Home Tour: A Former Fixer-Upper Shines Light & Bright

The bigger the risk, the greater the reward: When Sanders Monsees bought his first home in 2015, he was banking big time on that trusty adage.

“I saw potential in the open layout of the house and its high ceilings—I thought that with some demo work we would basically have a blank canvas from which to begin,” he says. But the idea of tackling a fixer-upper as a first-time home buyer? “It scared me to death,” Sanders admits—an opinion his then girlfriend-now wife, Mary Margaret, shared. “I was terrified of this house when we first saw it,” she laughs, noting that the siding was riddled with rotten boards, the roof was a rusty red hue, and the interior walls were painted a somber black. Even so, the two-bedroom, one-bath 1935 Charleston Cottage found a soft spot in Mary Margaret’s heart (she has a master’s degree in historic preservation, after all), and two days after stepping foot in the house, they bought it.

The list of renovations needed was long—everything from the termite-nibbled foundation to the rusted roof needed mending—and only seemed to grow. But after months of hard work (the couple spent nights and weekends working on any and all projects they could DIY, from tiling the backsplash to installing doors) and with lots of teamwork (“We got engaged during the renovation process so it put our partnership to the test fresh out of the gate,” says Mary Margaret), they were through the thick of it and ready to make the house a home. Paint colors were picked, lighting was hung, and their eclectic collection of furnishings, art, and books was moved in just in time for their wedding day last October. Since, they’ve been putting the finishing touches on the design while easing into marriage.

As for what they’d do differently looking back? “Nothing!” says Mary Margaret (once the skeptic of the two when it came to the house). “We’ve poured our blood, sweat, and tears into this little piece of Charleston. While there are still projects to finish, we couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.”

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After weeks of staring at paint samples, Mary Margaret chose Valspar’s Belle Grove Aloe Green for the front door. “I realized that paint is so easy to change. We love it for now, and if we change our minds one day, it’s a simple fix.”

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A pair of repainted and reupholstered hand-me-down chairs, a side table gifted by Mary Margaret’s aunt and uncle, and a beachy chandelier from Pottery Barn Kids anchor the entryway.

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Story-filled tchotchkes pepper décor, like this sculpture signing “I love you” that Mary Margaret’s younger sister made.

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Mary Margaret—who has a B.A. in art history and a master’s in historic preservation—is an art enthusiast and talent herself (she painted the largest piece pictured here). Work from a few of her super-skilled friends (Lulie Wallace, Teil Duncan Henley, and Kate Mullin Williford) as well as an 1820s watercolor by Fredrick Rous complete the gorgeous gallery.

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Sander’s grandfather’s trunk from World War II doubles as a coffee table and another sentimental nod to a loved one.

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A tulip table from Ikea, slate stools from Amazon, and bamboo floors keep the main living area open and airy.

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Both avid readers, the pair have amassed an impressive—and artful—library over the years. “Once you know us, it’s so easy to pick out whose are whose,” says Mary Margaret. “My books are all about art, architecture, and history while Sanders’ focus on South America, entrepreneurship, and cocktails.”

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In the guest room, pillows from Serena & Lily (pinstripes) and Bolé Road Textiles (coral) add intrigue to neutral bed linens.

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Windows on every wall flood the heart of the house with natural light.

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Their favorite thrifty find? “When we bought the house the porch railing had been removed,” says Mary Margaret, who dreamt of restoring the home’s façade to its former glory. “The Historic Charleston Foundation was clearing out their warehouse last fall and I found a railing and posts that fit our house perfectly—I got them for a steal!”

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Tropical flora and a duo of oh-so Charleston window boxes fill the petite front yard.

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Sanders and Mary Margaret Monsees in their happy home.

(PS: What’s a fixer-upper story without some before shots?! Here they are via Zillow.)

2 thoughts on “Home Tour: A Former Fixer-Upper Shines Light & Bright

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