Quick & Easy Powder Room Updates

Once we had come up with a game plan for our major renovation, I was anxious to dive in and get started. But since the first phase was to move structural walls (which we were not doing ourselves, and thus meant we were waiting on someone else’s busy schedule), we had to wait for a bit longer. Patience is not my strong suit…

I decided to give our powder room a facelift. During my Christmas break (this was way back in 2015!), I devoted some time to this project.

The space was seriously lacking in the personality department, and (like the rest of our house) needed some TLC:

before-powder-room

There were basically four key components to this refresh:

  1. Paint — I went bold, swapping beige walls for a rich navy blue (Benjamin Moore Newburyport Blue). Because the powder room is a space that is not seen all the time, it is a great opportunity to play around and step out of your comfort zone. I
  2. New mirror — the small wood mirror was donated and replaced with a round mirror-on-mirror piece. This larger mirror reflects more light in the space, and takes the style up a notch.
  3. New light fixture — the existing light was broken (and not our taste), so we replaced it with a simple brushed nickel fixture with LED bulbs to really brighten up the room.
  4. Accessorizing — this tiny room didn’t need much else: new hardware on the vanity (these lion’s head ring pulls are so fun and unexpected), a simple white hand towel, and a large framed New York City map (we honeymooned in NYC, so this was a nice personal touch).

Here is the “after” (apologies, it’s really difficult to photograph this tiny space!):

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We have since had a new window installed (frosted glass, eliminating the need for blinds). The flooring and vanity will both be replaced down the line, but for now, about $150 took this space from drab to fab!

New House: Pics & Plans

So we bought a new house! Let the fun begin!

I’ll start off with the MLS photos. Despite some problematic areas, these pictures honestly did not do the house justice at all. Not only were the pictures dark, but they actually neglected to even show some of the spaces (?).

To recap, this house had been on the market for a quite a while (about 4 weeks, which isn’t really that long, but this was at a time when the local market was extremely competitive, and inventory was at an all-time low), so we were initially concerned that something was seriously wrong with it. We knew it was in a highly desirable neighbourhood, so we chatted with our realtor about our concerns: she had actually visited the house with other clients before and they all expressed concerns with the layout.

We agreed, the layout of the main floor was not ideal — every space was closed off (completely – there were doors on the dining room and living room), and there was no garage access from inside the house. However, unlike other potential buyers, we (I) had vision. I could see how a few tweaks would make the main floor function perfectly for us. So we moved forward and bought the house. We knew that even if we couldn’t make the vision a reality, we would absolutely be able to live in this house long-term. It still offered all of the things we were looking for, we just knew there was a better way for them to work for us!

PSA: major changes to the layout (and thus, to the structure) of a house will typically require building permits. This will ultimately depend on your location, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

In preparation for applying for a permit, we were able to get copies of the original floor plans for the house from the city to refer to. This was helpful because it allowed us to (a) see what changes had already been made by previous owners, and (b) have access to some of the hidden details, such as joists. We were fortunate enough to work with my dad’s best friend, who has a construction company; that made the entire process so much easier for us. He came to take a look at our house, determined which walls were structural and which ones weren’t, and assisted us in drawing up the proposed plans to modify the layout (which was required by the city prior to them issuing a permit).

Basically this is what we started with:

main-floor-plan-before2

Our idea was to essentially divide the front living room into two smaller spaces; part would become a cozy den space, the other would be transformed into a mudroom space with access to the garage. This plan would also open up the wall between the existing dining room and the new den space, and open up the dining room to the hallway (the closet would move into the mudroom) creating more of an open-concept layout.

The proposed changes to the plans (excuse the poor quality of the pictures!):

main-floor-plan-after

Yes, the living room became considerably smaller,  but we were able to justify it:

  • we would be gaining coveted garage access
  • we have a comfortably-sized family room on the main level; we do not need two living spaces on the same floor (we will eventually have a rec room in the basement)
  • the smaller “living room” (which we planned to use as a den area with bookcases and a computer desk) would be open to our dining room, so it would not feel small
  • the dining room (and thus the den) would be opened up to the main hallway area, allowing more natural light to flow throughout the main floor, and making the entire level feel open

When we sold our first house, we intentionally held some of the equity back from that sale (as in, we didn’t use it all toward our down-payment on the new house). We knew that would be the easiest way for us to pay for this extensive project. HGTV shows and magazines (not to mention my knowledge from my interior decorating classes) led us to anticipate a big price tag for these renovations. But in reality the costs were actually far less than we had prepared for (in part because the structural work was being done by a friend, and also because we were prepared to do the bulk of the other work ourselves) — obviously that was amazing news! Since we were in the process of doing a major renovation, we re-evaluated and thought let’s make life even more insane! — we also embarked on a full kitchen renovation.

