A Beautiful Bungalow Renovation in Atlanta

This poor bungalow in Atlanta’s Kirkwood neighborhood was built in 1911 but had seen better days. There were iron bars on the doors and windows and bullet holes in the siding. Worse–two people had been murdered in it. But when Kara O’Brien saw it, she knew she had to buy it: “It was just so sad looking. I thought, I need to fix it up.”

I’m not sure I would have seen the potential that they did in this “hybrid Craftsman bungalow with Victorian detailing,” as she describes it. But she and her partner Paula Rose began renovating it in 2005 and the results are pretty amazing. Here’s how the house looks now:

Kara and Paula own Laughing Sun Renovations, and their experience with projects like this shows.

When this bungalow was featured in This Old House magazine, Kara wrote:

“Sadly, the house had fallen into terrible disrepair from years of sitting vacant. Before renovation, it was a home to squirrels, birds, bugs and the floor system had vines growing up between the joists and the rotted floorboards. Adding to the wildlife, the home was chopped up into three apartments; its grand rooms bisected by makeshift walls.”

This photo of how the living room looked before the renovation gives you an idea of the state that the house was in and the challenges they faced:

Hard to believe it’s the same room, but here’s what the dining room looks like now:

Gorgeous quartersawn oak wainscot with unique detailing was salvaged from a late-1800s mansion in Tennessee for the center hall:

The bungalow was built as a spec home in 1911 by builder Frank Ruggles: “The house was light-filled and featured original wavy glass windows with interesting mullion patterns, heart of pine floors, an original but deteriorated sunroom, and a magnificent original dining room mantel.”

After uncovering a former fireplace behind some drywall in the living room, they restored it with a beautiful salvaged mantel and tile that makes it looks like it has always been there:

They had help with the project from architect Brent Drone of Antiquity Architectural and custom cabinet maker Greg Michael & Sons in Atlanta. Here’s how the kitchen looked before the reno:

And after:

There was a sunroom that was being used as a kitchen in the house by one of the former tenants:

Here’s how it looks now–with homeowners Kara and Paula in it:

I love to see a house like this given a second lease on life. For more photos and information about the renovation, visit This Old House (photos by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn and the homeowners).

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  1. says

    This is the kind of house (and people) that really inspires you. I usually say that’s easy to fall in love with big houses that has no $$$ limits. This is a real house and that’s wonderful to see!

    Thank you for the inspiration this morning, Julia.

    Big hugs,

    Luciane at HomeBunch.com

  2. says

    Wow! What a beautiful renovation! I love older homes, built in the 1900’s, with a modern touch added to them.
    We’re most likely moving in a few months, and I wonder what kind of house we’ll end up buying! My current home was built in the 30’s, I think. If we buy another older home, it is posts like this that inspire me!

  3. Mata says

    Wow! Very impressive. That is a real labor of love. It’s not my cup of tea, having grown up in SF I’m a bit over saturated with Victorian dark wood finishes but this is wonderful. Gorgeous work to the two of them. Just shows what love, care and a bit of elbow grease can do for any home! Beautiful!

  4. chris says

    give them kudos for taking a house with good bones, albeit a dump, and making it perfect. wowza. in ny a bungalow is the size of a cat litter box. wowza again. gorgeous. breathtaking. love that women run this company. YOU GO GIRLS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Erica says

    Wow! That is truly inspirational work! I love seeing old homes like this brought back to life – bravo!

  6. says

    Wow! Now THAT is a before and after! I have to say they are braver than I would be given that two people were murdered there! Of course, I imagine that by the time it was all said and done, there were about a dozen SCARIER things that happened there! Love the woodwork…can you imagine the effort that went into getting all that old paint off?

  7. says

    Holy Cow! That is one amazing Before and After! I am so impressed with their vision – I am not sure if I could have gotten past of the “murder” vision. Glad they saw happiness in this house and made it shine through. Awesome! Missi

  8. says

    Insane! Extraordinary? What a long way they have brought this house! Kudos to these brave and talented house rescuers! Although… I don’t know that I would have the stomach to tackle a project like that knowing that 2 people had been murdered in the house! Still, the house deserved some love – and it got it.

