In Little Rock, a newly married couple enlists the help of designer Susan Walsh to turn a bland house into a pretty and practical home they’ll love for years to come
After months of online searches, Olivia Ramsey found a home on a somewhat quiet but completely accessible and conveniently located street in Little Rock’s Heights neighborhood. “I knew it had potential as soon as I saw it,” she recalls. However, her husband Joe wasn’t convinced and time went by before their realtor called to say there was a house available that they should see. As luck would have it, the house was the same one Olivia had scouted online, and once Joe saw it in person he knew it’s potential outweighed any concerns. “The house was dark and dated, and the kitchen was very industrial,” Olivia says of the home’s state when they first purchased it. “We knew we would have to put a lot of love and time into it to make it our dream house,” she adds. However, the couple was up for the challenge and set out to make the seemingly cramped cottage live larger through a host of wise design decisions and details.
Knowing they would need a professional to help with both structural updates and the overall interior design, the Ramseys called on Susan Walsh of Bear Hill Interiors. “Susan worked with my twin sister, Eliza (whose home was featured in our April 2015 issue), on her home, and she and I have similar tastes,” Olivia says.
As with many home renovation projects, Susan notes that this one “started out small, but grew as we began to see some of the flaws of the house.” Several areas became a key focus, including the entry, kitchen, and master bath and closet—all of which received structural or architectural updates in addition to a cosmetic makeover. In the entry, a paneled half wall replaced an outdated iron staircase rail to give the home architectural detail. The kitchen received new cabinetry and a built-in banquette. “The kitchen is such a hangout in any home, and I’ve come over here a couple of times while we were finishing up the project and seen them sitting around the banquette on their laptops or talking, so I know it’s a space they really use,” Walsh says. As for the master bath, “it was a total gut,” Walsh says. “It was not pretty and had a tiny closet at the end of it.” To make it more accessible as well as attractive they installed a new bath and built a stand-up shower. Walsh also removed an existing wall between the tub and shower, replacing it with glass to create a more open feel. “In many custom homes, we are enclosing the showers now, but in a smaller space like this one, using the glass helps to create a flow that’s more visually appealing,” she adds.
The palette also plays a large role in helping the cottage feel spacious. “She and her sister both love pastel colors,” Walsh says of Olivia’s chosen hues. “I’m also a big fan of [designer] Phoebe Howard’s and wanted to use a lot of blues and greens,” Olivia adds. The coordinated scheme starts with the exterior of the home, where the formerly dark brick was painted a creamy tan color that is accented with a light blue door that’s reminiscent of the sky on a clear spring day.
Other shades of blue are found on the walls of the master bedroom and in the kitchen, where an Ann Sacks tile adds a subtle touch of color to the backsplash. “Blue is one of Olivia’s favorite colors. I originally picked the Ann Sacks tile for the master bath [to use in the tub area], and she loved it so much that she said ‘Can we just use that for our kitchen backsplash, too?’” Walsh says.
A range of other pastels flow gracefully from one room to another, including an abundance of green. In the living room, a pair of chairs is covered in a citron-hued fabric; a light green can be seen on the entry table’s skirt; and the banquette and chairs at the kitchen’s dining area have cushions that are upholstered in a soft green check pattern. This light, cheerful dose of color seems to open the house up in ways no architectural transformation could have adequately or cost-effectively achieved. “It’s airy, fresh, and so happy!” Walsh says.
Since the Ramseys are newlyweds, Walsh was careful to be especially considerate of the budget and found ways to be creative with both new and existing pieces. For example, while the kitchen received all new cabinetry, the existing appliances were retained. In the dining nook, the banquette was custom built for the space and then paired with chairs from Ballard Designs and a table that Walsh found at Fabulous Finds Antique Mall and had painted to match. “Family dinner is especially important to us, so we wanted to place importance on this area,” Olivia notes.
In the dining room, rather than opting for custom art along the wall behind the table or creating a focal point with a wall covering, Walsh proposed the idea of framing three pieces of wallpaper to create art. “Olivia loved that and we were able to use the wallpaper in an unexpected way,” she says. On a shared wall in the dining and living space, sits a sideboard that pulls double duty as a storage piece for the couple’s entertaining essentials and a buffet for serving guests at dinners and family gatherings. Above the sideboard, Walsh accented a mirror—which the Ramseys already owned—by framing it with plates from their wedding china collection. “I did that at her sister’s house, and she wanted it, too,” Walsh says. “It is a nice way for them to use something they have, and their wedding is so important to them, so it’s nice to have that memory up on the wall.”
“Overall, I wanted this house to be a place where we could relax. Susan was so helpful, and it was refreshing to work with someone who could help us visualize what each room could be, give us lots of options to choose from, and really keep us focused on the project,” she adds.
Interior design Susan Walsh, Bear Hill Interiors, Little Rock, (501) 907-9272, bearhillinteriors.com
Contractor Jeremy Hernandez Construction, Jacksonville, (501) 944-8749
Landscape design Maple Leaf Lawns, Little Rock, (501) 519-1114, mapleleaflawns.com
Accessories, bedding, lighting, tile, and upholstery Bear Hill Interiors, Little Rock, (501) 907-9272, bearhillinteriors.com
Art Bear Hill Interiors, Little Rock, (501) 907-9272, bearhillinteriors.com; Cobblestone & Vine, Little Rock, (501) 664-4249, West Little Rock, (501) 219-3676, cobblestoneandvine.com
Carpet C&F Flooring and Rug Gallery, Little Rock, (501) 399-9909, candfcarpet.com
Countertops Casa Blanca Granite, Little Rock, (501) 455-2520, casablancagranite.com
Fixtures Southern Pipe & Supply, locations statewide, southernpipe.com
Flooring Acme Brick, Tile & Stone, locations statewide, acmebricktileandstone.com
Furniture Bear Hill Interiors, Little Rock, (501) 907-9272, bearhillinteriors.com; Fabulous Finds Antique Mall, Little Rock, (501) 614-8181, fabulousfindsantiquesanddecorativemall.com
Hardware PC Hardware, Little Rock, (501) 224-1724, pchdwe.com
Window coverings Mountjoy’s Custom Draperies, Mabelvale, (501) 455-2216