Sometimes when you know, you just know—whether it's love at first date, tears at first dress fitting, or "oh, boy" at first real estate showing. Such was the case for Molly Schoneveld of SW PR Shop when she first stepped into what would become her new home in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. "It was a bit like walking into a frat house," she explains. "Two young guys were renting it from owners who didn't live in L.A. To call it a bit of disaster would be an understatement." Needless to say, "oh boy" had a few different intonations as Schoneveld and her husband took in the home's dead plants, comically sloped floors, and stained carpets. But after years of renting and house-hunting in the neighborhood, the couple knew the location couldn't be beat, and the place itself was possibly a diamond in the rough. "In short, I had visions of grandeur, and my husband was totally overwhelmed," she says.
The couple took the place down to the studs and learned more than a few lessons while piecing it all back together—from space planning and grout field tests to what really goes into refurbishing a Craigslist chandelier (blood, sweat, and a lot of brass cleaner). With the help of a contractor, two designers, and an IKEA pro (for the interiors) and Decorist and Lowe's (for the outdoor space), they imparted the two-bedroom home with a sensibility befitting the London townhouse of Schoneveld's design fantasies.
1. Define Your Style. Schoneveld had a head start when it came to figuring out her interior likes and dislikes. (As founder of SW PR Shop, she works with designers, celebrities, lifestyle experts, and hotels daily.) If you're not as up to speed, however, try giving your aesthetic a name to help you stay within your chosen realm when picking furnishings and finishes. Schoneveld's key words? "'London townhouse,' specifically the black-and-white town homes you see in South Kensington. It's modern-traditional with a lot of clean lines and bold patterns," she explains. "Since we couldn’t paint the outside of our house, we decided to bring that black-and-white theme inside." The black French doors and window casings in the kitchen pop against white walls.
2. Know Your Must-Haves. "Taking down the kitchen wall and making an open floor plan was non-negotiable. And though it did come to fruition, it was the biggest challenge,” notes Schoneveld. “I also had dreams of a claw-foot soaking tub, but I didn’t get it in the end.”
3. Then Be Prepared to Adjust Them. When you’re heading into a down-to-the-studs renovation, it’s easy to believe just about anything is possible. But more often than not, you'll run into structural and budgetary realities you couldn't foresee. “My contractor, Palisades Kitchen and Bath, had to say, Look you can’t rip up this powder room without jackhammering through concrete, and that is going to cost way more than your budget," explains Schoneveld. "Through this process, you learn what it means to compromise."
4. Expect to Get Real. After tearing down one of the kitchen walls to create an open layout, Schoneveld and her team had to figure out how to fit all the essentials back in the cook space, and she's refreshingly candid about the struggle on her blog. "We argued, measured, contemplated, made a decision, second-guessed the decision. And when I say 'we,' I mean all of us. My contractor didn’t agree with the subcontractor who didn’t agree with my husband who didn’t agree with me or the designers. It was seriously like Family Feud!"
5. Stop, Collaborate, and Listen. The kitchen is made entirely of customized IKEA cabinetry, and the designer the brand sent to hash out the details of the layout ended up playing creative peacekeeper. "I give him a lot of credit for being able to make what seemed impossible, possible," says Schoneveld. The large pantry he placed beside her workstation made up for all the storage they'd lost during demolition and created a spot for the previously-homeless refrigerator.
6. Don't Rush the Big Stuff. "I had no idea that from the moment you go into escrow it feels like you're on a speeding train, and if you delay it will all come to a screeching halt," says Schoneveld. If you have the luxury of a flexible timeline, she suggests making a complete plan before you get started. And if not, do as much research about your purchases as possible, be decisive, and ask as many questions as you can of your pros. Designers Caitlin Murray and Caitlin McCarthy had Schoneveld's back during the interiors overhaul.
7. Be Forever Young. "One trick I learned from my designers is that a lot of the big-box retailers have very sophisticated pieces in their baby lines that are way less expensive," says Schoneveld. "The dresser in our master is RH Baby & Child, and so are the mirrors above the master vanity. The size worked better for the space in addition to costing less. The chair at my desk is from PBteen!"
8. Pump the Breaks on Pattern. Design lovers are on a print-mixing kick these days, and Schoneveld's myriad tile choices prove it's a strong look when done well. Especially on expensive surfaces, however, make sure you double-check your boldest choices. "My husband was not on board at all with dark grout in the master bath shower because he thought it was going to look way too busy against the floor," she explains. "Thank goodness we brought in grout samples, because he was absolutely right—it would have been overkill."
9. Invest in Sweat Equity. The chandelier above Schoneveld's kitchen table was a Craigslist find picked up by her husband. "He thought he could just polish it right up much like silver and we would just purchase black shades. Easy peasy. Hilarious. It took him probably 50 man-hours and I don’t even know how many bottles of brass cleaner to literally scrub the tarnish that was on that light with all his might," she says with a laugh. The finished product? Pretty darn close to her Circa Lighting inspiration, for a cost of just $50.
10. Go To the Pros. Or in Schoneveld's case, let them come to you. The Decorist team spotted her reno-in-progress on her blog and offered to trick out the patio space with pieces from Lowe's. "Before they came on board, we were about to just paint the concrete and throw some lounge chairs out there. They made it look next-level, and friends comment that it feels like a luxury boutique hotel!" she says of the richly layered results.