Credit: Rachel Dodson

There are few things that excite me as much as the prospect of doing a home makeover. (Did you see last week’s living room redo?) But let’s be totally honest here: they can be a lot of work, especially when you’re trying to do it on the cheap. It always helps to have someone cheering you on, and who better to rah-rah your way to the finish line than your mom?

Each summer, Sarah Dodson’s mother makes all four of her adult children turn in a “summer goals” list, which must include a place, a book, a skill, and two other goals. When it came time for Dodson to draft her most recent SGL she took one look at the dingy back porch of her Ukrainian Village apartment and listed “porch makeover” as one of the goals and “learn to refinish wood” as her skill.

Dodson, a senior account executive at an ad agency, had no idea what she was getting into when she cleared out the tiny room that had previously been used for storage. Although the porch had always felt grimy and disconnected from the rest of her two-bedroom apartment, she saw tons of potential in the 15-foot ceilings and the view of a Ukrainian cathedral. She picked up her tools, rolled up her sleeves, and got to work.

The first thing to address were the wood floors, which were hidden under layers of linoleum and multiple coats of paint. This was the hardest and most time-consuming portion of the project; stripping paint from wood floors involves the careful application of chemicals, sanding with various grades of sandpaper, cleaning, and repeating the cycle over and over.

Dodson then sanded all of the wood paneling and whitewashed the wood and brick walls. She creatively “gutted” an old chandelier that she found in the basement of her apartment, replaced the electric bulbs with candles, and rigged it on a pulley system for easy access. Dodson also sewed the curtains and pillows from a $14 Amy Butler fabric remnant, framed some paintings purchased on Etsy, and outfitted the space with a hand-me-down table that her sister scored at a garage sale. She finished the room with a set of vintage chairs she found on Craigslist for $125.

Dodson’s porch is now a charming nook that’s perfect for drinking wine with friends and reading the Sunday paper. Thanks for the encouragement, mom! —Dean Fisher

Once a month, the Reader‘s Dean Fisher uses her expert eye and a shoestring budget to overhaul a Chicagoan’s space. Want to have a room redone? Send a photo of your pitiful interior to