before and afterInteriors

Before & After: A Childhood Home Reimagined

by Garrett Fleming

Before & After: A Childhood Home Reimagined, Design*Sponge

Homes with surprising backstories always seem to stick with me longer than those that are simply pretty. Oftentimes, these standout houses witness love and loss, momentous personal growth and cheer. I revel in their every detail, all the while hoping to one day build a space just as special.

The Cleveland, TN bungalow of PJ and Thomas McKay is a home with one of the most remarkable histories I’ve ever come across. See, Thomas grew up there, and his most-beloved childhood memories took place within its walls. From hanging out with his parents in the living room to imprinting his hands into the newly-paved sidewalk outside, every one of its corners tells a deeply personal story.

His family’s relationship with the home dates back to the 1980s. After getting the basics of the space figured out, his parents tackled numerous improvements, massaging it into the perfect fit for their growing youngsters. Not only did they wallpaper everything, redo the bathrooms and fix up the kitchen, they also converted the attic into a second floor. This last bold move added two bedrooms to the house’s overall footprint and gave them much needed extra square footage.

In the years that followed, the family nestled further and further into the house. As with almost all homes, though, not all of the stories this one’s collected are cheerful. In the 1990s, Thomas’ parents got a divorce, and everyone ended up having to leave their beloved bungalow behind. Over a decade went by, and the home began to wither and creak as renters took progressively-worse care of it. Late-night parties pounded, persistent leaks loomed and quick fixes became commonplace until it was in such a state of disarray the landlord decided to get rid of it.

Even though it didn’t look great, Thomas couldn’t resist peeking inside the home he had once so adored. Memories flooded back as he walked the property, and before it was even officially listed, he and PJ bought it. In doing so, they gave themselves a truly rare opportunity: the chance to show the home just as much love as it had shown Thomas’ family all those years ago.

For five months the couple worked around the clock fixing every inch of it until it gleamed again. They put in a new kitchen, revamped the facade and brightened the space through traditional furnishings and antiquities. Thanks to their hard work, the space really does look the best it ever has.

Originally, the plan was to flip it once all of the renovations were complete, but the couple tells us they’ve recently changed their minds. Instead, they hope to raise a family here one day. Who knows, maybe their own children will get to put their handprints in the front sidewalk just like Thomas did as a kid. They’d certainly be in good company. For the impressions he and his sisters made all those years ago still remain. Enjoy! —Garrett

Photography by Golden Madume

Image above: While the revamped kitchen takes up the same amount of room as the previous one, the new galley-style configuration makes it feel much larger.

Before & After: A Childhood Home Reimagined, Design*Sponge

The period between when Thomas’ family sold the house and when Thomas and PJ moved in was a trying time for the home, and it wasn’t as well-maintained as they’d have liked. Thankfully, the damage turned out to be pretty superficial, and both the flooring throughout and the front windows were salvageable.

Before & After: A Childhood Home Reimagined, Design*Sponge

A neighbor from down the street who was also renovating gave the couple this 1920s-era front door. That was the simplest of the exterior tweaks. The couple also tore off the second floor facade and had it remodeled to better match the rest of the houses on the block.

Before & After: A Childhood Home Reimagined, Design*Sponge

When Thomas was nine, the sidewalk in front of the house was repaved, and he and his siblings took full advantage. Thomas was overjoyed when he moved back in and found that this memento remained.

Before & After: A Childhood Home Reimagined, Design*Sponge

PJ (right) and Thomas (left) loved the results of their renovation so much, they decided not to flip the home like they had originally planned. They’re staying put instead. They hope that one day the pitter patter of their own kiddos’ feet will echo through the house’s rooms just like Thomas’ did growing up.

Before & After: A Childhood Home Reimagined, Design*Sponge

The cabinets and the wallpaper to the left are relics from a renovation Thomas’ parents oversaw in the 1980s. When it came time to switch it up, they both got the boot. In their place stand new shaker-style cabinets and a reconfigured sink. To get the sink to fit right, PJ and Thomas boarded up part of the existing window to make it counter height.

Before & After: A Childhood Home Reimagined, Design*Sponge

The couple loves how this wall of chalkboard paint gives their kitchen a “coffee shop” vibe.

Before & After: A Childhood Home Reimagined, Design*Sponge

PJ and Thomas had their granite countertops honed to give them the matte finish of soapstone and reveal more of the stone’s veins. They did so because, while popular and pretty, soapstone is more expensive and requires more upkeep than granite.

