Chip and Joni Lay looked at many houses before landing on a tiny two-bedroom, two-bath bungalow in northwest Atlanta in 2007. “A lot of them were bigger and probably a smarter choice, but we fell in love with the charm of this old home with a beautiful big backyard in a great location,” says Joni.
Fast-forward 12 years and three kids later (with another one on the way), and it was clear that the family needed more space: “We even turned the dining room into a nursery to make it work,” recalls Joni. So last year the couple and their three oldest daughters, Vivi (9), Brigette (7), and Ellie (4) packed up and moved into a rental while the house got a much-needed gut renovation that involved adding a second story and three additional bedrooms.
The Lays didn’t labor over the floor plans for very long: Joni was pregnant and she could feel the clock ticking (her youngest, Marjorie, is now 18 months). When the house got framed out and she walked into her second story for the first time, it was obvious that the closet adjacent to the girls’ bedroom should be used for more than clothes storage. It had sloped ceilings (not ideal for wardrobes) and a Tudor-style window that would have been a shame to block out. Instead, the mom of four turned the room into a charming reading nook worthy of a Wes Anderson film set—down to the buttercup-hued telephone and vintage horse ribbons lining the wall. Here’s how she got every detail right on a $2k budget.
Upgrade the Entrance
From the moment Joni switched gears, she knew a regular door wouldn’t cut it. “I wanted the girls to be able to close off the space and make it feel like a hideaway,” she says. Practically, she also wanted to keep the room dark for when her daughters were asleep without blocking the window. After the contractor got on board with the arch, Joni worked with her dad to build the wavy trim above that hides the grommets on the gold velvet curtains she scored on Amazon. (She sewed two together for each side and added tassel trim for a custom look.)
Go All Out on the Walls
Joni painted the scalloped valance in Sherwin-Williams’s Copen Blue to match the girls’ bedroom, but she went in another direction on the other side of the dividing wall with a warm golden hue. “Chip and I painted the trim ourselves,” she says. “We got takeout and ate it in our unfinished house while we worked and dreamed about living here. We hadn’t been away from our kids for weeks at that time, and it was really sweet having a moment of quiet.”
Originally, she was going to make the entire room yellow, but she worried it might be too intense. “We had Chasing Paper’s Puppy Pile paper in our girls’ room in the rental, so it felt like a fun nod to use its sister print, Smitten Kitten, in here,” she says. Because the space is small, Joni covered every surface, ceiling included. “I tried to make it feel imaginative and special, but grown-up enough for a soon-to-be-preteen, kind of like a quirky old library,” she adds.
Finish the Room on a Budget
Underfoot, Joni departed from the rest of the house’s hardwood floors in favor of an inexpensive carpet that would feel extra-cozy for curling up and reading and layered it with a vintage Turkish rug found on Etsy. Yellow chairs and poufs from Wayfair provide just enough seating for everyone, while $5 IKEA spice racks serve a new purpose: “I love putting books out on display,” says Joni of her decision to go with a magazine-style shelf. “The girls seem to interact with them more that way, and they always have little toys and treasures they like to showcase as well.”
The whole room, which was finished while the kids were away at their grandparents’ house, has been a huge hit. “They squealed when they saw the wallpaper all over the walls and ceiling,” remembers Joni. “It feels like a privilege when we tell them they can stay up late reading in there on a school night.” Cue another parent date night.
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