We bought our first house in the summer of 2011. At a point in our lives when most of our friends were renting, it was so exciting to buy! The house was a former rental, so it was a total blank canvas — we put our stamp on it throughout the 4ish years we lived there!
When we moved in, the curb was okay, but definitely was missing some personality and pride of ownership. The mailbox and light were both in terrible shape, and the gardens were seriously overgrown.
We waged a lengthy battle with weeds by over-seeding the lawn and spending hours digging up dandelions (my nemesis!). We created some balance by building a raised garden bed beside the stairs, and spruced up the gardens with a mix of perennials and a few annuals for colour (the sweet spot for gardening newbies!).
The mailbox and light fixture were replaced with cleaner, more modern black versions, and I painted our front door a vibrant yellow to brighten things up from the street.
The house’s entryway was small to say the least: no more than a few square feet (just enough to house a coat closet and allow you take a couple of steps into the house). The entry was also very boring.
We combated the beige overload (which plagued the entire house) by painting the main walls a soft grey. The entry was visually separated from the rest of the main floor with a rich teal shade. Somehow that colour felt equal parts striking and calming; giving guests a taste of what was to come inside our home.
The rest was simply accessorizing: a row of hooks for hats/bags/dog leashes, a grouping of art prints and a mirror for some personality, a neutral rug, and a small catch-all table.
The entry opened right up to the main living space (thank goodness for that dividing wall so guests didn’t literally walk into our living room).
The major changes in here were simply paint, furniture, and decor. Again, the walls were updated with light grey paint for a cleaner, fresher look. The long space was divided into a few separate areas.
First, a console table to house various odds and ends — keys, mail, coins, magazines, a lamp, etc. Baskets of extra blankets and dog toys were tucked out of the way below. The functional space was made beautiful with the addition of a (heavy!) sunburst mirror, punchy purple flowers, and some special pieces of art.
Across the room was the seating area. Our big grey couch was perfect to kick back with a good book or to watch TV, while the off-white loveseat rounded out the set up for conversation, and helped to keep the colour palette light and bright. These neutral pieces were offset by a bunch of vibrant pillows (I may be a pillow hoarder!) in various patterns and shades of blue and green.
Finally, a pair of black bookcases grounded the far corner and housed a portion of our large book collection. Situating the loveseat out from the wall and further into the middle of the room gave easy access to our mini library.
This area was really more of a dining nook than a room. Open right up to the living room and kitchen, the small space was a little too bland for our liking.
Again the light grey paint colour really brightened up the space. We ditched the dated and damaged vertical blinds and never looked back. I updated a hand-me-down dining set by recovering the seats in a bold ikat fabric, which really helped to modernize the more traditional style furniture. Lush green houseplants gave the space life.
The old kitchen was functional, but left a lot to be desired in terms of style. An ancient range hood, dingy wood handles, green laminate countertops, and more beige paint were far from my personal taste.
Some of the biggest changes we made to this house were in the kitchen. I swapped the dated wood-and-brass cabinet pulls for more a more modern brushed nickel (literally on the day we moved in!).
We upgraded the counters to a new dark laminate reminiscent of soapstone (laminate is a budget-friendly option for updating your counters; the technology has come a long way over the years), and installed a white subway tile backsplash. The classic tile choice was modernized with a dark grout.
The boring beige walls were covered with the same light grey paint used through the rest of the main areas, which really helped make the space feel fresh. We replaced the old range hood with a clean and quiet white model for a few hundred bucks, and installed a french door to the basement to let some additional natural light make its way down the stairs.
For a small house, the master bedroom was a decent size. But (like the rest of the house) it was plain and lacked some personal touches
I’m ashamed to say I never actually got around to painting the walls in the bedrooms (the rest of the house always felt like more of a priority). But I DID paint the trim (no more dingy ivory window casings!)
The improvements to the master bedroom were just furnishings and decor. Blackout curtains made sleeping in easier (though they look a little squashed in these old photos!). We added a plush area rug under the bed — I have always preferred stepping out of bed onto carpet than cold hard flooring. (TIP: the rug was actually a pair of smaller matching ones. Because the seam was mostly hidden under the bed, there were no trip hazards or slip issues. Plus it was WAY more budget-friendly.)
Our upholstered headboard added a touch of luxury to our starter bedroom, while white dressers and night tables kept things from feeling too heavy. And of course I added more colourful pillows (my greatest weakness is a beautiful pillow!).
We created a little dressing area by the closet by hanging a massive mirror on the wall (that thing is a beast and weighs a ton!). A rattan chair was a perfect perch for putting on socks and shoes.
