Our First House

Here it is – the house that started it all! We accomplished and learned so much transforming this house. We honed our skills (okay, Alex did) and our aesthetic.

Most of the before pictures are from the real estate listing when we bought the house, which is why they contain furniture/decor.

BEFORE:

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AFTER:

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I couldn’t wait to get my hands on those aluminum awnings. We closed in January, but braved the cold to rip those things down as soon as we could. We took them to a metal recycler and laughed all the way to the bank. It felt great to be able to stand up straight in the house and see out of the windows at the same time.

What this before photo doesn’t show is the chain link fence that surrounded the yard. We lived with it for about a year before we tore it out and fenced in the backyard. It was such a daunting task that turned out to be surprisingly easy – we wondered why we had waited so long. I was also super excited to swap out the porch columns  – we wrapped a treated 4×4 with cedar boards and painted them white.

Other changes like painted shutters and door, new house numbers, doorknob and deadbolt, light fixture, and landscaping really gave this house curb appeal. I also painstakingly scraped and painted the window frames and storm windows on the front and back of the house – it made a huge difference. It took us over a year to get to the landscaping. It’s satisfying to see it look better and better as time goes on. Our hydrangea in the middle is exploding with new growth, and the ferns came back strong. I’ll miss the giant dogwood tree (in the right side yard), which is just starting to bloom in these photos. It fills the upstairs windows with white blossoms. I usually hang Boston ferns on the front porch. And yes, even I was shocked to discover that I have a “thing” for wreaths on front doors.

BEFORE:

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AFTER:

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In the living room, the obvious change is paint color. This paint color is Eiffel Tower, and it’s a perfect dark gray that never leans purple – the undertone is brown. In here the main difference is better use of space with the furniture – it took me a while to land on this arrangement, and it made the room seem twice as big. I never decided on curtains, so we just have two inch blinds on these windows, and it works.

BEFORE:

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AFTER:

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How could I forget – the refinished hardwood floors! This was the most intense thing we tackled on the house, and although they turned out great, we’ll hire professionals from now on. At the time, saving the $2-3k it would have cost to get them professionally done was a no-brainer. But I shudder at the memories of working until 3AM, trying to avoid renting the sanders for another day. The most stressful thing about refinishing hardwood floors is the self-doubt. We were in constant fear that we were going to ruin the floors if we left a trace of dust in the poly, or gouged them (as I did when I made a go at using the belt sander – that officially became Alex’s job). We stained them dark walnut, which turned out gorgeous.

BEFORE:

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AFTER:

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In the kitchen, we made cosmetic updates, but they were time consuming. The cabinets are original, and they are stick-built, which means whenever someone does demo the kitchen, they will likely ruin the walls and have to take the room to studs. If we stayed here another 5 years we would probably do it.

We took all the doors and drawers to my parents’ workshop and stripped them. I think I remember 6 layers of paint? Maybe 11? It had a horrible latex roller texture. We took them as close to bare wood as we could, routered the grooves in the faces of the doors, and patched and replaced hardware in the correct position. The insides of the cabinets also got a major makeover – there was (likely asbestos) linoleum sheeting on the shelves. We recently added some wire baskets on gliders that made the kitchen SO much more functional.

The shelves to the right of the stove were a lucky find – they had been in my parents’ kitchen decades ago, and since then had been storing paint cans in their basement. It happened to fit the space perfectly, so Alex built a butcher block top and we gained 12 precious inches of workspace! Speaking of the countertops – believe it or not, the red laminate really grew on me. I find it so unique and charming, and easy to care for. We considered replacing it with something neutral like dark gray, and the thought made me sad!

We wired a pendant above the sink, replaced the faucet, replaced the appliances, and painted every surface. I’ll miss this sweet, humble little kitchen!

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BEFORE: 

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AFTER:

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Renovating this bathroom was the very definition of snowball effect. We found a new-in-box acrylic vanity top (the existing one was swirly cream and stained) at the Habitat Restore, which just happened to be the correct size, so we decided to replace the vanity top, and hey, while we’re at it, the faucet! Might as well paint the walls, too, right?

This is where it all went nuts. There was some peeling paint on the walls and ceiling, and once we started to scrape, we realized there was no end – the paint was no longer adhering to the plaster, and the wall needed major repair. Around this time we had overnight guests who, after taking a shower, noticed there was water in between the tub surround and the actual tub. You could hear it squishing as you walked on the tub. Those plastic tub surrounds are so creepy. They might look clean from the outside, but you should see the nastiness lurking beneath!

