Summer Renovation Plans

We have had quite a whirlwind of activity this spring, and I can’t believe it’s already Memorial Day Weekend!  We have a bunch of work planned in the house this summer, some of which is already completed or in progress.  I will hopefully get around to writing detailed posts on each of these projects, but in the meantime I figured I could provide a high-level summary of what we are working on!

Beefing Up Structural Support in our Living Room Ceiling:

When we bought our house, I noticed during the inspection that there was a dip in the floor in the bedroom on the left side upstairs.  I went back down and took a look at the ceiling in the living room, which was directly below, and it was also noticeably not level.  It seemed like someone had removed a load bearing wall at some point and not resupported to account the load that the wall carried.  While we were assured it wasn’t anything to be alarmed about, we worked with our realtor and a friend of the family who is a contractor to get an estimate for the work required to rectify the issue, which would entail opening up the ceiling and sistering stronger support components to the existing structure.  We were able to negotiate a credit at closing to cover the costs.  We finally got around to getting it done ~1.5 years later.

This is actually one item we can check off our list!!  Big thanks to Dave Breuder at Breuder Home Improvements for giving us peace of mind!!!

Recessed Lighting in the Living/Dining Room:

Since we already had to open up the ceiling, we wanted to take the opportunity to install recessed lighting.  The only places in our house that currently have any overhead lighting are our kitchen, bathrooms and hallways.  Our bedrooms, living/dining space and office are so dark and it’s a major problem- to the point where we end up moving lamps from other parts of the house when we are entertaining.  Sometimes it’s the little things that you may not notice off-the-bat when you’re house hunting that will end up really driving you nuts down the line!!! Because we use the living room as a living/dining combination, we are putting a fixture over our table as well, instead of recessed lighting throughout.

This is in progress, and Mike, aka Super-Husband, has done all of the wiring and installation himself.  Jack-of-all trades much?!

Removing the Built-Ins and Adding French Doors to the Back Porch:

Again, taking advantage of the disarray that would be inevitable giving the structural work happening in our living space, we decided to bite the bullet and begin a project that we really went back and forth on.  Along the rear wall of the space, there is a door to a sun room/porch, with built-ins surrounding on either side.



I LOVE built-in shelves for their character and function in general, especially in older homes, but our built-ins really weren’t especially nice.  Additionally, because we use the room as a dual-use space, eating up ~26 square feet of floor space with built-ins that were 24+ inches deep wasn’t optimal.  Lastly, the door that was currently there wasn’t a proper exterior door, was super drafty, and also didn’t allow for very much natural light in the space.  We really loved the idea of adding french doors for an up-scale, classic impact.  Thus, our brainstorming resulted in demolishing the built-ins and making room for 5′ of french doors.


In-Progress (my life is a swirling vortex of entropy)

We picked up the doors yesterday and hope to get the framing done sometime in the next two weeks.  This is another area where Dave Breuder will be helping us out.  We love to DIY but when it comes to structural type stuff, we think it’s much smarter to consult a professional!

Refinishing our Floors:

We had been considering this for awhile, but removing the built-ins has given us the kick in the pants we need to bite the bullet and do it.  We needed to do it sooner than later regardless, but we definitely need to sand the area that used to be under the built ins to be level with the rest of the floors immediately.  We also have a few unfinished steps at the bottom of our stairwell and have not yet succeeded in finding a matching stain to the rest of the stairs or floors.  We are concerned with logistics of the floors, because 1.  our house is not an easy place to relocate furniture within and 2. we have active dogs that we are worried will ruin them immediately.  We are leaning toward hiring professionals for the floors because of these reasons, and also because I’ve read that even the savviest DIY-ers can have trouble when refinishing floors.

Things on our “Maybe” List:

Rebuilding the Porch and Adding a Deck:

If you ask Mike, this is on our “definitely” list, but I think we will have to see how the rest of the summer plays out.  The porch off the dining area, which we call “The Shanty Porch”, does desperately need to be repaired, and adding a deck next to it would really bring more continuity to our outdoor space and access to our kitchen. We currently have a paver patio off the kitchen and next to the porch, but the two spaces are very disjointed.


Shanty Porch (not to be confused with Shanty Awning)

I’m still not convinced we shouldn’t add living space on to the back of the house so I’m hesitating to pull the trigger.  The plans that Mike drew up are looking pretty epic though, so maybe we should just go for it!


Grand Plans!

Kitchen Refresh:  

My kitchen is my least favorite part of our house.  It’s small, closed off from the rest of the house, has no room for seating and consequently has become the bane of my existence.  If we were to open it up to the bedroom that’s next to it, we would be able to pull off a more open-concept kitchen/dining space.  However, bringing the house down to two bedrooms is not smart for resale value (hence my hesitation to take adding on off the table that I mentioned above.)  However, we found a designer kitchen online that served as inspiration and made us feel like we could actually make our kitchen work better without changing the footprint.

We started looking into replacement countertops, floors and backsplashes, and things were really looking up!  However, once I stopped focusing on how much I hate my countertops and the fact that there is no seating in our kitchen because solutions were on the horizon, I realized how much I truly hate my cabinets.  They are white, and at first glance, not offensive- but they are cheap, poorly laid out and now I can’t stand the thought of spending money to put beautiful countertops on top of them. So, we are putting off decisions in that area for the time being.  Basically, we need to decide how much we are willing to invest in the kitchen in it’s current footprint, because even with improvements in functionality and aesthetics, it will still be far from an ideal kitchen.

