The front door is now framed with windows that originally belonged to the upper part of the vaulted ceilings. With several new windows in play, the house lets in much more light.

Whenever Caitlin Cowger of Camp Caitlin walked by the dilapidated, 860-square-foot mansard house down the road from her home, she’d think to herself, “man, that house could be so cool.”

Though part of it was destroyed by a fallen tree, she was charmed by its vaulted ceilings and big deck potential. One day she noticed a hand-painted sign out front that said “rent to own, $700 down.” She bought the house for $12,000.

Cowger had fallen in love with a Malm fireplace on Pinterest and designed her whole house around the stove and its cozy corner.

It obviously needed a complete overhaul. Aside from the damage from the fallen tree, the house had no proper drainage, which caused a lot of rotting—so much so that a contractor fell through the bathroom floor. She even found out months later that, pre-purchase, a bear was living inside the house. “He would leave in the morning out the front door,” she learned, “and come back at night like he was returning from work.”

But it was just the kind of house Cowger, a self-appointed ‘house-saver,’ loves. “I only look at houses that are absolute trash,” she says. She salivates over houses that scare off everyone else. They also happen to be some of the only affordable ones left. As an Airbnber who renovates to rent, Cowger believes in leaving the habitable houses on the market for the families that need them, and giving new life to the uninhabitable ones.

“If you’re looking small, look for a house with high ceilings” Cowger advises. The vaulted ceilings add a sense of spaciousness.

Cowger began by landscape-correcting the drainage issues and fixing the foundation. Costly undertakings, sure, but easier to budget for with a bargain property and manageable square footage.

Once the big structural renovations were done, she pulled up the rotten floorboards and put in new ones, added some drywall, pulled out the old paneling and put up tongue-and-groove. She added some big windows to allow in more light, and salvaged the old upstairs windows to frame the entry door.

“Don’t look for the house of your dreams. Renovate the house of your dreams.” – Caitlin Cowger

The final touch? A gorgeous Malm fireplace—the focal point of her design inspiration for the main room.

In total, Cowger spent $35,000 on renovations, and it took her only three months from start to finish. So for those looking for their dream upstate home, consider her advice: “Don’t look for the house of your dreams. Renovate the house of your dreams.”

Check out more below, and book one of Camp Caitlin’s properties at

Cowger’s realtor had taught her that big changes, from fixing the foundation to popping in new windows, are not as difficult as people think. “Anything is possible,” she says.

Tongue-and-groove ceilings are Cowger’s favorite part of the renovations. “It looks like a brand new house,” she says.

Small spaces? “Even if a space feels really small and cramped, I’ve found that connecting the ceiling and walls with something like tongue and groove and adding more windows always makes a space feel more open and airy.”