House Hunting + Virtual Room Makeovers

By Kate Riley June 5, 2013

My sister and I are looking for a home for her to buy in the Salt Lake City area. She and her husband moved from California, have lived in Utah for a year, and did a smart thing. They’ve rented a condo while looking around for where they want to live, and have finally settled on a few neighborhoods they like.

So now we’re looking for a fixer for her and I to renovate together, and every few days we’ll go online together and start looking around. After an hour they all start to look the same, our eyes glaze over, our brains start to hurt! It’s been tough to find exactly what we’re looking and in our budget but in our search, I can’t resist doing a virtual makeover in my head whenever I spy a space in need of some upgrades. For example:

The addition of a window seat with a cushion, trim around the windows, and some pretty color on the walls could make this breakfast nook really spectacular. Maybe a bright color on the door for fun?

breakfast nook before

breakfast nook womans day

source: Sarah Alba for Woman’s Day


I spy built-ins next to a fireplace in a home for sale and think, how nice they’d look with glass doors filled with accessories and surrounded by modern furnishings.

styled built in cabinets

styled built ins

image source: Better Homes & Gardens


Kitchen potential! If you paint the walls, remove the smaller upper cabinets and replace with open shelves, remove the cabinet doors, replace the countertops with wood, add some accessories then boom chicka boom – what a dramatic difference could occur in this cobalt kitchen.

blue kitchen before and after

white kitchen with open shelving bhg

image source: Better Homes & Gardens


Great room, bad carpet. Replace with hardwood floors, add patterned window panels, a sofa against the wall and chairs in front of the window, a modern rug. Replace the fan with a statement chandelier, accessorize a bit more, and hello you’d have one gorgeous space.

living room virtual makeover

navy and coral merideth heron

image source: Style at Home

Virtual room makeovers are my new fixation, I love a room with great potential!

We haven’t found the right home yet, this could take weeks or months, we don’t know.  We’re looking for an older home with character and a fixer that requires some cosmetic work so we can get our hands on some real before and afters. I’ll let you know when we find the one !  .




  1. Just out of curiosity, how are you going to reno your sis’ house with her? Will ya’ll virtually plan and then you spend a week or two every few months there with her? That sounds SO FUN! Talk about family togetherness. My wise grandfather always said to rent the first year you move somewhere new in case (a) you hate your job or lose it (b) hate the city and need to get out (c) decide, in fact, you hate your neighborhood.

    She’s wise like him :)

    • We’ll plan it all out together Rachel one room at a time and I’ll visit a few times a year for a few days – it will take time but that’s part of the fun!

  2. Love this, Kate! My hubby and I are looking for a second home a couple of hours away and I know exactly what you mean when you say your brain hurts and they all look the same. I’m certain of one thing – in our price range, it is going to require some renovation. I wish I had your ability to see the potential! I look forward to following your progress. Good luck!

  3. Wow – THANK YOU. That picture you chose of open shelving over the kitchen sink is EXACTLY what I’ve been searching for. It seems like everyone in the world (besides me) has a window over the sink so I couldn’t decide how to make that space look great. Now, I know.

  4. Great post with lot’s of good ideas. I just moved into a fixer in South Jordan, Ut… feel free to help me, lol… Best of luck in your search, Salt Lake has some wonderful older homes with lot’s of character. I can’t wait to see all the fun…

  5. Love this post. I feel like a lot of people have a hard time envisioning what a house or room could be and get hung up on some of the changeable or decorative details that they don’t like. I feel like I can usually see the potential. Where I have a hard time is pulling it all together with those little decorative elements that make it feel special and personal like the repeated hits of accent colours or those cute accessories. Any tips in this area?

    • Hi Julia, great question! Accessorizing is so personal, I think the best thing to do is decide what’s special or beautiful and remove all the excess clutter. Repetition of color helps to tie a room together, a pillow here, a lamp there, so that the room talks to itself. :)

  6. I hope this means we will get to see all the renovations, before and after! I love all your ideas…So beautiful and inspiring! You have one lucky sister!

  7. Love your reno ideas!
    It’s amazing what a little color, pattern, and texture can do for a room.

  8. Aw, what a good sister you are- you seem so excited for her even though I’m sure you miss her being away from California. Sounds like a great project for you to work on together. Good luck!

  9. my husband always complains how I look at pictures on for SO long! But I do exactly what you do, picture what we could change, how we would live there, etc. Thanks for visualizing it for us!

  10. Beautiful inspiration photos! My husband and I lived in Utah for a few years and I have some family there. She is smart to wait a year to figure out what area she wants to live in!
    P.S. Have you two been to the City Creek mall together? Love it there :)

    • Wow that is a stunner Jamie! Totally out of our price range and yes, who wants to clean 10,000 feet? Not me! Gorgeous eye candy though :)

  11. Not to be a downer-kind-of-person, but I JUST saw this video on Facebook, and personally I would steer clear away from this area just to be on the safe side. In case you can’t see the link, it’s a local news story on a brain cancer cluster near salt lake. Three different women grew up on the same street and wound up with the same exact brain cancer as adults in different cities across the country…..hopefully your sister doesn’t pick that neighborhood! Good luck with the house hunt!

