Bright & Modern: A 1970s Ranch Gets A Gut Renovation

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By Emma Kent // Photos by Lauren Wood 

A Tupelo interior designer turned a typical 1970s ranch into a bright mid-century modern family home.

When they were ready to grow their family, Mary Stewart, an interior designer at Staggs Interiors, and her husband, John, took on a gut renovation of Mary’s grandparents’ house to create a mid-century modern family home. Before she and her husband bought it, the four bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home sat empty for five years.

The Stewarts had been living in the Joyner neighborhood and were thinking about starting a family, but more people meant they were going to need more space to grow into, and Mary had been toying with the idea of buying her grandparents’ home.

“It kind of just was always in the back of my mind,” she said. “We had so many memories here.”

Committing to the house also meant committing to a major renovation that would allow them to start fresh and really make it their own. When they bought it, the house was extremely dated, from dark wood paneling that covered the walls to thick carpet and dingy vinyl flooring throughout. Mary said the house had plenty of space and a great ranch style, but it needed to be modernized. To start, they replaced all of the flooring with new hardwoods.

“It was really 1970s,” Mary said. “We knew we wanted to lighten everything up and have an open feel from the kitchen to the den.”

Opening the kitchen to the den was by far the biggest project they tackled as it involved removing a wall that separated the two spaces and adding structural support beams. The space now feels open and functional. They also added a half bath off of the kitchen and den area. The kitchen features stunning quartz countertops with a waterfall edge on the bar peninsula. Mary chose them because quartz is notoriously low-maintenance.

She worked with Pierce Cabinets to create custom white, high-gloss cabinets to fit the kitchen layout she designed for the new space. The result is a modern kitchen that feels right at home in the ranch-style house.

“We’ve been really happy with it,” she said.

Mary wanted to be sure the kitchen was not only beautiful, but also functional, so plenty of cabinets for storage of food and appliances were included. The kitchen is long and narrow, so they had to get creative with building in storage. Where the space was too small to fit cabinets, the couple opted for oversized floating shelves. The shelves make a statement while allowing for the display of cookbooks and dishes.

“That was a neat solution,” she said.

The renovation also included all of the home’s bedrooms and bathrooms. To create four bedrooms, one large bedroom was divided into two smaller rooms for the kids. Mary said she loved designing the nursery for her youngest child. It’s now one of her favorite spaces in the house.

“It’s a sweet room,” she said. “It was fun to do a nursery.”

The outside of the home is brick and required much less work than the interior. The exterior got a fresh coat of white paint, new shutters and a new front door along with some simple landscaping.

The formal living room blends mid-century modern and traditional styles.
Traditional meets modern

Although she describes her style as contemporary and mid-century, Mary likes to incorporate traditional accents to keep spaces feeling inviting.

“I like to mix styles. Traditional elements make the space feel eclectic,” she said. “I don’t want it so modern that it feels cold.”

Some of those traditional elements are items that belonged to her grandparents. She’s had several pieces of furniture that were theirs recovered and some of the home’s original features were kept intact. The built-in bookshelves in the den are original to the home, they’ve just been updated with a bright white coat of paint. Mary also chose to keep the built-in china cabinet in the dining room.

Wallpaper in the dining room and powder room also lend a traditional feel to the home’s decor. Using wallpaper accent walls or in small rooms was an easy way to add interest and make a design statement.

“I love wallpaper,” Mary said. “It’s coming back. I’ve been saying that for the past six or seven years, but it is — it’s back.”

Before putting up their new wallpaper, though, layers upon layers of old wallpaper that had been on the walls for years had to be removed, but the end result was worth it. Throughout the house Mary used custom items mixed in with simple modern finds from stores like IKEA to bring her vision together. Both the kitchen cabinets and the doors to the dining room built-in china cabinet were custom made. They have a geometric pattern that looks modern but still gives a nod to the home’s retro roots.

The nursery was one of Mary’s favorite rooms to design.
Designing for family vs. clients

Designing a home for your own family as an interior designer isn’t as easy as you might think.

“It’s a lot harder to do your own house. There’s so much out there that we see everyday,” Mary said. “It’s hard to shut that out and just choose.”

She said it can be hard to find a design direction and stick with it. When working with clients, they usually have a certain style or direction they want the design to go and in the end, they’re the ones actually making the decisions. When designing her family’s home, Mary said she would spend more time thinking through every choice to be sure it was the right one.

“You’re just harder on yourself,” she said.

It’s also hard to find the time to do your own work when you’re designing for clients all day, Mary said, because sometimes after work or on the weekends you don’t necessarily feel like doing more design work.

Just like with any other project, Mary said setting deadlines for herself helped her stay on track and make decisions while designing their home.

Mary selected a bold floral wallpaper to make a statement in the dining room.
Home sweet home

Mary and John have called the house home for six years now. Looking back, the four-month renovation process was well worth it, even if it felt neverending at the time.

Reworking the plumbing and some of the home’s structural elements were major projects that took a long time and had to be completed before the fun parts of the renovation could take place. They worked with a contractor but did some of the work themselves.

“We definitely put in our share of elbow grease but I think that makes us more proud when we sit back and look at all of the work that we did,” Mary said.

Mary said the den is one of the family’s favorite rooms because that’s where they’re always hanging out. A wood-burning fireplace is the focal point of the den, and the family loves building fires every evening in the winter to make the room extra cozy. The sunroom is also a family favorite. It serves as a sunny spot for the couple to drink coffee on weekend mornings as well as a bright playroom for the boys.

“It’s really pretty on a sunny morning when the light comes in,” she said. “It’s one of our favorite rooms in the spring.”

It’s been a good home for the family, but they’ve decided to move on to a larger house and recently listed their current house for sale. They’re not sure what type of home they’ll move to, but Mary is hoping for another renovation project.

“I think that’s what people are doing more now,” she said. “There are so many of these great houses from the ‘70s, they just need a little imagination to bring them back to life.” 



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