You’d never guess that this stylish home is largely furnished with IKEA pieces (dressed up with mirrors and trim) or that some fabric embellishments are hot-glued.
There are designer houses where every detail is just so, and there are do-it-yourself homes that are the hard-won product of the owner’s sweat equity. The two aren’t often confused with one another, but Renee Cusano’s home blurs these lines brilliantly. It is elegant, traditional yet casually fresh, and well-detailed. And Renee created just about everything—from the coffered ceiling down to the ribbon details on lampshades—with her impressive skills.
Renee and her husband, Brian Alexander, fell into DIY the way many people do: When they bought their first house in 2014, they had little money left to fix it up. So the couple remodeled it themselves. “It was our practice house,” Renee says.
When Brian’s job required the couple to move to Sacramento, they found this 1931 Tudor-style house that needed updates. They started by remodeling tired features and bringing in affordable IKEA cabinets, which they customized to resemble expensive built-ins. But Renee realized they also needed to rethink their decor. “None of our furniture fit because our last house was an open concept,” she says. “That’s when my interest in design really started.”
DIY Console Table
Taking advantage of the space she had, Renee turned one end of the living room into a stylish and functional entry. Gridded wall paneling conceals uneven plaster. The custom bench provides a spot for putting on shoes and discreetly hides HVAC vents. Brian built the table, which Renee covered in a textured wallpaper—her take on an expensive console she admired.
How to Get the Look
Renee upgraded the look of a plywood console by wrapping it with washable grass-cloth wallpaper. Folds mimic the look of mitered corners. Renee adhered the paper with wallpaper paste.
When the couple opened a wall between the kitchen and dining room, they were left with ceiling beams that stopped at the doorway, which was awkward. Their solution was to face the dark beams with plywood and add beams in a different direction to create a coffered ceiling, all painted white to brighten. Mirrors added to flat-pack cabinet doors make them appear custom.
Related: 16 Ideas for Decorating with Mirrors
The Magic of Fabric
A headboard that Renee slipcovered—a project motivated by a costly estimate to have it reupholstered—was her gateway to home decor projects. “I realized I could create a custom-looking home through fabrics,” Renee says.
The magic is how Renee transforms humble elements into something that seems ripped from the pages of a design book. In a hallway, she painted walls pink and used ribbon as trim, taking it around doors, along the ceiling, and behind artwork. She transformed tables with wallpaper and draped hand-sewn coverings over cabinets. “Sewing is like a puzzle—you can figure it out as you go,” she says.
In the dining room, Renee worked in hidden storage for overflow small kitchen appliances. She covered a shallow base cabinet (sans doors) with a tailored skirt.
Inexpensive framed botanicals from an art book and a rewired vintage lantern reflect Renee's thrifty decorating sensibility. Renee never imagined she and Brian would become such avid DIYers; they still find time for projects like the even though they’re now busy parents to daughter Charlotte.
How to Get the Look
To attach petersham ribbon (which curves easily), Renee brushed a thin layer of wallpaper paste on the walls and adhered strips of ribbon, including around doors and moldings. Dabs of hot glue secure the ends.
Updated Living Spaces
The remodeled kitchen includes an island the couple built out after backing two sets of base cabinets.
In the living room, Renne and Brian topped IKEA Billy bookcases with crown molding to resemble built-ins. Mirrors behind the glass doors and detailing on the fronts further customize the cabinets.
When the couple removed a dated fireplace insert, they discovered an arched brick opening. They retiled the hearth and fitted plywood and flat stock trim over the surround.
How to Get the Look
A block print pattern on the lampshade is echoed elsewhere in the living room. Renee made the design with a rubber stamp kit. She used acrylic paint to stamp directly onto the plain surface, going around the entire shade.
An X-shape design made from screen molding from Home Depot adds detail to living room cabinet doors. Renee cut the molding to size, painted the pieces, and secured them to the door fronts with double-stick gel tape.
