So long Suburbia! Enter Urban Chic. A before & After Residential Makeover.

THE CLIENTS: Sean and Carrie McGrath

Residence:  Hampton Road, Quispamsis, New Brunswick
Start date:  March 30  Completion date:  proposed August 18th
(We came in early – one month exactly – July 18th!)

Photo: Sean McGrath. Carrie + Sean McGrath
About: Carrie and Sean have been married four years. Carrie is a teacher and a talented make-up artist. Sean is a well-respected photographer and web developer | software guru. They own three cats, who run the house. One of them – Cooper – frightens me; she takes swipes at you for no apparent reason and has very sharp and calculating claws.

Carrie and Sean live in Carrie’s childhood home. They purchased the house from Carrie’s parents, who built it in the 70s, and three years ago the young couple began an aggressive series of renovations aimed at making it uniquely their own. The reno included taking down walls, replacing appliances, gutting the bathroom, retiling, repainting the entire house, updating windows, to say nothing of purchasing furniture. Though initially pleased with the results, they eventually found themselves short of cash, energy and inspiration.

In their words, they were ‘stuck’.


Before Pics:  Large furniture that dominated the living room, dark wall colors and an unwelcoming entrance (no door closet and the way the room was set up, visitors would walk into the back of a couch!)

In the years since the work began, they’ve grown to dislike the colors they initially chose as well as their furniture choices. They felt the house reflected them several years ago, more as university ‘kids,’ and now they wanted a home that reflected who they are today. They spend a lot of time at home (especially Sean who works from his home office) and were prepared to increase their investment in the space.

Before Pics:  The bare windows became lost trying to compete with dark paint and a large TV which took over the entire living room.

Before Pics:  The central wall showed great promise, but was rather bare! However I saw potential to leave this as is (for the present time).  The chair in the corner had become the favourite chair of the three cats.  Everyone agreed the furniture was on the way ‘out’.

Before Pics:  The back wall that joined the living room, leading into the dining room, had a very dated fireplace with an electric fireplace insert.  They liked the electric insert, but had grown tired of the heavy mantle.  As the couple watches movies and listens to the stereo often, moving these items out of the space was not an option. Challenges indeed!

Before Pics:  The dining room was sparse and unimaginative.  They wanted to get rid of the table and weren’t happy with the ‘generic’ lamp and the overall coldness of the space where they ate.

When they emailed me and asked if they could hire me (punchinside), I learned little about the project except the following things:  one, I was ordered by Carrie to make their house look like mine!  And two, I was told that both Carrie and Sean were self identified workers; that is, they were happy do the work themselves to help keep costs down.

A win-win for everyone!

Scope: The couple was anxious, first and foremost, to create a more comfortable and well -designed living room and dining room space, with an aesthetically arresting front door entrance. While the kitchen would be considered in the schematic design of a phase (b) in the future, the current focus was to re-design the living room, dining room and main hallway|entrance.  (If we had money in the budget, we would also tackle upgrading their backdoor entrance as this was the entrance which most friends and family entered.)

Budget: Not including design fees, Sean and Carrie determined that $10,000 was their budget. This budget had to include everything: furniture, paint, décor, etc.  Based on this amount I knew that the project had to be not only creative, but FISCALLY creative!

What we did:  After long interviews designed to help me understanding the way Carrie and Sean lived, their personal tastes and conversations about how they wanted the house to reflect their taste, it became clear to me that this couple was very much into ‘each other’ and into creating a space that was uniquely theirs.  In light of Sean’s love for photography, Carrie’s eye for strong design, their love for music and for each other, I set out to put design ideas together.




Photo:  Sean McGrath  One of the finished feature walls in the living room.

