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Before & After: Remodelista Contributing Editor Izabella Simmons Shares Her Scandi-Inspired Remodel

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Before & After: Remodelista Contributing Editor Izabella Simmons Shares Her Scandi-Inspired Remodel

May 3, 2019

The first time I walked into our home, I remember immediately shifting into remodeling mode: I saw the potential, while ignoring the downsides of an 80-year-old house that hadn’t been updated in decades. I recall trying to quiet my fussy newborn and telling my four-year-old not to touch a thing. The realtor gently suggested we reject the property, and reminded us that the other offers were from people who planned to tear down the home and replace it with new construction. But during the walkthrough, I found myself mentally reconfiguring the choppy floor plan—I removed walls, added a bedroom, converted the attic into living space, and turned the dining room into a garage. Despite the stained carpet and dated fixtures, I felt the home had potential.

After that weekend trip (we were visiting my husband Brandon’s family), I was confident I’d found our new home in the Heights neighborhood of Little Rock, Arkansas. We had recently decided against settling in Chicago’s North Shore, a place we’d called home for the past two years, and we soon found ourselves making an impulsive offer on the Arkansas house. A move made sense—our careers allowed my husband and me to live anywhere, our two young children would grow up close to family, and we’d swap Chicago’s freezing winters for mild Southern weather (no one warned us of the humidity).

The dwelling had been vacant for over a year and was littered with artifacts from a long-ago estate sale. My husband, who agreed to buy the property sight unseen, knew he was in for a surprise (his father had refused to walk through the front door due to the mildew smell). The home was in terrible shape and needed tons of work, much more than we ever anticipated. When the words “as is” are included in the real estate listing description, the words “buyer beware” should instantly pop up in capitalized bold letters (or “run for your life”).

But with the help of a team of contractors, my aesthetic vision, and my husband’s practical mindset, we set out to breathe new life into our home. It was a steep learning curve, considering we had no prior remodeling experience. The extensive rehab took close to a year to complete, but we couldn’t be happier with the results.

Join us for a tour.

Photography by Matthew Willams.

most of the interiors are painted in benjamin moore&#8\2\17;s decorator& 17
Above: Most of the interiors are painted in Benjamin Moore’s Decorator’s White. The red oak hardwood floors were bleached three times in pursuit of a Scandi whitewashed look. The sofas are slipcovered Karlstad Sofas from Ikea. The steel coffee table from Anthropologie originally had a painted top, which I stripped, leaving the surface raw. Leftover Carrara marble pieces from the kitchen counters surround the fireplace.
I grew up in Sweden and am naturally drawn to an airy Scandi look, so Brandon and I aimed for an open, minimal yet warm space. Our living room is light filled, thanks to the south-facing large sliding doors and windows. Most of our furnishings have been painted, sanded, upholstered, sewed (redone, recycled). We rarely buy new things; we prefer a mix of new and old. For us, our home is a reflection of who we are (our roots and background); filled with pieces we love, all collected over the past 15 years.