Whimsical Bedroom Details
Renee refreshed the guest bedroom, with chinoiserie mural wallpaper. Soaring birds draw attention to the ceiling detail. For the window cornices, she used a set of curtains to cover plywood attached to the walls with cleats. The headboard slipcover was her first big sewing project.
How to Get the Look
Renee sews an elasticized cover from a piece of fabric, which she gathers and slips over a lampshade. She adjusts the gathers to evenly space them, pinning in place. She then hot-glues the gathered fabric, removing pins as she works.
"There are always mistakes with DIY projects, so I'm always thinking, how do we make it look intentional?
The bedroom lacked a closet, so the couple compensated with IKEA wardrobes, and a dresser Brian built. Wood trim, Benjamin Moore Kittery Point Green paint, and acrylic handles visually connect the pieces. Crushed seashells change the look and texture of a mirror frame.
Renee had pieces of mirror cut with polished edges, because they would be visible in the doors of the IKEA wardrobes. She used mirror adhesive to glue each panel into place. Updating cabinet handles is her easy way to add polish.
Inspired by artist Christa Wilm, Renee coated a mirror frame in finely crushed seashells, which she attached with construction adhesive.
The couple used baseboard trim on the ceiling to hide imperfections where the wall and ceiling meet. “We had to get really clever with how to make it look finished, so we put these square pieces on the ends,” Renee says.
Baby Blue Dream
Renee also has a knack for coming up with beautiful solutions to practical problems. When she found herself dreading the work required to repair the plaster ceiling in daughter Charlotte’s nursery, she dreamed up a lattice-inspired overlay to cover the cracks.
Renee stuck to a tight palette in Charlotte’s nursery, which she cast in powdery blues and white instead of the more expected little-girl pink. The color repetition unites a mix of patterns, including toile wallpaper and an oversize checked fabric on the window seat cushion, pillows, and ottoman. Renee painted the trim Benjamin Moore Sea View. Allover pattern helps the slope of the wall seem less prominent.
"A ceiling is an opportunity to add another layer of interest. Almost every ceiling in our home has some kind of architectural detail."
Rather than live with mismatched doors on side-by-side closets, Renee removed them to open the room and gain a changing station. She built out the insides with IKEA closet-system pieces, including shelves and a set of drawers used as the base for the changing table. Wall panels find a home on the ceiling to hide plaster imperfections.
Fretwork wall panels were Renee’s alternative to replastering an imperfect nursery ceiling. She nailed the panels in place to hide uneven plasterwork and create architectural interest in an unexpected place.
How to Get the Look
Half-round faux-bamboo molding trims closet shelves. Renee cut the molding to size (use a miter saw for corners), painted it, and attached with pin nails and construction adhesive.
Renee liked the splatter design on a Safavieh lamp base, even though its inky blue didn’t fit the nursery scheme. She bought it and, using an artist’s paintbrush, dripped light blue ceramic paint over the dark splatters. She covered the shade with wallpaper.
Smart Space-Saving Details
To make efficient use of a hall closet, Renee attached brass flush-end posts to a shelf bottom, which freed up wall space on the side for a shoe rack. Acrylic rods held in place by wall flanges hold shoes upright on shelves.
Renee stenciled the laundry area's upper walls and ceiling, then painted cabinets, trim, and lower walls blue-green to enhance the petal design. A skirt on a curtain rod hides the washer and dryer.
A New Adventure
As Renee gained decorating experience and DIY confidence, she began posting her projects on Instagram. In the process, she discovered she enjoyed sharing advice and addressing challenges with others. When Brian’s work required a move to Dallas, she decided to go a new direction and hang out her shingle as a decorator. Renee is starting her business with just a few clients—partially to get acquainted with the city but mostly for a familiar reason. She’s making over her family’s new home, one fabric-covered cabinet and pleated lampshade at a time.
Styled by Liz Strong
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