5 Ways to Rock a Renovation (On a Budget)

Design book author Joanne Palmisano shows how to freshen up any space on a budget, whether it’s for a year-round home or a winter ski house, like this Stowe home, destined for rental. 

One of the ugliest things I had ever seen,” is how Gideon Pollack describes the house he recently bought in Stowe, just off the trails of the Trapp Family

Perched on a steep hillside, Gideon-Pollock’s house had Tudor-style beams crisscrossing it’s small facade. Photo by Jamie Palmisano

Lodge, with the idea of renting it out on Airbnb.

Built in 1978, the 3,000-square-foot home set on a steep hill was Gothic in all senses of the word. Dark wood posts and beams framed each room and formed arches in the doorways. The windows were small. The stairway was covered in bright red carpeting. The dining room had wood built-ins with arched glass panels. And there were touches like a doorknob molded in the face of a lion whose eyes lit up red when you knocked.

“There were things in there that were not just garbage, they were so creepy you wanted to run away from them,” Pollack remembers. “Joanne took some of that stuff, bartered or sold it or repurposed it into something amazing.”

“Joanne” is Joanne Palmisano, the Burlington-based designer and author of three books, including Salvage Secrets, Salvage Secrets Design & Décor and Styling with Salvage. She’s also one of a handful of designers around the state who are redefining Vermont’s new mountain style.

You can see Palmisano’s work if you wander into the bar at Ludlow’s Main + Mountain, just down from Okemo, where old porch posts and salvaged doors, mix with new teal-green swivel bar stools in the renovated motel’s hip new bar.

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Photo Caption: 1. The new entry provides a view all the way to the deck. Photo by Lindsay Selin 2. Palmisano tore out the red carpet and removed closets (here, before) the downstairs space. Photo by Jamie Palmisano

In Waitsfield, at Lawson’s Finest’s new tasting room, Palmisano had builders work locally sourced wood into a sunshine logo (referring to Lawson’s signature brew, Sip of Sunshine) in boards that span the bar, and had Burlington’s Conant Metal & Light create a chandelier using Lawson’s bottles.

At the Mad River Barn, nearly everything has been upcycled. In the dining room, look up and classic wood ladders hold the light fixtures. Industrial pipe frames the bar shelves. An old barn door serves as the hotel’s sign. Salvage seems to be Palmisano’s middle name.

For a more nautical take, Palmisano outfitted Basin Harbor Club’s cottages on Lake Champlain with old oars on the walls, a classic palette of blues, whites and reds and charts and maps of Vermont.

When Palmisano was growing up in central Vermont in the 1980s and skiing at Norwich (which, at the time had a small ski hill), ski house style meant something different: an A-frame or a variation on a chalet, or a cabin with lots of knotty pine, decorated with crossed wood skis and needlepoint throw pillows.

Today, she’s redefining that style. “This is the third house we’ve worked on with Joanne,” says Pollack, a Montreal developer and Nordic skier who has been coming to Stowe since he was a boy.  The first two places they worked on together were two condominiums he bought, one of which he still lives in.

“When this new house came up, we really wanted the land that came with it and planned to fix up the house and either rent it or sell it and develop the other acreage,” Pollack explains. “But we would only do it if Joanne took it on.”

That helped kickstart Palmisano’s third book, Rock Your Rental: Style, Design and Marketing Tips to Boost Your Booking, which will be published by Countryman Press this winter.  She wrote the book with her San Francisco-based twin sister Rosanne, who has worked as a global brand manager at apparel companies such as Pact, Icebreaker, Nike and The Gap.

“My sister and I have stayed at a lot of Airbnb’s and we’d get ideas from them. Or, we say to each other ‘what if they just did this, here—or that.’  With Gideon’s projects, I had a chance to build out some of my principles of design for a rental and to try to do it all within a tight budget.”

Says Pollack: “We didn’t want to put a lot of money into this house, but it needed a lot if we were going to rent it out,” he says. The entire renovation of the three-story home, including redoing the kitchen and installing a new deck, came in under $150,000.

Here’s how they rocked this rental, plus Palmisano’s tips for freshening up any space, be it a weekend ski house, a rental or your permanent home.

Go Local

“Using local materials grounds you to a place and creates a unique look for any home. I try to use as many local materials as possible,” says Palmisano. For this house, after tearing out the red wall-to-wall carpeting in the living room and entryway, she found mismatched maple to replace the floors. “I went to Lathrop’s Lumber in Bristol and asked what they wanted to get rid of. They showed me a left-over lot of mismatched maple—some of it even with maple tap holes still in it.”  The variations in the floor add character and the entire floor, with installation, cost less than putting in a laminate of faux wood.

