By Debbie Arrington The Sacramento Bee.
When her family bought their first house, Katrina Sullivan wanted to share every aspect of creating her dream home.
An avid do-it-yourselfer, she detailed with love her adventures as she transformed the modest cottage decorated with thrift-store treasures into her unique "chic little house."
That also became the title of her blog – Chic Little House – read nationwide by other amateur designers as well as DIY pros.
"When I look around our little ranch home, I feel it tells the story of my family and the life we are creating here," Sullivan wrote when she launched her popular blog four years ago. "After living in our home for nine months, I started blogging because I wanted to share our progress transforming our home with our family, many of whom are scattered around the country."
For three years, Katrina and Hasani Sullivan sanded, painted and saved while gently reshaping the 1956 suburban Sacramento house into a more modern home for themselves and their two boys, Tabari and Avery.
They refinished the oak floors and furnished the rooms with bargain buys, each given new life thanks to Katrina's clever touch.
They filled the house with handmade art and color, then tweaked the lighting with fun chandeliers and vintage lamps. Eventually, they started a kitchen remodel with new counters and smart storage space.
During and after each step, Katrina recorded their projects as personal DIY chapters in their Chic Little House's life. Among her readers were staffers of HGTV magazine and DIY experts at The Home Depot.
Little did they realize that while Katrina was chronicling the home's progress for the world, their family's journey would take a nightmarish turn. A fire in July 2012 nearly destroyed the house and almost everything they owned.
"It was devastating," Katrina recalled.
Of unknown cause, the mid-afternoon fire started in a vacant house next door. It torched the fence before igniting the Sullivans' attached garage and spreading through the 927-square-foot home.
Hasani Sullivan, an HVAC technician, was home on vacation with their oldest son, Tabari. They managed to escape, but with little except their clothes and their Chihuahua.
"I couldn't get up the street because of all the firetrucks," recalled Katrina, who works in accounts payable for a Sacramento law firm. "That's when it became real. It was a really hard day, but also a happy day because my family was all OK."
But the shock was just beginning to set in. How would they deal with all this mess?
"It was a double whammy," said Katrina, who put her blog on hiatus after the disaster. "We had fire and smoke damage; then they found asbestos. All that had to be removed, too. We lost 90 percent of everything we owned.
"It was hard to talk about, hard to think about," she added. "We needed to get to back to work."
So in their "little rancher" in a neighborhood where Sacramento meets Rancho Cordova, Katrina and Hasani Sullivan started over, rebuilding their "Chic Little House" into a better family home.
The October issue of HGTV magazine devotes nine pages to a "home tour" of their rebuilt house.
"It's still a work in progress," Katrina said. "There's a ton of things we still want to do. I keep finding and adding more things, too."
Although the house is still small by Sacramento standards, it looks much bigger. Working with contractor Frank Gospodnetich of API Construction & Restoration, the Sullivans found a lot more space while increasing their home size just a little.
It grew to about 1,100 square feet with the addition of a laundry room and second bathroom. They also added windows to bring in more light and tweaked the floor plan to increase elbow room in the cozy kitchen.
"We added smart space, so the whole house flows better," Katrina said. "The kitchen and the (original) bathroom both seemed smaller before because a hallway closet popped into both. By reconfiguring a little bit, we found a lot more room."
The boys, Tabari, 14, and Avery, 3, have their own sunny bedrooms, brightened with larger windows.
"I like the new (house) design," Tabari said. "It's bigger."
Hasani credits the addition of a laundry room next to the kitchen for solving some of the original layout's problems.
The former washer and dryer hookups were in the garage; not very convenient for a busy family. Pushing the garage 5 feet forward made space inside the home for a laundry nook off the kitchen. The nook also doubles as a roomier rear entryway to the backyard patio.
"The new laundry room is one of my favorite new rooms," Hasani said. "I love that it makes our house feel bigger, plus we can do laundry inside and access our backyard. I love the view from inside looking out to the pergola-covered patio."
After the fire, they were able to salvage a few things.
"I found my wallet," Tabari said. "We saved my desk."
"It wasn't just the fire but the water damage," Katrina recalled. "I was able to save my wedding dress, but we lost so many other memories.
All those photos I was going to put in scrapbooks some day, gone. My husband lost his wedding ring. We even brought out a metal detector with no luck. You're never really made whole after a fire."
The family lived in an apartment for a year while the house was taken down to the studs and oak floor, which, remarkably, survived the fire, smoke and water.
The couple refinished it a second time, making it look as good if not better than pre-fire.
The floor sets the natural tone for Katrina's designs. She made the Roman-style shades and pillows as well as other accent pieces.
"I love old homes," she said. "I love older stuff in general. It always has a story to it. I like to mix the old with the new. It makes your budget go farther, too."
Eventually, Katrina started blogging again. "That's my creative outlet," she said. "I really love it. It helps me get my ideas (worked) out, especially after the fire."
Throughout the house, the couple used soft dove gray as a neutral, sparked with bright accents in chartreuse, Katrina's favorite color.
"I do love my gray," Katrina said. "It's one of those wonderful neutral colors. You can put almost any color with it and it looks beautiful. It's the modern tan.
"I love color, too, especially chartreuse; it's like 'my color.' It's a really happy color, and I have it in just about every room."
That includes a chartreuse front door, a symbol of the house's successful comeback.
Redecorating has been another challenge. The Sullivans couldn't re-create their original thrifty treasures, so Katrina started hunting, and refinishing, again.
"I love thrift stores, I love Craigslist," she said. "Before I redo anything, I try living with it a while as is, but then I get busy."
The Sullivans have no thoughts about moving into a bigger home. Of their new "Chic Little House," said Katrina, "It's small, but we love it."