Local Renovator Nicole Nichols Shares Her Tips for Spicing Up Your Home – Cincinnati Magazine

You’ve probably caught glimpses of Nicole Nichols’s iconic Cincinnati reno projects while scrolling through Instagram and ooh-ed and aah-ed at her gutsy design choices (like the salmon front door on her latest ranch rehab).
The attention to detail with affordable options and creative solutions make Nichols’s eye for design unique. And if you followed along the renovation of her family’s dream home that was finished last fall, you know her kitchen well. This time, she chose to turn the project into a long-term rental. We caught up with Nichols, from Revival Designs, to hear more about the design process, why she chose renting over selling, and advice for someone looking to rent their own property.
Photograph courtesy Nicole Nichols, Revival Designs
Your projects are known to be splashy! How do you balance timeless with your fun design choices?
I’m not sure that every house has to be ‘timeless,’ honestly. Realistically, every home will need or deserve aesthetic updates every 10–20 years, or you’ll get bored and want new things in that timeframe. I think it’s OK to play with some trends and not worry if you’ll love it in 20 years, because you probably won’t love a 20-year-old remodel that’s neutral or ‘safe’ either. I think people should love their homes, not be afraid to try some unique things, [and] not overly concern themselves with what future buyers might think. It’s a balance. Not everything can be crazy over-the-top with a design, but when you layer some classic staples and a few unique finishes, you can achieve the balance of fun and longevity. I’m also a big fan of paint as a budget-friendly and entry-level update almost anyone can do inside or out to change a home without breaking the bank. I think good design is about taking some risks and creating something inspiring versus a carbon copy of all the same stuff you see every day.
Photograph courtesy Nicole Nichols, Revival Designs
You went back-and-forth on selling vs. renting this property—what was the ultimate decision-maker?
I have been flipping now for almost seven years; my husband has been investing in single-family rentals even longer, but the real estate market right now is so wild and hard to predict compared to what we are used to. Financially, we knew we would be in a great position for this property whether we kept it longer or sold it when the renovation was complete. Investing in real estate is a big part of our personal financial strategy, but we sold almost every long-term rental we had owned in the past two years. We decided to keep this one vs. sell now as more of a long-term play. And because it’s a ranch with no steps—within 1.5 miles from our own house—we also felt it could be good to hold onto it in case one of our parents might benefit from living there as they age.
Photograph courtesy Nicole Nichols, Revival Designs
Throughout the design process, were there details you decided to splurge or save on knowing you might rent?
I feel that really every finish in this space is a budget-friendly finish. The most ‘expensive’ splurge may have been the backsplash tile ($7/square-foot), but because it’s such a small area, the difference between a $2/square-foot and $7/square-foot tile is actually pretty insignificant across such a small amount of square feet. People are often surprised that stylish light fixtures and tiles can be found on a modest budget, but everything in this house was pretty inexpensive yet achieved a very rich look. We also ‘splurged’ on some materials like concrete instead of asphalt for the driveway and on the addition of leaf guard to the gutters, but we felt these choices made this property easier to maintain passively as a potential rental.
Photograph courtesy Nicole Nichols, Revival Designs
What are your favorite parts of the home?
It’s hard to pick a favorite but I am really proud of the unique color scheme. I just love the mix of colors inside and out. I’m not concerned with pleasing everyone with my designs, which is frankly the opposite viewpoint of a lot of investors. But for me, a large part of renovating as an investor is the fun of the design. Renovation is so hard and stressful. I would never take it on to create something uninspiring to me. If I can’t have fun with it, I’m not interested in doing it.
I also think the feature wall we added is incredibly impactful, both in design and color. It cost just $80 in materials. I laid out the design and my husband installed the wood pieces in just two hours’ time. We can easily change its color over time should we choose to—but I love how it echoes the front door color yet also compliments the bathroom floor tile and the blue kitchen tile in such a fun and unique way without being too matchy.

The before and after pictures are wild! What’s the biggest improvement in spaces?
Removing the load bearing wall between the living space and kitchen was huge. It made such a difference for letting light through the space and connecting those spaces like most buyers [and] renters want. It also made both rooms feel larger and become more usable.
What one or two pieces of advice would you give someone looking to renovate and manage a long-term rental?
Both buyers and renters care about good design and good layouts. When you create a great product, it’ll be easier to rent at a higher price because you cared about those two things. That said, we also invest in finishes with quality and durability so we don’t have to replace things as often over time. Owning rentals isn’t without ongoing time and monetary investment, but it can be very financially rewarding. I know a lot of newbie investors who choose a duplex or a multi-family property as their first investment because they can be an owner-occupant in the property. That is a great way to get your foot in the door as an investor who doesn’t have additional capital to buy something outside of your own personal residence, but do your research because no property is without maintenance or carrying costs.
Photograph courtesy Nicole Nichols, Revival Designs
You staged and listed the home, why do you stage and list—even rental properties?
I stage every flip before listing every time, no matter the price point. I am a strong believer in home staging. It adds a massive amount of style and pizzazz no matter what the quality or the home itself is. Most rooms are very boring when empty and most people don’t have a good eye for how things will fit or how big a space is. Rooms actually look smaller without furniture. This particular home is tiny, but I wanted to show just how ‘big’ it really was with full scale furniture. There is a lot of research that staged homes sell faster and for more money than un-staged homes. I believe the same applies to rentals. I think the staging here really paid off. We leased the home within 24 hours of listing it online.

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