Painting the built-ins and adding a gas insert to the fireplace and a TV above it made this room more rental-friendly. Photo by Lindsay Selin

“We have so many amazing local materials,” says Palmisano, who tries to use Vermont slate or Vermont Verde—a deeply-veined green granite mined in Rochester—where she can.

Do More, With Less

“We were on a budget and kitchen counter tops are expensive,” Palmisano says. The previous counters had small square white tiles with wide grout. “I went to Best Tile and found a bunch of 2-foot by 2-foot white porcelain tiles in the sale area that we could fit close together to give a uniform look in the kitchen.” She then had the builder put a wide strip of wood on the edges, which she painted to match the porcelain to give it the look of a thick stone counter. As for cabinets, well, they needed to be replaced. “Cabinets are often the other most expensive part of the kitchen,” she notes. To save on costs, she had the builder build simple, open shelves without doors. Baskets take the place of drawers. And she painted them the same Sherwin Williams’ Peppercorn Gray used throughout the house—a color that doesn’t show fingerprints or stain easily. “Plus, with open cabinets if you have a rental, it’s easier for guests to find everything they need and really makes the kitchen feel more open,” says Palmisano.

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Photo Caption: 1. The appliances and faucet are about the only new things in the kitchen. Photo by Lindsay Selin 2. Palmisano kept the stove in the same place, but removed the counter and wall to its left. She traded for the farmhouse sink and put a copper rail in to hold utensils. Photo by Lindsay Selin 3. Many of the final dishes and pans were found at Goodwill. Photo by Jamie Palmisano

With e beds to sleep 12, the house needed a big dining table. The general contractor, Adam Hill out of Stowe, built a long picnic table and benches which Palmisano had painted a bright green to add a touch of color to the room. “A pop of color will really make a rental space stand out in photos on sites like VRBO or Airbnb,” she notes.

Reuse, Reuse, Reuse

Wherever possible, Palmisano looked for ways she could reuse some of the existing features in the house. She took old doors, applied a coat of paint and made the headboard for the master bedroom. The glass doors in the new pantry she found lying in the house’s basement. The painting above the bed? “I think that was $5 at a flea market or antique store,” Palmisano says. She also was able to take things—even the door knocker with the light-up eyes—and trade or barter. “I took some of the old cabinet doors as well as doors and light fixtures to Mason Brothers’ Architectural Salvage in Essex Junction and traded for the farmhouse sink as well as another smaller sink we used in one of the bathrooms.”

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Photo Caption: 1. The former master bedroom closet got new life as a master bathroom with a bright white coat of paint and a small window above the bath. Photo by Lindsay Selin 2. The former master bedroom walk-in closet. Photo by Jamie Palmisano 3. Photo by Lindsay Selin

Be Authentic

“You need to look at what you want to save in a space and what makes it authentic–whether it’s an old brick wall or an industrial space that has exposed pipes and duct work,” says Palmisano. One of the features of the house she wanted to keep were the exposed posts and beams. However, they were dark and heavy and overwhelmed the space. To brighten it, Palmisano painted the walls and ceiling between the beams a bright white. And to open it up, she removed the small pantry, knocked out the walls between the kitchen and dining area and the living room, adding larger windows out the back, south-facing side of the house where there are gorgeous views of the valley. Other than adding a new deck, Palmisano made few structural changes to the home.

Add Character

Mismatched style adds character throughout the house. While the previous

From ugly to elegant: Palmisano used old doors, painted Sherwin Williams’ Peppercorn Gray, to make a headboard for beds in two of the rooms. The painting above? “It was maybe $5 at an antique shop.” She kept one of the old doors but converted the large closet it used to lead into to another bathroom. Photo by Lindsay Selin

owners had removed all the furniture, they left the chandeliers.  Palmisano had them rewired by Vermont Lighting House and hung over the wood picnic table and in one of the bathrooms. The living room furniture, bought on sale, cost $1,500 in total, she estimates. “It’s amazing what putting some potted plants around can do for a space too,” Palmisano notes.

Palmisano opened up much of the house by eliminating closets—allowing her to fit two twin beds and a bunk bed in an upstairs room and to leave open space in the bathroom. That works well for a rental where there’s not as much need for storage, but it also helps reduce clutter in any home.

If you follow these principals, you might be able to rock your rental, or just declutter and rethink the home you live in now.

Featured Photo Caption: Perched on a steep hillside, Gideon-Pollock’s house had Tudor-style beams crisscrossing its small facade. A fresh coat of paint and a new look to the entryway gave it a more modern curb appeal. Landscaping is still a work in progress. Photo by Jamie Palmisano

Lisa Lynn

Editor of VT SKI + RIDE and Vermont Sports.

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