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The dark and dated ’80s vibe of this Seagrove, Florida, townhouse didn’t deter Ili Hildago-Nilsson of Terracotta Design Build Co. from buying it. The award-winning Atlanta architect/designer is known for transforming older projects into something magnificent, after all, even a tiny space like this 1,200-square-foot beach condo. She and her team gutted it, made some structural repairs, then added much-needed updates: a wood floor and ceiling to warm up the tall space, wall trim, and a new kitchen and baths.

Color always plays a big role in her projects. Because Ili grew up in Puerto Rico, she’s fond of the saturated colors associated with Caribbean islands, and even named this vacation spot Palm Azul to set the tone. As a focal point of the home, rich green and blue backsplash tiles in a Moroccan pattern line the kitchen walls, contrasted with ebonized maple cabinets. “I just naturally gravitate to those colors, so I knew we wouldn’t use an expected seaside palette,” says Ili. Similarly, the designer is all about white for contrast. Ili’s biggest tip for brightening up space: Paint all the walls a high-gloss white (she likes Sherwin-Williams’ “Reflective White”), because it bounces around the light.

BEFORE: This kitchen screams ’80s beach design, doesn’t it?

florida rennovation

BEFORE: The kitchen was dark and drab and … brown, its old appliances in desperate need of an upgrade.

kitchen redeign

AFTER: Vibrant mosaic tiles by Interceramic and a quatrefoil mirror add visual interest to this newly re-imagined kitchen.

kitchen update

AFTER: Large pendant lights from Hinkley Lighting and small ones from Target contribute an industrial flair to the kitchen.

living room

BEFORE: The living room was dark and dingy.

living room after

This fresh-looking living room is budget-friendly, too, thanks to items such as the tripod lamps from Target, rattan chairs from Ikea, and drum tables from Cost Plus World Market.

stair before

BEFORE: A look at the stairway and kitchen counter before the renovation

stairs after

Architect/designer Ili Hidalgo-Nilsson gutted this beachfront condo, but she kept them open layout generally the same as before. A wood ceiling helps cozy up the tall rooms, but to make the small space seem bigger, she used her handy trick of painting all walls a high-gloss white, adding board and batten for visual interest.

living room details

Painted oars are imaginative art in the dining area, outfitted with lightweight chairs and stools for easy moving. Striped window treatments are from Tommy Hilfiger.

30A renovation

BEFORE: The master bedroom looked small and didn’t have a lot of light coming in.

mbr after

AFTER: The master bedroom got a major facelift with a tongue-and-groove wall painted glossy blue, which offers ample reflection of the natural light, and a large-scale bamboo light fixture from Ikea.

Furnishings were mostly picked up on a budget since the house serves as a rental when she and her daughter aren’t using it, but that adds an element of a treasure hunt to the process. “Buy things you like when you see them, and then figure out how to use them later,” Ili says. “So, if you go into Marshall’s to buy flip-flops and see a lamp in your general color palette, buy it and figure out how to use it later.”

bunk beds

White bunk beds from Hayneedle have curtains for privacy.

washer and dryer

Ili installed the palm leaf wallpaper from Etsy herself to jazz up the entryway. A curtained niche holds this stacked washer and dryer as a clever use of space.

outdoor space

The turquoise waters along 30A are the best view for any fortunate beach-front property. A high-top table and chairs allow for a good vantage point to do some dolphin-watching.

30A before & after

The guest bath features a new vanity from Home Depot in washed white oak, with penny tiles on the floor.

The beach place was recently awarded an honor by ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) in the “best residence under 3,000 feet” category, showing that small spaces and small budgets can yield big results. We couldn’t agree more.

See more of Ili’s work at terracottadesignbuild.com. Thanks to Jeff Herr for the magnificent photos.