'80s Condo Updated for Rent

Dr. Carolyn Bannister uses bold colors and eclectic design to energize a condo for young medical professionals to temporarily call home.
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With the remodel complete, the modest-sized living room is now a warm, relaxing space for tenants to snuggle up by the fireplace, watch TV or enjoy guests.

Photo by: Brian Patrick Flynn

Brian Patrick Flynn

Dr. Carolyn Bannister lives in a spacious 5,000-square-foot home in Stone Mountain, Ga., but when the anesthesiologist came across a potential income property opportunity just one mile from the Atlanta hospital where she works, she couldn't pass it up. The 1,300-square-foot two bedroom, two bathroom condo built in 1985 seemed like the perfect temporary home for medical students and residents to avoid commutes and live comfortably with affordably priced rent. The medical professional comments, "Buying the condo seemed like the best of both worlds: Students and residents could afford a great-looking, temporary home less than a mile from campus, and I could generate extra income."

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Dr. Carolyn Bannister

Photo by: Brian Patrick Flynn

Brian Patrick Flynn

Dr. Carolyn Bannister

Although the property was listed at an excellent price, offered a great layout for renters, and was conveniently located, it would need some serious design work to get it ready for new tenants.

Soon after closing on the condo, a co-worker of Carolyn's showed interest in it, then instantly signed up as a renter. Knowing that she'd soon have the property occupied, Carolyn quickly consulted with a local designer to make selections and recommend contractors who could bring the space up to date. "Although it was and still is spacious and structurally sound, the condo had nothing special about its interior," says Carolyn. "It was beige, boring and lacked architecture."

Determined to offer medical students and doctors, known for working long hours on their feet, a cozy, stress-free place to unwind and relax, Carolyn gave the designer direction with one simple statement. "I said that I wanted the condo to feel like a warm, welcoming, well-done home and not a stereotypical rental," says Carolyn. "From color on the walls to furniture selection, I wanted to make sure it would be a place anyone would be proud to call home."

After setting on a timeline of two weeks, Carolyn stuck with a budget of $10,000 to tackle updating the shared living spaces by doing the following:

  • Tearing out wall-to-wall carpet and replacing it with dark birch engineered floors
  • Adding architecture to the space by cladding the fireplace wall with horizontal whitewashed pine planks
  • Installing pendant lights on dimmers
  • Updating an entire wall of dated 1980s mirror with decorative trim
  • Installing a flat-screen TV
  • Covering the windows with custom draperies and blinds
  • Painting the walls in warm earth tones

In addition to the $10,000 remodeling budget, the doctor would also furnish the property with timeless, gender-neutral pieces to appeal to male and female tenants.

Colorful, Eclectic Rental Remodel

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Before: Awkward and Bare

When Dr. Carolyn Bannister initially purchased an investment property, the living room was cramped and impractical. Due to modest condo dimensions, the prior owner was unable to figure out proper furniture placement. From the start Carolyn was intent on replacing the dated wall-to-wall carpet with engineered hardwoods and adding architectural interest to the fireplace wall.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

After: Cozy and Inviting

Carolyn turned the cozy living room into a warm, relaxing space for tenants to snuggle up by the fireplace, watch TV or simply enjoy conversation with guests. To best utilize the space, a pair of gray flannel two-seater sofas were floated in front of the fireplace, balanced with a generously sized walnut coffee table and grounded with a transitional iron pendant. Previously lacking a focal point, the fireplace wall is now packed with architectural interest, the result of being clad with 1x10 pine plank, which was updated with a whitewash finish.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Pendant Lighting

A transitional-style iron pendant was centered in the living room over the coffee table to keep the space well-lit and add ambiance. To keep the view of the new flat-panel TV unobstructed, the bottom of the pendant was placed 44 inches above the top of the table.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Bamboo Window Shades

Keeping the space warm was one of Carolyn's major concerns with the redesign of her rental property. To add privacy and warmth to the windows, they were dressed with dark bamboo shades, which add organic texture. In order to draw the eye up and give the illusion of taller windows, Carolyn had custom draperies made from $7-per-yard toile.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Playful Pillows

In order to keep the bold, warm orange wall color cohesive with the entire room, Carolyn added custom throw pillows to the gray flannel sofa in different shades of orange along with blues, greens and white.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Durable Furnishings

Since the property will get a lot of wear and tear from renters, Carolyn splurged on a heavy-duty coffee table with sturdy legs. The five-foot-long by 30-inch-wide table is made of walnut with a matte finish.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Welcoming Details

Dedicated to giving the rental property a homey feel and encouraging tenants to relax in the updated living room area, the walnut coffee table is fully stocked with books in an array of subjects including history, medicine, pop culture, architecture and interior design.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Art On Display

To add budget-friendly, one-of-a-kind art, Carolyn shopped at vintage stores. After a quick trip to a local Atlanta midcentury-modern boutique, a pair of 1970s graphic pieces were picked up for $225. This initial pair resulted in an ongoing motif of midcentury-modern art used throughout the property. By hanging the art behind and above one of the two gray flannel living room sofas, it's in direct view from the opposite sofa and dining room.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Stylish Storage

The living room lacks integrated, built-in storage. To instantly add storage space for everyday items, an eight-foot-wide traditional-style buffet was bought off of Craigslist for $125, then updated with steel-blue lacquer.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Brass Hardware

