Unconventional Wisdom

Caitlin Marsh of Lulu’s Furniture & Decor and her husband, Ryan, took a cozy yet unspectacular house and made it their own.

Open Concept: Tearing out the wall and opening up the kitchen changed the house “immediately and immensely,” Marsh says, adding that the rollup door opening to the back patio was “one of the best things we’ve done so far.” Photo by Paul Winner.

Caitlin and Ryan Marsh purchased this darling brick home in Wellshire just over two years ago (sight unseen on Ryan’s part). And although it needed a lot of work—“The house was livable, it just wasn’t great or beautiful or really functional,” she says—she maintains that is was one of the best decisions they’ve ever made. The two-bedroom, one-bath ranch is now home to the couple and their son, Cullen, and dog, Whistlepig.

Open Concept: Marsh says there was never a discussion to feature only black and white photography, it just kind of happened. Photo by Paul Winner.

“Like any remodel,” Marsh says, “the work always ends up being more extensive than initially planned.” Aesthetics is at the core of her professional life—Lulu’s Furniture & Decor is her family’s business, opened by her mom, Christy, in 2007—and Ryan is in the home-building industry. “It didn’t take us long to begin tearing things out,” she says.

The couple was working with a limited budget, so prioritization was key, but this turned out to be a good thing. “The fact that we had to budget and do our projects in stages has been really beneficial,” Marsh says. “Had we not spent time and lived in the space, I don’t think things would have turned out as well as they did.”

Bath: Redoing the plumbing and rearranging things in the home’s only bathroom gave the family much more space without moving walls. Photo by Paul Winner.

The bathroom was first on the list. “Our one and only bathroom was terrible, and that’s where it all began,” she says. “I hated that it resembled something you would find at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. We also had zero storage. We redid the plumbing and moved the toilet, and it made such a difference. It’s crazy how just reconfiguring a space can make it feel so different without adding square footage.” To this day, she says, it’s her favorite room. “It has the perfect balance of contemporary and warmth. Looking at it and knowing that we hand cut all those pieces of tile while having to use a bucket as the toilet in the middle of winter…there’s such pride in that.”

Open Concept: Marsh says hanging the giant piece of quartz that now serves as the kitchen’s backsplash was one of the more challenging moments of the whole experience. Photo by Paul Winner.

Next up, she describes the original kitchen as “horrendous. The previous owner had laid tile on top of tile, and upon entering the kitchen, there was this weird two-inch step. The cabinets were metal and had been painted multiple times as had the face of our dishwasher.” Marsh is a self-described neat freak, and none of it was working for her. “I despise clutter, and seeing the washer and dryer in the kitchen on full display made my skin crawl. The wall that separated the living room and the kitchen was useless; we had a pocket door that didn’t work, and there was a disjointed feeling to the house.”

Baby: “Cullen has the best art,” says Marsh. “I fell in love with the ‘camp letter’ piece before I knew I was pregnant, and my mom and dad gave it to us at my baby shower. It sums up everything I want for him so perfectly.” Photo by Paul Winner.

Their latest project has been the backyard, including a recently installed irrigation system, which Marsh calls a game changer. She likens house projects to the If You Give… series of children’s books. “Once you put in a roll-up door, you need a new patio,” she says. “Once the patio is in, you want to add pavers. When the pavers go in, you need more sod. Once the sod is in, you’re going to want some trees. It’s never ending.”

Overall, the project has been very personal to Marsh and her family. “I don’t want people to think we’re like Joanna and Chip Gaines [of Fixer Upper],” she says. “We have always been unconventional, and I think our house is a good reflection of that.” She compares their life now with the couple’s previous home: “Ryan used to weld in the vestibule of our old fourplex, storing his gear in the kitchen when he wasn’t using it,” she says, “and I would be outside in the yard trying to make a lamp out of a mannequin or old motorcycle parts. Being able to have the space, the means, the ideas and the wherewithal to make all of this happen is pretty cool. Plus, we make a good team.”