  9. Megan @TJ Reviewer says

    I cannot believe this is the same home! It looks amazing and I love the details.

  10. says

    Julia an amazing remodel of the kitchen!!The details are wonderful in this classic bungalow.

    Art by Karena

  11. says

    That is amazing. I always adore those who have “restoration vision.”

    Thanks for sharing,

  12. says

    WOW~how amazing!
    Because of the murders and bullet holes I’m wondering just how safe a neighborhood this is? Maybe those things happened a long time ago and the area is fine…I’m hoping so!
    The house has new life now, and it’s just beautiful. Hat’s off to two talented women with a vision!

  13. Laura says

    I was hoping too that they hadn’t over-improved a house in a sketchy neighborhood. I absolutely love the house though – bungalows are my favorite. I’m a big fan of arts and crafts style. They did a great job.

  14. says

    My hands just ache thinking of stripping all that paint off the woodwork. GREAT JOB LADIES! Truly an inspiration! I need to go strip my one little front door, thanks for the motivation. Thanks for sharing Julia!

  15. Carolyn says

    I remember seeing this on ‘This Old House’ website. Simply amazing and tons of hard work, especially the stripping of all that woodwork. So nice to see them following their vision. A daunting job, and I don’t know if I could have gotten past the murders, either. Hope the rest of the neighborhood is being turned around, as well.

  16. Melanie Penelope says

    That is truly a labour of love! Fantastic job, especially restoring the woodwork! Now if only they would get rid of the ugly lighting in the kitchen 😉

  17. MrsJ says

    It’s great that they did this and all, but what kind of neighborhood is the house in to have that kind of past? A nice house does not a nice neighborhood make.

    • says

      A reader on Facebook says that Kirkwood is an up-and-coming neighborhood in Atlanta and a lot of people are renovating houses in the area (thanks, Karen!).

  18. Laura says

    WOWWWWWWWWWWWWW what a labor of love! Such a gorgeous house!

    I imagine it was like most fancy neighborhoods that popped up 10 minutes away from every major city downtown, then fell into ghetto disrepair in the mid 20th century (probably when a highway went through), and then has been revitalized since the 80s and 90s? We certainly have an area like that in Toledo OH (Old West End….come for the Festival and house tours the first weekend in June!!!) and the houses there are relatively cheap and GORGEOUS and its such a gay-friendly, artsy community now.

    It is hard to get past a double homicide, but bravo to these cool women for letting the old ghosts go and giving this beauty new life :)

  19. Robert Hoadley says

    What a FANTASTIC job this couple did on their home! I hope they do not mind, I saved a few of the pictures for some ideas on our own renovation we are deep into. Class act all around, kept the integrity of the period for todays living.

  20. Kim says

    What a beautifully renovated house. One of my favorite things is the kitchen cabinets. They look old fashioned and fit well with the time period of the house. If I was renovating a house, those are the type of cabinets I would put in.

  21. Janelle Wiens says

    Wow the transformation is amazing! What a beautiful diamond in the rough! I have to admit, I know I sure wouldn’t have been up to that challenge, but I LOVE when a house has a happy ending! All your “before and after” posts are my favorite! Have a great day:)

  22. Rebecca C. says

    This is just fantastic. Great job! I just love all the wood they restored, especially the front door.

  23. Shawna says

    I’m drooling. I can only dream of having a house like that. It’s so beautiful.

  24. Jennah says

    I loves me a Craftsman! Just beautiful! Thank you, Julia!

  25. Karen says

    It’s beautiful. I love bungalows and this is truly an inspiring renovation. I recall seeing it featured in This Old House. What’s not to love about this place–so many lovely details. I love homes like this getting a second lease on life too. Thanks for featuring it.

