When we started our house search in 2021, we wanted to find a place where we could be outdoors most of the time, hopefully in a drier climate than in Tennessee. We really wanted a good community, with diverse and friendly people who liked to hang out together. Unexpectedly, we found the answer right across the greenway from where we had been renting for a year in Colorado: a brown 70’s house in a peaceful and friendly neighborhood, with access to and a view of the park.
You might remember the story about how we came to find the house—you can read about it in my earlier post Serendipity Has Its Way.
You might also remember the long renovation list that came with the house in order to make it feel like our home—you can find the list in the post Honey, We Bought a Fixer Upper. Basically, I just wanted the entire house transformed…. We first focused on the upstairs area:
- Create an open concept in the living room/kitchen area
- Update the kitchen cabinets and add an island with seating
- Update lighting—and retire the sconces
- Keep the hard wood flooring for now with option to replace it later
- Add built-in bookcase and an electric fireplace in the living room
- Create a main suite by expanding the bedroom and transforming one of the guest bedrooms into a bath (complete with a stacked washer and dryer)
Quick side by side – BEFORE & AFTER
We moved into our new house at the end of July, but we haven’t truly moved in until the end of November. For three months, we lived—or should I say “survived”?—through construction. Whatever they say about living through a reno is true: it’s not fun. At all. What was technically a short time for a lot of reno, felt like forever and a day. We were lucky to have a neighbor help out and know other contractors around, which sped up the process. The permits took a while because structural engineers are few and far between—plus, they stay very busy, but I was impressed with the efficiency of the actual inspectors.
During the day, we camped out in the sunroom and a small guest bedroom, and our RV living experience came in handy. Luckily, we were able to go outside for walks and socialize with our neighbors most evenings. The daily invasion of privacy, the dust and noise got old fast for me, but I kept thinking of the desired end result.
The first step was to bring in a structural engineer to determine if we needed a support beam added when we took out the wall between the kitchen and the living room. We found a guy who showed up, looked in the attic for a few minutes and concluded we didn’t need a beam. Great! All we needed was his official letter stating that fact—which never materialized. I’m not sure what happened to the guy but he disappeared into thin air. So, we had to start our search for an engineer again. We finally found a good guy who sent us the needed letter, but all this meant a one month delay on starting the project.
The first phase involved a lot of demolition. David and I wanted to do a lot of the work, so we actually got excited to start taking out the walls. The downside of demo: everything got covered in fine dust and our allergies flared up. Even if we put up plastic sheets and we tried to keep up with cleaning after ourselves, the dust won.
We got really excited when the build up phase came along. Our hopes spiked as the first 2×4 structure appeared. Then, there was sheetrock. Ah, to have walls again, what an exciting feeling! And when we had actual doors that we could close, it felt like we were finally getting somewhere.
Our main bedroom area came together first. We changed the layout to expand the size of the bedroom from a 10×13 to a 13×13 (we got rid of a small hallway closet, knocked out the wall between two bedrooms, and moved the door from the side to the end of the hallway). Because of the new layout and increased size, we were able to fit in our furniture. It’s amazing how different and how much better the bedroom feels now!
We transformed one of the guest bedrooms into a master bath and connected it to our bedroom via a pocket door. Inside, we made room for a walk-in closet, shower, stacked washer and dryer, toilet, and double vanity. The bathroom is still coming along, but for now, it is functional. This is a great improvement over having just one tiny bathroom on the main floor….
In the kitchen, we had to upgrade our electrical, changing from the old and unsafe aluminum wire to copper. We also had to get the plumbing adjusted (there was a pipe that had been cut for some reason, and the sink wasn’t plumbed correctly, making it hard to have proper draining). All these lovely and costly updates came as somewhat of a surprise—one can’t really know what’s behind the walls until the sheetrock comes down…. I was glad to see the monstrous square 70’s light come down, along with the weird wall sconces. I placed the order for cabinets and counter tops well in advance, so I anticipated their arrival sometime in early November. I opted for a midnight blue island and cotton white for the rest of the cabinets. For the counter tops, we first looked at a beautiful flecked grey quartz called “Argento” (meaning Silver), but the thought of looking at that every day made us question our choice. So, we went with a subtly-veined off white quartz instead (called Misterio). We were lucky that the guys who installed the counter top were able to come right before Thanksgiving (they were scheduled for the day before Thanksgiving but showed up two days before, which gave me enough time to prepare my first full Thanksgiving meal, including the turkey!).
When it came to the pendant lights above the island, I took a chance and went with a couple of large textured glass domes, which gave our new kitchen a high end look and bright fun kick.
I reserved the wall at the end of the island for a solid reclaimed wood piece of furniture that I knew was in storage in Knoxville—and it fit perfectly! I wanted to keep the wood floors and combine a clean modern white and bright feel with the warmth of wood tones.
One of the challenges in the kitchen was making room for the return air vent, which had to be moved from the floor after we removed the wall. We considered a pony wall at the end of the kitchen, but that would have ruined the open floor plan. David came up with the idea of incorporating the vent into the new island, so there it sits!
The other challenge was the large cubby that provided storage but looked out of place in the living room, above the stairway. After scratching my head for a while, I decided to keep it but modify it. I wanted to incorporate wall-to-wall bookcases in the living room, so knowing that I was going for Ikea Billy bookcases, I figured we could re-size the wall cubby to match the bookcase opening (we had to make the cubby smaller, brining the bottom edge up to align with the bookcase doors). I also got rid of the multi-colored wood paneling and painted the cubby white. Now it’s a beautiful and useful little space, that serves as a bar area. The cherry on the cake in the living room is the fireplace! David did a great job at picking just the right size, which makes it look like it has always been a part of the structure. I think I’d like to build a white panel behind it to the height of the bookcases to complete the built-in look.
The sunroom didn’t get new flooring this time around, but I made sure to make it all festive for the holidays.
I’ve never lived through a major reno before, and after my experience, I think I will not do it again. All in all, though, when it all came together, it was amazing. We love our home now and we can’t wait to fix up the downstairs area next. The best part is that we get to share our cozy home with good friends and neighbors.
From our family to yours,
- Cabinets: Merillat (Island: Nightfall, Kitchen cabinets: Cotton)
- Pulls: Brainerd Casual Square (Lowe’s)
- Counter Tops: Misterio Quartz (PentalQuartz)
- Island Lights: Belinda Antique Black Mouth-blown Large Glass Pendant Chandelier (Overstock.com)
- Counter Height Chairs: Adjustable Height Button Tufted Fabric Bar Stool, Grey (set of 2) (Walmart)
- Fireplace: Dimplex Jean 5118 BTU 50 Inch Wide Free Standing Vent Free Electric Fireplace with Included Remote Control (Build.com)
- Bookcases: Billy (IKEA)
- Paint: Behr (Walls: Fast as the Wind, Ceiling: Polar Bear, Sunroom: Charcoal Blue) NOTE: these colors look a lot more grey on screen than in person.