A home restoration with a story

by Donna Benton
Mike Kemp photos

If you are a regular reader of my Home features in 501 LIFE, you will notice that I have a thing for rescuing, rehabilitating and preserving classic furniture. I look for antique and vintage pieces that have good lines and “bones” but have been loved a little too hard.

I take great pride and pleasure in bringing a great piece back from the brink, and making something beautiful that will be treasured by generations to come.

I am also a bit of a design nerd, and I love a good construction project. So, I was excited when my friend, Niki Thompson of Storybook Homes, formerly ReHome Properties (more about the new company name later), asked me to collaborate with her on the fixtures and furnishings of her home restoration projects.   

Years ago when I met Niki, she was busy balancing a successful career while raising her young family, but I knew from our first conversation that she had a passion to build and create that was hard for her to contain. I could tell that she needed an outlet to channel this creative energy or she just might explode in a plume of sawdust and paint splatter. She was in the midst of a kitchen remodel at her home, and I began to follow along as she chronicled her construction successes and failures with wit and candor on her blog, “Two Story Sister.”  

Before long, Niki began buying and restoring old homes that were in serious disrepair or had been empty and abandoned for many years. These are homes that would scare most people away, but Niki could envision a new design beyond the cracked drywall, boarded windows and swaying floorboards. Sometimes the home would have architectural elements that would indicate a direction for the new design and sometimes they would be gutted to the outside walls, a blank slate to create an entirely new space straight from Niki’s imagination.  

Now with nearly a dozen homes under her belt, Niki often manages more than one restoration at a time and usually has buyers waiting for an opportunity to purchase one of her restored homes. Prospective buyers and DIY fans follow along on her popular blog as Niki takes them on the creative progression from demolition to completion.  

When Niki takes on a new project, she has a unique process to develop a design plan. According to Niki, each home “speaks to her” the very first time she walks through the door (or climbs in through a broken window, as in the case of her latest purchase). It doesn’t speak to her in a haunted house kind of way, but with a more subtle nudge to begin the process of imagining its design destiny.

From this initial feeling, Niki creates a story about the imaginary past homeowners and that story is the basis for the design plan for each home, whether it is industrial modern, French country or farmhouse. Niki acknowledges that this sounds a little crazy, but it is a fun way to get the design process going. Niki is in the process of rebranding her business and the new name Storybook Homes is a play on the creative design process.

When Niki and I got together at the beginning of her latest project, she explained that it was once the home of an Irish sheep farmer. We laughed and said that we weren’t even sure that Irish Farmhouse was a design style, but as Niki began tearing out walls, I set out looking for furniture and fixtures that tell the story.

I love to watch Niki’s homes transform from a broken-down, neighborhood eyesore to a bright and beautiful box of jewels. The neighbors like it, too, and they often show their approval with honks and shouts of good cheer as they drive past. As the construction crews are finishing up, our gang at WaterHouse Market fills the home with restored vintage furniture, custom lighting and antique accessories in keeping with the design theme and honoring the idea of turning something unloved and discarded into something timeless and beautiful. A last-minute shopping trip to Jenifer’s Antiques helps add the finishing touches before the big unveiling.  

After a ceremonious reveal to the prospective buyer, Niki celebrates the completed project with an open house where home shoppers and design fans can come take a tour, shop antiques and art and hang out with neighbors and friends. As she is planning the menu for the open house, she is organizing demolition for the next Storybook Home, just down the street. I can’t wait to hear its story.


Donna Benton is a maker of customr home furnishings and specializes in classic painted finishes for antique and vintage furniture. You can see her work at WaterHouseMarket.com