Sean and Carrie both listened to the band “The Juliana Theory” when they were first dating and liked a graphic from the band’s album ‘Deadbeat Sweetheartbeat’ .  We collaborated with Gillian Goldie to trace the graphic and then we had it reproduced as a decal (InColor Inc.) We matched the pantone of the outline with the color of the wall so it appears to float.  All pillows with the exception of the pink one on the right came from IKEA – the Pink ruffled one came from Pgal’s Closet just down the road from their home.  The Sectional Couch (which reconfigures two ways) is the Jane Loft Bi-Sectional from Gus*Modern, purchased at Terra Verde.

Photos:  All Sean McGrath except jewelry pic (Judith Mackin)  

The new entrance welcomes visitors with a warm, custom designed wallpaper.  Back Story:  I purchased a necklace some months ago from a local jeweller Darling Dilemma (Emma Barlow).  Her necklace is called “Dead Girls Need Love Too”.  Carrie had said early on that she wanted the skull wallpaper that I had hanging in my hallway at home.  I thought, ‘no – you want your own unique ‘twist’ of skull wallpaper ‘.  I then designed the paper to incorporate a scanned image of Barlow’s necklace (with her permission of course!) and send it off to my repeat collaborators, in Toronto  (Anita Modha) to create and print my first wallpaper design.  Carrie and Sean now have their own one-of-a-kind macabre.

Carrie then painted the trim and walls (for the entire halls, living room and dining room) a gallery white and added a bi-folding door.  We threw in a darker small angular bureau to not only ground the yellow wall, but to function as a place for keys, gloves and cellphones.  The beautiful hanging white light was hand made by Carrie.  I gave her instructions I had seen on a DIY feature on the decor blog Design*Sponge created by designer Gabrielle Guy. Remember the glaring ceiling lamp they had before?  (see before pics).

Photo:  Sean McGrath

Painting the walls white created an airy living room.  We removed the bookshelf unit and replaced it with modern built-in shelves  to allow their collections to ‘pop’ on the wall; cameras, books and movies. Atticus (a Bengal and non-frightening cat) enjoying the shoot in his new IKEA rocking chair.  Floor Lamp: IKEA (Fillsta)

Photo:  Sean McGrath

A close up of the flower arrangment by Sandra Miller Floral Designs in Quispamsis.  The ‘O’ + ‘X’ pillows are from Pgal’s Closet  – a homage to Carrie and Sean’s love!   The nesting tables that already existed in the living room pre-reno actually worked quite nicely, once the third (table) was removed. (I discovered the white cat pencil sharpener when I went ‘scavenging’ through Sean’s office closet to see what treasures were hidden).

Photos: Sean McGrath  Panoramic view from a guest’s perspectives when entering the couple’s home.

The other feature wall is constitutes perhaps the biggest transformation of the entire renovation.  Remember the large screen TV and the dated fireplace?  Believe it or not they are both still there.  I designed a wall that would allow the TV to be hidden when not in use.  Once the plans were approved by the client I then engaged the services of craftsman, Christoph Malinowski of CM Woodcraft to build the feature wall with the press-to-open latches on the wall doors.  (see photo below.)

Carrie had said she wanted ‘lots’ of wood (furniture) to give a rustic feel to the design, so I gave it to her; perhaps not exactly what she had in mind, but budget didn’t allow for signature wood pieces.  Now that she’s seen the completed wall, she is happy with the wood especially as it didn’t cost a cent!  She and Sean gathered the birch trees from Sean’s parent’s cottage, where the trees were being cleared already).  The gold pig? As mentioned on my website, as a punchinside parting gift I’ve been known to give a Harry Allen Pig away as my way of saying ‘thank you’.  Carrie named her’s Harry Winston.

Photo: Sean McGrath. Image of feature wall when opened and in use.

Photo:  Sean McGrath  The white glass coffee table sitting on the white area shag rug (both from IKEA) float beautifully on the cork floors.  The branch, pheasant balls and ID Magazine add an organic warmth to the table (to say nothing of cheek!)  The book on the right by one of Sean’s favourite visual artist/photographer from Toronto, Brooks Reynolds.

