THE LIGHT IS everywhere. It streams through paned glass and bounces off canvas-smooth white walls and airy white drapes that hang soft and translucent, a whisper of texture. Wooden planks washed in a warm honey stain crown a vaulted ceiling overhead—a counterbalance to the sun-warmed wooden floors below—and the curling tendrils of a well-tended plant baby crawl down from a perch on high. Nearby, in the kitchen and accompanying sunroom, the white-on-whiteness extends, punctuated by Moorishprint cement tile and gleaming brass fixtures. The furnishings are minimalist and intentional, all hued in a palette plucked from the Southwest: the ochre of sandstone, the pine green of gnarled junipers, the gray of sun-dried river stones.
Not a thing is out of place— there’s nothing superfluous. You feel like you’re in one of those impeccably curated Airbnbs, the ones that have their own hashtags (#joshuatreehouse comes to mind) flooded with an overflow of impeccably styled photos and well-lit selfies. Turning outward, then, gazing out the home’s windows, you almost expect to see an expanse of boulder-studded high desert lengthening out into a saguaro-studded horizon.
Not so much.
Instead, stumbling out of your mental vacation, you find yourself eyeing a quiet street just off Fair Park Boulevard, not far from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. You see sprawling white oaks and tidy bungalows with white metal siding, their concrete porches sagging with age. You see root-buckled sidewalks and driveways and recycling bins on the curb. In short, you see a historic urban neighborhood that shares nothing in common with Airbnb-able destinations such as the Joshua Trees and Santa Fes of the world—all while standing in a home that feels as though it would very much belong in those places.
Stephanie Parsley, the homeowner—the home-creator, rather, or even the home-savior—squeals when you tell her this.
“Exactly!” she says. “I wanted it to feel like a desert Airbnb—one I never have to leave.” And after 11 months of painstaking, tumultuous renovation, it’s as clear as the glass globes hanging over her concrete countertops that her wish came true: She never wants to leave (a fortuitous happenstance, given our current COVID-19 situation). Which makes it hard to believe that, just a little more than a year ago, Stephanie’s was a home that had been utterly left behind.
“I THINK, IF a house that’s this size has 21—twenty-one!— windows in it, it can be saved,” Stephanie says, recalling her first impression of the house, a foreclosure she spotted on Zillow for $34,000. Had you or I visited the house, here’s what we would’ve seen: animal feces, cigarette-smoke-stained walls, broken windows, broken everything. But Stephanie’s eye is different. She’s a photographer, for one—she’s renowned for her portrait, wedding and boudoir photography— so her eye’s trained to look for the light. And there in the mess of this long-neglected house, that’s all she could see.
“Ohmygod, the house was terrible,” she says, laughing. “But when I was walking around, I was like, It’s really bright in here. Every room was just so bright, and I just thought, I feel like I could maybe make this work?”
Now, there’s something Stephanie thinks you should know about her: She’s prone to rash decision-making. She’s a dreamer of the highest order, someone who doesn’t get caught up in the details—the whats and hows. (“I think and imagine things that sometimes are not possible or not rational at all,” she said while discussing the home remodel on her let’s-chat-about-everything podcast, Oh Here We Go. “That’s a huge problem with me! I think certain things can happen, and they don’t ever happen the way I imagine.”) She knew she had a knack for design. And she knew she’d been watching a helluva lot of Fixer Upper, and it didn’t look that hard. She also knew she wanted a side project and needed a place that could double as a studio space, and …
She bought the place on the spot.
Here’s where she kind of rolls her eyes, just a little, as she tells the story. “I probably wouldn’t have done it if I would’ve known everything I’d have to go through,” she says. “But looking back, it was totally worth it.”
And looking around at the end result, it does seem totally worth it. How could it not? She and her fiance share a space that’s equal parts infinitely photographable and dreams-do-come-true livable. All of those things that floated through her mind the first time she saw the house—the vaulted ceilings, the whitewashed walls, the sight lines, the shoot-worthy light—all of that did happen the way she imagined. She’s got the tile she longed for, the appliances she dreamed of, the perfectly curated arrangement for family photos, the moody, dark bedroom for boudoir shoots, the lush lawn for her pup, a coop for her chickens. But a glance at the finished product doesn’t reveal the twists and turns it took to get there: the contractor who scammed her out of her life savings, the stolen goods (who knew people even stole sod?), the setbacks, the unknown costs—not to mention the costs to her sanity and relationships. But that’s all in the past, Stephanie says. They moved in on February 1, almost a year after she pulled the trigger on the purchase; on February 3, she held her first shoot at the house, and she’s been averaging three shoots at the house a week since. The house, then, is providing for her at a time she needs it most—a time when weddings are being canceled and margins are flatlining and freelancers everywhere are being forced to strategize and scrutinize (and, um, sanitize). If there were ever a time to have to turn inward, she says, it’s now— now that she’s in this place, her own #joshuatreehouse, her own Fixer Upper.
And even among all the heartache and manual-labor-induced body ache, the financial strains and the emotional pain, Stephanie said she’s not done making rash real-estate decisions. She’s not done Fixer Upper-ing.
“I want to do homes that are just beyond gone and make them cute,” she says. “There are a couple of homes in this neighborhood that I really want to redo, but my fiance is like, One year, Stephanie. We just need one year …”
Contractor: Ace Supply
Custom woodwork (vanity, dining table, pergola): Andrew Chun
Custom millwork (baseboards, trim, floating shelves, closets, vent hood): Danny Harrington with Sturdy Home Designs
Siding: David Pike with Pike Contractors
Appliances: Metro Appliances
Insulation: Harris Insulation
Windows: Pro Window and Door
Tile work: Zach Lucas
Painting: Cecil and Parker Painting
Electric: Joe Roy with Add Electric, LLC
Shed, awning, carpentry work: Diamond State Home Solutions