House Tour: Budget-Savvy Dream Cottage | Midwest Living

House Tour: Budget-Savvy Dream Cottage

Midwest Living’s former home editor shares the secrets behind her budget-savvy dream cottage in Wisconsin’s Door County.
  • Cents of style

    Good design isn’t necessarily costly design. Carol Schalla proved this point many times in her years as Midwest Living’s home editor. She kept readers’ budgets in mind when designing inspiring rooms, seasonal decor projects and even entire showhouses for the magazine. So when she retired last year and built her barn-inspired home in Wisconsin’s Door County, she used all the tricks she had learned on the job to create low-cost high style in her home. 


  • Serene scheme

    A painted twig chandelier punctuates the nature theme in the dining area.

  • Disguised storage

    In the dining area, two reclaimed barn doors on a track system slide to reveal twin hidden storage areas.

  • Up and out

    Simple open shelves surround kitchen windows. The shelving and custom brackets cost only $550—compared to a bid of about $1,200 for upper cabinets.

  • Nature-inspired holder

    A birch branch becomes a clever towel rack.

  • A barn theme

    The home’s shape helped keep costs in check. Carol and architect-builder Scott Humber designed the house as an uncomplicated box with a two-car garage and screen porch. “The savings over a more cut-up design might be about 20 percent,” Scott says. Board-and-batten siding, barn-style shutters and a cupola with a cow weathervane underscore the home’s barn-look. By making most spaces do double-duty—an upstairs guest bedroom, for example, also functions as an art studio—Carol squeezed everything she needs into 1,800 square feet.


  • Natural comfort

    The barn theme continues throughout the interior. “I thought that’d be a perfect fit for Door County because of its farming heritage,” Carol says.

    In another reference to local traditions, Carol stuck with a palette dominated by white, channeling Ephraim's Moravian settlers, who painted their buildings entirely white. To keep the look warm and current, Carol varied the tones of white. She also injected small bursts of color found in nature, such as wood-tone browns, leaf-green pillows and stone-gray accents.

  • Cozy and safe

    Carol skipped a gas fireplace and its $3,000 price tag in favor of an enclosure made of fire-resistant cement board for just $125. She safely burns candles there now and can add a direct-vent gas fireplace later.

  • Headboard substitute

    A portion of an old windmill stands in as a headboard in the master bedroom.

  • Calming bath

    Pale gray cabinets and photographs of nature calm the master bath.

  • Proper fit

    In the guest bath, a raw-wood mirror frame and antique cow prints fit the barn motif.

  • Painted-pine charm

    Low-cost painted pine floors add charm in an upstairs guest bedroom.


  • Light saver

    For lighting similar to a skylight’s (but about half the price) the builder stacked two standard-size windows in the center of the studio-guest room wall.

  • Double-duty space

    Carol's art studio also functions as an upstairs guest bedroom.

  • Surface substitutes

    Budget-friendly flooring and countertop materials throughout the home mimic pricier options.

    In the kitchen, durable laminate counters look like soapstone but were $2,800 less than the real deal would have cost in Carol’s space. “It replicates those one-of-a-kind nature patterns,” Carol says. Though the laminate doesn’t have the same feel as soapstone, it requires far less upkeep.

    Countertops 3459-77 Soapstone Sequoia. Formica 180fx. Formica.

  • Wood-look floors

    Tough, easy-to-maintain laminate resembling distressed barnwood warms up the first level for only $6.50 per square foot. Oak would have cost 25 percent more.

    Flooring L6602 X-Grain Khaki/Rough Cut. Armstrong Laminate. Door County Interiors and Design.

  • Spa-worthy tile

    The master bath pebble tile shower floor (purchased at a big-box retailer) offers a high-end look for a total of $520, including labor.

    Shower floor tile 355909 Solistone Rumi Multi Color Natural Pebble Mosaic Indoor/Outdoor Wall Tile. Lowe’

  • Picturesque destination

    A longtime fan of Door County’s quaint villages and gorgeous beaches, Carol had dreamed of moving there throughout her career at Midwest Living. She knew it would be a fun place to create memories with friends and family—especially her 4-year-old twin grandsons. She guaranteed visits by picking a lot in harborside Ephraim. By building a half-block from a beach and pier, instead of on the water, she trimmed costs before construction even started.

Comments (1)

tnvols2551294 wrote:
Can we please get an update on her flooring? I'm in the market for just this type and would like to know how it's holding up. Would she buy this product again?

Add Your Comment