I think that’s all that we have for now.   I’ll throw in a picture of what our yard looks like currently for good measure, since Mike doesn’t want to get a dumpster until we demo the porch.


I think I’ll call this one… “Gonna vom”

Is anyone else taking on Summertime renovations?  Am I the only one whose home is a swirling vortex of entropy?

What kind of projects are you taking on this Summer?

Have you ever had to make tough design choices?  

What are the things you didn’t think about when you were house-hunting but completely and totally drive you nuts now that you are in your home?  


Operation Curb Appeal Part One- Landscape Overhaul

As I mentioned in my inaugural post, we had a particularly hellish house hunt (think 9 months, 5 offers, and nothing but bidding wars…).  We ended up with our cute little house in a great neighborhood and an AWESOME yard, and while it was definitely “move-in-ready” it also provided us PLENTY of opportunities to freshen things up a bit.  Most notably, it was severely lacking in curb appeal.  The shanty awning, the lack of landscaping, the powder blue siding and poop-brown shutter combination- it certainly seems like years of poor decision making and lack of effort really took its toll on our poor little house.


Curb appeal fail.

We didn’t have delusions of grandeur- recovering financially from buying the house and all of the wedding and honeymoon expenses was not going to allow us to jump headfirst into any major projects.  The first thing we did was paint the shutters.  We admittedly did not end up with as dark of a blue as we had hoped, but after some close calls on the ladder due to a standoff with the wasps that had taken up residence behind them, Mike was not exactly volunteering to hop up there and redo it (and it still looked better than it did before).

The next thing we thought we were ready to tackle was adding some curb appeal with landscape improvements.  We are very fortunate to have many multi-talented people within our network of family and friends, and our awesome friend Dave spent several years running a landscaping business and he kindly lent us his ideas, time, pick-up truck and elbow grease to get us started.  The first thing that they did was prepare landscape beds and build a small stone wall to give the space a little bit more “oomph”.

Once the area was prepared for planting, it was time to get to our local garden supply to pick out our greenery.  I am warning you right now, if you are taking on a ground-up DIY landscaping project- DO YOUR HOMEWORK.  Mike and I have proven to be less than stellar at plant planning and selection.  There are so many plant choices and sizes, and it’s worth the extra time up front to get a real strategy on what exactly you are going for.

photo (1)

Front garden beds & our first shrubs!

We had originally planned on a few boxwoods on each side and if you’ll notice in the photo above, there are two boxwoods on the right.  Fast forward through a few more trips to Morris County Farms and poor Mike was digging one of them up and planting it on the other side to make way for larger, more cost effective plants once we realized how slow-growing AND expensive they were.  “Sure, this will grow into exactly what you want it to be in 5 years, but it will be super tiny until then and cost you a billion dollars today.”    I do worry that we lost sight of the big picture, but the nice thing about gardening and landscaping is that you can always add, replace or attempt to move things around (much to Mike’s dismay).  We added some burning bushes, peonies, a variegated shrub, and a bunch of other plants that I don’t even know the name of at this point.  Our track record with plants up until this point had resulted in me dubbing our home as “the place plants go to die”, so I’m just happy they survived.  Except the Rhododendron… RIP Rhododendron.  (FYI, if you plant a rhododendron, fertilize sparingly, if at all.)

To circle back to my point about planning ahead and doing your homework… seriously, do it.  Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions.  We still haven’t fully learned our lesson, and on our last trip for a tree and a few filler shrubs we found ourselves in our familiar nightmarish situation, frantically looking at tags for how large things grow, googling whether they were deer resistant, arguing the merits of Autumn Brilliance or a Juniper tree.  Every trip inevitably ends in me saying, “I’m (hungry/tired/hot/bored) and I want to go home,” (which I may have picked up from my three-year-old niece), a hasty purchase of whatever random conglomeration of plants has wound up in our wagon, and a silent ride home.  Consider this a Public Service Announcement-  don’t do the farm and garden store like we do.  All you’ll end up with is shame, and a front landscape that you refer to as “the jungle”.

There are a ton of websites out there that provide a wealth of knowledge on different types of plants, tips for layouts, example landscapes, etc, so to reiterate my “plan ahead” point above, research beforehand and understand all of your constraints and you’ll limit rework and end up with a more optimized result. These are best practices that we both use in our jobs as engineers on a daily basis, but we have learned the hard way several times as homeowners that if you cut corners in planning, you WILL get burned.  For example- ask your wife if the holes you dug are too close to the house before you plant anything, or you will end up replanting them.  Not that that happened to us or anything…

Despite our trial-and-error approach last year, now that Spring has sprung and everything has started to bud and bloom I have to say overall I think the result is simply beautiful.  It’s certainly an improvement from the baseline!  It is definitely a work-in-progress and will evolve over time but I’ve come to love our little mismatched jungle.  Doing the work ourselves and trying to choose shrubs that would be aesthetically pleasing as well as cost-effective, it was a relatively small investment for a large impact (I would estimate we spent somewhere between 1500 bucks but Mike would probably have a more accurate number).  Before and after picture below shows the original picture juxtaposed to what the house looks like as of a week ago, after adding a Juniper tree on the left and white hydrangea on each end (which I am hoping will bloom for us this year, but may not because they were just planted).


Before & After!

Obviously there is another big change between the before and after- we ripped the shanty awning down one Friday night in August on a whim, and we designed & Mike built a portico in its place.  I will write about that in a future post:  Operation Curb Appeal Part 2- So Long Shanty Awning!