Full of Potential

Leigh and Kevin Misso of River Brook Design & Construction transformed a condemned Homewood property into their personal home.

BEFORE: The property’s front yard had enough stumps to fill one dumpster, enough concrete to fill another, and enough excess dirt to fill six dump trucks. AFTER: “We took the outdated ranch-style house and gave it a contemporary exterior with traditional and coastal influences,” says Leigh. New siding, windows, doors, front porch, and pitched roof helped the couple achieve the look. They redesigned the front yard and grade with all-new landscaping, a new driveway, and a retaining wall. Photos by Laurey Glenn

This Homewood property was scheduled to be torn down when Leigh and Kevin Misso of River Brook Design & Construction made an offer. “The home obviously hadn’t been taken care of,” Leigh says. “The inside was filled with piles of bottles, personal belongings, and trash. But we saw the potential that the structure had and took advantage of the location.” The couple closed on the property within a week, had it removed from the city’s demolition list, and began work.

Before they could start the renovation, the Missos had to tackle a cleanup that required eight dumpsters just to remove the junk from the property. “When you first opened the door, you were immediately stepping on probably six to ten inches of stuff,” Leigh says. The home also needed major mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and flooring improvements. Since the Missos own their own design and construction firm, they handled all the construction, designs, and décor in-house. Kevin and his team took the house down to the studs, waterproofed the ground floor, and completely reframed the interior. The couple reimagined the main level to be modern and open, removing walls between the kitchen and living room and creating a larger master bathroom with ample closet space. On the lower level, they turned what was just basement storage into an in-law suite and playroom for their growing family’s future needs.

BEFORE: Junk removal revealed purple carpet; dark wooden bookcases; and an old wood-burning stove. AFTER: The Missos removed the bookcases to open up the narrow living room. Hardwood floors and a clean color palette elevate the expanded living and kitchen space. Antique, hand-hewn, white-washed beams from Evolutia were installed to accent the newly vaulted ceilings and bring rustic elements to the home.

Once construction was finished, Leigh dressed the home in her personal style. “I created a contemporary blend of  modern lines and monochromatic spaces, but I also incorporated heirloom antiques,” she says. For example, antique doors from Charles Phillips Antiques in Theodore, Alabama, bring history and patina to the house and ensure that modernizations feel new but not sterile. Sleeker pieces, such as the custom cabinet on the ground level that hides toys and the television, maintain a clean feel.

- Sponsors -

Was the complete overhaul worth it? Leigh emphatically says yes and mentions that they’ve considered selling the property because of the added value. But for now, she says they’re staying put. “We are expecting baby number two in July, and this house has given us plenty of room to expand.”

BEFORE: Kitchens in older homes were more utilitarian than today’s designs. Leigh says when they first toured the house, dirty dishes and sticky notes covered the narrow galley kitchen’s surfaces. AFTER: Removing walls and reassigning spaces allowed the kitchen to become an extension of the living area and provided space for the lifestyle and convenience features the Missos desired—an island, bar seating, larger appliances, and plenty of storage. The kitchen backsplash is fire-resistant, fiber-cement HardiePlank.

BEFORE & AFTER: A small bedroom was eliminated to create space for a larger master bath. “I wanted a freestanding tub, his-and-hers sinks, and a nice shower for my husband,” Leigh says. The couple also utilized part of the former bedroom space for a walk-in closet with main-level laundry.

BEFORE: Open storage space occupied much of the ground floor. With its wood-paneled walls and dark, dated tile, this area lacked purpose and natural light. AFTER: The basement underwent a radical transformation into a guest bedroom and playroom. The addition of lower-level windows, as well as white walls and neutral furnishings, made the space feel lighter. The Missos also fit a laundry room (below)—complete with wet bar, dog-watering station for Gus, and sliding antique door—into the basement floorplan.

Is it worth saving? Things to consider:

Look for structural issues. Evaluate the bones of the house. Particularly assess the condition of the foundation and four perimeter walls. Before committing to a renovation instead of a new build, be sure that you’re working with a strong foundation. Have a professional inspection to check for any sort of water or insect damage.

Evaluate marketability. Compare the current value of the property or listing price to the price for the lot. If the value of the property (lot + structure) is more than the value of the lot alone, tearing down the structure means you would immediately lose money. “Try to maximize on the value or equity that’s already in the property,” Leigh says.

Consider the lot. Is there room for a larger house? How is the house positioned on the lot? Is the lot big enough to build two houses? “If the lot is large and could be subdivided into two lots instead of one, you could potentially have two properties for resale,” says Leigh. (Always be sure to check neighborhood variances.)

BEFORE: The home’s existing ground level featured a one-car garage and a mostly open floor plan. The main level included cramped kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom spaces. AFTER: The Missos turned the ground floor into an in-law suite, adding two bedrooms, a bathroom, a laundry room, and a playroom. They were challenged with maximizing natural light and meeting code with two forms of egress for each bedroom. Upstairs, they relocated the kitchen and dining, added a walk-in closet and large bathroom to the master suite, and added roughly 950 square feet of outdoor living area.

Builder, interior design, landscape: River Brook Construction and River Brook Interior Design, riverbrook.construction Kitchen: Hardware: Brandino Brass, brandinobrass.com Appliances: Allsouth Appliances, allsouthappliance.net Lighting fixtures: Mayer Lighting, mayerlighting.com Countertops: Maranatha, maranathagranite.com Flooring: Morton Flooring, mortonflooringllc.com Bathroom hardware:  Brandino Brass Bathroom tile/backsplash: Floor & Decor, flooranddecor.com Furniture, accessories, art, fabrics: Stock & Trade, stockandtrade.com; Table Matters, table-matters.com; Suite Dreams, suitedreamsal.com Paint: White Dove and Collingwood, benjaminmoore.com

Get the best of Birmingham delivered to your inbox

Stunning local homes, inspiring before & after projects, southern-style recipes, entertaining ideas and more!