Photo:  Sean McGrath

One of the best secrets I know when it comes to saving money is you don’t always have to pay high prices for  custom blinds! Carrie and Sean had been quoted thousands of dollars to custom fit just their front window.  We managed to get all seven windows (11 blinds total) custom fit for under $700.00!  No cords and completely corner to corner? How?  If you go to Home Depot (check out that link) you will find the cordless, cellular shades which can be cut up to 6 inches total ‘in store’ (3 inches on each side) for a custom fit.  What works beautifully with these blinds also is that at night time, the clean crisp lines of the white wall blends in perfectly with the white custom blinds!

Photo: Sean McGrath
The dining room now becomes a natural extension of the living room by unifying the two rooms with the feature wall.

Photo: Sean McGrath

Photo:  Sean McGrath

As mentioned earlier the couple were eager to part with the dining room table, but I asked them to save the money and suggested they paint it a Watermelon Red: (Benjamin Moore 2087-20) with a slightly darker tint. Sean and Carrie then cut out the pattern of a left over piece of wallpaper I had from my own reno projects – skulls by Barbara Hulanicki – and then placed a custom piece of glass on top.  Patterned dining room chairs from IKEA (Nils) work perfectly in this space as the only ‘pattern’.   On the table centre:  an array of Carrie’s make-up coupled with an encaustic | wax basket by Toronto Artist Ryan Livingstone (Ingrid Mueller Art + Concepts). Draped inside the basket are jewelry treasures from Saint John designers ESquared Jewels and the pink cameo necklace that inspired the wallpaper; ‘Dead Girls Need Love Too’ by Darling Dilemma (Emma Barlow).

Photo:  Sean McGrath  

This beautiful & unique light hanging over the dining room table was also made by Carrie. Looks easy enough – but there are almost 2,000 coffee filters glue- gunned onto a paper lantern to achieve that look! Inexpensive and effective.  Carrie growls when we broach the topic of how many hours it took her to complete that masterpiece!

Photo:  Sean McGrath

The couple gained extra storage space on the side of the unit as a result of building the wall out to accommodate the TV and fireplace.  Cookbooks, teas and artisan objects enhance their eating area:  Yellow birch bowl (Albert Beaulieu)  Top shelf: Ceramic pitcher:  M.N.O Pottery (Darren Emenau) Mugs: Peter Thomas|Juggler’s Cove (Handworks Gallery)

There is one piece of furniture that has yet to arrive, which will float in front of Harry Winston (pig) and the chopped wood.  It s a ‘showstopper’ called “Pasha” from Italian Designers  Marco Pocci & Claudio Dondoli purchased from Attica Furnishings in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Photo Submitted | The Pasha Chair

While the punchinside part of the makeover has officially come to an end, the new layout has unofficially established a blank canvas for Carrie and Sean to create and manipulate with photography and artwork of their own.

Thank you again to Carrie and Sean for being such inspiring and inspired clients. And to Sean, who went above and beyond by photographing the makeover for this blog.


Remember early on we talked about ‘scope’ and if time and money permitted we’d attempt to make the back entrance more appealing? Well, for exactly $111.00 Carrie and Sean took an unappealing entryway and spruced it up.
What we did: Painted out all the wainscotting to make it white and bright. We then placed a cardboard Sculpture from Cardboard Safari ($52) on the back grey feature wall. Then, because the couple entertain often, we thought it would be appropriate to place simple cork board (from Michaels $30) on the entry wall and Sean would then take photos of their friends arriving (or departing!) and pin them on the cork board. Finally we switched out the overbearing light to a three way spot light ($29) which focuses the light on the polaroids and the Rhino.

Photo:  Sean McGrath

Photo:  Sean McGrath

Photo:  Sean McGrath

Photo:  Sean McGrath 

THE AFTER PICS (an essay):


Photo:  Sean McGrath

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