If you ask Juleah and Lee Blatt what life is like on their 22-acre farm in Blythewood, their immediate reply is, “It’s just like Green Acres!” The couple originally lived in downtown Columbia but wanted a place out in the country for their young family to grow. Juleah, a pharmacist who is now a stay-at-home mom of two boys, loves for the children to play outside as well as a slower pace of life. Lee, who works in business development for a hospital construction firm, had a childhood buddy who lived on a farm, and Lee always enjoyed spending time there.
It was the summer of 2015 when they found their ideal spot, and they have spent the past four years renovating their dream farm. When they first saw the property, the house and surrounding land revealed years of neglect. “Everything was overgrown, and you couldn’t see the house from the road,” Juleah says. “We didn’t even realize there was a pond behind the house until someone pointed it out.” But when she saw the stone columns, she knew the structure was there.
Lee was a bit more skeptical. “We had looked at several properties within town for almost a year before we began looking outside of town,” he says. “We put a lot of thought into each house that we turned down, and when Juleah said this was the place, I said, ‘Really?’”
Juleah and Lee enjoy watching the popular home improvement show “Fixer Upper,” and Juleah just knew in her heart they could renovate the house. “They make it look so easy,” she says with a laugh, “however, we didn’t consider all the things that could go wrong.” And go wrong they did.
“It was like opening Pandora’s Box!” Lee exclaims.
Juleah likens the adventure of renovating the farm to that of the characters on Green Acres, a show that aired from 1965 to 1971 about a family who purchased an unsightly farm. “Our version turned into a comedy of two kids trying to take on an overgrown farm and a falling down house,” she says. “We truly did buy the worst house on the block.”
Their intention for the renovation was to move into the 3,500-square-foot house and renovate room by room. However, they soon realized that much of the house would have to be entirely gutted. “We ended up living in the garage for eight months,” Lee says, “and if it could go wrong, it did.” Things started going downhill almost immediately, and to complicate matters even more, Juleah broke her foot when they were moving in.
Remember the Tom Hanks and Shelley Long movie The Money Pit? The Blatts’ house, built in 1985, was just that. Consequently, the couple named their farm Hay Hollow. “It is loosely synonymous with ‘money’ and ‘pit,’” says Juleah.
Water leaks led to replacing all the plumbing. At one point, Lee turned on a saw and all the lights went out, so he had to do a complete electrical overhaul. They pulled up one floorboard and ended up replacing the entire floor. Lee recalls the time he thought he was digging up a box in a flowerbed with the tractor. “Turns out it was actually one of three wells on the property,” he says, “and it turned into a geyser.”
Juleah and Lee have certainly put plenty of sweat equity into rebuilding their home. The air conditioning unit went out, so he learned how to replace the capacitor. While he did rely on a group of retired trade workers to help, he learned a great deal both in working in the house and working the land. “I spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos,” he says with a laugh.
Their efforts resulted in an expansive, open floor plan for the main floor of the house. As part of the renovations, Juleah and Lee lifted up the floor of the original sunken-pit living room so that it is level with the remainder of the room and the wood-burning fireplace. They also converted the tray ceiling to a plank ceiling in keeping with the rustic feel of the house. They ripped out a wet bar and transformed it into their dining room. To open up the space, they removed a wall next to the staircase, replacing it with a wrought iron railing anchored by two large columns at each end for greater stability. And to allow for more light, they converted three sets of windows to French doors that lead onto the porch. Juleah chose Benjamin Moore White Dove as the main wall paint color throughout the house.
The most significant changes took place in the kitchen. Juleah and Lee enjoy entertaining friends and family, and Juleah had a vision of exactly how she wanted the kitchen to look and function. That vision included white cabinets, chrome fixtures, and crisp lines. “I like symmetry,” she says of her favorite room in the house.
In order to extend the length of the kitchen, they changed one door to a full-length window and moved another door from one side of the room to the other to provide another access to the porch. Appliances include a complete line of professional-grade Thermador products, including a gas range with a commercial hood, refrigerator drawers, microwave, and icemaker. A pot filler above the stove eliminates the need to carry heavy pots from the sink. She also insisted on a farm sink. “It’s the perfect size for giving babies their baths,” she says, smiling, “and I can look through the window and see the pond outside.”
A 7-foot slab of Calcutta Gold granite tops the center island with Absolute Black granite on the countertops and a backsplash of textured subway tile. Juleah chose Tony Taupe by Sherwin Williams as the accent paint color for the island base. Cabinet door panel covers help the refrigerator and dishwasher blend in with the cabinetry. The breakfast area sits next to the kitchen in front of a smaller gas fireplace. “We spend so much time at this table and in the kitchen,” Juleah says.
The couple also renovated the master suite, which includes the laundry room to maximize space. “This sounds crazy, but we took space from the master closet to reconfigure the laundry room in order to make the kitchen bigger,” she says. To compensate for the changes to the closet space, she was able to convert one wall of the master bedroom into a built-in closet that encompasses the entire wall.
The original master bath had a dressing room within a small bathroom. Juleah and Lee opted to remove a wall to make the bathroom larger. “The floor plan now allows us to move from the master bedroom through the master bath into the laundry room and the kitchen,” Juleah says. “This is our forever home, and we wanted to make it comfortable and fit our lifestyle.”
The office and nursery are also on the main floor. Rather than a traditional door, Juleah opted for a sliding barn door, painted in Sherwin Williams’ reddish orange Pennywise so that it would serve as both as a design element and space saver. Juleah hopes eventually to convert part of the office into their mudroom to hold cubbies for the boys’ shoes, bags, and miscellaneous items. The spacious nursery is large enough for two cribs, a twin bed, and Juleah’s most valued piece of furniture, the rocking chair where she rocks her boys to sleep.
Juleah and Lee express how fortunate they feel that family has provided many of their furnishings and artwork. Several pieces belonged to Lee’s grandfather, Sol Blatt, Jr., and Lee’s mother, Martha Blatt, helped decorate with beautiful lamps and art for the walls. “It’s an eclectic look,” says Juleah, “and all of these pieces are very sentimental to us.”
Juleah and Lee spend many evenings relaxing on their porch. Lee brought in a contractor to replace the original, small screened in area with an open porch that spans the entire length of the house, overlooking the pool below and the pond beyond.
“For Easter we gave the boys 20 ducks, which are now full grown and living their best lives on the pond,” says Juleah. For enhanced safety and aesthetics, they used cable railing rather than traditional balusters for the porch; and, for longevity, Trex decking was selected for the floor.
Lee has spent much of his time improving the grounds of the farm, taking down trees and burning brush. He has also added around 4,000 feet of fencing and improved paddocks for the horses they hope to have someday. “At times it feels like we may have bitten off more than we can chew,” Lee says, “but my motto is that you eat an elephant one bite at a time.”
Based on their experience, Juleah and Lee share some practical advice for anyone interested in tackling a renovation. “Have a home base established so you’re not living in your garage,” Juleah says. “And it’s important to find joy in the process. You can’t wait until it’s finished because it’s never finished.”
And while Juleah and Lee know that the farm will always be a work in progress, they feel they have at least reached the other side of the hardest part of the renovation and can now begin to work more on making it their home. “We want a house where everyone can feel comfortable, take their shoes off, and relax,” Juleah says, “because the home is about the people inside.”
The Blatts strongly believe in following the four ‘Fs’ — faith, family, fellowship, and fun, a slogan directly adopted from family friend Beth McMaster. Juleah also leans heavily on the advice she was given at her bridal shower. “She told me the dishes can always wait,” Juleah says, “and I take that to heart now because babies won’t keep, and you can’t lose sight of life happening around you.”