we bought the painting above the mantle at auction, and we found the birch thre 18
Above: We bought the painting above the mantle at auction, and we found the birch three-legged stool in Sweden last summer; it’s a replica of a Lund Viking stool. An antique Chinese basket holds our blankets.
we found the theatrical canvas backdrop at roy dudley estate sales. the ta 19
Above: We found the theatrical canvas backdrop at Roy Dudley Estate Sales. The table behind the sofa is a 1930s vintage folding wallpaper table that we bought at Randolph Street Market in Chicago. The antique dough bowl holds collections of crystals, rocks, and seashells collected by our children. I love ceramics, and we have pieces displayed throughout our home. My mom made the light pink velvet pillows; the linen pillow is from Calvin Klein Home.
to improve the layout, we removed several walls. the dining area now connects t 20
Above: To improve the layout, we removed several walls. The dining area now connects the front library to the living room and kitchen, which are located in the back of the home. There’s a guest room hiding behind the wall to the left.
once a year, residents of chicago&#8\2\17;s north shore neighborhoods empty 21
Above: Once a year, residents of Chicago’s North Shore neighborhoods empty their basements and hold a yard sale, which is where we found our abandoned French antique gilded mirror. The bottom of the mirror had rotted, but with the help of my mother-in-law, we were able to restore it. I found the dining table in the attic of a Masonic Lodge in Chicago. I stripped off the dark stain to reveal the raw poplar wood, and then added a few layers of matte polyurethane for protection. The chairs are Wishbone by Hans Wegner. The pendant lamps are 1920s vintage milk-glass shades sourced from Get Back, Inc. I assembled the lamps using a black twisted cotton cloth wire and fittings from two filament bare bulb single pendants from Restoration Hardware.
a vintage french brass vitrine (we bought three of them from a toy store that w 22
Above: A vintage French brass vitrine (we bought three of them from a toy store that was closing) displays Royal Copenhagen dishes. Brandon and I lined the back of the cabinet with Swedish botanical prints. The two vintage handblown glass lamps are from Italian company Salviati & Co. and the framed art was bought at auction in Sweden.
above left: a blue fluted sugar bowl by royal copenhagen. above right: a wooden 23
Above left: A blue fluted sugar bowl by Royal Copenhagen. Above right: A wooden bowl by artist Silvia Song (I found it at a Remodelista San Francisco market) holds small ceramic bowls and vases.
the kitchen opens to the living room and features black and white drawers and c 24
Above: The kitchen opens to the living room and features black and white drawers and cabinets, and Spinneybeck leather pulls. The black pendant lamps are Bestlite by Gubi and the stools are by French Nicolle, still in production since the 1930s. We installed a 36-inch drop-in gas cooktop by Bertazzoni in the island. The refrigerator and freezer are by Electrolux, and the dishwasher is by Asko. (As for the faucet, see my post High/Low: Dornbracht vs. Grohe Kitchen Faucet to learn more.)
floating open shelves display our collection of white stoneware dishes; most of 25
Above: Floating open shelves display our collection of white stoneware dishes; most of the pieces are from Sweden and England. The backsplash and countertops are Carrara marble.
we turned the front room into a library and added built in shelves along the wa 26
Above: We turned the front room into a library and added built-in shelves along the walls. My husband had one wish during the remodel: floor-to-ceiling shelves to hold his collection of antique fly-fishing books. (To learn about the linen upholstered settee, see my post Before & After: Izabella’s Reinvented Settee, Vintage Scandinavian Fabric Included.) The wooden stumps are white oak and cut at a local mill. The white Panton chair by Vitra is vintage, and the butterfly chair has a Leather Chair Cover from Urban Outfitters.
this bathroom was initially configured as a powder room, but we soon realized t 27
Above: This bathroom was initially configured as a powder room, but we soon realized that our far-flung family and friends needed a shower, so plans changed (three times) and we eventually turned the space into a full bath. Floor-to-ceiling white subway tile covers the walls; we chose a dark gray grout to hide dirt. We bought the small vintage Turkish Kars carpet from Christian Rathbone during a Brooklyn flea market visit, and we use a vintage wooden ladder to hang towels. The toilet is Kohler’s Persuade and the pedestal sink is by American Standard (it’s no longer available).
i found the four poster bed on craigslist and asked a carpenter to make a new s 28
Above: I found the four-poster bed on Craigslist and asked a carpenter to make a new square headboard (it was originally bell-shaped). My husband painted the bed in Farrow & Ball’s Down Pipe. The wall sconces are 2oth Century Factory Filament Metal Sconces from Restoration Hardware and the Russian rug is an antique bought at auction in Sweden. All the bedding is from Restoration Hardware, except for the blanket that my husband bought (as a gift) during a work trip to Mexico City. My mother sewed the linen curtain, and I made the curtain rods using copper piping. (See my post DIY: How to Make a Copper Pipe Curtain Rod for $35.)
our master bathroom has a custom built steel vanity, double vessel sinks, and w 29
Above: Our master bathroom has a custom-built steel vanity, double vessel sinks, and wall-mounted faucets. The counter and backsplash are quartz Silestone. The bathroom walls are tiled from floor-to-ceiling, and the large mirror, (extending all the way to the ceiling) makes the bathroom feel larger. We installed Tolomeo Wall Spot Lights upside down (see my post Design Sleuth: The Tolomeo Light Takes a Turn). I have an obsession with linen fabric, and I source most of our linens (new and vintage) from Sweden. The towels are from Vävaren, a linen weaver in Båstad, Sweden. The iron Chiba hook came from Rikumo.
our daughter sleeps in a \19th century antique swedish pine daybed. back in the 30
Above: Our daughter sleeps in a 19th-century antique Swedish pine daybed. Back in the day, these beds were used as a kitchen sofa during the day and as a bed at night. The paper clipping mobile was made by our friend, artist John Bell. The lamp above the bed is an Industrial Era Task Sconce in cream from Restoration Hardware, and the mirror is from West Elm.
ikea&#8\2\17;s expedit shelf unit (it&#8\2\17;s been renamed kallax) co 31
Above: Ikea’s Expedit shelf unit (it’s been renamed Kallax) comes in handy for displaying our son’s Legos and other toys. The walls are half-painted in Farrow & Ball’s Arsenic and Benjamin Moore’s Decorator’s White.
brandon&#8\2\17;s office is located on the third floor. he uses an eames so 32
Above: Brandon’s office is located on the third floor. He uses an Eames Soft Pad Executive Chair for office seating.
we converted the attic space into a living area and an office, adding 450 squar 33
Above: We converted the attic space into a living area and an office, adding 450 square feet to the home. Insulation, walls, flooring, and large windows were installed. Stuva Storage Benches from Ikea hold the children’s Playmobil toys. The chaise lounge comes from Greycork (a furniture startup that no longer exists) and the floor lamp is Ranarp from Ikea. I bought the cowhide at a local leather shop.

