Inside a Farmhouse Fixer-Upper’s Stunning DIY Makeover

A tumbledown Montana farmhouse is brilliantly restored by a scrappy husband-and-wife team

Joanna Linberg
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Mountain Revival

When Felesha and Jerimiah McAfee removed the sub-standard insulation from the walls of their recently purchased fixer-upper--a 1920s farmhouse near Glacier National Park--they realized their real estate agent might have had a point. “He tried to steer us away because it needed a lot of work, but this home had character,” Felesha says. “It was the one…. I wanted to buy the house because of the wraparound porch. It stole my heart at the very beginning.”

Inside, she saw past the sagging drop ceilings and dated finishes and imagined a light-soaked interior with clean lines and rustic textures. The goal: a vacation home that could pay for itself by serving as a summer rental. They would do it all by themselves, squeezing $50,000 from their bank accounts to finance the project (furnishings and accessories included) over a period of four years.

The McAfees recently sold their two-bedroom cabin to Kristin and Ryan Suhi, who still offer it on Airbnb as a rental in Bigfork, Montana. From $299 per night (3-night min.); airbnb.com.

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Seek out Smart Reuse

Eager to beef up their renovation fund, the McAfees took on a side gig looking after two houses. They were partially paid in furniture, including this enormous butcher block, which they sanded down and sealed to use as a dining table. “There are a ton of chop marks on it,” Felesha says. That job also yielded a pulley hook, which Jerimiah used to support a light fixture he built from a split-rail fence found in a dumpster.

Interiors: Jerimiah and Felesha McAfee; restorationmontana.com.

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Lighten up the Country Vibe

Early on, Felesha leaned hard into the country aesthetic. She filled the rooms with goods nabbed at estate sales, on Craigslist, and even from a few dumpsters. “I was starting to get into the minimalist modern look, so I cleared out the house and sold a lot. I pared everything down to what we actually use, what made the rooms pop, and things with sentimental value.”

Felesha chose clean-lined furniture for the living room, and the touch of contemporary livened up the rustic elements. The tall stump is from a nearby beach where the couple often collect driftwood. York Slope Arm Deep Seat Slipcovered Sofa, from $1,699; potterybarn.com. Devlin Industrial Swivel Arm Chair in Stonewashed Grey Jute, $888; kathykuohome.com.

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Create Under-Cover Storage

In the mudroom, Jerimiah used scrap wood to craft a bench with a seat that opens to reveal a small cubby.
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Turn Kitchenware into Art

Open shelving underscores the farmhouse motif. Behind it, the couple installed wood planks painted in warm white—Behr’s Polar Bear 75. Trial and error also led them to a no-tint lacquer that gave the curly maple countertops the grayed finish they were after. Total cost for the counters was just $650. Cabinetry painted in Alabaster SW 7008, from $46/gallon; sherwin-williams.com.
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Open It Up

The original staircase needed a bit of polish, so Jerimiah tore down the existing railing and added a length of barnwood along the sides to hide the edge. Felesha painted the stairs and tacked burlap to them. “We didn’t replace the railing because I liked it open,” Felesha says. “And we wouldn’t have been able to bring furniture upstairs.”
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Carve out a Sitting Area

A suite-style second level made sense. “It’s a nice place to read a book,” Felesha says. To maximize the space, they opened up the small second bedroom and installed French doors leading to the master bedroom. The light fixture is a DIY project made by wrapping string lights around an antique ladder. All the pieces in the room are secondhand. Walls and floor painted in Pot of Cream W-D-200, from $31/gallon; behr.com