A New Homebuyer DIYs a Former Dump into a Comfy Home — House Tour

Name: Caitlyn Cartlidge
Location: Frederick, Maryland
Size: 1,100 square feet
Years lived in: 2 years, owned

This house was a dump when I bought it. Stained wall-to-wall carpet and garish high-gloss paint, zero appliances in the kitchen, missing most of its doorknobs, and with a barely usable bathroom whose walls matched the color of the anti-freeze in the pipes pretty well. My neighbor says there may have been people squatting in the basement at one point, though that hasn’t been verified.

A year of weekends working on this house (with help from my parents, luckily) transformed this space into a home. Frederick has a growing arts scene and is within commuting distance from both Washington DC and Baltimore. Currently it’s small, but changing just like many similar cities. I didn’t want to turn this 1925 row home into another builder-grade, suburban-style renovation, so I kept as much of the original features that I could and I replaced what I needed to with warm, unpretentious finishes.

The kitchen and bathroom were redone entirely. Luckily for my budget, I was able to reuse the cabinets and cast iron sink in the kitchen and the toilet in the bathroom, but everything otherwise was installed new. A few tips for the do-it-yourselfer: If you have laminate cabinets and would like to paint them, consider getting new cabinets. Also Schluter makes a great light-weight alternative to poured concrete shower pans.

Most of my furniture is vintage or family heirlooms, but many of the accents and textiles are from living and traveling overseas. A fair amount of the art along the stairwell especially are thrift-store finds, picked up because I liked the frame or the subject’s expression or just thought it was funny. I would really love to have some modern designer furniture to go along with these pieces. Until then, I’m continuing to try and ground all the different wood tones with black accents. It’s a work in progress.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Vernacular Eclectic

Inspiration: Context, Absurdism, architectural history, Manish Arora, travel, Sci-Fi

Favorite Element: The kitchen is my favorite space. As nice as it would be to have a range hood and some counter space to the left of the cooktop, my budget wouldn’t allow it, so I opted for a window-adjacent cooktop with a vintage library light above; it’s the only light I really like in the kitchen.

Biggest Challenge: Pulling up the carpets to find plywood nailed to the wood floor, only to turn around and pull up thousands of nails to expose those floors, was the biggest challenge. It’s not difficult, it’s just incredibly tedious.

What Friends Say: Most people comment on how much the house feels like me. Strangers that live in the neighborhood stop me occasionally to comment on how nice it looks now, which is great.

Biggest Embarrassment: The exterior doors are bad, and there are some smaller things that still need to be done, like electrical covers and baseboard trim. I still don’t have a big-kid bed frame (each time I find one I like, I tell myself I’m going to get a bigger mattress first and never do). I also regret that I can’t afford genuine vintage rugs and window coverings, but I could go down that rabbit-hole for hours…

Proudest DIY: Pretty much everything to be honest. I’m grateful to have had lots of help renovating this house, and we did a lot of work! Uncovering the wood floors from years of plywood and carpet, renovating the kitchen and the bathroom, repointing the original windows, and mixing my own paint colors were the highlights.

Biggest Indulgence: The bathroom floor and using the vintage dresser as a vanity base. Neither were practical to install of course. I was constantly reminded that using the dresser as a vanity would ruin it; I figured it was better to see and use it everyday than to have an empty dresser sitting in an unused room. I traded my sister a ’50s dining set for it. She may have gotten the better end of that deal.

Best Advice: Don’t buy everything at once, and when you do buy something, don’t take it too seriously. If you fill your house with objects that don’t have a story or mean something to you, your spaces will always feel stiff. Also, this is a very specific piece of advice, but don’t make the mistake I did and buy an artisan without an overflow hole. The one I have in the bathroom is nice looking, but drains very poorly. It’s one of my only regrets.

Dream Sources: Really good architectural salvage places and international markets. I also have a weakness for architect-designed furniture, so places like 1stdibs and Design Within Reach would also be fantastic if I had the money.


All paint colors were hand mixed by the homeowner to mimic popular 1920s paints — base paint is Valspar Reserve.

Framed art from various sources including local thrift shops, craft fairs, national parks (and one from the Maryland Renaissance Festival)

Table Lamps — Second Chance
Rug — Ligne Pure
Most other items are family heirlooms or found in thrift shops or local estate auctions.

Rug and Sheepskin — RugsUSA
Chairs — InMod
Bench was found at a local estate auction, the mirror from the ReStore, everything else except the bike is a family heirloom.

Floor — Marmoleum

Standing mirror and silver ram’s heads — Homegoods
Mid-century nightstands and relief metal plate from the now closed David’s on the Avenue in Baltimore
Both dressers and dressmaker’s dummy are family heirlooms.
Rugs — RugsUSA

Bird basket — CB2
Pullout couch — ReStore
The ever-present Rug — Ikea


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