Between the arrival of COVID-19 and the long distance nature of Erin and Aaron Sorrell’s move from Alaska to Houston, house hunting was going to be tricky.

Technology came in handy when the Sorrells could have video calls with their Realtor and, later, a contractor and interior designer to evaluate the needs and wants for the next home for their family of five.

Through video calls, they could talk about their future home and ways to make it their own so the couple could feel more comfortable buying a home they hadn’t set foot in.

Erin and Aaron were high school sweethearts who grew up in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area and moved to Alaska for jobs with BP, settling in Eagle River, north of Anchorage.

They were expecting the adventure to last a few years, but they and their three children fell in love with the place, its winter sports, hiking and fishing. When BP sold its Alaskan property to Hilcorp in 2019, the Sorrells had two choices: find new jobs or move with BP to another city.

They chose to stay with BP and in January 2020 settled on a move to Houston. An online house hunting search began and their initial plan was that Erin would move here first and get their new home ready while Aaron stayed in Eagle River as their kids — Evie, now 20 and a student at the University of Pennsylvania; Walter, 17 and a junior in high school; and Ellie, 14 and a freshman — finished their school year.

Then the coronavirus pandemic shut down one city after another, and the family came to the conclusion that their children could attend virtual school anywhere.

Their Realtor lead them through home tours virtually, and the Sorrells made offers on three different houses, finally reaching a deal with the third, an older couple retiring from Shell and moving back to their native Australia.

A move-in ready home wasn’t what they needed, but they were looking for something that a minimal amount of remodeling would be needed to suit their taste.

Their home, in Cinco Ranch in Fort Bend County, was built in 2001 and had wood floors that were in good shape. They decided to keep the flooring as is, even though the reddish stain wasn’t their style.

But the kitchen cabinets were stained wood and the home’s paint was dark tan, making the whole room seem way too dark. The kitchen island was small and an irregular shape — funky, but fixable — and all of the counters were black.

In the living room, ceramic tile with a faux green-black marble finish surrounded the fireplace opening and its hearth, with sheetrock and a wooden mantle covering the rest. Built-in bookshelves were meant to hold the kind of TV that few still have — one that needs cable plug-ins instead of wireless capability.

The Sorrells were more interested in the bones of the home: good windows that didn’t need replacing, a floor plan that flowed without different flooring levels and lots of natural light. Everything else was fixable — on a budget.

“We were coming from a place that’s earthy and warm and dark and had a lot of browns and neutral tones, so I wanted to brighten it up and feel cooler and lighter,” Erin said of their new home. “We wanted it to reflect us, and there was plenty of time to get it done before we would get in the way.”

In their previous homes, Aaron had lot of input. This time around, his request was simple: “Don’t make our house look like an Easter egg with flowers and pastels.”

They found interior designer Karen Davis of Marker Girl online, and asked her to walk through the home without them and provide feedback on the things they couldn’t see up close.

She honed in on their style, recommending a number of changes.

In the kitchen, cabinets didn’t need to be replaced, but they did need paint: Sherwin-Williams “Mineral Deposit,” a light gray with blue undertones, and slim brushed nickel hardware. The square beige backsplash tile was replaced with natural stone arranged in a linear mosaic pattern (Daltile’s “Namaste”) and the black counters were replaced with a soft colored quartz, adding an organic feel and a bit of color. Some of the wall cabinets were removed, both to make the room feel lighter and to display pretty things on floating wood shelves.

A bigger island allowed for more storage and is roomy enough for three barstools.

Off to the side is the breakfast area, which got its own easy update: painting lower cabinets to match the kitchen and replacing upper cabinets with floating wood shelves.

This kitchen-breakfast area opens up to the living room — there are only a couple of pillars in between, providing support — so the whole area was painted Sherwin-Williams Frosty White, a white with just a hint of gray.

Davis brought in some great gray-and-white tile to cover the hearth and the fireplace’s entire exterior, instead of just a strip around the opening, a simple change with big impact, and it works in many homes built in the 1990s and 2000s.

The built-in bookshelves were re-imagined as display shelves, leaving a spot on another wall for the TV and allowing them to orient the room in a different direction.

In the living room, a new sofa, vinyl-covered ottoman and colorful rug join a pair of midcentury-style chairs they brought with them from Alaska. Yellow adds a sunny pop of color to the room in the form of pillows, a lamp and the rug.

Because they made changes that weren’t disruptive to the floor plan, they were able to finish the project in a matter of weeks. In fact, it all wrapped up the day before their belongings arrived from Alaska.

“It could have been very stressful given the pandemic, but it wasn’t,” Erin said. “My husband thought I was ‘pie-in-the-sky’ to think it would get done in time. We had some delays on furniture delivery, but the actual house came together on time.”

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By Arhaq