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A young couple with do-it-yourself determination, combine their styles and skills to transform their West Homewood house.

By Mary Ellen Stancill   Photos by Graham Yelton


Graham and Jay Yelton are big proponents of their West Homewood neighborhood. They love their location—close to Jay’s work and within walking distance of Hall-Kent Elementary School and Patriot Park. With friends and other young professionals moving into the area, the neighborhood vibe is just what they hoped to find when they began searching for their first home.

“But none of that really came into consideration,” explains Jay. As with most newlyweds, their primary criteria for a house was that it was cheap. They found their perfect match in a tiny, dated—some would even say dilapidated—1950s house with purple walls, dingy carpet and seven massive trees that blocked sunlight from reaching the backyard.

Though neither Graham nor Jay work in the home building industry (Jay is an assistant girls’ soccer coach at Samford and Graham is a freelance graphic designer and photographer), they had the passion and skills to transform their new abode.

With graph paper and a pencil, Graham sketched an addition to be built on the back of their existing home that now includes a large master bedroom, bathroom and closet, as well as a covered side porch, back deck and laundry room. Jay cleared the seven large trees—by himself—to make room for the addition. He built the new portion of the house after work and on the weekends, often working alone and sometimes with the help of a friend or his dad. “We didn’t have the luxury to have a crew come in and put it up and move in. It was slow,” says Jay.

But along the way, they did have some good luck. On a visit to see his family in East Tennessee, Jay heard about an old train station being torn down and arranged to purchase some of the lumber. He bought it sight unseen and ended up getting valuable antique heart pine for a fraction of what it should have cost. He also came across an unbelievable deal on the windows and French doors used in the project.

While Jay handled the major construction, Graham was in charge of the home’s design—a balance of modern and vintage elements that reflects each of their backgrounds. “Growing up in Nashville, I feel like I have a little bit of an urban twang,” explains Graham.  “I guess I just always imagined myself living in a loft or a flat or something like that. Jay is definitely the complete opposite. He grew up in the country, selling corn on the side of the road, building houses with his dad and farming. He wanted something that’s more connected to the outdoors.”

For inspiration, Graham looked to the architecture of Rosemary Beach, FL where the couple held their wedding, as well as back issues of Cottage Living magazine. She also chose four words—vintage, modern, rustic and glam—to help guide her selections, from the finishes to the accessories for the space.

Now, the clean, white lines of the bedroom are counterbalanced with exposed beams, antique rugs and floors painted a soft gray. In the bathroom a vanity Jay constructed from the same antique heart pine used for the beams is fitted with a modern sink from Ikea and high-end Kohler fixtures—a splurge for the couple. “We’re not sitting on gold blocks,” says Graham. “I picked out what mattered, so I spent money on the sofa and the bedding, but my mom and I made the bed skirt and the headboard.”

Self-described scavengers, Graham and Jay searched for deals when furnishing the home. Pottery Barn lighting found for a fraction of the retail price on Ebay, a rug from the Ikea sale room and antique wire baskets, furniture, and Ball jars discovered in antique stores in East Tennessee add to the balance of modern and rustic elements, without spending a fortune.

The backyard also received a makeover. Once so shaded and dark that grass would not grow, Jay now has several raised beds where the couple harvests most of their own produce during the summer. A cistern that Jay dug keeps water from collecting under their new addition, provides water for the garden, and saves them money. “We didn’t use any city water to water anything last year,” says Jay.

For now, the original portion of the house is decorated with a mix of modern and rustic accessories and plenty of white and gray paint, similar to the decor that Graham chose for the new addition. But this couple is not finished with their home. In fact, they’re not even close to completion. “If everything goes as planned, in the next six months, we’ll begin again,” says Jay. And this time, their aspirations are even higher (with some professional help). They’ll tackle a renovation of the entire original portion of the house and possibly even add a second story.

“Hopefully whatever we do, we’d like to be able to set the tone for the neighborhood, allow other people to get excited about living here and instead of moving out, redoing their house,” explains Graham. “I think that’s kind of always been our hope,” says Jay, “We wanted something nice to live out of and that was unique, but we also hoped and thought this was an area that had potential.” Adds, Graham, “We’re willing to take that risk of being the first to do it.”

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