Ahhh, Caldwell

I cannot believe I am JUST now sitting down to write to you about my Caldwell project, “THE DREAM PROJECT”. Only…I can believe it because there has simply been no time to SIT or WRITE about “THE” project while juggling 3 other projects (excuses, excuses). You may ask, “Why does this particular project keep getting capitalized, emphasized and all the quotation marks?” Well, I’m trying to help you see how extraordinarily special this particular Storybook project is. There are only a tiny handful of houses in Conway that are on my “Storybook Bucket List”. Every time I drive by one of them, I dream about the potential, if given the opportunity, to renovate. Some are on the list because their very curb appeal has told me their whole story and I’m dying to make it come alive with design- like the house on Donaghey that I swear was moved off the pages of The Little House.

Do you know the one I’m talking about?!?! I’ve been dreaming about putting eyelashes on its windows for years.

And then there are the houses that are on my bucket list because, quite frankly, they are just sooo fabulously ugly. One of my favorite hobbies is daydreaming about how I would help transform these ugly ducklings into beautiful swans. Like the house on… Just kidding- there is no way I would call out my ugly ducklings!

Upon further reflection and refinement, there are still those singular gems that are on the SBL (Storybook Bucket List) because I have the deepest respect for their original craftsmanship and architecture. I would be beyond honored to get to restore such glory and greatness. And this, my Storybook friends, is the list on which we find 2009 Caldwell.

I have loved this house for a quarter of a century since first moving to Conway in 1996. It may be small but its design is mighty in the sea of craftsman homes in old town. A true mid-century design with its ultra-cool monoslope roof (Fact: that roof inspired my own home reno).

Once married, Rory shared my love for this home and later learned the owner was a friend of a friend and approached this owner multiple times about the possibility of buying.

Despite our frequent offers to purchase, it wasn’t until his running buddy mentioned that he had passed on an opportunity to purchase a mid-century home on Caldwell that Rory learned the inside scoop. The seller of this beloved (dream) home was finally ready to sell. Rory called to tell me the incredible news but quickly added that he wanted to keep it as a rental. Um…. I don’t think so. No offense to Rory but I knew that if he wanted to keep it as a rental that would mean minimal renovation. And that plan was no where near the dream reno I had been perfecting for over 20 years! I also knew that once Rory made up his mind about something there was usually no changing it. So I played maybe the biggest card I had…that month was our 20th wedding anniversary. I told him that if he would let Storybook purchase it as a flip that it would be ALL I would want after 2 decades of marriage. He reluctantly agreed, with the one stipulation, I must actually make a profit on this project. (Historic Fact: I kinda have a habit of putting too much into my flips at the consolation of making any profit…darn appraisals).

I will admit that his stipulation did give me at least a 3-second pause. While this house was my DREAM project, it was a terrible investment- and I knew it. I was 1000% making this decision with my heart and not my brain. The purchase price was $80 a sq foot- waaaaaay more than I had ever paid for a flip. It was only 1372 sf, and despite the small size, I knew my renovations always run over $100k. There was no way this one would be different. At the very minimum, I was looking at $210,000 for 1372 square feet. Let me do the math for ya: that’s $153 per square foot….. BEFORE my required profit! Not only was I looking at a price per square foot where no house in Old Town Conway had sold before, it was now a very real conundrum. My heart would never let me do less than my best for this DREAM home. And per past low appraisal trauma (um, 2020), my best was not going to appraise for a traditional mortgage buyer. My greatest hope now relied on finding a buyer who shared my passion for this house and saw it as worthy of the investment with the cash to support the love affair. My Plan B was to make it an Air BnB so I could fully dress it up and love it forever. Both options seemed extremely risky with the latter requiring me to burn through all my savings plus rob a bank to make it happen…. regardless, I agreed to Rory’s terms and sealed the deal with a kiss.