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Once we realized that we were going to have to gut and re-tile the walls, we decided it would be silly to live with brown floor tile that we didn’t like. The irony is that the previous owners had paid to have this bathroom renovated with the tub surround and new tile on the floor shortly before they listed the house for sale. It was torn out within months.

We took our sweet time renovating this bathroom. Since we had the second bath upstairs, we closed the door to this room and let months pass when we were too busy to work on it. It was so worth the wait. We had the tub reglazed, tiled everything, repaired the plaster wall, painted, added crown molding, a new fan and light. The only thing that stayed the same is the toilet and vanity (which we painted and changed the hardware). Alex made the shelves from leftover Western Red Cedar that my dad used on the exterior of his workshop.

The paint color is Plumage from Martha Stewart’s former paint line at Home Depot.

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There is nothing particularly special about these rooms. We used to have one as Alex’s office/guest room, and the other as my office, but when we found out we were expecting we combined the offices and cleared out the other room for baby. Obviously baby is never going to live in that room, so now it’s a guest room that is currently coated in moving boxes.

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BEFORE:

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AFTER:

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BEFORE:

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AFTER:

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Ah, the master bedroom. I will miss this space so much. This was another space that we didn’t really expect to renovate, but once we got started it really changed! I was mostly out of town at tradeshows while Alex, his brother, and my dad tackled this space. It started by removing the drop ceiling above the staircase (see before photo below).

BEFORE:

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The doorway to the bedroom was short so that the door could open, and Alex literally had to duck through it. So that came out. That’s when they realized the closet and wall separating the stairs could come out entirely. They tore it all out, built the knee-wall and the closet, and united the space by removing the peel & stick tile that continued in the hallway to the bathroom. When we refinished the hardwood floors, we sanded the black porch paint off and the dark walnut stain made these floors gorgeous!

BEFORE:

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AFTER:

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About a year after we finished the downstairs bathroom, we started this one. The peel and stick tile had come unglued and slid around the floor, but the rest of the motivation for changing it was purely aesthetic. We ended up totally gutting the walls and insulating the room. This bathroom also had a plastic shower stall, and Alex did an awesome job at building the nook and tiling the whole thing. I have always wanted a painted wood floor, so instead of tile we painted the floor with oil paint (color is called Chimayo Sage). We re-trimmed the windows and did new beadboard halfway up the walls.

We moved the medicine cabinet higher on the wall. Alex couldn’t see the top of his head before, which is just unfair because he has great hair. The medicine cabinet, sconces, and sink were the thrifting scores of a lifetime. The medicine cabinet is a vintage one that Alex cleaned out and spraypainted the inside to a perfect, glossy mint finish. The sconces are so near and dear to my heart. I looked for small sconces for WEEKS, it was so frustrating. I have always loved old porcelain bathroom sconces, and I almost choked when I found these at the Restore for $1 a piece. We aren’t taking them to the new house because they fit this space so perfectly. I hope the next owner appreciates them as much as I do. You may have heard me sing the praises of the sink we installed (we found it at Goodwill for $6 while shopping for Halloween costumes), and weirdly I only have one poorly-lit photo of it (see below). We took it out and put in a new pedestal and faucet when we decided we were moving. Nobody comes between me and my American Standard shelf-back. IMG_2345 (1)

Finally, for the built-in storage, we used two Restore cabinets that were in great condition. I painted them with Benjamin Moore Advance, added an oak door for the top, and Alex built the slide-out laundry basket. The storage is so ample, it’s practically empty – we are not product junkies by any stretch, but it’s nice to have the space. We also added the baseboard heater in this room, which made showering in the winter downright cozy!

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I don’t have a “before” shot of this angle, but we really cleaned up the landscaping here. Alex put up the lattice and tidied up the beds, and built stone steps and retaining wall next to the corner of the house.

BEFORE:

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AFTER:

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Oooh this was a fun one. We knew the garage needed re-painting but when we finally went after it, we really did it right! We borrowed our neighbor’s pressure washer and gleefully blasted almost every scrap of paint off this old garage. Then we primed and painted every surface, making it feel almost like new! Alex never ceases to amaze me – he built the new double doors out of material found in the garage. Our garage went from maybe-a-crime-scene to little jewel box. Our knockout rose has just started to recover from the beating of the flying paint chips. We even flew an American flag on the garage-door side last summer, it was really sweet.

So, that just about covers it. It’s hard to boil down years of work into one blog post, but I’m glad to have a chronicle of most of the changes we made in the house. While writing this I realized how much of the weight Alex bears during our renovations. When we plan projects it feels like we do it together because I can use a drill and I get very dusty, but let’s be real – he is the one that gets it done. He is skilled, precise, and fearless, and I’m so grateful for him! Maybe I’ll learn how to tile, just to say I can!

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