Every once in a while I search for and rewatch this video. It might be my favorite renovation of all time. The owner transformed an abandoned inner-city midcentury gas station into a vintage/modern home and private garden. In addition, he built a two-story live/work gallery space. I would feel simultaneously guilty and lucky to own such a unique place.
If you follow me on Instagram then you know that for months I’ve been working on decorating an Airbnb in Portsmouth, NH. This is literally a dream job for me. Now — before you get too excited, remember that this is a decorating job in the real world, not in Hollywood. We had very real budget constraints. And that is why (I think) I was contacted. The owner wanted to reuse, upcycle, and restore as much as possible. Partly to save money and partly for the charm of vintage and upcycled things.
Below are the before photos. The house was built in 1910-ish. The previous owners were Betty and Joe. Back in the day, Joe worked at the Shipyard and Betty was the Little Harbour School librarian. Betty loved pinks and purple. The history of the house influenced our design plan. We wanted it to feel comfortable — like you are visiting family.
Before / Foyer
Before/ Living Room
Before / Dining Room
Before / Kitchen
Before / Twin Bedroom
Before / Master Bedroom
Before / Queen Bedroom
The design plan I pitched for the house was Olde New England meets Midcentury Modern with pops of color and upcycled pieces.
Below is a view of the foyer from the living room. I wanted it to be colorful and welcoming. The room is a good size so I’d like it to double as a play room. Parents can be in the living room and easily watch kids playing in the foyer. We plan to put baskets of toys under the daybed. The daybed is made of two church benches that I got on Craigslist for $25 a piece. I locked the benches together with hook-and-eye latches. I sewed the cushion myself using toile fabric. The striped pillows are one of the many items the owner already had. I got the octagon table on Craigslist for like $20 and painted it green. I’m obsessed with green lately. The round rug is one of the many high points of this project that resulted from the owner and I putting our heads together. I wanted a round rug but couldn’t find one that I liked or could afford. She wanted something easy to clean. She ended up ordering a 6-foot round industrial felt rug from Route One Carpet & Decorating — for $64! It’s soft, easy to clean, and more fun than a traditional rug.
Throughout the house, it was our goal to work with neutrals like gray, white, black, and natural wood and then use pop colors and patterns to make everything feel more fun.
The owner wanted a pull-out couch so we went with the most comfortable gray couch option at Crate & Barrel in Kittery, Maine. The mustard chairs are from Etsy. We thought it was a good idea to have vinyl chairs because they would be easy to clean. Flor had a big sale at the time that we started this project. We took advantage of that and bought these checkerboard carpet squares. The art shelves feature collected art by the owner. The coffee table is from Weekender House.
The owner wanted a big dining room table with room for everyone. I think the table can easily seat 8 people, or 10 if you squished in a couple more chairs.
The breakfast nook in the kitchen is the perfect spot to drink coffee and plan your day. The table is one of my favorite scores of this project. It was $7 on Craigslist. It is a restaurant quality table, very study. The four bentwood Thonet chairs were also from Craigslist. They cost $95 for all four. The stainless steel prep table, purchased on Amazon, offers a nice clean work surface.
I sewed the majority of the curtains throughout the house. For the stairway landing, I made curtains using vintage linens. For the bedrooms, I used mattress ticking fabric, and for the dining room, we decided on 3/4 curtains in a crisp white gauzy fabric.
This tiny bedroom might be my favorite. The hanging drawers and octagon mirror were things the owner already had on hand but was not using. The side table is one of two small tables I purchased from Portland Flea-for-All . The portrait is of the owner’s Aunt Rita. I think this room should be called the Rita Room. Don’t you?
We selected more soothing accent colors for the second floor. We wanted it to feel like a place to relax. We opted to paint a soothing sage green headboard for the master bedroom. We incorporated handmade quilts from the owner’s mom’s collection. The green lamp is from Etsy. The matching nightstands were made locally from salvaged wood by Back Burner Designs in Somersworth, NH.
The lamp below is a lamp I bought at Savers for $14.99. I think it is a real George Nelson lamp. I’ve had it in a container for years waiting for the right opportunity to use it. The chair below was given to me by a friend. I couldn’t afford to have it reupholstered so instead I worked with Back Burner Designs to build the seat and back using pallet wood. You can see the before picture on my Instagram account. The seat cushion is made from a goose feather pillow the owner already had. I recovered it with new (on sale) fabric. I got the Danish stool on Craigslist for $15.
There is a console table set up in the master bedroom. You can check your email on the computer or watch a movie from bed. The table was made from a metal frame the owner already had. Wood was cut to fit the top. The white bench is something the owner already owned. I recovered the top in the same toile fabric I used on the foyer daybed.
I imagined the room below was for that Aunt who needs time to get away from family for a little bit to just read a book. Once again we opted to paint the headboard. The owner did this herself. Isn’t it adorable? I think of this as the “Aunt Room”.
There is a whole other bedroom with two twin beds that I didn’t feature and many details I haven’t included but that is certainly enough info for one blog post.
The detail I do need to include is that the owners did all the hard work and for some reason picked (lucky) me to work with them on decorating this gem of a house. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity.
The other detail that I must share is that the BEST thing about this Airbnb rental is the LOCATION. It is literally steps from the Portsmouth Farmer’s Market (hence the cloth shopping bags hanging in the foyer). It is in the loveliest neighborhood on the planet. Is it a nice short walk to downtown Portsmouth. If your family or your gaggle of bridesmaids are looking for a getaway — check out the Lilac Guest House in Portsmouth, NH and tell them JAM sent ya!
Just for fun I went onto Craigslist and did a search for vintage campers in NH. I found these four beauties. My husband wasn’t surprised, but I was. I didn’t think it would be that easy to find a cute vintage camper, especially so close to home. They all need work for sure but they are super cute. They totally fit the bill for my imaginary vintage camper park.
Click on the image above and it will take you to the page in Craigslist where these campers are listed. You will be able to see interior shots and prices.