A Historic Small Home Makeover in Austin
Open to Change
Small rooms demand creative storage, yet Tim Cuppett and Marco Rini took a counterintuitive approach by putting pretty much all of their belongings on display when they bought their circa-1850 fixer-upper seven years ago in Austin. "Everything here is a reflection of us," Cuppett notes, "And prompts us to reflect more."
In this photo: The kitchen's floor-to-ceiling shelves—accessible by rolling ladder—hold tons of tableware. The wall is painted Land of Liberty by Benjamin Moore.
What would entice someone to move from a modern loft—a loft that same person describes as "sleek and minimalist, like an art gallery"—to a house listed on the National Register of Historic Places? It certainly wasn't the old house's meager 1,200 square feet that sold Austin architect Cuppett. Nor, he says, was it the "carved-up rooms," the "unfortunate kitchen," or the "garden of weeds and pea gravel."
No, it was something intangible yet inarguable that led Cuppett's partner, landscape designer Rini, to declare "We'll take it!" before he and Cuppett had even toured all the rooms or asked the price. "The house had a soul," Cuppett explains.
In this photo: The center hall before it was painted and transformed into a dining room.
Perhaps the most ingenious maneuver Cuppett and Rini utilized was strategic furniture placement. Rather than waste the home's wide hallway as a repository for coats and keys, the couple reimagined it as a dining room. "Marco found a narrow, French tailor's table from the 1840s, on which bolts of silk would have been unfurled," Cuppett explains. "We paired it with inexpensive Crate & Barrel chairs and benches. Overhead, we removed electric lights in favor of candleholders, forcing us to dine by candlelight."
In this photo: Cuppett and Rini woke up their blah center hall with paint—contrasting a light-reflecting high-gloss white (Silver Satin by Benjamin Moore) with dramatic gray-black trim. Austin blacksmith Daniel Smith forged the iron chandeliers.
Cuppett ripped out the cabinets in the kitchen in favor of open shelving and freestanding furnishings.
Cuppett and Rini replaced the awkward upper cabinets with shelving that makes the most of the kitchen's pitched ceiling. "We put our walls to work," says Cuppett. "Instead of cabinets, shelves and hooks allow us to admire our things."
The duo also ditched the lower cabinets for freestanding components, including a stainless steel rolling island and a mango-wood Crate & Barrel console fitted with a marble top. A red Aga gas stove offers a serious upgrade over the old electric model.
After: Living Room
Some of the most striking changes in the house involved nothing more than paint. A high-gloss white (Silver Satin by Benjamin Moore) bounces light through the center hall, while a moody black (Black Knight by Benjamin Moore) covers the walls and trim of the living room, imbuing it with cozy mystery. Elsewhere, shades of green and gray offer a neutral backdrop against which to pop the occasional bright: a single red skillet hanging in the kitchen, a vibrant purple blanket in the bedroom. "White paint's not always the best choice for a small room," Cuppett explains. "Calm colors add depth and look rich."
In this photo: A circa-1930 Heriz Persian rug boldly anchors the living room's iconic midcentury finds, including a Florence Knoll sofa and Arne Jacobsen egg chair. The old geographical prints were unearthed at Uncommon Objects in Austin.
Crate and Barrel's hutch proffers drinks in the living room. The sterling-silver tea service (left) was a 1932 wedding gift to Rini's grandparents.
In their house, photos aren't entombed in albums but framed on the "family wall" alongside treasured papers. "Seeing these things brings our history into our consciousness," says Cuppett.
Bright idea: An inverted bell jar pairs with an Edison bulb for an inventive reading lamp.
In this photo: Mixed in with the master bedroom's ancestral photos: a ship's manifest (between the windows) documenting the Rini family's 1905 journey from Sicily to Ellis Island, and a dachshund drawing (below the manifest) by Hugo Guinness.
A circa-1850s portrait of Wayman Wells, the property's original owner, adorns the master bedroom's wall, painted Gettysburg Gray by Benjamin Moore (also used in the kitchen).