by Jessica Ronky Haddad
A small house presents a host of decorating and storage dilemmas, but there is one definite upside to living with limited space. "It makes for short arguments because there is no place to go," says Whitney O'Connor, 31, who shares a 850-square-foot home with her husband, Rob. "You have to work it out or it gets awkward quickly when someone is angry with the other."
The O'Connors' Near West End bungalow, built in 1942, has done much to preserve marital harmony. Not only has the couple learned to work together through a number of do-it-yourself projects, but the ongoing renovations and Whitney's love for decorating and furniture led them to open Revival Home Furnishings Consignment together two years ago.
Rob, who works as a financial analyst for Genworth, purchased the house six years ago before he and Whitney were married, with the intention of flipping it. But, when the real estate market collapsed shortly thereafter, Whitney moved in and the couple decided to make the house their home. "When I was growing up, I always thought I wanted to live in a big house one day," Rob says, "but this is my absolute, perfect house." "It has converted us to small house people," Whitney adds.
Because the house is so small, it has provided the perfect laboratory for the couple to test their construction and decorating skills. "We have learned what we can do, what we can't do and what we don't want to do," Whitney says. "It was a good-sized house to do top-to-bottom."
The biggest project the couple tackled was the addition of a 140-square-foot screened porch to the back of the house, a much-needed gathering space they use daily except in the coldest winter months. First, Rob and his father renovated and enlarged the home's original mudroom, which was little more than a crudely built enclosed porch, turning it into a stylish and functional laundry room that doubles as a butler's pantry when the couple entertains. They ingeniously repurposed the home's original back door by stripping off the paint and turning it into a tabletop that sits above the washer and dryer, which are hidden behind skirted fabric. Not only is the door now a handy surface for folding clothes, but during a party, the space becomes a bar and buffet. New cabinets above the washer and dryer add storage.
Rob designed the new screened porch himself, with a dramatic, steeply pitched roof, then hired a contractor to help him build it. "I didn't know how to do any of this stuff before I bought this house," he says, of his newly acquired construction skills. Whitney, whose design vision has guided the course of renovations, is thankful that Rob has been able to complete most of the work on his own. "My vision is not as attuned as Whitney's," says Rob. "But he is a great executor," Whitney adds, "It has been a great team effort."
For example, when Whitney envisioned beds that would maximize storage in both bedrooms, Rob went to work building two platform beds that each hold six generous baskets. Similar space-saving solutions abound in the house. While remodeling the kitchen, they added a built-in corner banquette that not only seats up to six comfortably, but also conceals ample storage underneath the cushions. In the small master bedroom, slate-topped corbels are attached to the wall on each side of the bed to create stylish and practical bedside tables. Hanging glass lamps from Ballard Design not only look great, but free up space on the tabletops. The headboard is made of an antique mantel piece, with its center upholstered and attached to the wall. A large, painted corner cabinet provides additional storage, while adding visual appeal to the room.
It was this piece of furniture, the first Whitney brought into the house, that clued Rob in to her design talent. "I didn't see how it was going to work in the master bedroom, which was already crowded," Rob recalls. "But it actually made the room seem bigger. After that, I never questioned anything she did."
Whitney, who has always had an interest in decorating, honed her skills when furnishing the house. "I have always loved the thrill of the hunt," she says of her penchant for antiques and thrift stores off the beaten path. "Having my own shop was like a pie-in-the-sky dream."
Rob encouraged her to leave a career in sales and go for it. The couple worked on a business plan for two years before opening Revival Home Consignment in Gayton Crossing in August 2011.
After just six months, the store expanded into an adjacent space and today turns over 90 percent of its inventory in 60 days. Revival is known for an eclectic mix of merchandise that is beautifully staged. "I started a consignment shop because … I would take friends to my favorite places, but they couldn't see the potential in things," she says. "I had to eliminate the hunt for people but still offer them a collected-over-time look. I wanted to offer it in a way that people could visualize it in their homes."
Although Whitney is tempted daily by the beautiful items that come through Revival's doors, living in a small space ensures that not much comes home. "This house forces you to edit," she says. "You can't fit much, and you can't sacrifice function for aesthetics, or vice versa. You have to be willing to let something go if you are not positive it will work."