There’s avid DIYer, and then there’s Kalyn Matthews: Over the course of two years, Matthews revived a dilapidated Philadelphia row house, turning it into a stylish, welcoming home using a combination of thrifted finds, salvaged materials, and a whole lot of DIY.
Though this was Matthews’s first whole home project, she’s not new to the design game. After working as a flight attendant for over two decades, Matthews honed her interiors skills as a home stager before finally taking the plunge into creating a space on her own.
“I always knew I was good at it, but I never had the confidence or the resources to get into it,” says Matthews. A few years ago, she decided to take matters into her own hands. After attempting unsuccessfully to qualify for a loan and unable to compete with all-cash offers in a competitive market, Matthews recalls, “I emptied my 401k and went into massive debt to buy a tiny row house in Philly.” Since she was “beyond broke” after closing on the home—which she planned to flip—the renovations took scrappiness, savvy, and a whole lot of cold, hard labor.
The home when she bought it was, to put it mildly, in rough shape: “I needed something that was really cheap,” Matthews says. “Not that many of those come around. I was looking for something that I could handle, but I definitely wanted something that needed renovations.” And eventually, that’s what she got—peeling wallpaper, crumbling drywall, and bad 70s design choices included. And she got to work.
“It took 2 years to complete,” says Matthews. “My brothers and I did most of the work ourselves, except where I had to hire professionals, like HVAC and plumbing.” Tile, grout, painting, wallpaper, and installing finishes, fixtures, and decor all fell to Matthews and her brothers.
“As time went by, it became less of a flip and more of a design labor of love,” says Matthews, who documented the process on her website, Righteous Spaces. A little over two years later, the crumbling property was a colorful, inviting home—which Matthews just sold for a profit.
“The look I wanted was city cottage,” Matthews says of her design vision. Her first step to achieving that in the outdated, pea-green kitchen was relocating the refrigerator to make way for a window and farm sink facing the back of the property. “We’re the only house on the street with that back view because we had to relocate the plumbing,” she says.
The kitchen’s dramatic transformation was completed with white, Shaker-style cabinets offset with a pop of blue in the form of backsplash tile which Matthews installed herself.
She hand-crafted the spice rack by attaching rows of wooden hymnal holders from an erstwhile church to a barn door—both elements found at a scrap lumber yard. “The door extends there so it’s a shallow space—you can’t do much with it,” Matthews explains. “This was the perfect size.”
One of the biggest DIY projects in the home was the fireplace. “It was a huge focal point of the room and something I couldn’t really remove, so I had to make it work,” said Matthews. Like any intrepid DIYer, she turned to the internet for advice: “I watched a few YouTube videos and taught myself how to do a mortar treatment.” Many coats later, the tired brick hearth is now a modern, sculptural one, which Matthews topped with a piece of scrap lumber salvaged from the lumbar yard. (The old mantel, meanwhile, has new life as a shelf in the kitchen.)
Matthews had the idea of running a shiplap wall throughout the living and dining spaces to cement the cottage look—but that much of the material can get expensive, she says. So, she came up with a hack: “I used inexpensive laminate flooring to get the shiplap look,” she says. “I had to sand it to an enormous degree and then prime and paint it.” But the result is a textural effect that gives the space instant patina.
“The staircase was a challenge,” says Matthews. “It was dipping down on one side and kind of splitting in two.” She supported it from the basement and then painted the railing black “to modernize it and tie it into the rest of the pops of black in the house,” while still maintaining the original details.
After the grunt of reconstruction, Matthews enjoyed flexing her creative muscles by outfitting the new rooms. “I’m hoping to put the proceeds from the sale of this house into launching a design business,” she says.
In the bathroom, Matthews turned a dresser scored on Craigslist into a sink vanity. “It was in really rough shape,” she recalls of the piece. “By the time we got it home, it was falling apart—so we glued it all back together and then put a new stain on it and added the sink.” This country look is balanced by crisp, black-and-white tile, which Matthews—you guessed it—grouted herself.
“The biggest lesson I learned from this is that I could do more than I thought I could,” she says.
See more of the completed project below.
Follow House Beautiful on Instagram.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io