When we moved into our little brick house in late 2005, we repainted every room and ceiling, brought in our furniture, and generally left well enough alone apart from adding or replacing furniture. Sure, we did some home improvement projects–the ceiling in the basement family room, the main floor bathroom, the roof, and the landscaping being the ones that come to mind. But other than that, for the most part, nothing’s changed really significantly in the last ten years.
Then somehow, we ended up changing five rooms rather dramatically in the course of about a year and a half. Some of those changes have been highlighted in earlier posts on this blog, but I’ve been wanting to get them all up in one, with before and after side by side.
So here goes…
Sun Room to Cigar Room
I’ve a feeling a great many people (especially women perhaps) might be of the opinion that these pictures surely must be backwards. But no, and in fact transforming the very feminine sun room into the very masculine cigar room was my idea, not my husband’s. The result is that we both spend a lot of time in this room now where before he almost never did. Those wicker chairs were not terribly comfortable. And now he has a place to smoke cigars all year long without being exiled to the freezing or mosquito-y outdoors. We spend a good deal of time writing out here, as well as entertaining friends while children roam the rest of the house unsupervised. It’s great. We finished more of the work by the summer of 2016. To see more of this room, click here.
Warm Kitchen to Cool Kitchen
So. Much. Painting. This project was six weeks of pretty concentrated work, most of it painting all those cupboards and all that woodwork a bright, washable white (they were just painted with primer before that and got so filthy). This project took up much of October and November 2017. To see more of this room, click here.
Office to Master Bedroom
This was part of our big room switcheroo starting in January 2018. With our master bedroom on the first floor, there’s more privacy for everyone and our wandering about well after our son has gone to bed doesn’t disturb his sleep as it once did. I like waking up in a room with an east facing window, even if the blinds are drawn because little fingers of sunlight get through the bamboo blinds and nudge me awake. Well, they do when there are no clouds, which hasn’t been often of late.
Master Bedroom to Kid’s Bedroom
Somehow, we got almost all of my son’s possessions into one room rather than having them scattered throughout the house. He has far more room and storage space than he ever did before and the door can just be closed on the mess. It’s a beautiful thing.
Kid’s Bedroom to Office
And of course, the reason behind the room switcheroo was to give me an office that was 100% mine, with no one else’s desks or stuff in it. I’ve worked from home for thirteen years, so it was about time. It has really helped my mood and my peace of mind. More pictures of this room can be found here.
All of these improvements have made our house function better and have made it more livable. We have fallen in love with it all over again and have stopped considering a move to someplace bigger. Sometimes you already have what you need–you just haven’t figured out the best way to use it. Now I think we have. And as we were moving all that furniture around in the ice and snow and rain we decided that to move an entire house just seems like too much work anyway.
Now we’re entering the season when most people are thinking of spring cleaning and big home improvement projects and we find that our big projects are mostly done. So what will we do with ourselves if spring ever comes? I suppose we’ll just have to sleep soundly, work without interruption, eat a great dinner, and sit back and enjoy a cigar.
Finally, I had some time to take real pictures with a real camera of my real new office space! If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you may remember when I posted these pictures of my office on the main floor of our house (which I shared with my husband’s desk and my son’s desk, which is not pictured because these are old photos). Anyone who has been to our house can attest to the fact that it was NEVER this clean and orderly.
You may also remember seeing pictures of my son’s room the one day it has ever been clean. (He has been in a twin bed for years now, but since then his room has never been clean enough to photograph.)
After MUCH toil and cleaning and painting and hauling of furniture up and down ladders outside, we emerged triumphant in the bid to move my office into my son’s old bedroom.
One of my bookshelves moved up onto the landing (getting it upright after getting it through the door sideways was a miracle of geometry).
The medium blue walls have been repainted with a cool, calm blue called Tropical Surf. The rug came from Target.
My desk is part of a shelving unit I found at a secondhand furniture store here in town (which we call Bikes! Bikes! Bikes! because of the sign outside the store proclaiming same). Oddly enough, this shelving unit weighs five tons. More oddly enough, it was made in Yugoslavia. It’s the only thing I’ve ever seen that was made in Yugoslavia. And I can’t imagine us importing this kind of basic furniture from Yugoslavia of all places. However, I am glad it ended up here.
Now I have room for more of my books — especially my writing books — to be right at my fingertips rather than in another room or even on another floor.
The printer sits under the desk. In the top drawer are all my desky things — pens, stapler, various cords for various devices, etc. The bottom drawer is completely full of my little notebooks, about half of them full of notes and ideas for various writing projects and the other half full of blank pieces of paper ready to receive my ideas.
One of my shelves is graced with my son’s artwork, my souvenir from our trip to Disneyworld last year, my little Bob Ross mini-figure, and other memorabilia.
In one corner, Alistair the canary has taken up residence next to my sewing box full of notions and, at the moment, the wooden elephant statue from my grandparents’ house, which has been mine since my grandfather died in 1986. He won’t stay right there in the long run, but I haven’t quite decided on the best place for him.
