Cayman is known for its fabulous, high-end residences but not everybody can afford to buy a palatial home.
One young professional couple therefore decided to take matters into their own hands to create a contemporary home that was within their budget.
Sophie Benbow, who is originally from Cayman, and her partner Stefan Prior from the U.K., whom she met while studying law in England, bought a spacious, split-level townhouse in the Southern Skies development in South Sound.
The property is approximately 1,400 square feet, comprising two bedrooms, 2.5 baths, with a front and back patio, and graveled back garden.
When they purchased it in June 2013 it was on the market as a bank foreclosure but was in less-than-desirable condition.
“The finishes and smell in the apartment were awful: stained and shredded carpet, dust everywhere, dead cockroaches and dog hair welcomed us,” says Sophie.
“However, we fell in love with the space, layout, ceiling heights and jungle-like garden area.”
With a strict financial plan, prudent shopping and by undertaking some of the work themselves, Sophie and Stefan have transformed the townhouse into a contemporary Scandinavian-style home with eclectic vintage features.
“We had looked at several properties that were ‘move-in ready’ and considerably more expensive, which were not to our taste,” says Sophie.
“We quickly realized that to stay within our budget, we’d have to consider a ‘fixer-upper.’ We also liked the idea of taking something old, worn and in a terrible condition and transforming it to something modern, desirable and unique.”
The couple began their renovation plans by creating mood boards using websites such as Pinterest and Houzz.
Having previously worked as an architect, Stefan was quickly able to reconfigure the layout downstairs and put together a 3-D computer model of each floor plan using Google SketchUp.
“A scale model was really helpful as we were able to try out different flooring finishes, furniture and color schemes,” says Sophie.
“We also had our friend and interior designer, Katie Adams, pop round to give us her professional advice. In this quick consultation we were advised to consider moving the laundry ‘room’ from the large cupboard in the kitchen, to the upstairs hallway.
“This was a great idea, saving us valuable kitchen storage space and moving the location of the laundry facilities to the bedroom level, which is now a modern-day standard.”
They explored quotes from local flooring and kitchen companies, from which they wanted to source on-island in case anything needed to be altered or corrected (which it invariably did).
“We found some excellent tiles in a sale at Edie’s Decor and designed a custom kitchen with Mario & Son,” says Sophie.
“With our plan coming together, we flew to Miami to source furniture and trinkets, which seemed to be far too easy to buy.”
Helped by family and friends, Sophie and Stefan carried out all the demolition work themselves and paid for skilled labor for jobs such as plastering, tiling, electrics and plumbing.
“Finding good tradesmen was very hard work and something that is worth investigating thoroughly,” cautions Sophie. “Ultimately, the best tradesmen we found came through friends’ recommendations.”
The couple started remodeling the townhouse from the floor upwards. They replaced the old, glossy white tile with porcelain white ash wood-look tile downstairs and smaller espresso wood-look tile upstairs.
“We liked the look of wood, but didn’t want the risk of damage from any hurricane flooding,” explains Sophie.
To help stay within budget, the couple took out the existing kitchen and sold it on Ecay, offsetting some of the costs against their new, custom-designed kitchen.
All appliances were sourced from A. L. Thompson’s, with a home-renovation discount, while ITC Tile installed a gray quartz Caesarstone countertop with a waterfall edge that allows wooden bar stools to be hidden underneath.
They also repurposed the pantry by selling the old washer and dryer and then retiling the area, installing shelving, baskets and a small appliance storage unit.
Upstairs, money was saved by purchasing a pre-owned guest bed which they gave a new lease of life with a coat of matte black paint.
The couple also took out the existing guest bathroom fixtures and sold them online before replacing with a modern look.
In the master bedroom and bath, they paneled over one window to create a feature wall and headboard space, made and installed shelving, and replaced wardrobe space with a custom-closet set.
They also replaced the old bath and tiles with a walk-in shower finished with a glass-panel wall, white subway tiles to the ceiling, and a rain shower.
“We commissioned a custom dual vanity to maximize use of the space and storage whilst using chrome-exposed piping to keep the industrial feel,” says Sophie.
Sophie and Stefan’s advice to others planning to buy a “fixer-upper” is to draw up a realistic budget and stick to it.
“Our initial budget was very unrealistic and based on not much more than guess-work,” she says.
“Once we did some proper research we realized our initial budget would need to almost double.”
Sophie also suggests scheduling deadlines from the outset and spending money on tasks that could save time.
“It’s easy to get bogged down or overwhelmed with the scale of the project but if tasks are broken down into manageable chunks it’s easier to keep momentum,” says Sophie.
“We tried to complete works ourselves each weekend, but quickly realized some tasks were worth spending money on in order to save time – painting being one of them.”
Sophie and Stefan both had moments when they felt like giving up on the remodeling project but stayed on track by working through design changes to keep on budget without compromising on style.
“Renovating our property has been a challenge, both exciting and frustrating, but overall we’ve found it extremely rewarding given the home we’ve now created,” says Sophie.
“We believe that we could make a small profit if we sold the property tomorrow, but now that all the hard work is done we are just happy to relax in our dream first home.”
Sophie and Stefan purchased their home for $20,000 below market value for a standard apartment in their complex because it was in such dire condition.
As Sophie is a first-time Caymanian buyer, the property was stamp duty exempt and they spent approximately $50,000 on the complete renovation.