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Overcoming Challenges: From Grief to a Beautifully Renovated Property

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After the recent loss of her husband, Kathleen Jennison, owner of KTJ Design Co., found it difficult to continue living in her large house and maintaining the expansive yard. The weight of memories was crushing her, and she knew something needed to change. In an effort to start fresh and overcome her grief, Kathleen made the decision to sell her beloved home, all the contents, and purchase a smaller, more manageable property.

After months of searching, she found the perfect home in the Caldwell Village area of Stockton, California, a quaint two-bedroom, one-bath house built in 1935. With her eye for design and passion for renovation, Kathleen saw this as an opportunity to turn her new house into a beautifully updated and personalized home. Little did she know this project would also serve as a way for her to heal and find joy in the midst of grief. The following is the story of Kathleen’s journey from grief to a beautifully renovated property. So, let’s take a closer look at the challenges she faced and how she overcame them in order to create her dream home.

Transforming the Interior: From Gutting to Gorgeous
Upon purchasing her home, she realized it needed a lot of work. Years of neglect as a rental property had taken their toll on the once-charming home. The house needed new plumbing, electrical, insulation and updated HVAC systems. The kitchen and bathroom were outdated and worn out, and the smell of pet excrement was overpowering. Despite these challenges, Kathleen saw potential in the home and knew she could transform it into a beautiful space.

Kathleen’s grief over her difficult past made it hard for her to even step foot in the house until July, two months after purchasing it. But she soon realized that in order to tackle her grief, she needed to dive into the project of renovating her new home. The first step in the renovation process was to remove all the overgrown and dead vegetation in both the front and backyard, as well as a rickety shed, giant redwood tree and two dying trees. This was followed by gutting the old kitchen and bathroom. She then turned her attention to updating the mechanical systems and getting rid of any unpleasant smells to make her home a healthy and comfortable living space. This process took three months as she worked with trusted tradesmen to remove and replace old plumbing, electrical, insulation and HVAC systems.

Design and Construction: Creating a Timeless and Functional Space
With the mechanical taken care of, Kathleen focused on designing her dream home while keeping the original time period and architecture in mind. The first thing on her list was restoring the damaged original hardwood flooring. It was sanded and stained white to give it a fresh look while still maintaining the character of the home. Insulation was added to all the walls, and new sheet rock was installed, followed by an imperfect smooth plaster finish for a modern touch. Wallpaper in various patterns was used throughout the house to add texture and depth.

The kitchen design included two-tone cabinets painted in Sherwin Williams SW6215 Rocky River and white oak stained Cardamom. These were paired with white marble countertops and backsplashes from Evolve, patterned classic star-and-cross Mediterranean-style tiles in white matte and white gloss from Tile Bar. Only modern appliances would be acceptable, so a collection of Bosch appliances was selected. The layout of the kitchen was updated by moving the oven and microwave and turning the dining area into a home office.

Revitalizing the Dining Room, Fireplace and Bathroom: From Floral Patterns to Provocative Wallpaper
The dining room received a complete makeover. The walls were adorned with a floral-patterned wallpaper that extended into the coved ceiling, which was then framed out and painted in Sherwin Williams SW 6209 Ripe Olive. A stunning chandelier was installed above a round dining table, and the windows were dressed in coordinating linen Roman shades.

The fireplace also underwent a major transformation. A mantel cap fireplace hood was built and plastered to tie into the coved ceilings, while the rock around the fireplace was preserved and a new marble hearth added.

The bathroom was another major project, as it was poorly laid out and felt cramped. A hall linen closet was sacrificed to give the bathroom more room, and the toilet and shower were flipped. Classic marble tiles clad the walls, flooring and countertops, and a laminate vanity and linen cabinet were installed. To add a touch of whimsy, provocative black-and-white wallpaper with faces was applied to the walls. A large lighted mirror finished the room nicely. A fancy WASHLET® toilet from Toto was a big splurge, with special thanks to PBK Showroom.

Adding Personal Touches: From Heirloom Pieces to Modern Accents
Throughout the renovation process, Kathleen made sure to add her personal touch in every corner of the house. She used heirloom pieces inherited from her mother or collected over the years. This was coupled with new modern furniture from her store and accents carefully chosen to bring life into the space.

But the work didn’t stop there. Kathleen also made sure to give attention to the exterior of her home. The front and backyard were landscaped with low-maintenance plants, fresh concrete patios and walkways, a wood arbor, gazebo and string lights. These outdoor spaces are now perfect for hosting all the parties Kathleen had dreamed of when purchasing her new home.

The interior walls were painted white, but all the doors and trim were painted Sherwin Williams Ripe Olive. This contrast brings life to the small space. The original front door was also refurbished by stripping the white paint and staining it to its natural wood color, while keeping the charming accents intact. The exterior red brick was preserved with a protective coating and the wood trim was painted in Ripe Olive as well.

The final touch on the outside of the house was updating the garage door. The old, ugly white one was faux painted to look like wood to match the front door, giving it a more authentic and charming feel.

From Heartbreak to Happiness: Turning a Neglected Property into a Dream Home
The end result of Kathleen’s renovation was nothing short of amazing. The previously old and neglected rental property had been transformed into a beautiful, modern home that still maintains its original charm. Every corner of the house now has Kathleen’s personal touch, from heirloom pieces to modern accents carefully chosen to create a cohesive and unique design.

Kathleen’s journey of renovating her home not only provided a distraction from her difficult loss, but also allowed her to create a space that truly reflects who she is. It was a therapeutic process that helped Kathleen heal and move forward in life. And now, she wakes up every day grateful for the opportunity to own and transform her dream home. Even though the grief remains and proves overwhelming at times, the experience has not only given her a beautiful living space, but also a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. It demonstrates that even in the face of challenges and difficult pasts, with hard work and determination, one can create their own little piece of paradise.


Before becoming an interior designer, Kathleen Jennison worked as certified public accountant for a national firm. A near-fatal car accident changed her career path and life forever. She suffered serious brain injuries, and her doctors suggested she take art classes to help with her rehabilitation. With her newfound love for design, she studied at the Art Institute in Sacramento, obtaining her bachelor’s degree in interior design. She is a member of the American Society of Interior Designers and has served as the director of marketing for the National Association of Remodelers for the Greater Sacramento area. In 2009, she started KTJ Design Company.
404 N. Harrison | Stockton, CA 95203 | 209.915.0442 |