A Family Affair

Fifty-one years ago, newlywed James Ford carried his bride, Jo (above), across the threshold of this Russellville, Arkansas, house (right). More than four decades after selling that bungalow, the couple bought it again for and had the building moved to their farm a few miles away. Then they asked their son Brad (left), an interior designer, to create a decor as special as the family's memories. So he turned to rummage sales, affordable chain stores, and even a book that he made into wallpaper (right). Seven days and only $3,200 later, the result was a guesthouse that's truly... a family affair

In 1958, Dwight Eisenhower called the shots in Washington, D.C., "At the Hop" topped the Billboard charts, and newlyweds James and Jo Ford settled into their first home: a 1,000-square-foot cottage in Russellville, Arkansas, an hour north of Little Rock. "We were young and unconquerable," James recalls.

Purchased for just $6,500, the four-room abode hosted the family's first shared Christmases and birthday parties. "We had our first child while we lived in that house," Jo says. Four years later, the Fords had out-grown the space and decided it was time to move on -- but they never forgot their little bungalow. "Anytime we drove by the house, we'd say, 'There's Mom and Dad's first house,'" says Brad, the youngest of the couple's four kids and an interior designer based in New York City.

So when James, a real estate agent, heard that the place was to be demolished, he had an epiphany: "Wouldn't it be great to have the first house you lived in behind the last one you lived in?" With that dream in mind, the Fords repurchased the old cottage for $1 (by then "the property was worth more than the building," James says with a laugh) and hauled it to the backyard of their current home, a six-acre farm five miles away.

But the $1 house needed massive work.

The Fords wanted a space that could accommodate their family, including seven grandkids whose visits revolve around domino games and dinners of Jo's famous pork chops and biscuits. Jo, a retired real estate agent, took on a renovation that included switching the master bedroom and kitchen and tearing out the ceiling to build a loft. She added a second bathroom as well as new flooring and energy-efficient windows. After all that, (continued on pg. 109)(continued from pg. 104) Jo ran out of steam when it came to decorating, opting for what Brad describes as cookie-cutter furnishings.

"The house is so charming,"

Brad says, "and my parents' story is so charming that I wanted to give them a look with more personality." He also wanted to do it on a tiny budget (less than $3,500) and a tight deadline (one week). So instead of shelling out for new furniture, Brad made the most of what James and Jo already had, rearranging their existing pieces and revitalizing the drab palette with sunny accessories.

The designer introduced flourishes that reflect his family's passion for gardening and highlighted cherished pieces, such as Jo's "Great Wall of China," a collection of dishes received from friends. To add visual drama on the cheap, he framed leaves picked from the yard and papered the bathroom walls with lush pages from a $22 book of botanical prints.

Now the old place is a guesthouse as vibrant as the Fords' memories. And the family looks forward to creating more. Says Brad, "I didn't take a 'real' vacation last year, but I visited my parents eight times. It's better than any resort."


Before, a blah palette, overly coordinated pieces, and a closed-off furniture arrangement (below) made the space uninviting.

Brad moved the sofa to the windows so that it beckons people into the living area, instead of forming a barricade with its back side.

A striped rug ($299; potterybarn.com) carves out a distinct space within the open-plan first floor.

To undo the room's "matchy-matchy" feel, Brad swapped one of the wing chairs for a Windsor seat, $68 at a local antiques mall. A variety of thrift-store painted tables replaced all the light wood.

Rather than reupholster, the designer transformed his parents' pieces with accents, including a throw Jo already owned and a butterfly pillow made from Design Legacy fabric. (Cynthia East Fabrics, $58 per yard; 501-663-0460)

The Fords' recipe for free art: Microwave leaves for 30 seconds, place between wax paper, and press for a few days using a book weighted by a heavy pot. Remove wax paper and frame on linen card stock. (Frames, $8.99 and 12.99; ikea.com for stores)


This space's striking architecture went unnoticed, due to the dull wall color and outmoded linens (above).

Floral wallpaper ($60 per roll; grahambrown.com) highlights the peaked roof.

"Bedding can create a dramatic change without being super expensive," Brad says of the room's thrifty new linens. The coverlets and sheets came from Target (Simply Shabby Chic for Target cover-let, $89.99 for twin, and sheets, $29.99 for twin set; target.com), while the designer picked up the showpieces -- vibrantly hued shams -- from Garnet Hill ($40 each; garnethill.com).

Brad cleaned up a cluttered tabletop by opting for hanging lamps with thrift-store shades. (Burn-side pendant, $113 each; rejuvenation.com)

A white nail-edge trunk -- scored for $40 at a local antiques shop -- doesn't interrupt the clean lines of the window frame.

The vast expanse of wall-to-wall carpet disappears under a nubby sisal rug. (Similar rug, $89.99; target.com)


Dark furniture and an abundance of wall art gave the appearance of too much clutter in the small nook (opposite).

Brad swapped out the square table for a $250 round one from antiques shop Clement (501-539-1473). Light-wood curved-back chairs ($119 each; pier1.com for stores) also help soften the space.

Picked up for $50 at a rummage sale, one large cabinet -- instead of lots of little wall hangings -- delivers a cleaner look. A $134 tray table from a local antiques mall provides serving space.

A jute rug ($299; potterybarn.com) clearly defines the dining area.


With standard fixtures and a basic paint job, this space (below) cried out for some character.

The wallcovering is just pages from The Book of Botanical Prints: The Complete Plates ($22; Taschen), by Basilius Besler, applied with wallpaper glue.

Since a bureau under the sink offers storage, Brad ditched the bulky medicine cabinet for a pretty mirror ($99; homedecorators.com).

Unsightly sliding doors hide behind a shower curtain ($44; westelm.com).

Native New Yorker Barbara Thau has written about home furnishings for 14 years and loves to rearrange her living room furniture on rainy Saturday afternoons.

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