Let me back things up for a second — the previous owners of the house had made a few changes to the layout themselves:

previous-layout-changes

They had essentially shrunk down the laundry room to move the fridge and another small bank of cabinetry across the room (which also closed an original doorway that between the kitchen and dining room). We had talked about someday moving the laundry down to the basement and recapturing that space for a larger kitchen. Turns out, someday was a lot sooner than we had anticipated!

The kitchen we were taking out was nothing special. It was original to the house (so it was 30ish years old) and the previous owners had painted the cabinets (not well). Initially it appeared to be something we could live with for several years before moving forward with our big expansion plans. But when we moved in, the poor condition of the cabinets was screaming at us. We figured that since we could afford it now, we might as well do it. That way our entire main floor would be modified to become exactly what we wanted/needed (every space would be redesigned with the exception of our fully-functional family room).

So to sum up — we are crazy people!!!!!!

Real Estate Roller Coaster

As much as we loved our first house, we knew it wouldn’t work for us in the long haul — the house lacked storage (no garage), we were sick of sharing walls, and we had essentially reached the maximum potential in the space.

Going into it, we had always viewed this house as a 3-5 year home. We are big believers in the “starter” house; they provide the perfect opportunity to get a feel for what you like and don’t like, and define exactly what you want/need in a long-term house. Our first house also provided some opportunities for improvements, which was a great stepping stone for us newbies. By year 4 we knew exactly what we were lacking, and were excited to see what was out there to meet our needs.

At first we looked casually (full disclosure, I’m the weirdo that looks up new listings on the MLS every day… #housenerd), just trying to get a feel for what was out there and what we could afford.

We actually hit up an open house and fell in love with a split-level in our ideal neighbourhood, but it needed a massive amount of work, and presented a number of question marks. But we loved it so much we quickly got in touch with our realtor, toured the house again, and placed an offer… one week before our wedding. CRAZY. Long story short, things didn’t work out with that house. It was listed way too high (considering its rough shape) and the seller refused to budge on the price (he ended up renting the property). We were heartbroken, but that’s the real estate market for you.

Another potentially amazing house popped up not too long after that. Unlike our first prospect, it was in amazing condition. As in, you could eat off the basement floor if you wanted to! On the flip side, we didn’t love the location quite as much (it was good, and absolutely would have been wonderful, it just wasn’t our dream neighbourhood). We still opted to make an offer (OVER asking – our market was super competitive at the time). Ultimately, we lost out to the competition.

Third time’s a charm, right?

One Sunday I was out running errands and stumbled on an open house in our dream neighbourhood. From my MLS-stalking, I knew the house had been listed for a while (which was almost unheard of in our market), so I was curious what was “wrong” with it. I walked through and started to get excited. There were certainly challenges, but exciting challenges. Challenges that presented us with opportunities to really turn it into our dream home.

We visited it with our realtor later that week and it just clicked. It met everything on our must-have list (perfect location, detached, garage, potential for improvements), and even gave us some of our dream items (ensuite bathroom! walk-in closet! two-car garage!). This was our house!

mls1

The scariest part? Because of the hot market, our realtor advised that we go in without the condition of selling our current house (she knew our house would sell quickly). This would make us more appealing to the sellers. We took her advice and (after a bit of back-and-forth) our offer was accepted. It really would be our house!

We worked quickly to tie up last-minute loose ends at our existing house to ready it for the market. Let me tell you, I lost some serious sleep during that time. Even though our house was completely move-in ready and was listed an in-demand price point, I was completely and utterly terrified that it wouldn’t sell and we would be in big trouble owning two houses. Well, my fears turned out to be completely unwarranted; we received a full-price offer the day we listed. That offer was contingent on selling their house, so our realtors advised to decline it. And bam, another full-price offer came in. Done deal. Sold. Whew!

