There is dust everywhere. The house smells like paint. A truck comes to pick up the dumpster frequently. On the plus side, we’ve paid for more than half of the project!
For those new to this blog, my family faced a decision about our housing once we learned kid #5 was on his way. My husband and I both need office space, my baby sleeps in a closet and I have two kids sharing a room who really don’t want to (although, curiously, I also have two other kids currently sharing voluntarily, but that was a late summer thing — they plan to separate).
We had been looking at houses on and off for a year from 2019-early 2020. We had hired a construction firm to come look at our current house and see if we could renovate the attic to create two bedrooms and a bathroom. We could. They drew up a plan. We were thinking of doing that, but Covid put a pause on everything. Then, in the course of hunting around, we decided to go look at a historic property near here. I didn’t like the main picture on all the real estate sites, which is why we hadn’t looked at it seriously during the year-long hunt. But it was on a private road, so we’d never driven past. We did once while my husband was driving me home from dropping my car to get repaired and I was…taken.
It turned out that the “front” of the house didn’t face the road. The facade that faced the road was beautiful. The house was set back and private. The grounds were large and well-landscaped, if a bit overgrown. Our inspector informed us that the house needed a ton of work. This was why it had been on the market for a while. But we decided to go for it.
Our offer was accepted in late August 2020. We closed in early November. We signed a contract with a general contractor in January, hired an architect to make our case to the historic commission, got approved, and began work in March.
It is now September. The process has been…long. I have made a great many decisions. There were decisions I didn’t even think to realize were going to be decisions — like whether to keep the outlet in the middle of my office floor and what material to use for the shelf in several different showers. And that’s with a general contractor managing all the subs, and with a designer showing me limited choices so I don’t go crazy. We are basically renovating the whole house. There was the less-sexy stuff like an all new HVAC system, scoping out the drains, and putting a sloped floor in one of the basement rooms. We’ve put in new windows where the historic commission approved (long time readers recall the “muntin” debate…). We put on a new slate roof (it’s basically done now). We gutted the kitchen and two adjacent sitting rooms to make a more modern family kitchen + family room. We re-worked the master suite to be less chopped up (with a gut renovation of the master bathroom). We completely redid another bathroom and put new toilets in all of them. The third floor had several tiny rooms, so we knocked down the walls between them to make a playroom. It is now light and open and airy and pretty. All the floors are getting sanded and stained, with new paint everywhere, new wallpaper, new carpet…
To answer some comments earlier — yes, it is expensive. Yes, it is stressful. It is not possible to make all decisions well which means that some are going to no doubt annoy me when we move in, but so help me if anyone else who was not attending all the meetings and being 100 percent part of the selection process involving multiple showrooms complains about any choices…
(Just kidding ha ha! We would never have that fight! Especially not about the mudroom tile.)
Anyway, we seem to have weathered most of it at this point. We are still married and both of us have kept our jobs, so that’s a win. We’ve discovered most of the major things that could potentially be wrong now that we are through the demolition process. Some get changed. Some you live with. It is an old house. It helps to remember that you don’t have to fix absolutely all problems. The new walls and such are in, and things like paint and carpet are straightforward. We can see the house taking shape, and it’s going to be exciting to move in (probably around the beginning of the year). I think we’ve got a nice combination of honoring some of the house’s historic character (I have a brass figure that looks like William Penn on my office door, I kid you not) while also making it more energy efficient and family friendly.
I’m not sure I have any great advice for home renovations, though here are a few ideas. First, if you can, don’t live there while it’s happening. This wasn’t possible in our case, so we didn’t face that temptation. We did live in our house during the kitchen renovation a few years ago, but that was much shorter, and we did an overlap with spring break. Even so, it was challenging.
Second, just assume the project will cost more than originally planned. If you know this going in, this reduces your stress levels considerably (even if you, like me, are always looking for ways to save some $$. We went with the cheaper closet finish, in case anyone is wondering. It will constantly be covered by my clothes anyway!)
Third, it helps to be a satisficer, rather than a maximizer. There are a lot of white paints out there. There are a lot of mudroom tiles. If you are trying to find the best of anything you will go crazy. (And then when you find it, it will go out of stock!) Most things can be changed if it doesn’t work out. And few choices are truly wrong. Well, design choices at least. You can definitely have the wrong “rough-in” dimension on a toilet (10 inches? 12 inches?) But for most things, good enough is good enough.
As for time management, it helps that the new house is only 5 minutes from the old one. It’s easy to run over for something quick. But in general, I try to “batch the little things” — making home decisions and dealing with administration/logistics during certain times, and then keeping my prime hours for my main job. Easier said than done, of course. But worth trying.
If anyone else has gone through a major home renovation, feel free to share your tips!
Photo: Part of the master bedroom. If you don’t like the blue don’t tell me.