All About Balance
By Alexandra Shimalla | Photography by Amy J. Owens
n 1952, a modest home of less than 1,000 square feet was built in the Five Points neighborhood of Athens, right off West Lake Drive.
In January 2016, a young couple from Atlanta found the empty two-bedroom, one-bath house. They overlooked the rundown exterior and minimal interior. Filled with the expectation level of an HGTV show and visions of what the home could become, the Costas decided to go for it.
“The reality of it was much, much different than we realized,” said Theresa Costa.
Cue a rocky start (one that had the couple questioning whether their dream home could even become a reality) followed by months and months of renovations. In August 2017, with a baby very much on the way, the couple finally moved into their new home.
“We were living and breathing this house for months and months and months and seeing it unfold slowly — sometimes really slowly,” Theresa said. “So, to walk in, close the door and turn the key was a ‘pinch me’ moment.”
Theresa and her husband, Andrew, owe their home entirely to the work of builder Blake Shaw and architect Chip Knuth. While living in the Brookhaven neighborhood of Atlanta, Theresa would purposely walk past the homes that Shaw had built, admiring his unique approach of making the homes look less “cookie cutter.”
“We loved our builder, and we are so appreciative for the gift he gave us in building this house for us. We had really given up our dream, and Blake revived and saved our dream and brought this house to life. We owe a lot to him. This wouldn’t have happened without him,” Theresa said.
After ripping the house down, Shaw and Knuth designed and constructed a home that’s more than triple the size of the former house. With four bedrooms and four bathrooms, the house spans 3,800 square feet and has a backyard that the Costas’ 2-year-old son loves to play in. The work included adding a second floor and expanding the back of the house.
When it came to making all the design decisions that go into building a custom home (such as picking out the perfect doorknobs), Theresa went all in. An aspiring interior designer, she’d previously done projects for friends and friends of friends, but nothing as large, time-consuming or risky as designing her own home. It was the perfect test.
“I tried to be more traditional in this house but still with some infusions of our personalities,” she said. “I wanted to start with as simplistic of a base as possible so that we could layer life on top of that without it starting to feel too overwhelming.”
Unlike in her first home in Atlanta, where she opted for trendy styles and pieces (which she ended up regretting after living in the space for a while), she wanted to make sure her second chance “stood the test of time.”
Theresa’s determination to stick to budget, stay true to her original visions and execute her ideas is best exemplified by the dark blue room at the front of the home (a soon-to-be playroom). The color runs from the ground up, coating the window panes, trim, ceiling … everything in its path.
She found the color at a hotel in Amsterdam and was able to track down the designer, who told her the exact color of the paint. Then she discovered it wasn’t sold in the U.S. On a second trip, she brought along almost 100 paint chips of various shades of blue from popular paint brands and began comparing. She sat in the hotel’s lobby at different times of the day, trying to figure out exactly which U.S. color matched best in artificial and natural lighting. It was Benjamin Moore’s “Bedford Blue.”
“I lived in my head in these spaces for so long,” explained Theresa. “The look evolves, but it has also stayed true to what my original vision of each space was.” This process is ongoing. Execution when budget allows, combined with a lengthy to-do list of projects, means Theresa will be working on this house for just a bit longer.
The couple used a handful of budget-friendly fixes that allowed them to splurge on certain things, such as the brick floor in their laundry room. “We had to be creative with our space in terms of finishes to come in within budget,” she said. To offset the cost of the brick flooring, they opted for countertops from IKEA in the room. “We mixed in some cost-effective things that helped us accomplish the same look but in a more realistic way,” Theresa said.
The ultimate goal has always been livability. “We didn’t want to feel like a spec home. One of the benefits of building is that you can infuse your personality into every little detail,” she said.
The brick floor, for example, hides “a multitude of sins” that come with having two 100-pound dogs, one toddler (and a baby on the way) and a love for creating floral arrangements. “We wanted it to be lived in and livable, not only for ourselves, but also for our friends, to have people feel like they’re welcome here and not in a museum,” she said.
She admits that the most surprising revelation for the young couple has been how different (and enjoyable) life can be outside Atlanta. “I really wanted to feel that Athens was home,” Theresa said. “I think building a house gave me that excitement that I needed in order to feel like this was our home, and both of us have been so pleasantly surprised by how much we love living here.”