Friday, January 20, 2012

The Great Remodel of 2011, Before and After

First, some history. My parents bought the old farmhouse in which I grew up at an auction for less than $30,000. Guess what happens when you buy an old farmhouse for less than $30,000 in the mid-eighties?

You live with perpetual, inconvenient renovations!

J bought the house we now inhabit back in the late nineties for $40,000. It was built in 1885 and stood vacant for 13 years before he bought it.

Guess what happens when you buy an ancient, 13 years-vacant farmhouse that used to be a rental unit for $40,000?

You live with perpetual, inconvenient renovations!

Now don’t get me wrong. I no longer mind the DIY. I’m learning a lot, and we’re slowly making our house exactly the way we want it. Also, two words: sweat equity. (Mostly sweat--have you ever hand-scraped Nixon-era carpet pad some genius glued and stapled to the pine floor boards below? In five rooms? It was so old it crumbled into yellow, rubbery dust. Masks were worn. Sneezing commenced. Knuckles and knees were bruised. Curses lingered in the air.)

My father-in law, hard at work...standing where a shed used to be attached to the house. My brother-in-law looks thrilled to be standing where our new driveway will be poured.

View of the same back door last summer. We painted it purple, just for kicks.

Since we bought the house, we’ve sunk an additional $70,000 into it. First, we started outside, with a new roof, new siding, new porches, new driveway, new exterior doors and windows, landscaping, and a brand-spanking new garage. With a magic door that opens at the push of a button!!!

Hey, I have a great idea! Let's side the house in February!

A cute 'lil birch now grows where two hulking Box Elder beasts used to.

Then we moved indoors, installing a tankless water heater, energy efficient furnace, beadboard wainscoting in the kitchen, new appliances, and *drum roll please*…our fall project: a complete remodel of the entire second story of our house. (We recently got a new computer and I lost most of my before photos in the transfer, but you’ll get the gist.)

This is an actual, unadulterated photo of our “daily-use” bathroom prior to the remodel (minus the mirror). I had to switch to waterproof mascara because anytime I stood in front of the mirror to apply make-up, I wept copiously.

Again, the toilet, which is only code-compliant on the planet “Crap Cobbled Together by Someone With Hand, Brain, and Eye Injuries.” Here were the things that crossed my mind the very first time I laid eyes on this engineering marvel: “There’s a toilet in the wall. Spiders. Gross. Disgusting. Bugs. Ewww. Those lazy bastards. There’s a toilet in the wall.”

In the days before The Great Remodel, there was a Great Purge. In the Purge, I hauled almost every piece of our old furniture to the curb. Countless trips to Goodwill and electronics recycling drives were made. It was time. Most of that stuff had moved from house to house to house with me since college. I finally got rid of the twin bed I’d had since I was three.

I was ruthless in my culling. I became a hoarder’s worst nightmare. I even tried to convince J to throw away an oil painting done by his grandmother, because a) it is buttass-ugly; b) it’s not done by my grandma; and, c) I have a heart made of obsidian and/or am part robot. I let him keep it in the garage, partly to assuage my guilt that I threw away other personal belongings of his when he wasn’t looking.

This looks safe, doesn't it?

I am standing where our new walk-in closet will be. I can't even believe I get to type that. The bathroom walls are completely gone, yet the old, yellow-ochre, 70s phone booth shower stall remains. New doorways and walls to come ...

You have to add a few charming yet unnecessary touches. I'm ashamed to tell you what this switch plate cost. So I'm not going to.

Everything in this picture is new except the windowpanes. Also, I've developed a fondness for wrought-iron.

I love this hallway now; it used to be a big landing with tons of wasted space. I wish I had a before photo, so you could see how ridiculous the layout was.

The "new" spare bedroom, which is empty from The Great Purge. That door is brand-spanking new. That space used to be a closet. I am standing almost where the old entrance was; just three months ago, your only way in or out of this bedroom was through the adjacent walk-through bathroom. So if someone was dropping a deuce and you really wanted to get downstairs, you just had to wait awhile, Nelly. You were trapped.

