Tess B.: Show & Tell Home Tour

woman, red wall

Tess B.

It's time to be inspired with another Show & Tell Home Tour, this time around the 1950s ranch home of musician, homeschooler, news editor, and DIY mama Tess B.

Come on inside...


I met Tess B. a few years ago when this stunning photo of hers won a photo contest on my mama webzine. The photo is probably enough said, but I couldn't stop frequenting her website and poking around her house on Flickr. For awhile, I lost sight of Tess, as she has stepped out of the online scene for a bit. But I went knocking anyway. I wanted to see what she's been so busy working on in there, besides making music and schooling three lovely children, that is. A short look around and it's not hard to see that Tess and her husband have been hard at work on their mostly DIY home renovation. Tess's home is rich in color, comfortable in style, and scattered with thrifted and homey delights. If anyone's home is going to inspire you to find your inner-DIY extraordinaire, Tess's home is the one to do it. Let's take a look.

1. Tell us a little about your family and your home.

My home is a 1958 ranch in suburban Kansas City, MO, which I share with my husband, two sons, one daughter, a cat, a red-eared slider, a goldfish, and a sluggish rainbow Betta. 


Sweet thrift store finds set the tone for Tess's style

We’re more than halfway through a do-it-yourself remodel of the house, which needed a complete face lift when we moved in four years ago. As happy as we are with our progress, plenty of frustration and fatigue comes with DIY-ing around the daily lives of five people, and I would only recommend it to the truly dedicated. Or insane. One day I’ll write a book about rehabilitating this house while we lived in it, and the first sentence will be, “The kitchen had white carpet.” Because it did.


A found table painted for the kitchen

2. How do you approach decorating in your home? What's the most important thing?

I like a practical house without many knickknacks, side tables, or curtains; since I am by nature a pack rat and less than neat, the fewer things to clean, the better. It’s important for my home to have as many books as possible (and places to put them), rich color in every room, things on the walls that make us smile, and always a corner where a mess can be made with impunity. I love using rescued furnishings, things we made useful and pretty again, and always put at least one sentimental object in each room.


Plenty of space for books

My best advice: A nail hole can always be filled, sample quarts are worth every penny, and that rickety table someone else is throwing out might just need some TSP, wood glue, and paint. 

The most important thing is probably color, the more saturated the better. My kitchen needs to be acid yellow-green so I can stay awake until the coffee’s ready. 

coffee, book

School lesson plans over morning coffee

3. You have three children. How does their STUFF influence the look and feel of your home?

My kids, ages 4, 8, and 10, are now old enough that they play with just a few primary toys and spend the rest of their time with art supplies, books, or their budding hobbies. So we just integrate their books with ours, their art shares the wall with my husband’s pieces, and except for hundreds of Legos covering the floors of their rooms (we insist the loose bits be cleared by bedtime—anyone who has stepped on a Lego piece in the dark knows why), there aren’t many toys in the main living area. We’re lucky this vintage ranch has a basement typical of the era and keep some playthings down there, as well as the television and videos. 

pink room

Sweet pink and vintage finds in Tess's daughter's room

art easel

An artist easel and small romantic details

I teach the kids at home, so we’re here most of every day, working on things that need room, time, and sometimes messy ingredients. There are encyclopedias and math books and dictionaries that didn’t get put away today stacked around the desk as I sit typing this. A long table behind me holds science and art works-in-progress. But while there is a necessarily higher threshold for mess now than before homeschooling, we do keep supplies prettily contained and accessible: a fan of Prismacolors is a beautiful thing, wooden bowls of colorful pattern blocks are irresistible to visitors, and galvanized tubs do a great job of keeping library books out of the general population living on shelves designed and built by my husband.    


Buckets hold books and a found chalkboard comes in handy

The house isn’t perfectly tidy unless my mother-in-law is visiting. We’re just organized to keep things running smoothly, and I think our place is fun, laid back, and reflects what we value as a family. 

4. Great design can be expensive. How do you get the most bang for your buck?

I don’t know that it’s great design, but it’s definitely our own. I grew up on a farm, but my parents’ side hobby was refinishing antiques, so I learned to see the potential in things.  One of my favorite remade pieces in our house is a large metal chest of drawers I bought at a garage sale for nearly nothing. It was hideous industrial beige, and our original plan was to strip it to bare metal. Too expensive, so we started looking for other options. Model car spray paint turned out to be cheap, available in a lot of great colors, and durable. The chest now holds the boys’ clothes.


Repainted metal chest of drawers in boys' room

5. Tell us about the best deal you have gotten lately for your home.

A $10 vintage metal "Bestyet" sign spotted sitting in the rain outside a flea market near my rural hometown. It’s 12’x 3.5’, hanging above our fireplace, and I love it, rusted bullet holes and all.


Vintage *Bestyet* sign hangs over the fireplace

(and “illegal maneuver off the chair by youngest son)

6. I know you've slowly been renovating the whole house, but tell us about one DIY project you have taken on recently and love.

We’ve nearly finished the main bath. We left the perfect-condition original tile, but replaced the old vinyl floor with inexpensive VCT (inexpensive and very easy to install), wallpapered (the perfect room for it—I only needed 2 rolls), and installed lights and a fan, and my husband built closet doors with salvaged wood. That tangerine wallpaper makes me so very happy.


The tangerine wallpaper that makes smiles

7. Do you have a favorite piece of furniture in your home? Tell us about this item.

The table my dad made is what I’d grab in a fire, if that was at all possible. It’s made of reclaimed floorboards over 150 years old, has square nail holes all over, and farmhouse porch posts for legs.

kitchen table

The table made from 150-year old reclaimed floorboards

kitchen wall, plates

A pretty plate display on the kitchen wall

8. You're a pianist. What household chore do you tend to back burner most so you can tend to your creative life?

I’ll choose a Bach Fugue over the tower of laundry in the basement anytime. 


Tess's piano

9. What is your most important everyday ritual at home?

Reading to the kids before bedtime. There is little else more thrilling than introducing my children to great books.

10. In your home, what is one indulgence you give into?

Since it’s winter here now, enough wood for a good fire every night.

11. What are your favorite stores to shop for home?

Flea markets, thrift stores, driveways, estate sales, Habitat ReStore, IKEA, when i can get there, and TJ Maxx for bed and bath linens.

12. What Home & Garden blogs or websites inspire you the most?

I don’t keep up with many blogs—including my own, which is a work in progress! But I always take time for a quick look at Flickr. My favorite Flickr friends have fearless color sense and great individual style: Graça Paz, hippyxic (Lu), Alexandra—check out their amazing house sets. I really enjoy seeing how others create terrific style with a frugal hand—Lori’s interiors always inspire.

Thank you for the tour, Tess. It's hard not to be inspired by all the DIY in your home.

Tess B. formerly blogged at robot•jumping•rope and is now, between music, work, homeschooling, and DIY, working on launching a new blog project. In the mean time, you can visit Tess on Flickr.

Don't miss our previous Show & Tell Home Tours:

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