The story of EJ + Whit Brown
Words by Katie Kooper
EJ and Whit Brown love their home—wherever it is.
Since they met seven years ago, the couple unintentionally began a quest for turning houses into homes. With EJ’s eye for design and Whit’s self-taught craftsmanship, the duo seeks out houses in need of an update and turns them into sought-after dream homes. EJ loves a house with character.
“I told Whit when we met, we would never live in a cookie-cutter suburb,” says EJ. “I also like a new project, and the purpose is not to flip a house but move in it, make it a home, and be able to sell it.”
The journey began with the first home they purchased together in Irving, TX. While the house needed little updates, they slowly went through with paint and added EJ’s thrifted treasures to make the house a comfortable, attractive, modern home. They sold the house instantly before relocating to Florence, Alabama in 2016. They set their eyes on a sprawling brick colonial on a county road outside of Florence. The “colonial on county road,” as EJ lovingly refers to it, was in foreclosure. While the foundation was sturdy, the house was outdated. Both with full-time jobs, the couple spent their weekends working on house projects to bring the neglected colonial back to life. They retiled bathrooms and painted the rooms and ceilings. EJ spent her remaining time searching thrift stores and antiques shops for the perfect pieces to please her eclectic yet modern style. “Never buy your furniture before you are in the space,” says EJ. “See how the house flows for you.”
Whit built a dining room table, and they created a “man cave” that boasted a custom bar which Whit handcrafted himself. Whit, an avid reader, taught himself the art of woodworking—even though he believes it was a trade passed down from his grandfather. “I find a plan, take bits and pieces of what I like, evaluate how I can do it cheaper, and adapt it to our needs,” says Whit. “Doing the work yourself is a progression. I start small and always question if I can do it myself or figure out how to do it. If I can do it, I will not hire it out,” says Whit.
The couple, both excellent planners and savers, did not have a million-dollar budget but instead scheduled their housing costs. “We have always cash-flowed any big renovations. If we cannot afford something, we will not do it until we can,” says EJ. “It’s nice because when the project is complete, we are not worried about paying off a loan.”
Although budgets are crucial, timelines are never set in place except for annual parties and holidays they enjoy hosting. “It was nice because it was a house you could live in and do work at the same time,” says EJ.
When the work was complete, Whit put the house on the market to test the waters. A buyer fell in love with the colonial on county road and purchased the home and the furniture in a quick turnaround. “We brought the county road house back to life. We made it so great that we found a buyer who bought everything in it and wanted to make it even more beautiful. That’s a great feeling to have,” says EJ.
Not long after, the Browns purchased a lonesome cabin off the county road. “That was probably the only house we bought or will ever buy that was in shambles,” EJ says.
Though they made sure there were no structural issues, the Browns did all the electrical, plumbing, and demoed the kitchen. In the thick of dirt and mess, the couple recall thinking they made a mistake. “In the moment it can get overwhelming, and you lose your cool, but we learned how to be flexible, and we communicated what we can and cannot do, “says EJ. “With each project, we learn how to work together better.”
For the cabin, EJ wanted a custom kitchen island. Versus saving up the money to get a contractor or buy new in a store, EJ knew Whit could knock it out in a weekend. “Whit is smart and patient, and I know he can do anything he puts his mind to,” says EJ.
Slowly the cabin turned into a dreamy country destination, kitchen island and all. Photos of the progression flooded EJ’s Instagram account. The charm and modern simplicity of the cabin attracted the eyes of not only interior publications, but also of a buyer. Although they planned to live in the cabin for at least five years, the cabin sold in less time than they had lived there.
Selling these homes brings mixed emotions for the couple. Minus the pieces she considers sentimental such as art and photos, EJ says she’s not emotional about leaving it all behind. “You of course are appreciative of your time there, the memories you had, but I am always looking to make the next deal and find the next project.”
Whit, on the other hand, feels differently. “I always get sad when we sell a house,” says Whit, laughing. “I don’t know why, but probably all the work we put in and then we leave.”
“For him it’s like saying good-bye to a phase in your life, where you lived and made memories. However, I know we are going to love where we are going next, so I am less attached,” says EJ.
During the sale of the cabin, the Browns found a piece of property on Wilson Lake and purchased it with a long-term plan to build a home by the water. Then EJ became pregnant with their first child. For a short-term solution, they settled on a ranch home in downtown Florence. “The point of buying this house is so we would not feel rushed,” EJ says. “With a baby on the way and building a home on the lake, we couldn’t have a project like the cabin. This house was newly renovated, so all we really needed to do was paint and make creative touches to the house,” says EJ.
Such touches include her laundry room painted a beautiful Aegean teal with art thoughtfully placed on the walls and a custom floor-to-ceiling shelf self-crafted by Whit. “I want it to look pretty so when I walk in I’m not mad,” says EJ.
EJ and Whit and their three dogs are content in their ranch designing a new lake house and preparing for their baby to arrive. While EJ believes she will always be on the lookout for a project, Whit is ready to move into a house that doesn’t require work. However, both are proud of what they’ve accomplished. “It’s important that we love where we live, and we want to create a space that we enjoy. Plus, when you make a profit, that’s a great feeling for the future of our family,” says EJ.
Side note: After the story was written, EJ and Whit welcomed a boy, Preston Whittaker Brown, in March of 2021.