To keep an overall traditional vibe flowing throughout the property, the existing hardware of the console was left untouched. The juxtaposition between the glossy steel-blue finish and the traditional brass tassel hardware creates an overall transitional style.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Drastic Changes

Prior to the remodel Carolyn's dining area was overpowered by a dated 1980s full-wall mirror, cheap contractor-grade lighting, drab beige carpet and messy vertical blinds. In its new state Carolyn's dining room is unrecognizable. The contractor-grade fixture was swapped with a vintage church pendant which keeps the area well illuminated. Although the same table that was originally in the space is still the main piece of furniture, it appears brand-new thanks to different chairs.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

'80s Mirror Update

In order to turn the 1980s wall of mirror from an eyesore into an eye-catching showstopper, Carolyn's contractor attached 1x3 MDF directly to it, creating 24x24 squares, which give off the illusion of being one large multipane window. In order to do this, each piece was cut to size with a table saw, attached with liquid bonding adhesive, then held in place with painter's tape until dry.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Custom Window Treatments

To add pattern to the dining room and give the updated mirror wall more of a window-like look, Carolyn had a custom valance and draperies made with the same toile used in the living room. While fabrication was costly, Carolyn's budget was kept in check with fabric bought off a clearance rack.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Flea Market Finds

Before the remodel the dining set in Carolyn's dining room looked more like college apartment furniture than something befitting of hard-working medical professionals. To give the table a designer touch, traditional-style dining chairs were picked up at a flea market for $30, then updated with glossy powder-blue paint, and new cushions were made then upholstered with pumpkin-toned Belgian linen adorned with Greek-key trim tape.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Wood Flooring

One of the most drastic changes in Carolyn's rental property is her flooring. Before the remodel all rooms were covered in beige, dated wall-to-wall carpet. After ripping the carpet out, her contractor installed dark, floating engineered wood floors, adding a glamorous touch.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Easy Wallpaper Refresh

For storage in the dining room, a retro 1950s sideboard was picked up at a local flea market for $125, then updated with graphic wallpaper added to the back panel.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

First up on her schedule was ripping out wall-to-wall carpet and replacing it with dark, engineered hardwoods. At the advice of her designer, Carolyn opted for floating floors which are simply laid down, tongue-and-groove style. By choosing this type of installation, nearly $1,600 in labor costs were avoided. "I couldn't believe how quickly the floors went down," she says. "On Monday, the property was completely covered in dated beige wall-to-wall carpet, and by Wednesday night, every inch of the condo had beautiful, gleaming dark wood."

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Dining room updated with a contractor-grade fixture, drapes and new chairs.

Photo by: Brian Patrick Flynn

Brian Patrick Flynn

Dining room updated with a contractor-grade fixture, drapes and new chairs.

Once the floors were complete, Carolyn's contractor turned his focus to adding architectural interest to two different areas of the great room: the fireplace and the mirrored wall of her dining area. "I had no idea what to do with the 1980s mirror wall," she says. "When my designer told me the possible complications of removing it, which could involve hefty labor costs to repair the drywall and dispose of the glass properly, I was open to any suggestions."

To modernize the dated mirror wall, Carolyn's contractor added 1X3 MDF trim directly to the front of the mirror using liquid bonding adhesive and painters' tape to hold it in place until dry. The overall effect gives the wall the look and feel of a graphic, contemporary window which was enhanced even more with inoperable drapery panels on each side as well as a coordinating valance above.

To turn the gas fireplace into a designer-caliber focal point without major materials or installation costs, Carolyn's contractor removed the original hearth and surrounding tile, then clad the entire wall with 1x10 pine plank, which was updated with a whitewash finish. Altogether the pine plank came to $375 including installation and whitewash refinishing. "I still can't believe what a huge difference adding the whitewashed pine made," says Carolyn. "It drastically changed everything about the main areas of the condo. And considering it only cost around $375, that's a lot of bang for the buck."

Lighting played a huge part in the redesign of Carolyn's condo. When the doctor initially bought the property, she didn't really think much of its lack of light. "Before this project, I never really understood how much lighting plays a part in creating a well-designed room," Carolyn explains. "From blackout lining on window treatments to the swapping out of the contractor-grade fixtures for new pendants, to layering different types of lighting with table lamps, I feel like in addition to getting a small remodel, I also got an education in interior design."

To allow more light in through the windows, vertical blinds in the dining room were replaced with custom floor-to-ceiling draperies, which stack back and allow all available natural light to flood the space when open. On the flip side, they've been lined so that tenants can choose to nap after long days on their feet.

While most of the remodel was fun, there were a few hiccups along the way. Originally intent on keeping the color palette earthy and rich, Carolyn envisioned the living room painted in a rust tone of orange, one with brown undertones. "After all, the condo is indeed a rental and I didn't want to go too out there with color choices ," Carolyn notes. "When my designer suggested a warm rust tone on the walls, I expected to come home and see a brown tone with hints of orange but instead it was full-on pumpkin. The living room is definitely orange. Call it whatever shade you like but it sure is orange."

Although the color was intense at first, Carolyn was reassured by her designer that it would take on a toned-down appearance once furnished with more neutral-toned pieces. Once the furniture started to arrive, her color-related concerns quickly subsided.

Next Up

Remodeling a Rental Unit in the City

After buying a building in Brooklyn, Tom Bencivengo turns a rental unit into an open, inviting one-bedroom apartment with smart storage solutions.

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