Hello (again!)

Yikes. Somehow almost three years have passed since my last post!

I started this blog intending for this to be a way to document my passion for decorating as we made improvements to our house. Well, life got in the way and this little piece of the internet was seriously neglected. Oops!

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We have since sold our first house (see the tour and get the 4-1-1 on all of the changes we made here), got married (best day ever!), and purchased a whole new place to make our own. Unlike house #1, our new (to us) house needs a lot more work.

I’ll be back soon (promise) to share what we have done so far!

A Blank Slate

Our house was a former rental that had just been refreshed to sell. A fresh coat of paint throughout made things seem nice and new — a pretty good clean slate to start from.

The exterior was decent. Super long driveway that would be great to accommodate guests’ cars and keep them off the street. Nice big maple tree out front for some privacy and shade and in the summer.


Inside, the space felt open and spacious. I appreciated that there was a wall separating the entry from the living space (we’d seen several places where you just walked right in to the living room). But everything was very beige. Neutral is usually a safe bet when looking to sell a house, but boy was I itching to inject some personality into the house.

Entry and Living Room
Dining Room

The kitchen was sort of a departure from the beige, but not exactly in the best way. Green laminate countertops were hardly our cup of tea.

Kitchen from Dining Room

Kitchen from Living Room


Upstairs, the bedrooms were decent, but again lots of beige and in dire need of some life. 

Master Bedroom

Bedroom #2 (future office)

Bedroom #3 (future guest room)


The main bathroom in the house shared the same lovely green counters as the kitchen, and some of the fixtures needed to be updated. We were excited to tackle a few projects in this room!

Main Bathroom


Finally, we were lucky enough to have a finished basement (and a half bathroom) in this house. The extra space was really nice, but it created a mountain of work for us…

Rec Room
Half Bath in Basement


Overall, the inside of the house was good. Again, a great blank slate to start from. But what really sold us on the house was the yard:

Deck Area

Backyard


It’s HUGE. The house backs onto a relatively busy street (hence the large distance between the house and the road). For some, this might have been a deal-breaker, but growing up, my family’s house backed onto an even busier street. The added outdoor space definitely outweighed any concern about traffic noise (of which there is hardly any).


My biggest issues with the yard also stems from the house’s history. First, the neighbourhood was built in an area that was formerly used as a gravel pit. Needless to say that has created some challenges with planting out there (dig down just a little bit and there’s lots of rock, and the ground is very dry).

The house’s former life as a rental also presented challenges: no one had really maintained the grass or gardens, so there were weeds all over. Also, this massive backyard had no shade or privacy. Definitely lots to do outside too!


Our House…

In 2011, we decided it was time to move out of our respective parents’ houses and get a place of our own. We faced the great rent-or-buy debate, and after weighing our options and taking a peek at what was available on both sides, we opted to buy our first home.

I’ve been an avid HGTV viewer for years, and even though I’ve always known that those shows skewed reality, I didn’t really know what we were in for! I shudder thinking back on some of the houses we toured in our journey. One literally looked like the setting of a horror movie. The current owners of another didn’t bother cleaning cat droppings off the basement floor (nice little treat for our realtor’s foot). There was another that I had fallen in love with based on MLS photos, only to be completely dismayed upon visiting the house. The list went on. I had begun to worry that we were being too picky, but despite that, we didn’t want to settle for something that didn’t feel right.

Finally I found a new listing of a (surprisingly) newer house. I had always imagined buying an older home that needed some TLC — renovating and decorating it to create a fabulous home. That’s still a dream of mine, but our first house is a perfect stepping stone. And we’ve found that even a newer (14 years old at the time of purchase) home presented opportunity for change and improvement.


The semi-detached house was a former rental that had basically been “reset” to a basic starting point. The situation had its pros (newly installed laminate flooring, freshly painted walls, etc.) and cons (most of the changes were cheap and, therefore, sloppy).
But the layout worked for us, and we LOVED the massive backyard. Yes, it didn’t have some of the features we had hoped for (like the elusive garage or a walk-in closet), but it was the perfect starting point for us. This has allowed us to develop a sense of exactly what we want for our next house!