Home renovation update

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. 

15 thoughts on “Home renovation update

  1. We are living in a house we are currently renovating (we really had no choice given the rental market in our area currently). It is NOT ideal. It is nice to see thinks starting to take shape.

    1. @Gillian – not ideal is one way to put it! When we thought we might renovate the current house we discussed aiming for the summer and trying to work remotely from the beach…

  2. The blue looks great and what lovely natural lighting in the bedroom.

    Thanks for providing this update. Unfortunately, I’m a maximizer around home renos/aesthetics and wish with all my might that I could magically wave a wand and become a satisficer. I can’t, but all the decisions you’re having to make are giving me a bit of perspective on my very daunting – but far fewer – decisions.

  3. We live in a house built in 1857 with extensions added in the 1880s and 1890s. It belonged to the Church of England until 1982 and was partly modernised then and we bought it in 1992. There are still things to do we meant to do when we moved in and many things that we have re-done more than once in the past almost 30 years and it has cost us a small fortune over the years, but I still believe it was a wonderful buy and has been a perfect family home for our two daughters, born in 2000 and 2004 who have never lived anywhere else. Wishing you and the family every happiness in your “forever” family home Laura.

  4. Renovating a whole house sounds a lot like my experience building a whole house. It was an astonishing amount of work, even though I did not even lift a paintbrush myself. We had everything that could possibly go wrong happen (seemingly), including having our contractor end up in jail for insurance fraud halfway through our project.
    If I were to re-do the whole experience, I would have hired a better contractor (i.e. not a white-collar criminal) and been much more thorough in vetting the companies we used.

    1. @Sarah K – having your contractor land in jail would definitely be a problem! But hard to anticipate. An insurance fraudster might still have good reviews…

  5. We have done a lot of renovations but only one where we had to move out. And technically, we didn’t HAVE to move out, but with a 4yo and a 1yo, it was just easier. That house sounds similar to yours – bleh on the main listing photo but really great once I got past that and went inside. I still grieve that Seattle house esp after the HUGE renovation. Turns out you can’t renovate the weather so here we are in Phoenix 😛

    As the owner of a historic house for 18 months now, I’ve realized there is ALWAYS something that needs to be fixed. I think you have to make peace with that and tackle the annoying/dangerous stuff first, and always have a bit of savings for unexpected things (like our 100 year old cast iron pipe failing inside a wall).

    Thankfully both my husband and father in law are handy, and FIL lives in a “senior living” apartment where everything is taken care of, so he LOVES coming over and helping with stuff like sticky doorknobs or the water softener that just quit and leaked all over everything. We have an electrician on our regular roster, which was not a thing for us before.

    We’re about to build a new “Garage Mahal” so my husband can have a workshop space and we can park more than 2 cars inside. As much as I hate constant construction, at least this reno is totally not connected to the house, though it is right outside my office window 🙁

    A very wise friend told me before our first big reno that I should expect to cry at least once, and that it always costs more than you think.

  6. I love the blue with that floor color and lovely light.

    I agree with remodeling while living elsewhere. That’s what we did with our house and I’ve never regretted it.

    Definitely batch the errands and decisions. For instance, I had to go over to the stone yard to choose granite. It was near work so I went on my lunch hour and chose all of the granite at once for the bathrooms and kitchen even though we didn’t need it all immediately. I went to the paint place and asked to borrow a sample book so I could take it to the house to see what colors looked like in the actual light in each room over a couple of weekends.

    It sounds like a great choice for your family. I hope you will share some pictures when it’s done.

  7. COVID threw a wrench in our kitchen reno last year. We were washing dishes in our bathtub for months! I love old houses (and the blue paint!) – looking forward to more progress updates and photos!

  8. We lived through one remodel 5 years ago, and we’re living through another one now. We don’t leave as it’s too expensive. It’s not great. My husband and I are both maximizers which means the end result is fantastic! We truly live in a fully considered home, which is recruited for commercials, rentals and films (we’ve made money from that, which is nice). And hosting friends is awesome. The down side is: ugh. The process. The mess. The indecision. I’m guessing I will forget all about this when we’re done. It’s the last one inside.

  9. Preparing for a gut reno of out 1940’s bungalow in the coming weeks. We’ll be moving out and living nearby. Love this update! It sounds like you are creating a great space for your family to spend time in. Also, love that blue, we have plans for similar:)

  10. It looks gorgeous!! I love beautiful and historic homes and I am like I want to see all the pictures. I think that is going to be so wonderful for your family.

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