Before and After: Lightning, Fire, and Drainage Issues Couldn’t Stop This Designer from Turning a Rundown House into Her Dream Family Home

published Mar 3, 2023
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Designer Amy Pigliacampo has tackled her fair share of renovations, but none have been quite as nightmarish as her own Boulder, Colorado, home update. She and her husband, Corey Szopinski, purchased the 2005 space after seeing it in photos online (they were looking to relocate from Los Angeles with their two young children) and recognizing its potential, despite its current state. “The house was a nightmare before in all the ways: rundown, unattractive, and terrible flow,” says Pigliacampo. “We bought it as a foreclosure, and everything that we suspected could be a problem was the worst version of that problem.” The silver lining? An incredibly huge payoff once the home was complete, which made the project worth all the setbacks, large and small.

Needless to say, Pigliacampo knew she’d be renovating even before challenges arose, but the initial plan was to focus on a surface remodel of mostly cosmetic changes, from repainting and swapping in new flooring to bringing in more palatable fixtures and finishes. “The overall goal was to make it feel like ‘us’ but largely to simplify and lighten, both in palette and by removing heavy built-in furniture that was dark and overwhelming,” she says. “We didn’t understand that the plan all by itself was actually larger than we understood due to a wide variety of complexities.”

Finding pros that would work with a tight budget proved to the the first hurdle to jump over; many local builders and contractors didn’t even return calls. “Eventually, we were able to establish a plan with the help of Medium Plenty, a California-based architect, that included all new paint, standing seam roof, siding, floors, kitchen, bathrooms, concrete resurfacing, and new windows,” says Pigliacampo, who also worked with local general contractor, Running Rabbit Home Building, on the home. “The night before our metal roof was getting installed, the house got hit by lightning, and 24 hours later caught on fire, which we discovered at 2 a.m. while asleep with our babies in the basement.” After doing damage control there, Pigliacampo and Szopinski also discovered they’d need to have a deep trench dug for proper drainage to fully waterproof the basement. “There really wasn’t any part of the process that wasn’t a challenge,” says the designer. 

Once the aforementioned issues had been resolved, Pigliacampo could finally focus on the flow of the home. Having used up the budget — and then some — on a lot of the structural work, the designer decided to keep most of the layout the same. “The only walls we moved were in and around the kitchen,” says Pigliacampo. “We closed up a few walls to separate the office/mudroom and living room/powder room.” 

Then came the fun surface stuff she thought she’d be focusing on first. The whole house got a fresh coat of Pure White by Sherwin-Williams, which the designer “loves dearly.” New wood flooring from Stuga was installed throughout the home, too. Taken together, these finishes provide a neutral, light-reflecting backdrop for peppering in color and personality but with some restraint — Pigliacampo and Szopinski gravitate toward clean lines and simplicity for hard finishes but when it comes to color, it’s a “delicate dance,” according to the designer, to bring in bold hues without distracting from the architecture or creating visual overload — at least for the way her family lives. “We removed the ‘50 Shades of Brown’ aesthetic that was super-prevalent in Colorado for years and simplified the palette and materials,” says Pigliacampo. “I brought in intentional color with furnishings and other soft goods, particularly vintage Moroccan rugs, which I obsess over.”

Though her client Pinterest boards might be filled with high-end tiles, Pigliacampo saved in her “wet” areas — the bathrooms, kitchen, the solarium she filled with houseplants — with dark oversized hex and square shapes versus fancy zellige, mosaics, or anything patterned. “I worked with very basic products, mainly from Daltile, because I had a ton of square footage to cover,” says Pigliacampo. “Keeping it simple worked out really well.” Similarly, her cabinetry, while beautiful and custom from Classic Custom Cabinets, is flat-front and slab style, meaning no extra frills. These decisions are fitting with her more modern personal aesthetic. 

Pigliacampo is also not afraid to do more with less. “A large part of what I do is ‘subtractive’ rather than additive,” she says. “Particularly in remodeling, I always think about how much we can peel back the layers — how much can we take away — before thinking about anything else.” You can see this philosophy at work in the way she has furnished her home, too. With its simple open shelving, clean white countertops from local provider Morros, and black stools, the kitchen is a three-toned exercise in restraint (with some greenery thrown in for a little life and color). From the living room to the bedrooms and the primary bath, she’s let her rug collection and key vintage pieces, including the living room’s sling chair, have the breathing room they need to shine. Another strength of her decorating sense? She’ll style big box pieces alongside investment ones. An IKEA sideboard holds court in the dining room, while an Urban Outfitters A-frame bookshelf adds a fun, boho touch to the primary bedroom. Much of the lighting in the home comes from Schoolhouse and Cedar Moss.

All in all, construction took about a year, and even with all the setbacks, Pigliacampo is happy with the transformation. “I love that now the house feels exactly like I knew it could: lighter, unified, clean, [and] modern but warm with a clear vision for each space,” she says. “To me, it feels like it was always supposed to be like this. We all feel calm in the space, and the light is amazing. The spaces are really versatile, and this house has adapted as our family needs have changed.”

When asked if she has any words for the wise, Pigliacampo doesn’t hesitate to share her pro perspective. “I would say if you notice any signs of water damage, you may want to avoid the property because those are very unsexy, expensive problems to solve,” she says. “I think you need to be in touch with contractors very early in the process to understand what you’re up against and have a realistic budget. It’s expensive to do things the right way, and by that I mean fixing problems that you cannot see before moving on to the ‘pretty’ part. The condition of the house can really impact whether or not you get to buy new furniture — or even cabinets!”