Married for 12 years, Christina and Phil were living in Sumterville, Florida, where Christina worked in staging for The Villages when they decided to make some major life changes. Christina quit her job to become an author, devoting herself to her first young adult series, The Geneva Project while Phil, a graphic designer, transitioned into full-time freelance work. Suddenly, the couple was free to live anywhere they wanted. A Flagler College graduate, Christina knew exactly where they needed to relocate.
When Christina and Phil Benjamin set out to buy a house in St. Augustine, they encountered a common conundrum in the Ancient City: cost vs. character. Although the couple loved their 100-year-old rental house in Lincolnville, they knew purchasing and refurbishing a home in the historic district was out of their budget. Still, they wanted to stay close to the eclectic vibe that brought them to St. Augustine from Central Florida in the first place.
They found the perfect solution in a three-bedroom, two-bath condo in the Las Palmas neighborhood, just a few blocks north of downtown St. Augustine.
“After having such an instant vibe with our house in Lincolnville, walking in here felt so different. It was just a cookie-cutter condo,” says Christina, “But it was also a blank canvas we could make our own. We just had to give it a little more character and kill that condo vibe.”
The ensuing renovation took three months of passion, vision, and sweat equity, but from the first step inside, it’s evident that the Benjamins attacked the “condo vibe” like ninja assassins with great taste and creative ingenuity. “Some of our neighbors have come over to visit and they can’t believe this is the same floor plan they have,” says Christina.
At the heart of the Benjamins’ home, an L-shaped space once boxed into a separate living/dining room and adjoining galley kitchen is now wide open and reminiscent of a countryside farmhouse. Wood floors stretch through the warm space, from a cozy living area with tree top views off the private balcony to a completely renovated kitchen with a massive island and glittering stainless steel appliances. Calming hues of gray and white balance the dark woods and curated collection of personal items staged throughout the home.
Across from the kitchen island, which was created by removing a wall and small pantry, a former hall closet now functions as an open wet bar with a fully functional kegerator. It’s one of many small upgrades that allowed the Benjamins to customize their condo to fit their lifestyle.
Standing in the main living space of the Benjamins’ home, it takes a few moments to work visually upward from their gorgeous, handmade farm table and rehabbed curbside chairs to appreciate the most transformative part of the Benjamins’ renovations. Throughout the entire house, every inch of the condo’s former dated popcorn ceiling is covered with wood planks, trimmed in quarter-round crown molding, and painted a crisp white. Similar aesthetically to the wide, shiplap planks popular in today’s interior design world, the Benjamins achieved their more affordable look with some extra creativity.
“It’s actually quarter-inch plywood subflooring cut into eight-inch wide planks,” Phil explains. “We spent so much time at Home Depot getting the wood cut that the store staff finally started asking what we were doing. They couldn’t believe it, so we had to take some photos and show them the final product.”
Using a nail gun, the Benjamins planked their ceiling from wall-to-wall, giving each space in their home an extra bit of warmth and texture that’s often missing from new houses. In addition to the ceilings, Christina and Phil carried the planking through the handmade headboards in their master and guest bedrooms.
“This is kind of the house that YouTube and Pinterest built,” Christina says, downplaying how much hard work the Benjamins put into their new home. For the first two months of the project, the couple continued to live in their Lincolnville rental while spending every spare minute at their new house, bringing their vision to life with hammers, nails, and paint. Outside of hiring tradesmen for the plumbing and electrical work, Christina and Phil did all the work themselves, with a little help from their families, too.
“I set up a card table in the bedroom so I could work while we were doing things at the house,” says Phil. “And then the last month of the renovation we lived here without a kitchen, basically camping in our own home.”
Now that the house is complete, the couple works almost side-by-side in their unique office set-up. In a room flooded with natural light, Phil works at his stand-up desk (formerly a high-top dining room table in their previous home) while Christina has transformed the adjoining walk-in closet into a glamorous writing cave, complete with chandelier.
“I need total quiet and no distractions, so this was the perfect spot for me to hide out and focus on writing,” says Christina. “But there are plenty of times when I take my laptop somewhere else in the house to work, too. There are so many spots that just inspire creativity.”
As they approach the one-year anniversary of their project, the Benjamins have nothing but positive reflections of their time together bringing their vision to life. “You appreciate it so much more when you know everything that went into it,” says Phil. “Plus it just feels like home now.”
Photography by Leonard Blush