Beauty Out of Ashes
A remodel gives birth to healing, a cherished friendship and a beautiful home for family
By Nancy Peevy | Photos by Bob Coleman
When Debbie Pianalto’s husband, Floyd, passed away from cancer, her grief was so overwhelming that she couldn’t sleep. Memories of him flooded their home, and she was having a hard time staying there.
In 1987, Debbie and Floyd had purchased five acres in the middle of Rogers. There, they built a house, which they moved into in May 1991. All three of their children grew up in the house and are now grown with families of their own. Debbie had hoped to make updates to the home over the years, but Floyd struggled to justify the expense.
Then, in early 2017, Floyd was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away sitting in his favorite recliner in September 2018. Just a few days before, he told Debbie that he wanted her to go ahead and remodel the house. “He knew he didn’t have to give me permission, but it was really sweet of him to say that,” she says.
Her pain and grief were almost unbearable in the days that followed his death, but there came a time when Debbie knew she had to go on living. For her, that included re-doing the house. She says, “I remember thinking: This is our home. We raised our kids in this house and we made it a home together. Now I need to make it my home and go on without him.”
Debbie dreamt of creating a home where she could make new memories with her five beloved grandchildren. She knew it would be an extensive remodel, so she moved into an apartment and hired area architect Lauri Matisse to draw up the floor plan. The plan included taking down walls, vaulting the living room ceiling, moving the staircase, changing the façade, and adding windows, a laundry room and pool bath.
Debbie also remembers seeing posts from Lynne Jackson, owner of Decorating Den Interiors – Jackson Design Group, around the same time. She reached out to Lynne to help with decorating, and in January 2019, the two met for dinner at Mimi’s Café. They bonded as Debbie shared her emotional story of losing Floyd.
“She really understood me. I felt like I’d known her forever,” Debbie recalls. Little did they know that their evening together would mark the beginning of a beautifully designed home and a cherished friendship.
Debbie envisioned a low-country farmhouse style, like one might see in South Carolina or Alabama. Lynne got to work on the 4,000-square-foot house, using an extensive list of suppliers and thousands of samples of home furnishing products that were available through her Decorating Den Interiors franchise. The list included vendors for draperies, blinds, shades, furniture, bedding, lighting, accessories, artwork, floor coverings, wall coverings and more.
Today, a modern farmhouse feel is reflected throughout the home with its rustic coffee bar, country pine stain on the ceiling beams, first- to second-floor rock fireplace, ruffled edges on an antique-looking subway tile kitchen backsplash, textured drapes and shades, and lighting fixtures.
Working with Lynne gave Debbie something to focus on – something other than her loss and grief. Their friendship grew even closer when Lynne shared with Debbie that she had battled cancer three times in the past.
Then, in late 2019, Lynne began feeling unwell and was diagnosed with cancer for the fourth time. This time, the diagnosis was stage 4 uterine cancer. “The tumor filled my abdomen and touched many organs and involved lymph nodes. At that point it was inoperable,” Lynne says. Lynne’s oncologist immediately started her on chemotherapy treatments.
When she told Debbie the news, they “cried a little bit and then we prayed and talked together,” Debbie remembers. Meanwhile, Lynne’s husband, Chip, along with Debbie and some friends from church, formed a prayer circle. “We prayed for miracles for her,” Debbie recalls.
Miraculously, the tumor shrank quickly, and in January 2020 Lynne underwent surgery to have it removed. “For me to be sitting here is a miracle,” Lynne says. “My tumor was inoperable. I absolutely knew, even from a medical standpoint, that what was, is no longer.” Lynne’s most recent scans show no evidence of disease. To this day, she is cancer free.
Debbie and Lynne both believe that a divine force brought them together – and the timing was too perfect to be considered coincidence.
“I felt like it was more than just an opportunity to decorate someone’s home,” Lynne says. “I was looking to see how God would use the opportunity. If that meant walking through the [grieving] process with her, and I was being invited into that, I wanted to be part of it in the best way I could. What I didn’t see was how she would minister to me. There was a reason for me to be alongside Debbie – to walk her through her grief early on. And then, for us to walk through my cancer.”
Debbie agrees and says of her own journey, “It gave me someone else to focus on… and taught me not to live in my own grief, but to think about my friend and what she’s going through. She’s been part of my healing. I think God did bring us together to help us focus on something besides grief.”
Today, Debbie’s house is everything she hoped it would be – a comfortable, warm and welcoming home. It’s the perfect space for entertaining family and spending time with her grandkids. “I can’t imagine having done any of this without Lynne’s help and her experience,” she says.
What started out as a home remodel had turned into a friendship and a joint journey through grief, loss and cancer. “It’s really about the relationships,” Lynne says. “I love providing design, but it’s really about the people that God brings into my life. Debbie and I will be friends forever.”
Debbie agrees. “I feel like I have a lifetime friend.”
HOME PROS USED
Interior Decorating: Lynne Jackson, Decorating Den Interiors
Builder: Jeff Scott, Cal’s Custom Homes
Architect: Lauri Matisse Studio
Heat & Air: ShineAir HVAC; ShineSolar
Landscape: Professional Landscaping Company
Pool Remodel: Jason Knight, Complete Aqua Care
Plumbing: Jerry’s Plumbing
Security System: Custom Electronics
Cabinets: Collins Custom Cabinets
Electrical Work: Chad Pitt, Lonestar Electric
Paint & Stain: Antonio Martinez, Antonio’s Painting