Finder’s Keepers

When interior designer Virginia Volman steps into a thrift store or browses an online trading site, amazing things begin to happen. Take a tour of her recently renovated home—all designed with a focus on budget and uncompromising style.

Gigi, Virginia, and Brannon (with Sally and Rosie) Missing: Blackie and Basil (the cats). Photos by Jean Allsopp

There’s nothing like the thrill of the hunt. Especially when the effort yields high style and big time bargains. “You can go to a design store and find plenty of great things, ” says homeowner and designer Virginia Volman. “But I like to find that knocked around, one-of-a-kind piece and make it into something totally unique.” That’s been Virginia’s philosophy since she started decorating for herself and friends after leaving a career in pharmaceuticals years ago. 

When Virginia and her daughters, Brannon and Gigi, decided to downsize, even her search for the diamond-in-the-rough house became part of the fun. So what attracted her to the rancher on the overgrown lot with the narrow living room and dated kitchen? “Potential, ” she says. “The bones of the house were there. It just needed to be opened up.”

Enlisting the help of Frank Roberta of Lorino Construction, Virgina’s house-with-promise came to fruition. Removing 14-feet of wall eliminated the traditional ranch-style layout of the living room in front and kitchen in back—and it made all the difference. “Now, I have one big room and light filters in from both sides, ” Virginia says.

Smart design strategies and creative resourcing yielded a custom, high-style kitchen on a lean budget. Savings include Home Depot cabinets (customized by her builder),  22-cent Subway tile, Ikea shelving, and an island salvaged from a friend’s home undergoing-renovation. Perimeter countertops are builder-grade, leather-textured granite, making the splurge for the Montclair Danby stone on the island more palatable. Virginia showed a picture of a hood she liked to Frank—and he built it.

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Equally conservative with furniture choices, Virginia says most of her pieces are from trading sites, HomeGoods, discount sites, or second hand shops­. “I carry around a visual rolodex of pieces I need in my head, ” says Virginia. “I’m always looking—whether it’s for myself or a client.”

In her breakfast nook, Virginia reinvented an antique table by adding a new, modern base from Southeastern Salvage. “The tops didn’t come in, so they gave me a discount, ” she says. The china cabinet in the dining area, repainted warm gray (see below), is a Hanna Antiques find—as are the kitchen barstools she scored for $30 each. The chandelier came from a trading site. The built-in banquette, covered in faux croc for durability, was an idea that “worked really well in my last home, ” Virginia says.

So how does she create the modern, edgy look from such seemingly disparate sources? “I look for pieces with classic or interesting lines—usually, the older, the better. I let art and accent fabrics dictate color; I save on basics and splurge on select custom pieces.” And—she’s constantly looking. “Sometimes I’ll find something I wasn’t even looking for. But if it’s great, it will live in my basement until I find a home for it.”

The one thing Virginia never cuts corners on is fun—whether it’s in life or decorating, and her goal is to help others create that same atmosphere in their own homes. She regularly describes colors, fabrics, and art as “happy” and her underlying rule is comfort and durability. “My niche is making beautiful decorating fun and affordable, ” says Virginia.

ABOVE The old galley-style kitchen was closed off from the main living area. Opening up a wall allowed a larger living, dining, and entertaining space—a necessity for someone who also caters and entertains often. Now, kitchen barstools can turn around and face the living and dining area. The kitchen opens onto a deck that stretches the rear expanse of the house, adding a lot more living space to the home’s 1,800 square feet.

ABOVE The backdrop for all of Virginia’s finds is a fantastic collection of Alabama and regional artists assumed over the last 20 years. Art over banquette: Kate Merritt Davis.

Virginia has that innate ability to see a space or piece of furniture as it could be—not as it is. Artistically-inclined, Virginia says every generation in her family had their art—whether sewing, crafting, or gardening.

ABOVE When thinking about furniture arrangements, Virginia always includes plenty of seating areas—and in the case of designing for a smaller home, convertible furniture. Here, a pair of sofas face a cocktail table. Smaller stools were designed to slide beneath when not in use. Bookshelves mounted to the walls leave floorspace below.

ABOVE Bright or dark color on walls in a small space make a room look even smaller. For a punch of color, paint the ceiling (Pink Blossom, Benjamin Moore). Walls: Balboa Mist, Benjamin Moore. Save money by choosing basic white bedding. Splurge on fabrics for accessory pillows. Pillows require less yardage and are easier to change on a whim.

ABOVE Small bedrooms called for creative solutions. Virginia designed custom headboards for her room and daughter Gigi’s room (see below). Sconces hang above the beds, freeing up bedside table tops. Custom platforms eliminate the need for footboards or bedskirts.

ABOVE In Gigi’s room, the twin bed doubles as a day bed. Gigi’s dresser was a find carried over from her nursery days. Formerly pink, Virginia repainted it and added the green stripe. A painting from Studio by the Tracks hangs above. Paint colors in Gigi’s room: Ceiling, Lavendar Lipstick, Benjamin Moore; Wall, Balboa Mist, Benjamin Moore

Interior designer: Virginia Volman Designs, [email protected] • 205.223.8881 Favorite shopping spots include: Hanna Antiques, Jimmy Hale Mission, Lovelady Thrift Store, curbsides, Mountain Brook Trading, HomeGoods, One King’s Lane,, King Cotton. Contractor: Frank Roberta of Lorino Construction, Inc., 205.365.0621 Countertops: Birmingham Marbleworks, 205.988.5585 Art above shelves in kitchen (from left): Catie Radney, Katie Robinson Art, Brannon’s Room: Carrie Pittman

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