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.

Dining room in fixer-upper cottage
Photography by Kinda Clineff

Once kindled, her ingenuity knew no bounds. When unleashed, she could find any excuse to rescue a tarnished tidbit from slipping into oblivion. The result could be boggling, but a common theme unifies her collecting sprees. Nature and gardening run as a thread throughout her country cottage, with greenery (both live and faux) weaving all her finds together. That’s how the boundaries were erased to bring all the romance of the garden by her side, no matter where she happens to be.

Fixer-upper bedroom with faux ivory and red accents
Photography by Kinda Clineff

Now, Paula wakes up in the morning to the sense of green wandering into her room thanks to faux ivy draped over the bed frame and trailing around the salvaged vine curtain rods. When she turns off the light at night, she brushes beyond a frond on her table. Of course, there is an ulterior design dictum behind her methods. “I love white,” she says of the bright rooms she has painted, “but it looks too stark without green.” The ploy is mutually beneficial because the crisp, airy white backdrop lends an outdoorsy freshness to the entire scene. As a result, all of Paula’s spaces are highly articulate, and she can feed into her collections to her heart’s content without creating a jumble. She loves birds and everything about them, so feathered references are tucked everywhere. Fascinated by old tools, sewing supplies and garden implements are evidenced wherever she turns. With every cranny featuring a different chapter in the odyssey of her interaction with style, nature, and the earth, Paula’s country cottage lost its walls and became a nest.