In the other corner is my craft area, currently set up for painting but easily switched over to a sewing space.
By the way, behind that little door is a closet that currently houses my big file drawers, blank canvases, my dress form, my spools of thread, my guitar case, and other random items I need but don’t necessarily need to look at all the time.
You may have noticed that most of the walls are bare and that the wall that does have art on it is rather hodge-podgey and random. That’s because I intend to fill most of the walls up with an eclectic collection of paintings, prints, and posters, and even some needlework done by my sister and the super-’70s framed puzzle I got off the side of the road that everyone in the world loves (except my husband). However, I don’t have enough at the moment to fill all the space.
I’m going antiquing with a friend this Saturday and hope to find one or two things to add to the collection. And I have a great poster of an old map of Detroit that I need to get framed. Basically, I’ll be on the lookout for items with lots of green, teal, blue, and coral.
So that’s the office for now. A room of my own. With a door that shuts all the way. And with nothing in it that anyone else ever needs to access (save the printer, which is rare and generally not when I’m in there).
I’ve been completely happy with it so far.
Stay tuned for what the old office looks like now as the master bedroom. And maybe I’ll even take a picture of my son’s new room in all its messy glory.
It’s twelve degrees warmer this morning in mid-Michigan than it is in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In fact, we’ve had a string of unseasonably warm days. Last week we had a rapid melt of over a foot of snow, plus two days of steady rain, causing the Grand and Red Cedar Rivers to flood. There were small-scale evacuations in neighborhoods near the rivers. And then we had three days in a row that felt like early May.
We’ll be back down in the 40s for the first couple weeks of March, which is more appropriate for this time of year, and there are still some snow showers in the forecast, but not much. I understand that groundhog saw his shadow way back at the beginning of the month, but I guess marmots are not the best prognosticators of global weather patterns.
I’m always happy to see February drift away in the rear view mirror. This year I have spent most of the month on moving rooms around in my house. A small, enclosed staircase with a right angle is part of the reason it took so long. The crazy weather is another. The stairs mean large items must go in/out an exterior door on the second floor that leads out to the roof of the smoke room, and up and down a ladder propped against it. Which, of course, you can’t safely do in a foot of snow and ice, nor in a deluge.
Everything big is safe and sound in its new room. Finally. After all, I’ve been planning for this move since July of last year, drawing schematics and making lists of the order in which things would have to be moved.
Now we’re down to the little stuff:
- our son’s old karate belts, which we’ve been meaning to get into a display case
- a small file cabinet that is mostly filled with things that could be stored in the attic or tossed
- the light we removed from the old office/new bedroom that we’re going to put up in the living room
- a random assortment of items that belong somewhere in my son’s new room, but we’re not just sure where yet
I could probably get it all done in a day, but since every spare moment of February has been spent on this project, I actually need to pause and spend some concentrated time on my other big project: first edits on my debut novel, which are due to my editor in twelve days. (Psst, if you missed it because you’re not on my newsletter mailing list, the new title is We Hope for Better Things.)
Hopefully soon we’ll have the last bits of our lives put back together and I can take some pictures to share with you. I’m happy with how well it’s turning out.
And I’m thrilled that, like February, it’s almost done.
It’s been nearly a month, but I think I can finally call this project done! Let’s get right to the photos, shall we?
Here is the kitchen before:
Warm and sunny, but over the 12 years we’ve lived in this house, those white cupboards, which were really just painted with primer, not actual paint, got dingier and dingier and more and more like the teeth of someone who drank too much tea all their life. They needed a bleaching session.
And I’d always been bothered that the cupboard knobs and the drawer pulls were shiny rather than matte and especially that they did not actually match each other, the pulls being silver and the knobs being almost black.
Also the wood-grain-looking laminate counters had some problems, namely at the ends. On one end the endcap piece had come off, leaving the particle board interior visible when you sat at the dining room table and on the other end it didn’t meet up with the stove, so all manner of grease and particles of food made their way down to the floor, catching themselves on the dishwasher’s insulation blanket on the way.
And speaking of the dishwasher, there was nothing holding up that end of the counter but the dishwasher, which made it hard to open and shut.
These are all things you can live with, so we lived with them, knowing that kitchen renovation can be disruptive and expensive. But finally the right time came. We planned and priced things out, went with the cheaper and easy-to-care for option for the countertop, bought paint and knobs and pulls, and then settled in for at least three weeks of patching and painting during every spare moment.
And this is what we ended up with after:
Every choice we made for this project grew out of the choice of the countertops, which are laminate slate basalt (or basalt slate, I can’t remember which) which were chosen because we knew we wouldn’t ruin them, we could install them ourselves, and they would keep the costs down significantly. So the paint on the wall (Glidden, Hazy Seacliff Teal — the color is a bit off in the photo and actually looks very different in different lights) was chosen to work with the deep grey and black of the counters.
I moved my cookbooks to the top open shelves above the sink and got new spice racks. And the sink itself was kind of an odyssey.