Before & After: A Childhood Home Reimagined, Design*Sponge

PJ let the home’s Craftsman style inform his design for the updated shelving in the living room. He also streamlined the space by making the shelves flush with the fireplace.

Before & After: A Childhood Home Reimagined, Design*Sponge

“Thomas’ mom raised him, his brother and younger sister here, so a lot of good family memories were made in this house. We knew that we wanted [it] to feel like a family home as soon as you walked through the door,” PJ says.

We didn’t want [our home] to feel too decorated or like you couldn’t touch anything, so we went with classic choices.

Before & After: A Childhood Home Reimagined, Design*Sponge

When Thomas lived here as a kid, the sofa sat under the front windows. The couple says they’ve never regretted reconfiguring the space so it faces the fireplace. On cold nights, when the flames are crackling and they’re cuddled into the couch, there’s nowhere else they’d rather be.

Before & After: A Childhood Home Reimagined, Design*Sponge

When the home was built in the 1930s, the back porch was right here. Then in the 1960s, the space was turned into a laundry room. Nowadays it’s where PJ and Thomas enjoy entertaining friends and family.

Before & After: A Childhood Home Reimagined, Design*Sponge

The hall bathroom, which still had the fixtures Thomas’ parents installed in the 80s, was slimmed down. The extra space was given to the adjoining living room.

Before & After: A Childhood Home Reimagined, Design*Sponge

The original owner’s suite (left) has been split up into a walk-in closet, bathroom and laundry room. The couple then added more space to the back of their house to accommodate a larger bedroom.

Before & After: A Childhood Home Reimagined, Design*Sponge

The larger bedroom has allowed PJ and Thomas to upgrade to a king-size bed. “It was life changing. We’re never going back!” they say.

Before & After: A Childhood Home Reimagined, Design*Sponge

The couple’s currently working on designing new vanities for the bathrooms that will let them keep their essentials out of sight.

Before & After: A Childhood Home Reimagined, Design*Sponge

PJ made the backyard’s patio out of bricks from the chimney they tore out of the kitchen. “We cleaned each and every one of them, which took a couple of weeks, but it was so worth it,” he says.

Before & After: A Childhood Home Reimagined, Design*Sponge

The home’s first floor.

Before & After: A Childhood Home Reimagined, Design*Sponge

The home’s second floor.


Cabinet pulls – Martha Stewart Living
Cabinet knobs – Martha Stewart Living
Oil dispenser – Overstock
Faucet – Kohler
Bamboo shades – AllModern

Living Room
Sofa – IKEA
Rug – eBay
Painting – Kyle Boen
Armchairs – Mortise & Tenon
Beaded pillow – Pottery Barn

Hall Bathroom
Shower curtain – Lush (similar)
Floor tile – American Olean

Upstairs Bathroom
Floor tile– Style Selections
Lighting – Seagull Lighting
Mirrors – Lowes
Wooden table, boat paintings – antique

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  • Fantastic. I am partial to these craftsman-y bungalows, and they did an excellent job of polishing this into a gem. The sentimental story is the icing on the cake. Congratulations to them for a job well-done.
    PS: I love that dining set! I have chairs like that which were handed down from my grandma. Classic!

  • This tour made me so happy this morning. I have so much nostalgia for my childhood home in Arizona. Whenever I return to my home town, I always have to drive by. My mom managed to buy her own home as a single mom of three girls and it’s only in hindsight that I realize what I huge accomplishment that was. I always wished that our home was bigger when I was a child – I wish I would’ve appreciated how hard my mom worked to make our home and how she poured so much love into decorating it with the limited budget she had.

    • Thanks so much, Michelle!

      I still think about the butter yellow brick ranch I grew up in and wonder about it. If I ever moved back to VB I’d want to live there <3

      That's so incredible about what your mom accomplished- it's hard to appreciate as kids, but I sure hope she felt proud :)


    • Can totally relate, I drive by my childhood home every now and then when I’m in that part of town, and wonder what it would be like to live there again.

      When it went on the market a few years ago, my sister and I went to see it, and it was such a shock to see the reality compared to our memories of the home. It was a wonderful and bittersweet experience, but the best (and funniest) part was how absolutely tiny everything was in person compared to our memories. The “neverending hallway” was barely 6′ long. My parents’ bathroom was so small we could both only get in there if one of us went into the shower. It’s amazing the distortions time and love and feeling can make on memories, even of things we’re incredibly familiar with, down to the smallest detail!