Before

simmons third floor attic before
Above: The third-floor attic is now used as living space and an office.
simmons guest bathroom before
Above: A 1940s wet bar was replaced by our guest bathroom. We closed the hallway and added a laundry room, accessed from the kitchen. The laundry room leads to our garage, which previously was a living room.
simmons living room before
Above: Everything in the living room was gutted and rebuilt.
simmons kitchen before
Above: Needless to say, the old kitchen was completely ripped out.
a before shot of what today is our library. 38
Above: A before shot of what today is our library.
our \1940s home before the exterior redesign. 39
Above: Our 1940s home before the exterior redesign.
we redesigned the front facade, adding a second roofline, a garage, and a new e 40
Above: We redesigned the front facade, adding a second roofline, a garage, and a new entry. We gutted the exterior elements and replaced the aluminum siding with new Hardie plank. We also added a standing seam metal roof and new exterior lighting from Restoration Hardware. The yard was also completely redone.

See more dramatic transformations in Kitchen of the Week: A Glamorous Kitchen in San Francisco, Ikea Hacks Included.

N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on March 26, 2018.

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Frequently asked questions

What is the article 'Swedes Remodel in Arkansas' about?

The article is about a couple from Sweden who remodel a midcentury modern house in Arkansas, USA.

When did the couple buy the midcentury modern house?

The couple bought the midcentury modern house in 2017.

What did the couple do before they moved to Arkansas?

The couple lived in a 19th-century apartment in Stockholm, Sweden.

What changes did the couple make to the midcentury modern house?

The couple made several changes to the house, including opening up the floor plan, adding new windows and doors, and updating the kitchen and bathrooms.

What design style did the couple choose for their remodel?

The couple chose a minimalist, Scandinavian-inspired design style for their remodel.

What were the challenges the couple faced during the remodel?

The couple faced challenges related to the house's age and condition, as well as the availability of materials and contractors in the area.

What advice does the couple have for others who are considering a remodel?

The couple advises others to be patient and flexible, to prioritize what is most important, and to be open to unexpected opportunities and ideas.

What is the overall tone of the article?

The overall tone of the article is positive and inspiring, highlighting the creativity, resourcefulness, and determination of the couple in their remodel project.

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