by Juno DeMelo | Photography by Public 311 Design
In March of 2020, Ashley Williams—who has starred in more than a dozen Hallmark films—was directing a movie in Canada. “My husband and two young sons had just come to visit me from New York, where we lived at the time,” she says. “Then the pandemic hit, and we never went back.”
Their friends packed their apartment up, and Ashley and her husband, Neal Dodson, sublet it, then sold it to the subletters. “That began our long journey of trying to find our home,” says Ashley. “I think we lived in 33 different Airbnbs.” Then, in July of 2022, they found the fixer-upper of their dreams.
“It was a 1973 house on a pretty large piece of property with 70 or 80 trees. It had a lot of really amazing character and bones, but it had never been renovated,” says Neal. “It had stained shag carpet and brick floors. It was a mess.” To help them transform the space, Ashley and Neal hired Alchemy Collective founder and principal designer, Lauren Martin-Moro. Lauren’s attitude: The uglier, the better.
“If you had bought the house and it had been renovated already and the finishes were not great, you would have paid someone else’s markup,” says Lauren. “This way, you could really create the space you were waiting for—and that’s what brings the excitement. We really wanted to bring out the warmth of this house and allow space for separation while creating a little cocoon. With all the moving around, we wanted to give the kids a sense of permanence.”
Lauren began referring to the home as “The Tree House” from the get-go, and the name stuck. The plan was to renovate what Neal calls the “huge disaster” of a kitchen down to the studs and redo the floors and ceilings. But then a delay caused them to change course. “We discovered it would take about a month to remediate some asbestos in the ceiling,” he says, “and we figured, if this is going to take longer than we thought, we should do the bathrooms too.”
Lauren was in full support. “Construction is so painful that you only want to go through that pain once if you can help it,” she says. “I feel like to stomach everything at once is better than going through all of that and moving in and still being left with hideous, creepy, gross bathrooms.” And so, with a tight timeline, the three of them visited the Ann Sacks showroom.
“It was like Christmas morning,” says Ashley. “We basically took 100 samples and put them all on a table. Lauren started putting the pieces together so we could see the different textures and how they worked in concert, and from there, it was a narrowing-down process for the ages.”
Ashley and Neal wanted to squeeze a freestanding tub and small shower into the primary bathroom. But Lauren convinced them that it would make the bathroom feel smaller. Instead they put in a double shower—which Lauren says “really gave it a luxury feel in a space that was a little limiting”—and tiled the walls and ceilings with Ann Sacks Savoy Ribbed in Ricepaper. For the floors, they went with Ann Sacks Pambiche Hexagon field in Blue. “To me, the color of that floor tile represents warmth and openness and sky,” says Ashley.
The boys’ bathroom had only one small window, so they kept it light with Ann Sacks Savoy Prints Insho in White Circles on the shower walls. “Our guys like to splash,” says Neal, “so Lauren wanted to take the tile as high as we could.” They repeated the Pambiche on the bathroom floor, this time in Lazaretto. To make it kid-friendly, they also installed low toilets and chose a wall-mounted vanity so nothing could get trapped underneath.
That left the guest bathroom, which sits off of the room Neal and Ashley use as an office. “It had to be classy but also super practical because it’s where the kids tend to wash their hands and the family dog gets bathed,” says Neal. As a designer, Lauren saw the guest bath as “a good place to add punch and personality.” To tick all those boxes, they used Ann Sacks Terrazzo Renata in Cashmere on the floor. “I love the color of that terrazzo,” says Lauren. “There’s a little bit of variation and some mustard coming through. It’s one of my favorite finishes in the house.” For the backsplash they installed rippled MADE Scout by Kelly Wearstler in Ode B.
Lauren also relied on Ann Sacks tile—Pala Mosaics in Marone Toscana—to bring the “very 1973” red-brick fireplace into the 21st century. “It’s kind of like lava rock in a very beautiful way,” she says. “It suited the house and the wall paneling beautifully. It adds a modern interpretation to that fireplace, but it feels like it could have been there all along.”
The renovation wrapped up in May of 2023, and Ashley and Neal couldn’t be happier with it. “Our bathroom is my favorite room in the house,” says Ashley. “When life gets overwhelming, I like to go in there and just stare at my shower.” She’s not alone: “We’re obsessed with that bathroom,” says Neal. “And anyone who sees it, they’re obsessed it with it too.”
Ashley says that living in the tree house “kind of makes me emotional, because when the pandemic hit, we had a 2-and-a-half- and a 5-year-old, and shuffling them all over was intense. There were a lot of bathrooms where they would fight over the sink, and they slept in a lot of different rooms. Now they’re 6 and 9, and they’re obsessed with our house. I can feel the whole family taking a deep breath.”
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