Now my overall plan was not purely based on wishful thinking. I knew my love for this house was not unique but shared by many Conwegians creating a stellar lineup of potential buyers. In fact, just the year before, a lady reached out to ask if I had ever thought about trying to renovate this home. She too had stalked the house and approached the homeowner about purchasing it and had even managed to get some inside pics of the place. Once I had the home under contract, she was one of the first people I contacted to share the good news. This new friend became one of my biggest cheerleaders during the renovtion and even dropped off a pair of mid-century oil and vinegar bottles as a Christmas present to the house.

And another fan left this message, scrawled on the back window. Can you see it? It says, “This is so cool”

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Yes it is, random vandal, yes it is!

With all of the supporting evidence, I knew, in my heart, that someone would see her innate value and want to purchase the finished project.

Enter Brad.

Now. I have a confession. I ordinarily do not like to bring homeowners into flip projects until all the design decisions have been made and it’s too late to turn back. Because…. well… control issues. For 2009 Caldwell, I knew I needed to find a buyer early on and this find would mean some compromise but I was determined to fight for an overall mid century style. Specifically, I had my heart set on a Palm Springs mid-century vibe. A wink to the desert with all its cacti and terracotta earthiness. So when Brad called and mentioned that he had always been drawn to this house because it reminded him of homes in California where he lived for a number of years, I got excited. But it was only when he asked me if I had ever been to Palm Springs that the heavens opened up and I knew the house had found its perfect match. Interestingly, while both of us had visions of a Palm Springs zip code, Brad’s inspiration was narrowed down to one specific location pin- the past home of one of the original members of the rat pack- Mr. Frank Sinatra.

Within minutes of getting off the phone with Brad, I googled Frank Sinatra’s home and lucky for you and me, it has been turned into a short-term rental and event center. Pics were readily available for inspiration:

photo cred sinatrahouse.com

Yep, I could get on board with all that! I mean, look at that rock wall! Note the chimney! Remind you of anything?!?!

I’ll take you on a full tour in a minute but here is a pic of that rock on the inside of Caldwell:

Long story, short, Brad officially came on board and the renovation began.

Prior to Brad joining the project, the exterior plans had been blessed by the historic council and the bones of the renovation were approved by permitting. Fortunately, there was very little I wanted to do on the outside other than to take out the green trellis columns. I’m not a hater of painted brick, but I personally love how the original brick and rock sang together, so I had no plans to change the color pallet…something I knew the historic council would love and would keep me in their good graces. My only requests were to allow me, pretty please, to remove the green trellis columns and add a waterfall wall on the end. This would highlight my favorite feature of the original architecture. I also requested to add an addition off the back to give this home a proper master suite. Here is a peek at my high tech drawings I presented to historic.

It wasn’t too long into the renovation that I realized working with Brad was going to give me a whole new client experience. So far, in my short career, the biggest challenge in taking on clients has been coaxing them out of their comfort zones. The number one thing I hear from my clients when presenting an out-of-the-box design idea is “I’m afraid I will get tired of that” aaaaand a little piece of my soul dies. But Brad was the complete opposite. This guy wanted to push the design to the limit. He wanted lots of COLOR and he was not afraid of ANYTHING. In fact, any idea I threw at him he was 100% on board and even encouraged me to take it further. There were a few times I had to edit his ideas back a notch or two. I’ll give you a few examples in the “before and after” tour. Speaking of…Let’s get that going!!

A little disclaimer: while the outside had tons of mid-century character, the inside was “wah wah”. To keep you oriented, I’m going to give you the “afters” with the “befores”.

Entering through the front door, you are inside the Living Room with the fabulous floor to ceiling window that you see from the road.

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The living room boasted a fabulous monoslope ceiling and original hardwood floors painted black. My fingers were crossed that I could sand and restore the floors to their original color during the renovation.