This might be my favorite room. Once a small, grubby bedroom with peeling walls and a bare, dangling lightbulb that screamed "CRACK DEN!", this is now my walk-in closet / dressing room / ironing and folding station. I can iron a shirt, put on some slacks, and lie down to do celebratory floor-angels on the fluffy new carpet if I want. See that post-demo photo above featuring the shovel? I'm standing in the same spot.

During the demo, we found a decorative old metal grate that we'll clean, repaint, and install over the cold air return at the base of the linen closet; until then, Daisy will continue to sniff the hole cautiously and growl at it in warning so it doesn't suck her down into the furnace.

Oh Pottery Barn, I finally know yee.* (* I spelled “ye” with an extra “e,” because otherwise it would sound like, “yeh,” and I want to be clear. I mean “YEE.”)

This glass door is so new it still smells like silicone caulk and solvents. Still, I'm trying not to lick it whenever I walk by.

I no longer cry when I put my makeup on here. I sing. Which is really hard when you're applying lipstick. See that custom linen closet? It's a pass-through; I can reach through and wave to J in the bedroom, while he's shelving freshly folded towels on the other side. Right, J?

Remember when you were a kid and your Dad said that one friend of yours had a face like a bag full of doorknobs? I know! Me neither! But look—now I have an actual bag full of doorknobs!!! This is one of our last tasks; first we have to finish painting the doors.

J and I leveled the floor and laid this grout-free Duraceramic tile ourselves, which was an adventure. (Helpful tip: Leveling compound is NOT supposed to be lumpy when you pour it on the floor.)

No more toilet in the wall! Trust me when I tell you I now hear a chorus of angels singing Hallelujah every time I sit down.


So there you have it. We'll be turning our attention to the living room, downstairs bath, and kitchen this summer.

Or next. The adventure continues.


  1. In my best (or worst) Oprah-lavishing-credit-on-Nate-Berkus-voice: "Folks, can we say BEAUTIFUL???!!! Really, Nate, it's love-lay, just love-lay." (I mean, Jess).

    Congrats on a beautiful house and a job well done!

  2. The photos don't do it justice really! So glad we got a sneak peak in person at Christmas time! And can't wait to see what the next round of changes are in store... you guys have such a great sense of style/taste and eye for detail! Love you... (;

  3. Wow, what a makeover! BEAUTIFUL!

  4. Penny3:31 PM

    Love, love, love!!! So cute! Have you gotten addicted to pinterest yet??? so many cute DIY ideas!

  5. Wow. This is beyond impressive. I can't believe how beautiful everything looks. One of my favorite before-and-after series ever.

  6. Jess, I'm sitting out here in Crooked Creek with a new public health nurse and we're waiting for our flight home. I was viewing your blog and saw your photos. I am so impressed with the work you and J did. JUST BEAUTIFUL!
    Seriously, when you've completed your place we could use you up here! my fellow PHN grew up in Oshkosh and is wondering what street you're on....I just love your snarky blog!!!!! ;-)

  7. oh wow, that looks awesome!!

  8. So great to stumble onto your blog (thanks to Rena!). Can I ask who did your wrought iron?

  9. Congrats on your finished upstairs. Everything looks beautiful! Looking back at the progress is sometimes the only way to keep moving forward.

    Before I got married I owned a 153-year old home that was occupied by a legally blind lady for the last 20 years so I completely understand the "perpetual, inconvenient renovations" comment. The hardest part in the remodeling was that NOTHING was level. The 10-foot wide bathroom floor dropped 1.5" from one corner to the other. Hmmm. Do we make the window level and therefore LOOK crooked with everything else in the room or do we go for the visual appeal?

  10. Thanks everyone! xoxo

    (Miss you Aunt Mary!)

    Shane, our contractor subbed the wrought iron railing out--I remember picking out the pattern in a catalog, but I can't recall the actual company--sorry!

    Kelly, that is Too, Too True!! One of our doors upstairs had to be cut at a severe angle on the bottom because it wouldn't even open all the way. We would have LOVED to do hardwood, but the floor has such a slope, there was just no way.

  11. "have you ever hand-scraped Nixon-era carpet pad some genius glued and stapled to the pine floor boards below?" - I am laughing so hard at that one.

    Your house is adorable!

  12. It looks like the end result is according to your expectations!! Looks great in the end!!

  13. Judy :)6:00 PM

    WOW, means so much more when you have a hand in the renovations. Beautiful place.