Most people who work in a particular industry don’t want to spend their free time working on projects similar to their vocations. But don’t tell Nicole Johnson that. Nicole works in real estate for her day job, and she renovates homes in her spare time.
“I think it’s something I picked up when I was a kid,” she says. Her parents renovated their home when Nicole was a teenager living in Forest Acres. They had a ranch-style home and wanted more space. When they couldn’t find anything that suited, they decided to add a second story to their house. “I remember many nights going to sleep with nothing but a tarp between me and the sky,” she says.
Bitten by the renovation bug, she began flipping houses in Orlando after finishing college at the University of Central Florida. In 2012, Nicole decided to return to Columbia and began looking for a house. She came across a Shandon bungalow built in the 1920s and knew it would be the perfect fit for her. “I thought it had such great curb appeal and a unique look,” she says.
In fact, Nicole didn’t originally plan to renovate the house, but as anyone working in real estate does, she began to take note of things that would help the resale value. “I laugh when I think about it, because I originally said I could live in it like it was, then within a year, I had ripped everything out and changed it completely!” Fortunately, she had the time to think about what she wanted to do with the house.
The renovation took the house from its original size of 2,106 square feet to 2,803 square feet. It included a new kitchen, the addition of a master suite and a two-car garage, along with additional bathrooms. “I added a bathroom for each bedroom and a half-bath as well,” she notes.
Nicole started with the kitchen. City zoning requirements limited the amount of available space on the property that she could use to expand the kitchen. Using the subfloor of the original screened porch on the back of the house and by cantilevering an exterior wall, the original tiny kitchen of a little more than 100 square feet is now tripled in size. She loves to entertain and cook, so the kitchen boasts gleaming professional grade stainless appliances with two ovens, a warming drawer and a pot-filler over the gas range. “I have had clients who spend fortunes on their kitchens, yet they never use it,” she says. The end unit of the kitchen includes the professional grade refrigerator, microwave and another oven, a recessed coffee unit and wine cooler. Stainless-wrapped cabinetry with frosted glass inserts provide plenty of storage space along with a television centered over the refrigerator. At the end of the bar, Nicole chose a stainless table and chairs for in-kitchen dining.
Contemporary dark-stained cabinetry and contrasting marble countertops along with a large center island give the kitchen a look of clean lines. Along an opposite wall, Nicole’s wine collection rests in a recessed open wall cabinet. The porcelain floor is another focal point with 18-by-18-inch tiles interlaced with wood stained to match the cabinetry.
Stairs at the rear of the kitchen lead up to the master suite or down to the two-car garage. The raised ceiling gives the spacious master suite an even greater feeling of openness, as it follows the natural roof line on one side and uses symmetry on the interior walls, an aspect that Nicole designed. “This was an unusual room to work with — the most creative ideas usually come from trying to figure out how to solve a design problem,” she says. The raised ceiling carries over into the master bath. Nicole solved another space issue in the master bath by placing the tub within the oversized walk-in shower. The closet for the master suite is narrow but has plenty of length so storage isn’t an issue at all. Ceiling height shoe racks flank each side of a large bureau with numerous hanging racks on each side of the closet.
The house technically has four bedrooms with four bathrooms and one half-bath, but Nicole is using one bedroom as a living space. French doors lead out to the brick terrace with wrought-iron fencing. “The fence gives a feeling of separation from the driveway, and it provides a secure place for my dogs to be outside,” Nicole adds.
Not much was needed for the exterior of the house since the previous owner had already replaced the siding with a vinyl product. “Vinyl usually isn’t something I would choose,” says Nicole, “but in this case it worked.” She also enlarged the columns on the front porch, used tile for the porch flooring and added a walkway up to the house from the sidewalk.
Once Nicole completed the renovation of the house, she realized that she needed someone else’s eyes to complete the interior, so she turned to Steven Ford of Steven Ford Interiors, Inc. With a looming deadline and struggling with what to do, Steven provided the interior concept she was looking for. “I was getting ready to host a baby shower for a friend,” she says, “and I needed some help working in the pieces I already had.”
“My job was to take what she had already done and finish the little details,” Steven says. Nicole wanted a streamlined, uncluttered feel, so the first step was to do a “move-around,” finding the perfect spot for existing furnishings. Next came accessories and a few more furnishings to fill some bare spots, and finally a splash of color. “I really didn’t think my cream-colored sofa would work, but we found yellow lamps that blended with the sofa and pulled out some of the color in my artwork,” Nicole adds.
Nicole’s color preferences tend to run toward neutrals and grays with a contemporary look in furnishings, certainly not what one might expect given the traditional exterior of the house. “Pulling in the creamy yellow was the perfect shade to blend with the more neutral tones,” adds Steven.
Steven also encouraged Nicole to take a brave step and flip her dining room with a smaller space in the main entrance. “It is unusual for someone to have the dining area at the front entrance,” Steven notes, “but in this instance it works very well.” The dining room allows for space to accommodate a buffet and a chest with a circular dining table. This way, guests can enjoy their meal by the fire.
“It was a traditional coal-burning fireplace with a mantle,” recalls Nicole, “so rather than going to the expense of ripping it out, I had my brick mason convert it to a ventless insert and placed tile around the outside along with a matching wood frame with the same coloration as the kitchen.” A sisal rug covers the floor for additional texture in the room. “There is a funny story about the rugs — they were custom-ordered for each room,” says Nicole, “but when they arrived, they were all too large.” Fortunately, Steven was able to have the rugs trimmed and refinished so that they now fit perfectly.
Each bathroom features glass and tiled walk-in showers and cantilevered vanities with vessel sinks. “I actually knocked out two closets and a laundry room to add the bathrooms,” Nicole says. In an effort to keep the clean lines consistent, she also used recessed lighting in most of the rooms and has foregone using draperies for window treatments, opting instead for the larger 3-inch plantation shutters to allow for privacy.
“The one thing I wanted to make sure of was that the interior didn’t look like it was ‘staged’ as though it were for show only,” says Nicole.
Steven knows that the more time he spends with a client, the better he gets to know their particular likes and dislikes and can make better choices in their décor. “It’s important to get everything you have in the right place and build from there,” he adds. He was able to help Nicole find the right spots for her pieces and recover some so they would work without having to spend a great deal of money.
It took a full year to complete the renovation, which started in 2012. Nicole lived with her parents until it was completed in late 2013. That recollection of living under a tarp when her parents renovated their home made her realize she couldn’t live in a house while construction was underway.
Nicole enjoys remodeling houses because of the opportunity to use her business and finance background as well as the chance to incorporate her creative side. Her advice for anyone buying a property to renovate: “Be careful and consult with professionals who understand not only the renovation business, but also the real estate market as well. It costs just as much to do it wrong as it does to do it right,” she cautions.
As for how long she plans to live in her “project,” Nicole says she’s not planning on going anywhere anytime soon. “I’m enjoying living here. I grew tired of creating everyone else’s dream house for them and not having one of my own. This is one of my favorite projects and I will not sell it unless I have another project completed that I like just as much.”