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In the far corner was that fabulous rock fireplace straight out of Sinatra’s home. Like 100% of fireplace inspections I have EVER done on ANY house in Old Town Conway, this one was not up to code. But Brad agreed it would be money well spent to replace. My hope was to be able to reuse the rock with the new fireplace insert. As you will soon see, I was not able to make that happen.

Are you ready to see what that space looks like now??? Gosh, I wish I knew how to put music on this thing to build the anticipation….


The original floors refinished flawlessly!! And check out that light! The living room chandelier was a gift from Brad’s mom- and oh my goodness, it is one of my favorites!

The rock was too thick to use with the new fireplace insert, sniff sniff. But this tile was a fun way to introduce the semi-circle theme to the main living area of the house. You will see this theme repeated throughout the “after” pics.

The fireplace was lifted higher off the ground to accommodate the future table in the dining area.

Speaking of dining… look at that adorable custom bench that Jeff Perry, my favorite cabinet maker, made!

Although furniture and decor is not my thing, I have always pictured a tulip table sitting in that space. Kinda like this:

Brad did not even think he needed a kitchen table but was so supportive of my dream for the space, that a tulip table was the first piece of furniture he bought for his new home!

Because I wanted the living room chandelier and the fireplace sconces to take center stage, I chose not to hang a chandelier over the dining area. Instead, I opted for a long, arching floor lamp that reaches to the center of the table.

Ok…you ready to go into the kitchen??

Before…the kitchen was closed off from the living space through that door:

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It was pretty small with the fridge and range just hanging out in the corner like they were being punished.

Sooooo one of my main goals of the renovation was to open the kitchen up to the living/dining area.

This was tricky because the kitchen did not follow the same sloped ceiling line as the living room. My solution was to drop the ceiling to one level, from the kitchen all the way to the fireplace, which also helped differentiate the living room from the dining room.

Ironically, much like the dining table, Brad really didn’t want much of a kitchen. He lives the bachelor life and never cooks. He told me all he really wanted was a fridge and a microwave. During this conversation, I had to focus mightily on not letting my face reflect what my brain was thinking. I had to practice using my client/designer psychology skills to convince him that my, excuse me, HIS dream home NEEDED a dream kitchen. In the end, he gave in to a full kitchen and to thank him, I made sure his kitchen would be a true reflection of his personality.

Let’s pause in the middle of this kitchen tour to discuss color. One thing I quickly learned about Brad was that this guy LOVES color! The brighter and bolder, the better. So when it came time to choose the color theme of the house, I knew the original, muted desert tones I had envisioned for this Palm Springs-inspired home was not going to work for what Brad had in mind. But, I was also not ready to concede that Sinatra would approve of the brightest side of the color wheel either. Thus, my pursuit for the perfect compromise began. When it came time to choose colors, I had spent enough time with Brad to learn that his love of California extended beyond Palm Springs. He also loved the ocean, specifically surfing, and the laid back nature of beach living. I truly think all of these things inspired the final color pallet. Because I LIVE for a good surprise reveal, I kicked Brad out of his house for the final 2 months of the renovation. He had no idea what colors or finishes I landed on until he showed up to see the finished product. The only hint I gave him was this text:

Was he a good sport or what??

Originally, I had Nicolas paint that hand cut brick backsplash white, but I did not think it was bright enough for Brad, so when he came back for final touch- up I had him change it to this yellow. The other thing I did for Brad was to give him that one odd drawer. I had shown him this picture from Pinterest when I was trying to explain the vibe I had in mind for the kitchen.

The mismatched drawer was his favorite part, so I was excited to surprise him with his own “out of place” drawer.

If you are like most of my subcontractors who came in toward the end of the project, the 1 odd drawer and my choice of colors may have you questioning my sanity. When I saw the kitchen come together, I knew, without a doubt, I had nailed Brad’s dream kitchen- the kitchen he didn’t even think he wanted. Other moments on this tour may leave you scratching your head, but actually, these are quite possibly Brad and my own favorite parts of this home. Like the next thing I’m going to show you….

