Today on Home Dec Month, we’re thrilled to bring you a special Q&A with the lovely Ashley Vaughn, a wedding and lifestyle photographer who lives locally to us here in Huntsville, Alabama. (Ashley runs photography imprint White Rabbit Studios and actually does a bit of freelance photography for us – be sure to check out some of her work in our upcoming Winter 2013 issue!)
Ashley and her husband, Andy, run a killer local record store called Vertical House Records, which was aptly named after their own home – the “real” vertical house. Built circa 1903 for the manager of Dallas Mill in Huntsville, Alabama, their home has over 2,000 square feet and features 6 fireplaces, 4 bedrooms, 2 baths, living room, dining room, kitchen, and a deep front porch. When Ashley’s father-in-law purchased it back in the 1970s, it was being used as a duplex: one unit upstairs and one unit downstairs. Ashley and Andy purchased the property from Andy’s dad in December 2006 to restore it back to its original single-family residence glory.
We’re completely in love with Ashley’s decorating style, which hinges upon vintage, thrifted and pre-loved items, from the house itself right down to the trinkets displayed on the shelves. Because of her keen, creative eye for interior design and deeply-held appreciation for creating a one-of-a-kind homestead, we jumped at the chance to ask her a few questions. Enjoy!
Stitch Craft Create: You’ve taken on massive restoration and renovation projects in your home, many while living there! What would your advice be to someone considering doing something similar?
Ashley Vaughn: Make sure you are ready for anything. Before we took the plunge, we made sure we were ready for the stress, inconvenient living situations, and whatever random mishap might pop up. Thankfully, we haven’t had anything go majorly wrong (knock on wood). In the beginning we lived upstairs without water and electricity (we were basically squatting!) while waiting for jobs to be completed. However, we made the most of it and called it our “camp grounds” for a while. Try to embrace everything, and laugh a lot. Even when the work was hard and the hours were long, it only took a few minutes of thinking about the finished product (a gorgeous home we restored) before we had smiles on our faces again. Engage yourself with other activities! When we started the restoration, we just got involved with a local theatre group. After a day’s work we would go to rehearsals and hang out with friends instead of just sitting around thinking about what needed to be done. I think it’s important to have something else to focus on to relieve your mind and revive your energy.
SCC: Many of your home décor and belongings, from furniture to trinkets, were thrifted, salvaged, revamped or bought on-the-cheap from estate and yard sales. What are some of your favorite finds, and what did they cost?
AV: While I adore everything in our home, a significant find would be our kitchen cabinets. After months of researching cabinets and quotes, I wanted to give up (especially when the quotes for cabinets were around 10 grand). One day, I discovered a new antique store and spent two hours walking through all of the aisles. As I made my way around the last corner, there they were: three gorgeous cabinet pieces that would be perfect in our kitchen. I kid you not, a tear fell down my cheek. I called my husband all choked up, sent him a photo, and bought them there on the spot (all three for only $1,500)! Ever since then, we’ve adopted the fact that the pieces of our house will find us. It’s worked for every single room (although I’m still waiting for that perfect queen sized iron bed to made itself known).
SCC: You have a distinct style. How has it changed and developed over the years?
AV: The only cohesive thing I’ve found about what I’m drawn to are the colors. There seems to be a distinct palette I’m fond of the most (soft blues, golden yellows, cherry reds, and shades of whites). I’ve always been attracted to graphic patterns, and unique objects. Instead of focusing on individual themed rooms, I prefer for everything to be able to fit anywhere. I love being able to mix and match among different rooms, but it all still flows together. When we decorated our first house, I don’t think we really took the time to think about what we wanted. It was more like trying to mock a page from a magazine we saw. When we started restoring our current home, we let the rooms breathe on their own and remain sparse until we found the right pieces for it.
SCC: What is it that draws you to the pre-loved?
AV: Instead of having to work with what big box stores provide (while some of it certainly is nice) I think it’s more fun finding treasures that I all of a sudden can’t live without. Most of the thrill has to do with the hunt, but there’s also a lot to learn when digging through articles of the past. I can trace my love for historic buildings to being in a stroller and commenting to my parents that I “want to live in an old house one day”, and with that comes the appreciation for vintage, pre-loved, and handmade items. Growing up, I preferred shopping among the rustic floorboards of the nearby antique store than the bright, stark aisles of Toys R Us. I guess it’s in my blood!
SCC: Do you have tips for thrifting for the home?
AV: I can be a shopaholic, and even though I’m very thrifty, the “stuff” can still add up. I have two rules: I have to LOVE it or NEED it. Often times there are household items that I discover we need (a hanging fruit basket, for example). The morning I realized we needed one was on the way to an estate sale. I had the idea of spray painting one red, to add a pop of color to our kitchen. When we arrived at the sale, there was a RED three tier hanging basket on the doorknob for only ten cents. While I can easily fall in love with items I don’t need, I usually only spring for them if I know exactly where they can go in the house. It’s too easy to buy something because it’s a great deal, only to have it take up valuable space. Once a year or so Andy and I do a complete clean out and get rid of anything we haven’t used in the past year. It’s a great way to not let the clutter build up and make room for new items to find!
SCC: What’s the craziest restoration or renovation adventure you’ve attempted, and how did it turn out?
AV: Currently, we are restoring the upstairs and that is proving to be quite the project. Mainly because we are trying to retrofit a bathroom, and is becoming a challenge. Before this point, the craziest was probably the kitchen and (downstairs) bathroom. Both are the former back porch of the house, and needed a lot of work. The first time we walked through there was a puddle of urine on the floor, disconnected plumbing, old electricity, holes in the roof, and sagging floor joists. We pretty much had to re-build the entire section of the house and lived without a kitchen for close to a year (that was tough). The day we got to plug in our stove and fridge was a miracle to us! Now the kitchen is one of our favorite rooms in the home!
SCC: What’s in the plans next for your home projects?
AV: Hopefully within a year or so we’ll be able to wrap up restoring the upstairs. From there, we’d love to (with approval of the Historic District) add a screen porch off the kitchen, a greenhouse in the backyard (made from recycled windows), and convert our garage into an art studio. I’m the type of person that wants to get things done immediately, so I’m constantly having to remind myself of having patience and savor every moment of this restoration. It’s been a wonderful process so far, and I’m thrilled to be doing like this alongside my best friend and husband.