The bathroom was one of the first projects we tackled. Overall it was in okay shape, but the finishes were not ideal. The floor was a stick-on faux wood vinyl, the counters were the same green laminate as the kitchen, the toilet was dated and hard on water, and the sink was in bad shape. Plus more beige paint!
This was the only full bathroom in the house, so it was important that this hardworking space was both functional and beautiful. A quick budget-friendly makeover was the perfect foray into the world of renovating.
The toilet and showerhead were all swapped out for more environmentally-friendly options; the counters were upgraded to a more modern and neutral laminate finish; and the floors were replaced with more durable ceramic tiles.
Watery-blue paint livened up the walls and the ceiling. Painting the ceiling (the “fifth wall”) the same colour as the walls keeps the eye moving and helped to make the small space feel bigger and brighter.
BEDROOMS 2 & 3
The secondary bedrooms were on the smaller side – which was a non-issue since they were rarely used. Again, I sadly never got around to painting the beige away, but the spaces did have some life added back into them.
The smaller of the two rooms served as an office space – furnishings added personality, but overall it was a very simple space that honestly didn’t get (or need) too much attention.
The other (slightly larger) room was set up as a guest bedroom. Looking back at the curtain situation makes me twitchy, but having the bed pushed up against the wall (our only layout option) made it tricky to jump to full-length drapery panels. This room got great light, and thus was our cat’s favourite room in the house (I think he thought that bed was there just for him).
The lower level of our house started out as a highlight (it was going to be the perfect place to hang out with friends), but quickly because the biggest headache of the whole house. Going into things, we knew we wanted to replace the stained carpet and ditch the dated wall sconces, but little did we know there was so much more work to do…
Initially the space housed random hand-me-down furniture — honestly it resembled a student apartment (which I was always trying to avoid). It did its job though, serving as extra hang out space.
One fateful day though, our puppy pulled up a corner of the carpet at the bottom of the stairs (honestly it was barely even secured to anything) and we realized everything was wet. We quickly ripped up the rest of the carpet after realizing there was water coming in somewhere. Turns out it was two somewheres. We were lucky enough to have two sizable cracks in our foundation. That alone isn’t a shocking or rare occurrence in our neck of the woods, it’s just what can happen over time. Often cracks are a nonissue, but sometimes they do need to be filled and corrected to avoid future water leaks.
The most troubling part of our circumstances was that someone at some time had known the cracks were there and were a problem. Their repair solution? Screwing a 2×4 into the foundation to “fix” the crack. Wrong wrong WRONG. After ripping down the drywall in several places, we called in the experts to repair the cracks (one in the back corner, and another in the storage space under the stairs).
After the cracks were repaired, we re-drywalled where required, added some bright white paint to the walls, and had new carpeting installed throughout the basement. We furnished the space with a massive sectional and a big screen TV. It became the perfect set-up for movie marathons — and it was a cleaner, brighter, more stylish space than before. (The after photos are from just prior to us selling, so the photos were swapped out for colourful cardstock.)
The basement was also home to the other “facilities” in the house. The half bathroom was dingy and dated — old-school vanity lighting anyone?
Because this space was not used very often, the changes were minimal, but impactful. The builder grade mirror was swapped out for a black-framed piece, adding a touch of drama into the space. We also replaced the awful light fixture (unfortunately I can’t find a picture of that change), and the icky plastic cabinet handles — simple nickel pulls were a modern touch. An extra dose of style was added with bold poppy decals and other vibrant red accessories.
The backyard was one of the major selling features for us. The lot backed up onto a busy street, but the large size buffered any road noise.
Here, we waged the same war as the front yard: dandelions everywhere! Again, we over-seeded and pulled up as many as those babies as we possibly could.
Plants and trees made the biggest difference out back. We broke up the huge expanse of open space by planting some trees to provide shade and visual interest; we also planted a row of cedar trees along the fence line to create some additional privacy from the attached neighbours. Planting English ivy was an easy way to soften the wall along the back of the yard, and flowering perennials made the back gardens look loved again.
Vibrant accessories (a bold rug and — of course — colourful pillows) spiced up our neutral patio furniture, creating an inviting space to enjoy during the summer months.
Looking back we really only made a few major changes, but we still drastically improved the overall look, feel, and function of our first house.
In hindsight it would have been great to have changed a few other things (such as replacing the basic light fixtures, and possibly installing more modern stair railings), but knowing that this wasn’t our forever home, we kept the upgrades minimal (to avoid over-improving). Plus — baby steps people!