  26. says

    I think they’ve overdone it; especially with the center hall paneling. It looks like it could be in Biltmore House. It looks much too grandiose for a bungalow. I think they should have restored it to its original look and charm.

  27. says

    What an incredible difference! And what dedication – to be able to see such potential and then the work involved to get it there – truly inspirational!! The murder thing would be a little disturbing to me – but they sure turned that house around! Thanks for a great post!

  28. Jo says

    The house is beautiful now, but I can’t help but wonder what transformation happened to the neighborhood. You can put all your time and money into any house , but if the neighborhood remains bad, the nieghbors will just keep shooting out your windows.

  29. E. George says

    Hi Julia – I wouldn’t know where to begin WOW hats off to these brave women they have done a fantasitc job. Now if I could inspire hubby to get started on the front door that would be something brave on my part. Thank you for sharing. Regards Esther from a very very wet Sydney (the rain is killing our gardens). Hope you are enjoying spring time.

  30. Jodi from New Jersey says

    Wow! What a labor of love. Really nice story and transformation.

  31. says

    Wow, I love this! Thank you Kara and Paula for bringing this home back to it’s former glory! Living just north of Atlanta, I’ve heard of that area. They did an amazing job! I always hate to see the old home cut up into apartments. So thankful for folks like Kara and Paula who are willing to do all the hard work to bring these beauties back. You can just see the love they put into this home because a tremendous amount of work went into this amazing transformation. Thanks for sharing this, Julia!

  32. says

    Wow! What an inspiration! What purposeful people. Just beautiful! Thank you for sharing. Wishing you a grand evening. Toodles, Kathryn @TheDedicatedHouse

  33. Ruth McArthur says

    I get really moved seeing an old house like this with so many treasures and possibilities get brought back to life. I just want to say thank you to these ladies who saw the hidden gem. I think it is great that they salvaged some other treasures from old houses and added them to this home so that they and others might still enjoy the craftsmanship of a bygone era that might otherwise be lost. Talk about curb appeal; so charming! And thank you to Julia for always finding something marvelous to share.

  34. says

    Gosh, what a tremendous amount of work but they will reap the rewards. I adore the kitchen, especially the ceiling.

    I have just discovered your blog through twitter, can’t quite find where to add myself as a follower on this page.

    Hope you get a chance to see my blog also, I am hooked on interiors and homeware so to speak.


    • says

      Oh, wow, Josanne–what a diamond in the rough! So much potential in a house like that. I’d love to see it all fixed up. Thanks for the link!

  35. Carolyn in Utah says

    Fantastic! But, uh, I hope that the murderers and shooters have been priced out of the neighborhood??? :)

  36. Nathan says

    While the amount of wood in the interior isn’t my cup of tea, I do commend them on the way that the kitchen was done. It’s entirely modernized but still looks like an original kitchen. Very nicely done.

  37. WendyMI says

    Consider me gushing as much as everyone above me about the beautiful reno. It truly is incredibly gorgeous!

    I wish, however, I could get perspective on that kitchen.. as those lights look awfully low. In particular, the pendant over the sink looks like it would be at head height, and the picture makes it look like it intrudes upon the very front lip. I’m sure it’s just the picture…..

    And I love all of the wood… I find it very homey.

  38. Hannah says

    Sorry, they lost me when they mentioned the architect and custom cabinet maker. This just proves if you have enough money you can turn any sow’s ear into a silk purse. Now if they had done all the work themselves and on a budget I would say kudos.

  39. John says

    Wonderful job. Quick question. Any tips on the process of stripping the paint off all the moulding? I recently purchased a 1909 Foursquare in Memphis and it has beautiful qruartered white oak through out the house with only 7 but very tough layers of paint (some of which are lead). I have stripped one room using Peel away 1 which works well but darkens the wood(blotchy in some cases). All other paint strippers require mulitple applications and still dont work well. I plan on using a very dark finish for final results. Any help would be much appreciated.