As the founder and designer for Storybook Homes, Niki Thompson approaches her home renovation and design projects in an unconventional way – by telling a story about the property. Storybook Homes renovates and restores old houses into new and refreshing family homes. We talked to Niki about her process and her tips for sprucing up your space.
Tell us the story behind Storybook Homes and how you got your start in home renovation and design.
NIKI: I have had two different careers that I have loved. I worked as a registered dietitian for 16 years after graduating from UCA with a bachelor’s degree in Family & Consumer Sciences with an emphasis in Nutrition. During those 16 years, my husband, Rory, and I flipped a couple of houses on the side, but those projects consisted of minor cosmetic changes like paint, light fixtures, and new tile. It wasn’t until I finally convinced Rory to let me knock down a wall and change up a floor plan that I really felt like I was living out my HGTV fantasies. That first wall came down six years ago, and from that moment on, I was hooked! Two projects later, I retired from the nutrition world and have been living the construction life ever since.
How do you approach a home renovation and design project?
NIKI: With no professional training outside of watching decades of HGTV, I had to come up with my own approach to design and renovation. I accomplish this by telling myself a story about the house. The inspiration for the story can come from a variety of sources: architecture found in the original home, the history of the home or past homeowners (real or imagined), or stories I tell myself about the potential future homeowner. Once the story is solidified in my mind, I run every design decision – from layout and lighting to paint colors and landscape – through the filter of the story to ensure that each home is not only unique but is also cohesive from the inside to the out. While this has always been my process, it wasn’t until about three years ago that I started sharing my stories on my website and officially renamed my business “Storybook Renovations.”
Where is your favorite area to renovate in Conway?
NIKI: My favorite area to renovate in our city is the historic district or what I lovingly refer to as “Old Town.” I have always loved the variety and craftsmanship that you find in historic districts, and Conway is no different. No two houses are alike, and creativity in architecture abounds. The builders of the past were not afraid to “think outside the box” and create something different from the neighbor next door. When Rory and I first started renovating homes, comps in Old Town were some of the lowest in our city. For years, most renovations in Old Town were simply a Band-Aid on top of old problems. Over the past four to five years, however, we have seen a major revitalization in the historic district. Many of our Old Town neighbors have invested big money into their homes to once again make the area one of the most desirable places to live.
If you could pick one renovation project that is your favorite, what would it be and why does it stand out?
NIKI: Honestly, my favorite renovation project is always the one I just completed. I become emotionally attached to each project, and it is always hard to let go in the end. The renovation project I completed most recently is on Brier Springs Drive. It was one of the “youngest” houses I have ever worked on (1990s build), but it had one of the most dramatic exterior renovations.
My current flip has been a dream project for years! I am getting to work on my all-time favorite house in Old Town – 2009 Caldwell. It is one of the only true midcentury houses, and it will, without a doubt, take my new favorite spot when it is complete. That is, until I start the next project.
Over the last two years, I also have started taking a few client projects in addition to the flips. One of my favorite client projects was the New Orleans-style home on Davis Street.
2009 Caldwell Before & After
When it comes to increasing resale value, which home renovations give homebuyers the most bang for their buck?
NIKI: It’s quite simple. It is generally a safe investment to renovate kitchens and baths. Those are the two rooms that can make someone “fall in love” with your home. But you must always keep resale value in mind. Comps in our area dictate sale price more than design. Exercise wisdom in how you spend your money. Paint, updated countertops, and new hardware can really go a long way and make a big impact.
Don’t forget the “outside” either. The exterior is your home’s first impression. Remember: Curb appeal! Simple landscaping is better than no landscaping, and a fresh coat of paint or stain can give an old door new life.
What’s out and what’s in when it comes to interior design and home layout?
NIKI: I do not feel quite “qualified” to speak to current trends, but based on my own experience, I believe the best renovations are those that stay true to the home’s original architecture – or “story,” if I may. For example, if you’re renovating a 1930s craftsman home, a trendy, midcentury modern Sputnik fixture might not be the best choice. That’s not to say that you can’t update with a modern light fixture; you just find a trendy, lantern-style fixture instead. And yes, the rumors are true; farmhouse style is on its way out. But that doesn’t mean you have to sheetrock over all that newly installed shiplap. Simply take down your hand-painted “farmhouse” signs and tobacco baskets and replace those with some minimalist art and a few plants, and you should be fine!
To learn more about Storybook Homes and to view additional before-and-after photos of home renovation projects, visit storybookrenovations.com.