Before and After: Viola Davis Transformed Her Best Friend’s Tiny Living Room Into a Modern, Airy Oasis

updated Apr 28, 2020
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Credit: HGTV

Before getting away with murder on television, Viola Davis spent her earlier years attending the Juilliard School in New York with fellow student Michelle O’Neill. 31 years later, Davis and O’Neill ended up in different places, but they remained the best of friends throughout the ups and downs of life. And on the latest episode of HGTV’s ”Celebrity IOU,” Davis wanted to do something for O’Neill, who is always doing for others: gift her the zen-filled renovation she deserves. 

Alongside the Property Brothers, Davis pulled up to O’Neill’s house in Minneapolis to let her know about the surprise makeover (and get her out for five weeks while they get to work). “She’s one of those people that moves through life, giving giving giving, she’s helped me through some bad relationships,” Davis said. And O’Neill, who is a cancer survivor, has been through her fair amount of struggles, so Davis wanted to cultivate a new home that focused on two priorities: family and peace.

“The most important thing with Michelle is family connection,” Davis said. “For instance, her and her daughters cuddle together and they do art projects together so everything is about gathering family, and she’s a terrific cook. So everything is about connection.”

Credit: HGTV

O’Neill’s current kitchen was a 1970s-styled space, isolated from the dining and living area by a plastered wall. It also had limited cabinet space, a dated color palette, and little seating that made the kitchen feel even smaller—and so a big focus on the renovation was opening it up to create the culinary playground O’Neill deserved. 

Credit: HGTV

In order to do this, Davis and the Property Brothers knocked down the dividing wall, which created an open layout on the ground floor. They added a large peninsula for entertaining, plus new cabinetry, a marble backsplash, and state-of-the-art appliances. Additionally, they removed a window to make room for more storage space, which Jonathan and Drew Scott agreed was better than the window that faced the neighbors. 

They also expanded and brightened up the living room space with medium toned oak hardwood and a new fireplace, surrounded by custom-built shelves that housed O’Neill’s favorite records and a brand new record player. In addition to a decor overhaul, the Property Brothers also added double-pane windows to improve insulation in the house and get the family through those cold winter months in Minneapolis.

Credit: HGTV

“Every time the winter months come, you’re hibernating. This past winter was 25 degrees below zero, and she was just done,” Davis said. “A lot of the insulation is not good, it was so freezing. She’ll be in the bed with her coat on.” 

As an added surprise for O’Neill, Davis wanted to carve out a peaceful space that was just for her. Check out the episode to see a spare room get transformed into a zen-filled sanctuary.

All in all, O’Neill was completely blown away with all the special touches of the renovation—from the record player’s etched signature of her former professor, to the thoughtful kitchen design that would allow her to live out her wildest entertaining dreams. But what really struck an emotional cord during the grand reveal was the office, filled with photos and artwork that reflected how much O’Neill meant to Davis.

“That office to me was [like] walking into memory,” O’Neill said. “There’s pictures of my kids. There’s music and art … It’s just very powerful to see it in front of you and know you got a lot of people in your life that love you.”

Celebrity IOU airs Mondays at 9/8 central on HGTV.