A friend asked me the other day if the house was done yet. Um, just about, I only need like 5 more years and an au pair. Listen; Rome wasn’t built in a day, and if it was, then they probably used a really good general contractor…not so much over here. After one year in this house, I find myself thinking we should have at least one room completely done, but alas, we don’t. Today we just finally got a toilet paper holder up in our master bathroom. Big things going on over here at an incredible pace. But, it is definitely starting to feel like home. It’s not perfect, it’s far from fully furnished, and every weekend has a mile long home to-do list which never gets finished. To complicate things, anyone who has tried to purchase furniture or renovate/build a home lately is quite aware of the major shortages going on. Everything has shot up in price, builders are booked out, and items are terribly backordered. Good luck buying hardwood flooring or chlorine for your pool right now – seriously. So we are chugging along understanding it’s gonna take a bit longer than we initially thought. It’s all good though because we have our hands full and the girls are so ready for Tennessee summer #2.
As we are just over a year from starting renovations, I wanted to share my top five things we have done so far to the place. These are five things that I really feel have transformed our home, I would do them again in a heartbeat (some I intend to do more of!) and I would highly recommend to anyone else! It doesn’t mean there weren’t learning pains with these projects or mistakes made and fixed…there definitely were…but we feel they were solid choices and are super pleased about the effect they have had.
#1 Vaulting the ceiling in the living room
We are SO GLAD we made this decision. I was confident that I wanted to do this from the very first time I saw the house. I believe first impressions are powerful and the first impression walking through the front door of this house was not a selling point for the property. The two sides of the bottom level can both be raised to a center peak since the second story is just in the middle. We have raised the living room on the left and hope to raise the other on the right in the future, which is a larger space. The upstairs bedrooms could have been raised into the attic, bringing these ceilings to single slanted rooms, but we decided not to for the cost. Even though our roofs are not high peaks, the change was still really substantial. This was an addition which does not increase the value of the home in an appraisal. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and while I think most buyers would appreciate this upgrade, it doesn’t do anything on paper.
#2 Shiplap (or planked) ceilings
We have now had shiplap installed in the entire second story and about half of the main level. We love it so much we are going to finish it throughout. I think if we weren’t replacing the outdated and badly stained textured ceilings (which were everywhere), we probably would have selected only some rooms to do this in due to the cost. But it adds so much character and dynamic to each room. I am especially loving it in the vaulted living room, the girl’s rooms, and our bathrooms.
I still have a lot of ceiling painting on my plate (yes I’m determined to do this myself) but I have done all the bathrooms and someday I’ll get to the rest. You can read more about our shiplap project here. This is something that can definitely be DIY, but cutting around fixtures is a bit tricky and it is a two person job if the room is good sized (someone has to hold in place while someone else nails- shoulder workout!). Again, this huge upgrade doesn’t increase the value of the house but regardless, this might be my top pick for what has transformed our home the most.
#3 Making the “garage” an actual garage
The first thing we had done to the house was demo the garage level and replace the steel support beams. It had been built out into a maze of several rooms which were primarily used for hoarding. The walls were all wood paneling and the floor was built up above the concrete floor with substantial water leakage coming in underneath from the cinderblock walls. While the front brick was set up for garage doors, these holes had been covered with plywood and windows and it seems there never were actual garage doors on it – at least that’s what our neighbors say who are original owners in this neighborhood. While we haven’t been parking our Porsches in the garage recently, its been incredibly useful..storage construction, a waiting area for appliances and fixtures, kid’s scooter/bike parking, and of course our haphazard home gym (priceless in 2020). We still have a ton of work to do down there, but the easily accessible space has been a lifesaver for our needs. And adding a true garage is generally strongly desirable for resale. We went with Amarr doors through Costco – aluminum with a wood “look”. There’s a ton of options for customizing these, and the product is super durable while still being attractive. The windows in the doors were an easy choice for us since our garage has no windows and we love the way they look and bring light in – definitely makes the space a little less dungeon-ish. The exterior sconces are Timberland brand from Target. Not amazing quality but they look great, were very affordable and easy to install. Also, I’m annoyed to say that they are now on sale since we bought them!!
#4 Tearing down the sunroom and making a temporary deck
The glassed-in “conservatory” of yesteryear had to go. It was terribly dilapidated and the glass was just barely in place in spots. I had anxiety letting the girls play in there long enough to snap a few pics.
It was all torn down before we ever moved in, the ancient linoleum removed, and Ronny built a railing around the edge. What sucked about doing this is that the space is ducted with air making it count as square footage to the house…until we tore it down of course. Our plan is to reclaim this space down the road with an add-on to the family room and build a new deck to the side. But for the time being, we took our loss to the sq. footage of the home to be able to have a back deck which didn’t cause us panic every time a storm rolled in. As soon as it was tore down I knew we had made the right choice. This has been a very used part of our home since we opened it out. It is the main place we eat in the summer, gives an easily accessible spot to grill, and the girls love playing out there.
It can be tricky to know whether to tear down or restore a space sometimes, and sometimes there has to be a temporary fix which is what this was. The only costs to changing this was having the whole thing demolished and hauled away and some pressure treated wood for the railing.
#5 Adding plantation shutters
I have always loved plantation shutters far more than curtains or blinds (Can I still use that word? Have they been cancelled yet?) While I’d gladly put them in every window in the house, we started with just the bathrooms and our master.
After shopping around a good bit, we also settled on Costco for these. They had a lot of configuration options to help out each space (important when there isn’t room for them to open to the side in the traditional shutter way) and their prices could not be beat. In two of the bathrooms we went with a bi-fold, which folds in half and then opens to one side. In reality, they stay put most of the time and still let in plenty of light when flipped open.
There’s several reasons I love plantation shutters. First, they are timeless in my opinion. They look great in just about every room and you can change around decor, style, paint colors…it all looks great with shutters. Second, they are so easy to clean just by dusting, a damp wipe-down every now and then, and a magic sponge does wonders for minor scuffs. Curtains get dusty and who actually launders curtains on the regular? And if you do, that gets pricey fast! If you love curtains though, shutters can absolutely be partnered with curtains for a more sophisticated look which lends itself to lots of options as far as how much light gets through. For our bedroom, Ronny has been a long time fan of blackout curtains but the shutters keep out enough light that he hasn’t complained once (although currently light is nowhere near the sleep impediment that our kids are, so perhaps that is why the issue hasn’t been breached).