Renovation Diaries

Before & After: This 1920s Bungalow Got a Gut Renovation and a Minimalist Design from a Certified KonMari Consultant

published Sep 21, 2021
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Credit: Photo: Jennifer Chase, Jenny Albertini Design: Kitchn

Sometimes people walk into a house in need of TLC and it’s love at first sight. That was not the case for Jenny Albertini when she saw the 1920s bungalow in Washington, D.C., with her now-husband Jason Hughes. “The first time I went into the house I just about cried,” she says. Jason liked it, but even on her second walk-through, “I don’t think I saw as much as he did,” she continues. Not that he necessarily thought it was an amazing gem: “It just looked like an old house that nobody had touched and nobody had maintained for probably 50 years,” he says.

Credit: Jenny Albertini

If there was one positive, it was the natural light. Four windows in the kitchen let in a ton of light, which did make the space feel open, Jenny says. And it offered way more space than the condo where they were currently living.

Plus? It was time for them to take on a project together. Jason had a few smaller renos under his belt and, working in commercial property management, definitely had an interest in real estate. He was actively looking for his next renovation when they met. Meanwhile, Jenny says: “I always wanted to do a renovation and I have been interested in real estate and interior design for a long time.”

Credit: Jenny Albertini

It just seemed like a natural move to do a renovation together. While Jenny’s background is in public health (a job that’s taken her around the globe), she’s also a certified KonMari consultant and professional home organizer with a passion for constructing spaces that improve people’s lives. She’s seen the impact a home’s design has on how her clients feel, she says, “So I knew doing a renovation project would really let you create, from the ground up, a space that’s going to support you and what you want in life.”

Armed with this confidence, she knew they could transform the dated home into the kind of functional, joyful place they wanted to share. And despite some pretty serious curve balls (hi, 2020) they did just that, albeit not exactly on the schedule they’d have hoped. 

Come back in time with us: to summer of 2019. Before they so much as demoed one wall, Jenny and Jason sat down to put careful thought into their plans for the home. Both on the minimalist side, they knew what kind of clean feel they wanted, but they got even more specific, using the Ingrid Fetell Lee book Joyful

The books follows the research and science behind why we respond certain ways to different aesthetics, Jenny explains. The couple used a worksheet from the Joyful Toolkit that guided them through the eight elements of what’s known as the Aesthetics of Joy. They chose three that they wanted to highlight in their home: energy, freedom, and harmony. 

Credit: Jenny Albertini

For energy, for instance, they wanted things that were vibrant, or had pops of color. For the aesthetic of freedom, open space and natural light and natural textures were key, along with keeping things space-appropriate (not oversized) ”so you can move freely,” Jenny says. Harmony is invoked through symmetry and repeating patterns, she adds. You also feel a sense of harmony when there’s not a lot of clutter detracting from what you’re looking at. 

With these sort of touchstones for their design, the couple was able to start developing mood boards, and making design decisions. Anyone who’s ever done a renovation knows that decision fatigue is a real thing, but being able to refer back to these guiding principles made it much simpler. And it’s fortunate that this part was simple because nothing else really was — starting with the general contractor who quit before he even started. 

The idea was that Jason would do all of the demo, the contractor would put the guts back in and the couple would finish the trim work, built-ins, painting, etc. By January of 2020 they had all of their plans ready. On day one, the contractor called and quit, Jenny says, throwing everything into a tailspin. They regrouped and lined up someone else. Work got going the first week of March … and we all know what happened next.  

Construction was allowed to continue even during the shelter-in-place orders, but a key person on the team had to move to another project because of COVID concerns, Jenny says. That was the first piece in a lot of things being missed and done wrong (misplaced windows and cabinets, for example!). 

Credit: Jenny Albertini

Still, the resilient and determined couple pressed on, contending with supply-chain issues, back orders, a failed inspection, major mistakes, and the house being broken into. Oh, and the couple was also planning a wedding at the same time. A Zoom wedding, but still! With their clearly defined vision, they just kept going, ultimately moving into the house in November of 2020, after their wedding.

Credit: Jennifer Chase

Here’s how it all shook out.

  • Step 1: Close on the house
  • Step 2: Planning, mood boards, and demo
  • Step 3: Delays
  • Step 4: Launch construction
  • Step 5: Order cabinets, lighting, appliances, and fixtures
  • Step 6: Update electrical and plumbing, move the staircase, fail inspection
  • Step 7: Delays
  • Step 8: Restart work; pass inspection
  • Step 9: Install drywall, cabinets, counters, flooring, appliances; paint
  • Step 10: Move in

If that sounds like a saga, that’s because it was. The project was truly a case of “if it’s not one thing, it’s another.”  

Credit: Jennifer Chase

But it all ultimately came together and is everything the couple could have hoped for. Jenny put all of her best organizational practices into place so — get this — they even have empty drawers! As in, extra storage space! The kitchen’s streamlined and elegant design is beautiful enough to make a maximalist want to go minimalist. It’s deceptively simple with clean lines and a pared-down aesthetic, but everything comes together to create such a warm, welcoming, soothing space. You’d never know the trials and tribulations that went into it.

Credit: Jennifer Chase

Most importantly, it expresses the exact elements of joy the couple hoped and planned for, providing a space that fosters energy, freedom, and harmony. Maybe it wasn’t love at first sight, but now it’s lasting love, so kudos to Jenny and Jason.

Thanks for sharing, Jenny!

See Jenny’s Full Reno Diary