Chris and Amy Stanford are dauntless DIY-ers

Tackling home renovations doesn’t scare Chris and Amy Stanford, who are giving new life to their 1928 house for their family of six.
Chris and Amy Stanford sitting in their living room
Photo by Nikki Hansen
Chris and Amy Stanford's days tend to move fast as home renovators and full-time parents.

You already know a lot about Chris and Amy Stanford once you find out they’re home renovation DIYers working on their fifth house in nine years, have full-time jobs and are parents to four kids. Their days tend to move fast.

But when their efforts bring a house back to life so it feels like home, they know the sweat and hectic days were worth every minute.

“We do all of this to have a great space for our family,” says Chris Stanford, News 3 Now’s morning show anchor and keeper of the tools in the Stanford family.

Amy Stanford, a pharmacist with a field medical position, is the project visionary and interior designer. The couple has long preferred older homes in more established neighborhoods. What some might call a house in need of TLC is a house with potential in the Stanfords’ eyes.

“I grew up in a really old home,” says Amy Stanford.

It’s the details and character they love — they try to retain as much of the house as they can with their renovations, keeping hardwood floors, 100-year-old door handles and original baseboards.

“You just can’t replicate that in newer homes,” Chris Stanford says.

They’ve finished quite a few projects already since moving into a 1928 Madison home in May 2020. The house sat on the market for about a year before they bought it. “We must have been crazy — we’re especially drawn to the houses nobody wants,” Amy Stanford says.

Their new house had asbestos and knob-and-tube wiring that needed to be replaced. Some stovetop burners didn’t work when they moved in, and electrical tape is helping keep some kitchen cabinets closed. The layout was all wrong for what they needed, and fixing it would require plumbing, electrical, drywall and HVAC work. “She was already tearing down walls in her mind three steps into the house,” Chris Stanford says.

But they revel in a good project. “I’ll keep him busy with one room, and while he’s working on that, I’m already onto the next,” Amy Stanford says. Bedrooms for their children, ages 6, 5, 2 and 5 months, were the couple’s first priority. Amy Stanford’s Instagram account, @houseofsparrows, documents their progress and final reveals, which have been numerous in the past year. They say they’re about 40% done with major renovations.

Handyman Chris Stanford checks projects off his list in his spare time, including reconfiguring the main level layout (which included removing a half bathroom, knocking down walls, refinishing floors), repainting the entire inside of the house, refinishing trim, adding hidden play spaces in the kids’ rooms and resurfacing the fireplace.

“Most of it is going on the internet and figuring it out,” he says. “The research and the Googling and the YouTube videos … it’s a lot of surfing the internet for an hour before you go to bed because you’re researching how to do things.”

He leaves the decorating and styling to Amy Stanford, a Facebook Marketplace and thrift store enthusiast who will wait months to find the right light fixture. She says she couldn’t really say what her particular interior design style is; she relies heavily on what fits the house. In St. Louis they had a historic Gothic Tudor-style home, which had a more ornate design with large, detailed furniture and old, dark accents.

Then they were in a newer construction home in Wichita, Kansas, before moving into a Colonial in Oklahoma City, where they swapped some of their big furniture for midcentury modern pieces.

The Madison house is a historic Cape Cod-style home with a lot of light-colored wood. Amy Stanford says it’s hard to pinpoint the interior style they’ve gone with in this one. “But you’ll see pieces from our Gothic Tudor in here that we love that we’ve brought from house to house to house,” she says. “You’ll still see pieces from our first traditional or from our house in Oklahoma City — pieces that we’ve had for 10 years. Usually those are the vintage ones, or the ones that have sentimental meaning to us.”

During renovations, the Stanfords try not to let anything go to waste. When they can’t restore an original feature, a giant box of wall hooks and other miscellaneous fixtures saved from past homes often comes in handy, and they frequent places like Deconstruction Inc., an architectural salvage store on Walsh Road, to find more gems.

The two agree they’ve never felt 100% done with one of their home renovations, but that doesn’t stop them from appreciating the process.

“You look at it and you say, ‘Wow, we did this. We did this together and it was something that we sorted through and planned out and executed, and now we have this awesome new space in the house that we can enjoy,” Chris Stanford says.

Follow Along For Ideas
Check out these Wisconsin DIY and home design Instagram accounts that will make you want to redo your whole house.

fireplace

@havendesignmsn

1. Take a peek at the rest of the Stanfords’ house: @houseofsparrows

2. A Madisonian renovating a 1929 Tudor: @greenrhinodesign

3. An couple with a dreamy cabin Up North: @thepinesonrestlake

4. A Milwaukee DIYer who takes you behind the scenes: @ispydiy

5. A Fitchburg-based designer with style: @havendesignmsn

6. Local designer with a showroom Sun Prairie home: @kaylahaven_

7. Lots of kitchen and bathroom goals: @dreamhousedreamkitchens

8. Staged to perfection: @sprinkmanrealestate

Andrea Behling is the editor of Madison Magazine.