away from the aesthetic we were going for,” Brandon tells us. “We caulked all the gaps and nail holes, primed it with oil-based paint and then painted the trim out white to match the walls. The doors [were] kept their original wood color throughout the house.”
Jenna shares what the early days of living in their house looked like, “The first thing that we had done were the floors. Because our hardwood floor guy was starting upstairs, we lived in the dining room for the first couple of weeks.” With nothing but a mattress on the floor and a dream in their hearts they embarked on the kitchen floors, which would prove more difficult than anticipated.
The library is one of the most charming details of the 1926 home. With the natural light flooding in, while surrounded by favorite books, we can only imagine what a lovely escape this would be.
When asked what this journey has taught the couple, Jenna shares, “How much we love each other. Going through a whole home renovation is a lot of work and stress. Doing it together has made us stronger and appreciate each other more.”
Built-in bookshelves surround the windows and are not only efficient for space, but also create an inviting view from the living room.
The 1926 house has some unique original details — like this corner secretary desk.
The library lounge area, perfect for reading or coffee for two.
“We had all of the floors refinished and stained a darker shade, we painted all of the walls white (including the original wood trim on the first floor), had all new windows installed, new balcony doors installed, new hardwood floors and cabinets (countertops, etc.) installed in the kitchen,” Jenna notes. “We wanted to remove the tile floor and replace it with hardwood so it could match the rest of the house. Little did we know that there were about six layers of tile to go through to get to the subfloor!”
Not only are Jenna and Brandon budget-conscious, but they also did their best to keep what they could out of the landfill. “
The existing cabinets were donated to a family who was redoing their kitchen and the appliances donated to a friend in need of an upgrade,” Brandon says.
ountertops are from a local Michigan maple countertop company,” Brandon says. “They came sealed, so we sanded them down, stained them darker and then resealed them with food safe sealant. The b acksplash is ‘off the shelf’ subway tile from Lowe’s.”
Jenna admits that the kitchen was their most challenging space, “I’d say that renovating the kitchen was the toughest part of our adventure, but we’re beyond in love with how it turned out.”
Regardless of what [type of new flooring] we chose, we had to remove the existing floor,” Brandon explains. “This turned out to be a very labor intensive project as there were many layers of flooring over flooring. Past owners didn’t remove the old flooring when they installed their new [flooring], so it was like a time capsule going down through the layers. We removed over two-and-a-half inches of flooring from top to bottom. I would like to note that each installer did a very thorough job installing each layer and money must have been no object when it came to adhesives or nails used to adhere that layer. The floor took three grueling days to remove accompanied by a beer and soak in an epsom salt bath at night to recuperate.”
It was important for Jenna to have a farmhouse sink and we investigated just about every option that is out there,” Brandon shares. “We eventually settled on a Rohl Shaw’s fireclay ceramic sink. This thing weighs about three tons and is handcrafted, so fitting it was a unique and awkward experience. We picked this up new on eBay as well for a good deal as it was originally purchased by a builder who didn’t use it.”
Brandon explains the kitchen remodeling process, “
We re-mapped the layout of where the appliances would go and got a hand-me-down Sub Zero refrigerator [in] which we put a stainless steel insert to replace the existing wood insert. We bought a new Viking gas stove (original stove to the home was electric), the hood and dishwasher from eBay to save on paying sales tax.”
All the windows in our house were original when we moved in. They had been painted over several times. All the weights were broken and all glass was single pane,” Brandon tells us. “The kitchen had the worst windows in the house where one previous homeowner even used masking tape to hold the glass panes in the window. Every time the wind blew these windows would rattle like a haunted house.”
Brandon shares a clever tip they implemented, “
We ordered more countertop than we needed to be able to use the scraps to make two shelves in the corner above our coffeemaker for mugs and such.”
Refrigerator- Sub Zero
Sink- Rohl Home
Faucet- Home Depot
Pendant Light- West Elm ( similar)
Butcher Block Countertops- The Work Bench
Cabinet Knobs- The Mine
Cabinet Pulls- The Mine
Print- Schoolhouse Electric
Wallpaper- Hygge And West
Vanity- Home Depot
Vanity Knobs- The Mine
Faucet- Home Depot
Toilet- Home Depot
Sofa- Restoration Hardware
Armchair- Restoration Hardware
Coffee Table- Restoration Hardware
Rug- Restoration Hardware
Silver Trunk- Restoration Hardware ( similar)
Tripod Lamp- Target
Console Table- Rejuvenation
Rope Lamp- Anthropologie (old)
Round Mirror- Target
Sconce- West Elm
Curtains- West Elm
Curtain Rod- West Elm
Trays- Fog Linen
Yellow Pillows- Target
Striped Pillows- Pottery Barn
Plaid Pillows- Etsy
Constellation Print- Schoolhouse Electric
Landscape Print- Schoolhouse Electric
Metal Locker Baskets- Vintage
Bull- Vintage, ebay