With healthy irreverence for period purists, a Saint Paul couple modernized their 1913 Craftsman home by lightening its surfaces and opening its spaces.

Don't paint the woodwork! That's a sin! Jennifer and Jonathan Liang kept hearing that while mulling room-brightening updates to their Craftsman home in Saint Paul, as if one whiff of primer would bring high priests of preservation to their door demanding penance. Wood beams, flooring, baseboards, window casings and other moldings conveyed vintage character, but they also weighed the home down in brown. Jennifer felt handcuffed to history.

"I was frustrated for so many years, and then there was this realization that this is my house and I'm going to do whatever I want with it," she says. Interior designer Jacqueline Fortier empowered her attitude. "Jacqueline really confirmed my belief that it was OK to lighten things up," Jennifer says.

Living room

Combine and Conquer  The Liangs replaced rear windows with French doors in their living room, improving backyard views and access. Removing a wall turned separate living and sitting rooms into a single space. Flouting traditional looks, the glass door panes lack dividers.

French doors

Eat Light Contemporary lighting and art energize the dining room, where the couple removed plate rail and vertical molding from the walls. "That made it feel more modern, much more fresh," Jennifer says. "With all those vertical lines, it was just so busy."

Dining room

Paint it Your Way Defying friendly advice, the Liangs had their built-in buffet painted greenish gray to flatter the floor and avoid predictability. "The designer was like, ‘Heck yeah, you can paint that,'" Jennifer says. "It's staying neutral but not doing what everyone else does."

Built-in buffet-after
Built-in buffet after (above) and before (below)
Built-in buffet-before

White My Fire The Liangs plastered their brick fireplace, but even a newbie DIYer can brighten one with white paint.

Clean the brick surface thoroughly using a scrub brush and trisodium phosphate (TSP). Rinse with water and let dry.

Prime the brick with a stain-blocking, oil-base primer after covering surrounding areas with tape, paper and plastic.

Paint the brick with a heat-resistant latex paint (flat, semigloss or gloss) and a roller designed for rough-textured surfaces. Touch up with a small paintbrush.

Saint Paul fireplace
Fireplace after (above) and before (below). A contractor friend built a light and sleek 9-inch-deep plywood mantel for the plastered brick fireplace.
Living room fireplace-before

Clean With Mud Throughout the house, DIYer Jennifer painstakingly used drywall mud to smooth out the rough plaster walls, sanded them, then painted them white. "We spent so much time picking out these white colors," she says. Each main-floor room wears a slightly different shade.

Dig Deeper The old brick fireplace mantel was too shallow for even a vase. The new, deeper version holds more decor.

Sand The Floor For a beachy whitewashed look, Jennifer restained the floor: "The more dark layers we could peel off, the better."

Watch Your Steps Jennifer painted the steps in this basement staircase dark gray, traded a mirror for a painting she found online and replaced the existing light fixture with a more modern wire globe pendant. "It's a pretty little moment when you're coming down the stairs," she says.


Buying Guide

Designer Jacqueline Fortier, Architectural Refinement and Interior Design, Saint Paul, Minnesota (651) 428-6508; jacquelinefortier.com

LIVING ROOM Sofas Campbell, color: Sumner Linen (plain weave). Room and Board (roomandboard.com). Side table Novo Acrylic Folding Table. CB2 (cb2.com).

SITTING AREA Chairs Rochelle, color: Audra, River. Crate and Barrel (crateandbarrel.com).

Shelving Invisible Metal Bookshelves, size: large. Umbra. Available at Barnes and Noble (barnesandnoble.com).

DINING ROOM Light fixture LINK SG, color: 20 white. LZF (lzf-lamps.com).

HALLWAY AND STAIRS Light fixture Cosmo Pendant Light. Crate and Barrel (crateandbarrel.com). Paint (on stairs) 1484 Ashwood Moss. Benjamin Moore (benjaminmoore.com).