Blogger Carmel Phillips brings handcrafted style & elegance to her Firebrook home.
Carmel Phillips doesn’t consider herself a design expert or a hardcore do-it-yourselfer. But after moving seven times in the last 14 years, she’s learned a thing or two about creating a family space that is fun, approachable, and livable. Much of what she’s learned is distilled into her popular blog, Our Fifth House. In it, Carmel encourages readers to find their own style, or as she puts it, “fly your style freak flag”, and to overcome apprehensions about DIY home projects. “I know expertise and skill can be useful tools when renovating and designing your home, but I don’t think fearlessness should be underestimated,” she said. “A lot can be accomplished with a can-do attitude and a desire to create a house you’ll love to call home.”
Carmel, along with her husband Brad and children Collin (11) and Josie (9), moved into their fifth home in Firebrook five years ago. Now the house that inspired her blog has been sold, and the family is ready to begin their next adventure in Charleston, SC. On her blog, she elaborates on the bittersweet nature of the move: “(This house) was so much more than the fifth house we’ve called home. It was a labor of love and a place where we shared many special moments as a family. In a lot of ways, this house brought me back to life. For me, closing this chapter wasn’t easy.”
After touring the Phillips’ home, it’s not difficult to see why. Every inch of the property is overflowing with creative ideas, stunningly professional-looking DIY projects, rich colors, and plenty of personality.
The entryway is a great introduction to Carmel’s bold style. She wanted the foyer to make a statement, so she created a customizable welcome sign with magnetic and chalkboard paint. “It usually says the same thing, but during the holidays, I changed it to “be nice or else”, she said. She picked up the vintage cane-back chair at Another Man’s Treasure and painted it gold with her favorite metallic spray paint – Rustoleum. “I won’t use anything else. It’s the best.”
The stairway is lined with framed, black-and-white photos of each of the family’s five houses, complete with oversized numerals and locations. The stairway was originally finished in a natural oak, but after redoing all the floors in dark bamboo, Carmel realized it needed a dose of personality. She painted stairs and banisters in high-gloss, black oil based paint, which can withstand daily use. The front door is painted to match. “You can never go wrong with black,” she said.
Since Brad works from home, they converted the formal living room into his home office. They found the mid-century modern desk on eBay years ago. They had the built in shelves installed and outlets placed in the cabinets so printers and other equipment are within reach, but out of sight. “We found a local carpenter who was retired, but still worked on projects here and there with his son,” Carmel said. “Word of mouth is still a great way to find contractors.” She hung the grasscloth wallpaper herself. When asked about the difficulty level, she replied, “Hanging wallpaper isn’t hard if it doesn’t have a pattern.” The paper is textured, so all she had to do was line it up and use a spray bottle to activate the adhesive.
The dining room has been through a major transformation. Carmel removed the previous owners’ floral wallpaper and carpeting, painted the ceiling, and created an accent wall with an allover ikat print stencil from Etsy. The commitment level is low and the impact is high. Carmel said, “If you don’t like it five years from now, it’s much easier to remove than wallpaper.” She also created a romantic, multilayered vignette on the buffet with antique china, black-and-white prints, fabric, and statuettes, plus a handmade chalkboard photo frame. The dining table is from World Market, and the chandelier from Pottery Barn. Since the chandelier has a more masculine style than the rest of the room, Carmel added some bling by stringing on leftover crystals from another chandelier. She hot-glued black grosgrain ribbon to create black stripes on the Target lampshades, and added a natural fiber rug to finish off the room.
While the kitchen cabinets and countertops were inherited from the previous owners, the space also received a sizable makeover. Another great piece of advice from Carmel is to not rush into renovations. “I usually say that you should live in your home for six months before you do anything major, because you’ll get used to the way you live and use the space. You may find that the layout of a room doesn’t need to change at all.” And that’s exactly what they found in the kitchen. So instead of a complete renovation, they distressed the cabinets using an antiquing glaze and added molding. The glaze makes cleanup easy and disguises imperfections as well. Carmel painted the backs of the upper cabinets black to make display pieces stand out; a technique she used on many other shelves in the home. Other renovations include removing a cabinet to bring in a range hood, adding a back splash (Carmel had it installed professionally, but learned enough by watching to re-tile an upstairs bathroom), and removing cabinet doors to make room for a “built in” microwave and wine cooler.