  • Love this story and the beautiful remodeling job you guys did! You can see how much love went into it. My husband and I bought my childhood home in Hershey, PA and we both couldn’t be happier with the decision :)

  • Beautiful cozy home and such a great back story- my favorite touch is the shibori draped over the nightstand! Such a lovely touch!

  • Every time I read one of these, I fall in love a little bit. Thanks to PJ and Thomas for letting us see a bit of their lives and to Garrett for crafting the pieces together so beautifully.

  • Beautifully done! I can feel the warmth and love emanating from this home, what a great story. And I love the chalkboard walls in the kitchen, always a winner in my book!

  • Nothing short of amazing! The front exterior shot shows what excellent and impressive choices the owners made.

  • What an amazing job–I love how the home is now the couple’s home and not just mirror of one person’s childhood.

    The honed granite is lovely. Does anyone know if it is possible to hone granite that is already installed?

    • Aw Cristina! Thank you for pointing that out! As far as we know it can be done, however it is very costly and a lot harder to do. Good luck, friend! :)

  • Gorgeous home, gorgeous couple! I love how the decor feels so thoughtful but totally unpretentious. Hope they can raise their kids in this beautiful spot!

  • Love it so much! Even from the pictures it feels like a home. I am very very impressed to what they did to the outside. The house looks like it was always intended to look like this, if that makes sense!

    I live in the house I grew up in. And the really special part is that my mother grew up in the house before me! And now my daughter gets to grow up there.

    • Yes! Jolanda that was exactly what we were going for- for the front facade to look like it was always meant to look like that. Thank you! Also, love that your house has been passed down in your family. Makes it even more special.

  • That story is so heart-warming. It would have been interesting what Thomas’s parents thought about the purchase and the renovation…

    • Thank you Laura! The house was in very bad shape when we purchased it, so Thomas’ mom wouldn’t even go to it until it was all demoed. Now that it’s fixed up, she loves it, but admittedly still gets a little emotional/nostalgic when she comes over from the memories that were made in that house. All around, she loves the renovation and is so happy the house has been brought back to life!

  • The honed granite looks fantastic. I love soapstone, but it is so expensive and chips easily. Does honed granite require more upkeep than polished?
    This is such a lovely family home! I love seeing houses brought back to life.

    • Hi Lindsay,

      Honed granite is created when the process of sealing the stone is stopped before it becomes shiny. That being said, it is more porous than polished and more susceptible to stains. Even when sealed, it will require more upkeep than polished.

      I hope this helps!

  • As I am one of the most sentimental people alive, I beg of you to never leave this home. The story is heartwarming and the restoration is breathtaking. Someday you can show your children the before and after photos and they’ll appreciate how your hearts are so woven into the fabric of creating your (continuous!) family space.

    Okay, gonna cry now, bye…

  • A good home always gives one an inner strength to overcome anything. I just love what you’ve done with your home, the way you prepped it with so much love for the years to come… Wish you all the best!

  • Gorgeous, classic home. What a dream to be able to renovate your childhood home! Fantastic job and story.

    • Lisa! Thank you! Yes, it was a dream come true, as there was always so much Thomas wanted to do to the house growing up but didn’t have the means to do so. SO grateful for this opportunity.

  • Nice story, but please don’t blame the renters for the lack of care that home received during that time. It’s still the landlord’s responsibility for major upkeeps.

    • Ava,

      Completely understand and in most cases that’s true. However, the person that bought it from Thomas’ parents allowed their son to move in, along with a lot of his friends, who completely trashed the house. The son did charge rent to some of his friends that lived there, however, they moved in and out, while the son continued to live in the house and sadly, destroy it.

  • Can you please share the off white wall paint color you used? It is the same throughout? Flat? Thank-you, Colleen

    • Hey Colleen!

      The creamy white paint color on all of our walls is Dover White by Sherwin Williams in eggshell, and the trim color throughout is White Dove by Benjamin Moore.

      • Truly outstanding news – I bought Dover White in eggshell, before I saw your pictures, to paint our newly drywalled bungalow second floor. Big smile on my face! Thank-you so very much for your help. Colleen

  • What a great reno!

    I love how light and bright everything is.

    Would love to do a chalkboard wall, but my kitchen is weird, so I’m just taping off an area of wall and doing a smaller one.

  • Gentlemen Geniuses! This brings back memories of my childhood home in Massachusetts. My husband and I built our home here in India, but several years after our children had grown up and moved out. I so often wish this house – which we adore – contained the memories of their laughter and noise (though come to think of it, there’s still plenty of both when they come home to visit!).

    Congratulations on this labour of love and gosh! what lucky kids you’ll have.