  12. OMG! I LOVE this post! One of my favorite things to look at are before and afters. So cool that you found these pics. One more thing…..I swear we were separated at birth Kate! I just shot the before of my sisters house that she just bought!! Gutting it and working on remodeling with her as we speak! (oh and I just noticed in one of your photos, we have the same sconces as well ~ the ones going up your staircase!) Just one of many similarities! ;)

    • Ha, that’s awesome Ms. Lizzy! Do you remember where the sconces came from? I want to say Pier One but I forget!
      My sis and I are excited about the house, we made an offer today on one (so funny we found it this morning and she toured it two hours ago) but it’s a backup offer so fingers crossed, there’s a person in front of us.

  13. This was a fun post, Kate! I just love your ability to see something completely different from a space. I’m not so good at that ;(

  14. Alternately sweet and sad. I LOVE house-hunting, and it’s AWESOME that you’re helping her see potential in homes. Sadly, my husband and I just changed our minds about home buying right now (also in SLC), so when I see things about buying homes (a la YHL or Making it Lovely), I’m still feeling a little tender about the subject. It was the right decision, but boy are we ready to put our stamp on a place! Good luck to your sister!

  15. Love this post and how well yiuvec matched the real rooms to the inspiration rooms! I’d love a virtual makeover!

  16. I bought my sconces at Hobby Lobby. I can’t wait for you to get started LOL. I wish Ms. Sara (Sara’s House) would get busy reno-in’ another house! She’s awesome too! ;)

  17. This post is excellent! A lot of people can’t “see” what a room CAN be so this is a great way to show them! I would love to remove some cabinets in our kitchen for open shelving but convincing my hubby is TOUGH. Next post- How To Brainwash A Husband- lol

    • Ha ha Corrie, let me know when you post that article, I’m dying to read it!!

  18. Hi Kate,
    Your ability to be a visionary just wow’s me. I know your sister will find a diamond in the rough that you will shine up and make sparkle. Your fans are looking forward to the process. Have fun!

  19. Being able to visualize and see the potential is such a great gift to have. I find so many people can’t look beyond the paint colors and finishes. Flow, space and bones are the important aspects of a home. Your sister must be thrilled to have you as part of the process!

  20. this is such a fun post! I’m impressed with your ability to find “before and afters” with rooms that are not really the same room but same/similar shape. You have a gift for visualizing the potential for sure!

  21. Hope she’s looking in “the Avenues.” I’d move there in a heart beat <3
    Since I stage listings, I am cringing! Why aren't these agents doing their sellers a favor and hiring a pro to at least hint at the potential? You and I should team up and do long-distance consulting for the greater SLC real estate community :-) I LOVE your style and taste!

    • Thanks Sarah! Oh wow, you’d be shocked to see what is left in photographs of homes for sale, the strangest things and a lot of clutter, there are some bad MLS photos out there, I’m sure you know!

  22. It’s amazing what a little styling can do to transform a room. Best of luck with the house hunt. It will be fun to see the renovations when you find the perfect place.

  23. Katie, please hurry. :) We need the diversion and just plain fun and creativity of you and Rachel doing this together. Hooray! What a great idea. I would LOVE to see you do something in this process like Sarah Richardson did in her Lowe’s house (check her website; you’ve probably already seen this). She did 10 short videos showing different aspects of reno on a house. I think each is about 5 minutes long and they are chock-a-block full of ideas–just as yours will sure to be. You go, girl!

    • Great idea Jenni! Yes, I think I’ll step up the videos on the site, maybe work on a few before & after with takeaways like you suggest, thanks!

  24. Loved this post! Gave me so much great inspiration when looking at the before and after photos. Sometimes we need to be reminded that all pretty spaces start as something plain and uninspiring at first.

  25. I’ve lived in Utah my entire life. No matter how far I travel, Salt Lake is still my favorite big-ish city. Your sister will love it.

    If you’re looking for older homes with great character, check out the avenues or the Sugarhouse area.

    If you’re looking for new homes with character, maybe she can consider Daybreak. It’s about 20 minutes outside downtown SLC.

    I’ve lived in Daybreak for 6 years now, and love the lake and all the amenities. And the houses are to die for.

    My husband is a Real Estate Broker so I’m always on the MLS looking for beautiful homes in the SLC area. There are some great finds.

    Good luck to you and your sis!

  26. I’m jealous, love a reno. I just bought two cute little bergere chairs. Don’t want to tackle upholstering, ever come across slip covers for seats of such a chair?

  27. Good luck with the house renovations. Can’t think of anyone I would rather have to help me with making a house into a home. Lucky sis. This will be great to watch.

  28. This is an awesome article! You have such a great eye and it’s a good reminder that there is potential in so many spaces. It makes me realize there are so many nooks and crannies of my current home I’m underutilizing.

  29. Ooh, what a neat feature! This is what a do in my head when seeing fixer uppers, but I have a hard time conveying the same ideas to my hubby. I’d love to see more of these down the road as you’re able.


  30. Oooh, I like this game! It makes finding the potential of my house so much more fun! You have a terrific eye for what can be done to spaces to make them fabulous.

  31. I love this post. I always read your blog, and I think this is one of the most fun post yet! I love to do virtual makeovers myself, and as I was looking at the “before” photos, and thinking what I might do, and then reading your ideas, I felt like I was participating in the post, and found it to be a fun activity!
    I hope you will make virtual makeovers a regular!

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