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Terrific Transformation: Jeff and Karen Williamson turned a fixer-upper into a functional, beautiful family home

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When Jeff and Karen Williamson first saw their home in Sequoyah Hills, Karen immediately loved it. Jeff saw three obstacles: 1) We can’t afford it, 2) Someone’s living there and 3) It’s not for sale. Neither thought the fact that the home would need extensive renovation was an obstacle.

The Williamsons, who met in architecture school, share a common passion for old homes and for renovating them. Jeff Williamson is vice-president and principal architect at Johnson Architecture; Karen does contract work.

“We love old homes,” they said, “but you have to figure out how to update them for modern living.”

The Williamsons also share an interest in heritage, history and family possessions. They display Jeff’s great grandfather’s drill press and two pieces of art that belonged to Karen’s parents, drawings of original structures in Cades Cove.

“Those were my parents’ first signed art,” said Karen,” so it’s meaningful to me.” 

The Williamson family now includes son Cooper and daughter Meridieth, whose name’s uncommon spelling is family based. It’s Karen’s mother’s maiden name.

Jeff and Karen are undaunted by homes that need more than a little TLC.

“Our previous home in Island Home was condemned when we moved in,” said Karen. “It was in “Cottage Home” when we moved out.”

The fact that someone was living in the home and that it was not for sale was a bit of a challenge.

“I drove by this house for two years,” said Karen. “I stalked it every three days.”

Built in 1935, the house had only had two owners prior to being purchased by the Williamsons in 2009. Sentiment played a role in their successful purchase of the house.

“They [the previous owners] could probably have gotten more money,” said Karen. “They wanted a family to live there.” 

After purchasing the home, the biggest challenge was not the roof-to-basement renovation that lay ahead; it was the fact that they had only six months to get the home move-in ready in order to accommodate the buyers of their home in Island Home.

Renovations that began in 2009 included removing moss from the roof, finishing the unfinished
basement and updating everything. The original living room was converted to a master bedroom that leads to a covered porch on one end of the house. The kitchen was modernized and a breakfast nook converted to a laundry room and pantry. The “rooms of doom” in the basement became an office and a tv room.

They preserved the original windows and the foyer staircase. “We tried to save as much as we could,” said Karen. The renovation resulted in a beautiful, functional family home of just under 2,000 square feet.

“We make every square foot count,” said Karen.” We make every space do double duty. There
is no superfluous sitting space in this house. It’s a workhouse.”

“I love only having the essentials and making it work,” she continued.

Sometimes this means getting creative. To accommodate guests for a big family Thanksgiving, Jeff and Karen move furniture out of the living room to create space for additional tables and chairs.

As December approaches, the home Karen describes as a “workhouse” becomes a Christmas showhouse with eight trees and decor Jeff and Karen have collected over the years. Some of the trees have themes. The tree in the kitchen, decorated with ornaments they’ve had for 30 years, is Karen’s favorite. The tree in the master bedroom is decorated with birds and feathers in jewel tones. The tree on the covered porch is decorated with elements found in nature.

The Radko ornaments Karen collects are all over the house. “Every year I open them up and say, ‘Oh, I missed your fat little faces,’’’ she said.

As photographs taken prior to the renovation attest, the Williamsons have completely transformed the stone cottage. And they’re not finished yet. “With two architects, it never stops,” said Karen. 

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