One of the very first projects Carmel completed was whitewashing the fireplace brick in the family room. The technique was done with a 50/50 combination of white paint and water. She also created extra-long indoor/outdoor curtains for a fraction of the price by stenciling painter’s drop cloth and hot-gluing border fabric to the bottom. The home originally came with French doors leading to the screened-in porch, but Carmel wanted a space saving solution, so she added sliding doors instead. The doors were unfinished, natural wood, but Carmel painted them black to add some drama to the room. “I think they make the fireplace stand out even more. That whole wall has really become more of a focal point in this room,” she said. Looking around the living room, it’s clear that red is one of her favorite colors, and she uses it well. From the accent wall to the ikat print rug from Joss & Main and coordinated throw pillows, it’s clear that Carmel has no fear of color. Other clever accents in the room include wall-mounted glass vases holding silver dollar eucalyptus (purchased at Arhaus), animal-themed décor like the cowhide ottoman and porcelain horse head sculpture over the fireplace mantle. The overall theme is bold, fun, and relaxing.
The screened-in porch was created by American Deck and Sunroom, who, according to Carmel, were “wonderful to work with”. The beamed, natural wood ceiling and skylights bring the outdoors in, while the comfortable sofa and chairs create a relaxed and inviting living space. Ceiling fans, sheer curtains and other touches all come together to create another room with Carmel’s signature design style. The sofa and chairs are from Target, and the throw pillows from Pottery Barn. For entertaining larger groups, the family keeps a grill and a small table and chairs tucked away to one side. The lattice provides much-needed privacy. “I feel like I can come out here in my pajamas most mornings, and we live in this space from spring to fall,” Carmel said.
Off the living room is a charming hallway painted in horizontal gold and beige stripes and accented with a gold sunburst mirror. It leads to a beautiful powder room that Carmel admits to letting her inner girly side take over, in terms of design. The room has an incredibly romantic, Parisian theme, with a red accent ceiling, rose pink walls and fringed curtains. The chandelier looks antique, but was actually purchased at Lowe’s. Carmel used one of her secret weapons to create the antique finish: a product called Rub & Buff, which is available at most craft stores. “It’s really incredible,” she said. “All you do is rub it on any metal surface and let it dry. It comes in a variety of shades from brass to pewter, and gives any modern fixture that timeworn look.”
The children’s’ rooms are just as alive with personality as the rest of the home. Josie’s room has a modern, girly look with a pink painted chandelier that Carmel repurposed from another area of the home, and a chic gold polka dot pattern on the ceiling. The dots appear to be paint, but are actually decals from The Land of Nod. The bold, black backgrounds appear on the bookshelves again, and bright pink and teal furniture and patterned armchair and poufs create a space that’s both cozy and fashionable.
Collin’s room contains a handy pegboard, complete with wire bins Carmel purchased at Home Depot and gave them her signature Rub & Buff treatment. The queen size bed is placed on its side in order to maximize space in the pitched-ceiling room. The dresser pulls are vintage faucet handles in complimentary shades of red and blue.
The master bedroom is a rich retreat, painted a dramatic navy blue and accented with a variety of decorative items that have special meaning. The cherry furniture really pops against the blue color (Martha Stewart Wrought Iron). Carmel also added a color on the ceiling (Martha Stewart Sandstone) to soften the room and make the crown-molding stand out even further. She replaced the ceiling fan with a chandy from West Elm. She also changed out the iron sconces for a couple of chrome swing arm wall lamps from Lowe’s. The modern lighting strikes a great balance with the traditional four-poster bed. She also replaced the traditional shiny brass dresser hardware with wrought iron pulls from The Home Depot. “Furniture makeovers don’t always have to involve paint. Sometimes a quick hardware change is all you need.” In a little corner by the window, Carmel created a reading nook for herself.
Carmel is a firm believer that home should be your happy place, and making it that way shouldn’t be stressful. To her, a big renovation project can update the look of a space, but she really loves how simple decor changes can completely transform a room. Quick (one hour or less) DIY projects, bargain hunting and furniture rearranging are the things she lives for.
“If there’s a design rule I follow it’s this: A home should reflect the personality of the people who live there.” Mission accomplished.