This Fixer-Upper Brings The Garden Inside

Shabby-chic living room
Photography by Kinda Clineff

Text by Tovah Martin

For Paula Bruso, it was love at first sight. The 1830s stable hand’s cottage in the country was the only house she had to look at when relocating to Centerbrook, Connecticut, in 1997. No matter that it was a serious fixer-upper and that she had to position buckets under the drips, she just rolled up her sleeves and kept the paintbrushes poised. Paula was copacetic with an extended renovation as long as she could look outside. When she initially beheld the house, it was the windows that sweetened the deal because Paula loved the fact that they were plentiful with no two alike. They washed the interior in sunlight and looked out on her landscape.

fixer-upper living room
Photography by Kinda Clineff

Paula thanks her friends for her bright perspective, Evi Araujo in particular. At the time, Paula’s style was more cluttered with an emphasis on faded denim. But, with the help of Evi, she gained an affection for whitewashed rooms and wide open spaces. And once Paula had a white slipcover custom sewn for her sofa, there was no going back. Several cans of white paint later, her vignettes began to stand out. In fact, they were appearing everywhere, because simultaneously she tapped into her inner collector.

Photography by Kinda Clineff

Antiques were a newly found fixation for Paula. After all, she grew up during a time when “rusty” was definitely not the recommended way to go for home furnishings. Evi’s friendship brought Paula into dangerously close proximity to a litany of flea markets, antiques stores, and yard sales. And quite suddenly, Paula could see the value—and function—in anything. An old bedspring was ideal for displaying tradesmen’s cards. A dressmaker’s dummy was just pleading to become a bulletin board. And a twisted piece of bittersweet wood was a curtain rod in the making. If something were broken, all the better—the price would be reduced. If something were stained, she could paint it. “I never knew I had an imagination before,” she remembers of uncorking her creativity.