A 450-Square-Foot Formerly Derelict Garage Is Now a Luxe Boho Guesthouse

updated Dec 19, 2019
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Fifi O’Neill (an interior photo stylist and editor) lives in a very adorable vintage Florida fisherman’s cottage set under giant oak trees within an overgrown garden.

Name: Fifi O’Neill (interior photo stylist and editor) and my 3 rescue cats: Big Louie, Little Minouche, and Miss Sophie
Location: Sarasota, Florida
Size: 450 square feet
Years Lived In: 20 years, owned (Actually none of us live in the guesthouse but my kitties and I share the main cottage.)

I have always loved quaint little old cottages and for many years dreamed to have my own. I used to go to bed every night picturing what it would look like—small, charming, nestled under big trees, and surrounded by flowers. I have long believed in the power of suggestion and visualization. As it turned out, this proved to be accurate for me in more ways than one. Some twenty years ago, I came across a vintage Florida fisherman’s cottage set under giant oak trees within an overgrown garden, and my dream for my very own cottage came true. From day one, it has been my “far from the madding crowd” oasis where I live with my three rescue cats: Little Minouche, Big Louie, and Miss Sophie.

Credit: Fifi O'Neill

When I first saw the cottage, the garage that came with the house was about to crumble. And though it needed a major face lift, I knew I could transform it into the perfect guesthouse to welcome family and friends. In spite of its then-derelict condition, it was love at first sight. The sun-bleached tin roof, the exposed rafters, and the raw wood walls had the seductive and familiar appeal of an old barn; however, voracious termites had eaten the wood walls and floor. The rafters were partially damaged as well. The roof was leaking, and the small windows were broken. On the plus side, the space already had electricity and water, though both required updating; I had two options—tear it down or rebuild. I opted for option #two.

So creating the space I had in mind meant starting from scratch, including reconfiguring the layout to accommodate a sleeping nook, a full bath, and a kitchen. Today, a new tin roof keeps the rain out, and natural light streams in through large French doors and windows.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: I wanted to make the guesthouse cozy yet current but it was important to maintain the open feel of the 450-square-foot room while also giving it a fresh look.

The idea was to enhance the space with a palette that would make it appear larger. White was the obvious choice, but to attain the look I had in mind, a contrast had to be a part of the scheme. Painting the floor black was the answer. The opposing qualities of the two colors maintain a consistent visual path, while textures and patterns produce a smooth and airy union from one ‘room’ to the next. The repeated use of both black and white, the former in smaller, but powerful, doses, and the latter in larger and equally impactful ways provides balance and consistency.

The palette and textures lend a chic vibe and underscore the modern bohemian spirit of the loft-like space. The aesthetic is rooted in furnishings and objects that make the room feel cultured, not cluttered.

Inspiration: The simple yet elegant combination of black and white is something I had wanted to experiment with for quite sometime (my style is normally the ‘white and soft pastels’ type). This space provided the perfect spot where I could indulge my more adventurous side and find out if the look actually lived up to my expectations. The other factor was to include a bit of a nomadic mood without going “over-the-top bohemian.”

My goal was to provide a cozy but chic crash pad for family and friends to get away from life’s pressures and rejuvenate in a private environment and, based on their reaction, that’s exactly how they feel.

Favorite Element: The high ceilings and rafters because they make the spaces look much larger and also add so much character.

Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge was cost. I had little money to spare so I hired my neighbor to work with me on weekends. It took us three years to complete the structural work (new roof, new walls, new windows and doors, new bathroom, and kitchen space. I learned to do drywall. I also painted everything myself—from floor to ceiling. The other challenge was to come up with a way to divide the all-in-one space into specific areas without resorting to physical barriers. Allowing the furnishings to define the ‘rooms’ did the trick.

Proudest DIY: Painting the floor with black epoxy paint, which is very thick, and painting the rafters and ceiling. The walls were easy!

Biggest Indulgence: The cast iron claw foot tub I found at a salvage yard and had it refinished.

Best Advice: Do as much of the work you can do yourself (painting, caulking, cleaning…) and when possible work alongside workers to learn all you can.

What’s your best home secret? My favorite shopping places are HomeGoods, TJ Maxx, and Marshalls. For furniture I prefer to shop in physical stores rather than online. For rugs, lighting, and other accessories I go to Wayfair, Overstock, and Joss & Main because they are affordable.



  • Floor — BEHR Premium Concrete and Garage floor paint in black from The Home Depot
  • Walls — Valspar Moon Shadow: Ace Hardware


  • Black armoire — HomeGoods


  • White leather butterfly chairs, black ottoman, small rugs, elephant canvas, sequin pillows on chairs, table lamp, and all accessories — HomeGoods
  • Runner — Wayfair
  • Canvas book — Pottery Barn (many years ago)
  • Gray sideboard, oval mirror, plant baskets, and large bottle — HomeGoods
  • French doors — The Home Depot
  • *Horseshoes wall art — Gift
  • Religious icons — From a Santa Fe, New Mexico flea market)


  • Table — From local vintage shop Posh in Venice, Florida
  • Rug — Wayfair
  • Lucite chairs, Llama canvasses, table runner, placemats, candle holders, colorful votives, and accessories, small sideboard, wall peg, hanging baskets — Home Goods.
  • Silver hammered plant pot (actually a stool turned upside down) — HomeGoods
  • Lantern — Joss and Main


  • Shelves, countertop, and backsplash — The Home Depot
  • Moroccan glassware, tray and teapot — HomeGoods
  • Small fridge — Target
  • Light above sink — Joss and Main


  • Bedding and window covering (it’s actually meant to be used as a faux headboard for a twin bed — Pottery Barn Teens.
  • Pillows (except for the ‘black sheep”), blanket, and small Lucite bed table — HomeGoods.
  • Closet curtains — Ross
  • Window behind bed — Habitat for Humanity
  • Small shutters above bed — Made from cutting the upper panels of an old armoire.
  • Heart — Made from chicken wire and spray-painted black.


  • Claw foot tub — Sarasota Architectural Salvage
  • Sink — Overstock
  • Rugs, curtains, mirror, small shelf over tub, and small table with black baskets near sink, large pink vase, laundry basket and dresser — HomeGoods
  • Window — Habitat for Humanity
  • Medicine cabinet and wire rack — Found curbside


The overall cost of building the guesthouse is about $20,000, including furnishings. The major expenses were:

  • The new roof: $2,500
  • New walls, bathroom and kitchen: $4,000
  • Tub: $1,000
  • Plumbing: $1,500
  • A/C unit – also provides heat when needed: $3,000
  • Labor: $5,000

Thanks Fifi!

A Transformed Garage In LA

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