This is the fourth one I bought. Our house was built in 1939 and these are the original cupboards, so they are smaller than today’s standard, and a standard 33″ sink will not fit. I wanted a single basin so I had room for my big pots and canners, and so that I didn’t just mindlessly fill one side with dirty dishes but instead had to empty the dishwasher. The faucet is the kind where the sprayer is built into the end and can be pulled out and retracts automatically.
The wine rack on the wall to the left in the above picture was, like the spice rack, found on Amazon after going to eleven stores looking for both. Apparently everyone has more counter space than I do and is just fine with wine and spice racks sitting there, taking up space, because not one store had a selection of wall-mounted varieties. But in a small 1939 kitchen, space is at a premium. In fact, all of my “decorations” on the walls are functional.
The things on either side of the clock above the window here are commonly used, easily adaptable recipes. The idea came to me when I was going through my cookbooks and moving them to the shelves above the sink. Two that I use more frequently than the others are binder-type cookbooks that don’t stack well and anyway I thought ought to be more accessible. But really the main things I get out of the one are the pancake and waffle recipes, which I know by heart but compulsively double check because I don’t want to confuse amounts of ingredients in my head.
So I thought, why not just make them a design element and put them on the wall?
But just a couple recipes isn’t enough for decor, so I found more that, while I don’t make them frequently, I make them more frequently than others. Shortcake, banana bread, pancakes, waffles, blueberry muffins, pound cake, sugar cookies, and chocolate chip cookies. I’m hoping that having them on the wall will make me think to make some of them more often.
I also wanted a chalkboard to replace the little whiteboard on our fridge where we write all the things we’ve run out of so we know what to add to the grocery shopping list. This I also could not find in a store to save my life. Either they were too big or too small, and none of them seemed to be an actual, real chalkboard. They were largely just a flat surface that was painted black and didn’t have the feel of something that would properly interact with chalk, if you know what I mean. So again, Amazon to the rescue.
The little thing on the wall beneath it is actually a tray-style birdfeeder I’ve had there for years and that’s where the chalk and eraser go. Originally we had put our garage door opener in it, but the garage door opener has been broken for years.
One thing I had wanted for years was to move the cabinet knobs to the corners where they could more easily be reached and get the cup-style drawer pulls. This meant a lot of spackle before I could paint, especially on the drawers. The people who had this house before us had replaced the original 3 1/2″ drawer pulls with 3″ drawer pulls. But rather than spackle and drill new holes to ensure that the pulls were centered, they drilled one new hole and used one old hole and the style of the pull was such that it hid the old unused hole. So all this time, our drawer pulls have been slightly off center. And while we never noticed visually, the drawers have always been hard to pull out and push in without getting them crooked. Remember, old cupboards. There are no metal tracks that the drawers travel on — it’s just wood on wood.
So I went ahead and did it right, though it took more time of course. I also decided to remove some doors on some more of the upper cabinets entirely. I love the idea of open shelving when I see it in magazine or pinterest photos, but not for my whole kitchen. I know what’s in some of these cupboards and it isn’t pretty enough to be on display. But there is certainly room for some open shelving in my life.
Once everything was light and bright with new paint (seriously, look back over these photos at the amount of woodwork and you will see that this was indeed a laborious task) the floor looked sad and meh, and maybe someday we will tackle that (or rather have someone else tackle it) but not right now. I’d love to see it with old-style shiny hexagon tile, white with a black stripe all around the outsides and dark grout.
And looking at the pictures now I wonder if a white beadboard ceiling or even a tin ceiling would be cool. No, I don’t wonder. It would be. So sometime down the line I can see the ceiling and floor getting redone. But for now, this is quite a transformation in its own right.
Waiting stinks. When we want to do something but it’s not happening on our timeline, we can get impatient and sullen and full of self pity.
Or, we can get creative.
Last summer a realtor called us inquiring about whether we or any of our neighbors were thinking of selling. Housing stock is low in the area and it’s a great time to sell.
Except when it’s not.
I had thought this spring we might make it work, but it’s just not the right time for a variety of reasons. Boo. I had been dreaming of gaining another room, maybe a bigger yard, hopefully less traffic noise and more tranquility. But mainly, more space. And I’m always excited about the possibility of just doing things a little differently.
So there’s a part of me that’s bummed. But there’s also a part of me that says, Okay, what can we do in the meantime to freshen up and make this house work just a bit longer?
The easiest way to freshen up is a new coat of paint. And the room I spend the most of my time in is the office, which is, in my son’s words, “An ugly green.”
I didn’t think so, of course, when I chose the color a decade ago. And I still don’t think it’s ugly. But maybe it is time to move on to something a little lighter and brighter. So I’m examining paint chips.
And the process of moving things out of the room in order to paint will facilitate some further decluttering and reorganizing. Why put it back the same way when there might be better options? Plus, while everything is away from the windows and baseboards, I’ll touch up the trim as well.
I don’t really have a timeline for doing this, but I’ll be sure to share the results when it’s done!