Looking at David and Ronit Gibb's bright and friendly living room, you'd never guess they camped out here for months back in 1990, their son's baby crib within arm's reach.
"This place was an absolute disaster, with orange carpet, no insulation, wood-panel walls and the original knob-and-tube electric system," Ronit says of their home, the historic James A. Wilson house in Jacksonville. "When we bought it, we fixed what we could afford, and now we do something major every year."
Built sometime in the early 1880s, the house was originally 600 square feet. Two additions have expanded the two-bedroom, 1.5-bath home to about 1,400 square feet.
"Just the front part of the house is original," explains David. "You can see all three phases of construction in the attic, including the rough beams and square nails. A lot of the additions were 'built to fit' because nothing is level or straight."
After pouring a new substructure (the house was sitting on telephone poles when they bought it), the Gibbs turned to the interior.
"We like it cozy," says Ronit, who pores over magazines and looks at other houses for inspiration. "My theory is less is more on everything; classy but not too much."
To that end, the couple installed a square of beech wood to define an entry area inside the front door; the wood is mirrored in the centrally located kitchen that opens off the far end of the living room.
Almond walls with creamy white trim keep things bright and breezy in the living room, as does a soft, sage-green Berber carpet and double-pane windows with vinyl interior shutters. ("They're great for noise reduction and energy efficiency," says David.)
A cushy sofa and loveseat face one another in the living room, and the walls and built-in shelving introduce visitors to David's fine art photography and other art by local painters and ceramicists. Little twig balls, freshly painted birdhouses, candles and basketry lend an organic feel.
David and Ronit share the efficiently designed home office located off the living room.
Separating the living room from a corner dining nook is a half-wall. Built by David, it doubles as a dining counter. A small window over the table and benches was once home to an awkward air-conditioning unit; it now lets in light from an unexpected angle.
All white and the lightest of mint greens, the kitchen always makes Ronit smile. "It's simple rather than modern," she says. "We did a farmhouse sink instead of a split sink. I'm crazy about bead-board cabinet doors, and I wanted clean, white tile for the counters."
Last year saw the completion of the Gibbs' television room. Once their son's bedroom (he's gone off to college), the space is now cool, serene and Zen. A window was traded for narrow, cherry-wood French doors that lead onto the back deck. Taupe walls provide neutral background to a charcoal gray lounger bed, black accent furniture and a handmade television cabinet. Vintage tin ceiling tiles are used as wall art.
A short hallway divides the television room from the full bath and utility rooms — Ronit and David's final renovation projects.
A narrow staircase ascends from the dining area to the master suite, once the home's attic.
"We popped up the roof to match the original line of the house," Ronit says. "Now we have natural light coming from every direction, through skylights and windows."
A dainty balcony with table and chairs is visible through French doors.
An airy, quiet retreat, the long room is painted in calming hues of latté and cream. The four-poster bed with pastel floral linens lends a shabby chic, farmhouse feel, played up with dried flower wreaths and David's landscape photography. A small half-bath with bead-board wainscoting adds more charm and convenience.
Storage is tight in this historic home, so throughout the year Ronit collects every unnecessary item and stores it in the attic. She holds a gigantic and profitable rummage sale every September.
"It's the only house we've ever bought to live in, and it has taken some ingenuity," says David. "But even though it's not so big, it makes more and more sense — it's easy to maintain, and we really do plan on retiring here."
"We're living in our dream house," Ronit says. "We really are."