This weekend, I posted the photo above as an entry for a little challenge I’m participating in on Instagram (look up #homediary daily, but know that it’s based in the UK so accounts from the US can’t be chosen as winners or receive the prizes, I’m just doing it for fun). In the post, I offhandedly remarked that I miss living in a home that’s already been completely renovated. Afterward, I got multiple DMs from people, asking me to show photos from our last house. So I’m going to, while I focus on putting together a home tour of our current house. But first, I must mention that at the time we renovated, we weren’t running a design business. We weren’t blogging about home decor. In fact, our realtor was so positive the house would sell quickly that he didn’t even have professional photographs taken for the listing (this is a terrible idea, by the way and you should never agree to this but whatever). So all of the pictures you’re about to see are extremely low-quality. They were taken on the dreariest Spring day, around 4:00 pm. Literally the worst possible pictures I could have gotten. But I thought it might be fun to go through and talk about what we did / what we wish we’d done (started a business earlier, taken better photos, etc).
Here’s our last kitchen. Isn’t she a beauty. We were going for a rustic brown look. Okay, I’m kidding. This is the BEFORE photo. The house was built in 1964 and had never been renovated (or even updated from what we could tell). Which is exactly what we were looking for. If you want the biggest bang for your investment dollar, always try to find a house with no renovations. Not because the original characteristics are so charming. In fact, we didn’t really keep any part of the original finishes. But because you won’t be paying for someone else’s renovation to then just turn around and make your own changes. I’ll never be happy with someone else’s finishes anyway. So we may as well start from scratch. Also, I don’t trust house flippers, as a general rule. When a house is renovated in a matter of two months, I know there have been some shortcuts taken. What’s between the walls can be scary if not properly done (think electrical and plumbing). I’d rather tear the drywall out on my own and take a look. You just don’t have the luxury of doing so with a newly drywalled home. (I mean, you can, but who guts a home that was just gutted? no one).
We tore this kitchen apart. We extended the whole kitchen to run from the front of the house to the back of the house. We knew we couldn’t widen the space between the kitchen walls, thanks to two giant brick chimneys directly behind the kitchen. So we decided if we had to live with a galley, it would be the longest galley we could get. We replaced the cabinets with brand new IKEA cabinets which we had painted – white on the top (SW White Dove) and a dark green on the bottom (SW Avocado). We added new hardware, in black, and installed marble counters. That is the first thing we would change. Marble is gorgeous. For two days. I saw every watermark, every scratch. It was awful. And as much as we tried, we couldn’t keep our guests from ruining them. My mother would come into town and cook for three days straight and spill grease and spaghetti sauce on them. The very first time we entertained our neighbors, one of our guests took a chunk out of the front of the marble with a beer bottle. Don’t buy marble. Buy a granite that looks like marble and save yourself the hassle and heartbreak.
This is the second mistake we made. We bought these appliances because they harkened the look of far more expensive SMEG and the like. This line was manufactured for one year only. And for good reason. We had so many challenges with these appliances from the day we got them. I have lost count of how many repairs they required. And the manufacturer’s warranty expired halfway through our owning them. Eventually, we spent so much money to repair the dishwasher and refrigerator (the two main culprits) that we could’ve purchased a SMEG fridge. Lesson learned: Don’t buy the very first version of a new set of appliances. If the company has drastically altered or introduced a new line, let them get the kinks out before you spend thousands of dollars on them. (They were really cute though and we offered a home warranty to the buyers so they didn’t have to worry about them breaking down for a few more years)
Here’s the view from the front of the house, looking into the kitchen. This whole space was open. We nixed a formal dining room over having a big open formal living room and a dining room table in basically the same space. In retrospect, we really could’ve left some walls in place. This house ended up being a little *too* open concept for life with a crawling baby (and later, a running toddler). But overall, I still really love the finishes we chose. This house was in a very upscale neighborhood in an area that attracts retirees. So as much as my heart wanted to modernize this ranch, it just wasn’t a smart choice for that particular market. Even so, I still really loved the finished product. I really wish you could see it better. We built pantry around the fridge and all the upper cabinets had glass fronts (PS. No. Don’t do this. Leave yourself a little room for storage. It was a mess constantly) You can also see that most of the furniture we have in our current house is actually from our last house. It makes no sense for our lives and we don’t actually even like it that much (looking at you, SOFA). So we’re planning to update these pieces in our current house over time.
Here’s the opposite view, standing in the kitchen and looking into the formal living room. We still use these chairs in our breakfast nook and the table is in our dining room. My favorite part of this room is the sconces we installed on either side of the fireplace. This house had TWO fireplaces, which was awesome.
Here’s the view from the opposite side of the kitchen, peeking into the family room / den. That big brick monstrosity is the second fireplace. Here’s what it looked like before we renovated:
Taken from the backside of the house, looking into the kitchen. It was, um, dark again.
And here’s the final product. The room you see just beyond the kitchen is the laundry/mudroom. Originally, this had been a half bath with a washer and dryer. But the space was so small that if you installed a washer and dryer in there, the door wouldn’t close. Since we renovated, I’ve come up with a dozen different ways we could have resolved that challenge without losing the half bath altogether. Lesson learned: Don’t tackle large renovations until you’ve lived in a home for at least six months. Get to know your house and the way your family will live in it before you start tearing out walls and taking our toilets.
Finally, here’s the front of the house. It had an amazing front porch which is where we spent the majority of our time at home. Christine and I listened to both seasons of Serial out here. We watched blue fireflies swarm our yard in June. We waved to our neighbors and drank beer with friends. We sorted acorns with our daughter and drew landscapes in neon sidewalk chalk on the concrete porch. The first thing I bought for this house after we signed our closing paperwork were two giant ferns to hang exactly where these are. Every Spring, I’d wait for the fern delivery at our local nursery. I’d forget to water them in June and by July, they were barely hanging on. And sometimes I’d even have to replace them because we forgot to have the neighbors look after them while we vacationed. When we moved, we left the ferns for the new owners. It just seemed like this is exactly where they belonged. While this wasn’t exactly where we belonged, we do have a lot of cherished memories in this house. It’s the house we brought our newborn daughter home to. It’s the house we said goodbye to our beloved dog in. It’s where we spend countless parties with friends. It’s where we grew closer together as a team. It’s where I gained the confidence to strike out on my own and build this business. I love this house. I just wish you could’ve seen it better.