If you open up that upper cabinet….

There is a hidden cat pass through!

That leads into the laundry room…

That formerly looked like this:

But now looks like this!

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“Why a cat door?” you may ask. Well, Brad has 2 dogs and a cat. During the day, the dogs hang out in the laundry room where they have built in dog beds in the drawers under the laundry baskets. The cat is allowed to roam the house. However, the cat’s litter box is also stored inside the laundry room but in the cabinets where the dogs can’t access…

Now if you get freaked out about the cat climbing on the kitchen countertops and going through the kitchen cabinets, please remember that Brad does not intend to use his kitchen to cook. In fact, if you are the next in line to adopt this home, Brad assures me it will be like you have a brand new gas range and dishwasher.

How are you doing? Is this tour over-stimulating or are you enjoying the space? Shall we continue?

Before we get too crazy, why don’t I let you see the guest bedrooms? Before, the 3 bedrooms were all green walls and black floors with a few built-ins:

And now, there are fresh white walls with clear oak floors and some new built-ins:

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Before our final stop I want to show you the “before”bathroom of this original 1 (yep 1) bath house:

I truly loved the floor and was really excited about designing the new bathroom around this tile.

Alas, Brad did not share my love for this tile and since he let me put in a kitchen, I decided not to fight him on the tile. And I’ve gotta tell ya, Brad was right on this one! I think the new tile is the shining star of the newly renovated bathroom.

Last on the tour, but certainly not least, is the master suite. There is no “before” picture of the master suite because it did not exist. I mean, the bedroom did, but not the bathroom/closet portion of this suite.

Here is the bedroom:

Below is the bedroom with the wall blown out and the new foundation being prepped for the addition:

And now…..

A Shoji Screen was on Brad’s wish list from the very first time we met. I’ve gotta admit, I did not know how Shoji and Sinatra went together and wrestled with how I was going to give him everything on his wish list in one cohesive design. However, once the house went more Malibu and Tiki, I think the Shoji Screen fit right in. And thanks and kudos to my Dad for building the door!

Behind the Shoji Screen awaits the final surprise of the tour…

What’s that?!?

Is that a floor to ceiling window inside his shower?!?! Why yes it is!!! And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the most questioned feature in this home by all who visit. It is one of the many reasons that Brad will go down as one of my all time favorite clients EVER! Brad was all in with having a full window in his shower…a design feature that I have only dreamed about but never would have dared to incorporate in a flip situation. Well because of what most of you are thinking right now. But not Brad! He is all for it! Now, before you think Brad is an exhibitionist, you should know that the window sits in an alcove of the house and is very private. He has intentions of planting a zen garden in the space right outside the window. Come on, fellow Arkansans, how cool is that?!?! Californians would totally be all over this!

And that, my friends, concludes the tour of my Storybook Bucket List house on Caldwell. It may not have been your style, but you have to agree that this one of a kind mid-century home in the heart of Old Town Conway has continued to live out its unique heritage.

I will leave you with a picture of the fully renovated exterior. Because Brad was such a rock star on the inside and gave me complete creative control, I am giving him the same respect on the landscape. Unfortunately, it has been so rainy he has not been able to fully execute his plan. Just know that there is more to come on the outside, but for now, a glimpse of the waterfall front porch come to life.

Be sure to drive by 2009 Caldwell to see what Brad does with the rest of the yard in the coming weeks. Thanks for stopping by! Leave a comment on the blog or on FB and let me know what you think of the place!


After Pics: Makenzie Evans

Cabinets: Jeff Perry

Framing: Julio

Trim: Custom Culture LLC

Electrician: Jason Hall

Heat and Air: Freyaldenhoven

Plumber: Robert Shearer

Cabinet Hardware: Jeremey Smith

Shoji Door: Dad

Painter: Nick’s Painting

Flooring and all-around fixer of all the problems on every project: Edwardo David


4 thoughts on “Ahhh, Caldwell

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