Photo by Hillary Schave

Inside a family home on a quiet street in a Fitchburg subdivision, Kris Aman is basking in a calm, clean kitchen — despite having just added two golden retriever puppies to her family of five humans and two other dogs.

“I’m thinking I can take a wall and build in little kennels,” says Aman, who is always visualizing her next DIY project — in this case, built-in dog crates, or maybe a dog-washing station. “Or maybe [I’ll build the kennels] in the laundry room, but I’m not sure I can fit what I’m envisioning there.”

Aman is a DIY devotee who chronicles her home projects on her Instagram account, @greenrhinodesign. Her home renovation list is constantly growing, and she’s always ready to learn a new skill with every project. Her philosophy is simple but brave: “I’m not afraid to mess things up because I’ve learned a ton by doing things wrong,” she says. “I’m not going to be out anything if I tried and it doesn’t work.”

That has translated to numerous projects since Aman and her husband, Jason Lavicky, bought their Fitchburg home in 2021 — and with beautiful results. She takes her Instagram followers along for the ride, sharing satisfying before-and-after photos, in-progress project updates and behind-the-scenes anecdotes about the DIY process.

Both Aman and Lavicky’s design aesthetic is simple and clean, delivering a sense of calm from floor to ceiling. White walls with taupe trim flow throughout the main living spaces, reflecting natural light shining through large, black-trimmed windows. Unique ceiling treatments draw the eye upward.

Each room is a little different: natural wood on the dining room ceiling, a darker stain for the moody green home library and pre-primed shiplap boards broken up by a natural wood beam at the peak of the vaulted ceiling in the living room.

In the kitchen, Aman and her husband redid everything except the plumbing. She is adamant about keeping the quartz countertops clear of clutter, and a stone, gray-toned feature wall brings an organic touch. It’s actually paneling that Aman made to appear more natural by spreading on layers of joint compound. A white tile backsplash with a handmade quality shimmers in the light. “They’re just from Home Depot, nothing fancy,” Aman says, but she skipped the grout for a different look.

It was actually a Home Depot class on tile installation that started the Amans down the renovation path back in Arizona at the couple’s first home. When they moved to Fitchburg, they immediately tackled the kitchen, installing new tile, swapping out cabinets for open shelving and repainting trim. An additional challenge came when they purchased a true fixer-upper lake house property on Lake Wissota near Eau Claire. There, they installed new flooring, kitchen cabinets and stairs.

“We just thought we couldn’t really mess it up because it was going to be better than it was,” Aman says. “I think we learned a lot by doing that [house] top to bottom.”

Aman says that some of the ceiling projects in particular were tough because it’s difficult to work on things overhead. Another challenge has been learning to cut the angles for doing her own trim and molding. “I struggle with angles that I have to match up. I use a lot of caulk,” she says, laughing. Her projects have also extended outdoors to the landscaping, which is particularly labor-intensive — she even dug her own retaining wall at the family’s last home near West High School.

While the overall theme of their current home is clean and calm, they let playfulness take center stage in the bathrooms. The downstairs powder room features whimsical dog wallpaper and black shiplap. Fun boho wallpaper complements dark green trim and floating vanities in the upstairs bathroom, which is shared by their two daughters, Kate, 17, and Megan, 14. (Their son, Joey, 20, recently moved out.) Until recently, the bathroom in the main suite was decked out in ’90s wallpaper and carpet. Now it has a spa feel, with white subway tile behind the double sink and tub, and a light-wood-tone tile floor.

Back in the main living space, a sliding door next to the kitchen leads to the backyard where the four dogs — the older rescues are Milo and Bogi, and the new puppies are Millie and Mazie — have room to play.

The living room’s focal point is a black spray-painted fireplace, framed by floor-to-ceiling stone — a dramatic change from the previous gold fireplace with an oak mantel. Aman considered removing the built-in oak shelving units but decided to try out a dark bronze paint to juxtapose with the light stone, new cabinet doors and refreshed hardware. She was pleased with the final result and doesn’t need the extra living room space, so the built-in is staying put.

Another built-in with beautiful results has been a wall-to-wall bookshelf that’s turned their office into a cozy library. Aman started with a double stack of Ikea drawers, then added shelving units from Target, installed trim and painted everything green to make it look seamless. She says the sliding library ladder would have normally cost more than $1,500, but Aman worked out the geometry and built her own for $330.

Aman cautions against getting bogged down with DIY tips from the internet, where too much information about different methods can become overwhelming. She recommends being willing to take risks and just going for it.

“Don’t be afraid to try it. There’s very little that can’t be undone, in my opinion,” says Aman. “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”

Melissa Behling is a freelance writer for Madison Magazine.