When Good Enough Is Great
Hannah Carpenter transformed her nondescript Arkansas farmhouse into a home bursting with charm.
Words by Laura Drummond
Photos by Hannah Carpenter
When illustrator and photographer Hannah Carpenter moved into a nearly 100-year-old farmhouse in Searcy, Arkansas, with her professor husband and their four children, she was looking for a fresh start. “We painted everything white because we wanted a clean slate,” Carpenter said. “Then I fell in love with Meta Coleman.”
A Utah-based interior designer, Coleman specializes in cultivating spaces that are creative and personal rather than austere and trendy. After connecting on Instagram, Coleman offered to consult on a small project. Carpenter had just bought a large citrine sectional sofa for a room near the front door. They planned to work together to transform that space into a family room.
When they couldn’t find the right curtains to finish the room, they began talking about blue trim and wallpaper for the dining room. Then they discussed painting the den pink. Suddenly, they were collaborating on a whole-house redesign. “We went room by room and really took our time with it,” Carpenter said. “I'm not her typical client who has $20,000 to do a room. She's great at meeting people where they are.”
This was an opportunity for Coleman to expand her portfolio and for Carpenter to expand her knowledge. One would grow her social presence, the other would get a beautifully redesigned home. For about four years, Carpenter and Coleman collaborated with more than 1,400 miles between them.
“I said I wanted to feel like I live in a Wes Anderson set. She loved that, and we went from there,” said Carpenter. They would discuss the purpose of each room and how the family ideally wanted to live in the space. Then they would create a mood board to share ideas.
Carpenter tackled as many projects as she could. She painted—sometimes repainted—the rooms. She made curtains, reupholstered chairs, replaced a bathroom vanity, and created an ottoman using some wood and scrap fabric. IVAR cabinets from IKEA became a stylish living room console, thanks to her handywork.
Her bedroom was a true DIY effort. When a dream of a new custom-made headboard was dashed by its price tag, Carpenter made one herself. She reupholstered the frame and then created a headboard with a scalloped edge, inspired by one she had seen in an Italian castle. “I probably never would have done all these things if I had lots of money,” admitted Carpenter. “What drove me was this desire to have what I love. In some ways, it’s kind of a blessing because you will learn a lot.”
The result, while still a work in progress, is a cozy home that meets the needs and reflects the sensibilities of a busy family. Carpenter said of the house, “It has a playful, whimsical energy. Like a dream.”
5 Tips for Creative Home Updates on the Cheap
Even if collaborating with a designer isn’t an option, you can still live in a home that reflects your aesthetic and brings you joy. Carpenter shares what she learned from working with Coleman so you too can have a home you love.
“I so badly want certain things that I can’t get, so I’ll figure out how to do it, and I’ll just do it.”
Carpenter found she was more likely to save money and get exactly what she wanted if she consulted resources around her and then took on projects herself.
“When our family went to Europe, I knew I absolutely wanted to have this feeling in my home.”
In Italy for her husband’s study abroad program, Carpenter found inspiration in the free and experimental spaces they inhabited. At home, she made decisions to emulate those qualities.
“It’s all about figuring out where to invest and where to do things on the cheap.”
Carpenter chose to save on certain things—such as a hand-me-down table in their breakfast nook—so she could invest in ones that mattered to her—like some pricey but pretty curtains.
“It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough—and it looks good.”
Rather than wait for the perfect thing and continue being unhappy with her environment, Carpenter opted for what worked for the time being, knowing she could upgrade later.
“This experience taught me there aren’t rules—we can have more fun than that.”
Once Carpenter started thinking about what she really wanted instead of what she thought she should want, she gained confidence in her own taste.