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On Memorial Day weekend 2021, Arden Wray was driving to a brewery in the Catskills when she spotted a handwritten “For Sale” sign attached to someone’s mailbox. She turned to her husband, Matt, and asked: “I wonder if they mean the house?” She called the phone number on the posting and learned that it was in fact the entire property—not just the mailbox—they were looking to off-load. The place was only 900 square feet, but for the couple, it was a major upgrade from their current living conditions.

For almost a year, they had been shacking up in a windowless one-bedroom staff apartment at Foxfire Mountain House, a boutique hotel that Arden’s family owns and where Matt had recently taken a job as manager. Before that, the couple had been living in a similarly sized apartment in Toronto—they were used to cramped quarters. “Nine hundred square feet was plenty enough for us, and now us and the baby,” says Arden; the couple welcomed their first child, Lila, this January.

Arden had a fantasy of living in a quintessential Catskills cottage with mullioned windows, weathered ceiling beams, and paneled walls. “But we had absolutely none of that here,” she says. Instead she was met with vinyl floors, acoustic ceiling tiles, and a TV in every single room (including the bathroom). But the design challenge was a welcome one for Arden—she runs the design practice Byrd Studio alongside her mom, Eliza Clark. It became a “if we can’t find it, we’ll have to build it” type of renovation. Ahead, Arden reveals how she created charm out of nothing. 

Swap Your Doors and Windows for Something Salvaged

The exterior, before.

The Woodstock area has long attracted artists, woodworkers, and other creatives, so it’s not unusual to see whimsical details like round windows around town. Arden went on a hunt for one for the front entrance and was surprised to find a $250 option on Houzz. “I had no idea if it would be legit, but it was and it worked perfectly with the trim,” she says. “My contractor just popped it in.”

Almost all of the other windows and doors in the house have a similar story. The large industrial windows in the living room were salvaged finds that also ran her a mere $250. The frames required some sprucing up, but no one dared to touch the double-pane glass: There’s no drafty air getting through those things. “We installed them along the whole front of the house, and I think it got us a lot closer to that look that I love,” says Arden. She even tracked down antique doors (one now leads to the nursery, another to the primary bedroom) at a market in Hudson.

Maintain Defined Zones  

The entry, before.

“I am a big believer in rooms,” says Arden. While most homeowners would be tempted to take down the walls inside the small house to create one big open layout, Arden says that having multiple rooms makes the home actually feel bigger when you’re in it. Still, some tweaks were necessary, like moving the primary bedroom door from the foyer to the living room to create a proper entryway. “Even though there’s hardly room for anything, having a tiny table and a closet gives a better impression versus walking right into a kitchen or living room,” she says. She made the foyer feel even more special by cladding the floors in salvaged thin brick tiles, finished with a hefty layer of white grout to give it an older look. 

The bathroom, before Arden split it in two.

Another important layout update was splitting up the home’s only bathroom into two. The previous setup consisted of a corner shower, pedestal sink, laundry, and a lot of wasted empty space in the middle. In the process of carving out the new primary bathroom, Arden installed a 24-inch-wide vintage door. The only problem was it was a hair too short, so she had her contractor extend it by tacking on a piece of wood and covering it in a sheet of brass so it looks like a toe-kick you might see in a kitchen. The new tub-shower combo features another hack of sorts: The stone bench at the end is actually a premade marble slab from Floor & Decor that’s sold as an insert for a shower shelf. “It filled that extra width and gave me a place where I can put a glass of wine or a book,” she says. 

Warm the Walls Up With Color and Texture

The primary bedroom, before.

You won’t find many simple sheets of drywall in Arden’s home. Most of the walls are either covered in shiplap, beadboard, Roman Clay, or wallpaper. “I think that adds a lot of depth and warmth to the space,” she says. The floral wallpaper in the couple’s bedroom is from the John Derian x Pierre Frey collaboration; the closet door in the nursery is swathed in Farrow & Ball’s Light Blue; and even the ceiling in the kitchen is covered in beadboard.

The nursery, before.

Why no backsplash tile, though? Because “at that point, painting with satin paint, it’s very easily wipeable,” she explains. She also thought tile would feel too cold in the cozy galley space.  

Bring in Some Shimmer

The kitchen, before.

When Arden bought IKEA’s affordable butcher block countertop, she didn’t realize at first that the material is actually a combination of veneer, laminate, and particleboard. So when her contractor cut out an opening for the farmhouse sink and she saw the raw board inside, she thought of a fix fast: brass carpet edging from Etsy. “It was the exact right dimension,” she says. Plus she likes to think of the touches of brass (including the marine lights on the ceiling) as jewelry for the space. 

Have Fun With the Scale of Your Lighting

The nursery, before.

Arden’s inspiration for her newborn’s room is just what you’d imagine for a nursery in a Catskills cottage: She wanted it to be a little bit whimsical but mostly very calm. Bringing in the oversize flush mount light from Crate & Barrel’s Athena Calderone collaboration set the scene. The piece is 40 inches wide and made out of breezy rattan. 

Look to Your Favorite Hotels for Ideas

To figure out how to fit a toilet, shower, and sink in the other roughly 6-by-6-foot bathroom, Arden turned to the Marlton Hotel in New York City, which has “the cutest bathroom I’ve ever seen,” she says. During a stay there, she whipped out her measuring tape and wrote down every single dimension so she could replicate a similar arrangement at home. The floating sink pad is clad in leftover tile from another Byrd Studio design project and topped with a sink from an Etsy vendor in Morocco. The shower saves space with a fixed panel of glass, and she was even able to squeeze a stacked washer and dryer in a closet opposite the toilet. Blowing out walls isn’t the only way to reno.