27 Things I’ve Learned About Remodeling (So Far)

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Above: a friend’s kitchen, sadly. Not ours. Soon?

I’m crabby and sick of having no kitchen. But it will all be worth it, right? RIIGGGGHHHHTTTT? In the meantime, I thought I’d compile a list of things I’ve learned from remodeling. You know, in case you are crazy like me and considering one.

1. Loribeth was right – hire a designer. Most have active Pinterest accounts, and looking through their pins is a great way to see if their style is a fit for you.

2. Our designer is like a mind reader. She comes up with ideas that are SO us, and yet we would never have come up with them on our own in a million years.

Our designer is also a blogger, and she has a sneak preview here, if you’re interested.

3. According to our friends at Remodelista, the average kitchen remodel entails over 2,000 decisions. We’re doing our whole living area. It’s…overwhelming if you are a perfectionist like me who needles and agonizes over any decision.

4. There will be dust. A lot of dust.

5. You should enjoy the take out food while you can, because once the remodel is over? You will never be able to afford to eat out again.

6. The best way to deal with the chaos – pretend it doesn’t exist. I’ve never watched so much Netflix.

7. The twins, on the other hand, think this is a cool adventure and love our work crew.

8. Don’t take a trip to get away and expect the house to magically transform like HGTV while you’re away. Our house looked exactly the same after a week. I’ve watched to many House Hunter remodel episodes, clearly.

9. Try to keep your mind open to things you think you hate: your contractor and architect might know things you don’t.

10. On the other hand, trust your instincts too. You’re the one who will live here after everyone else leaves.

11. Double the amount of time in your head you think the project will take. That old cliche has been true, sadly.

12. Try to stay true to the style (ranch, villa, Victorian) of your home. Chances are you loved it for a reason when you bought it or decided to rent it.

13. On the other hand, bring in things you love. We, uh, appropriated an old London street sign from our neighborhood years ago, and it may actually be displayed somewhere.

14. Try to be timeless. Trends come and go. You may hate that chevron pattern in 6 months, so maybe don’t get a whole couch in that fabric. A pillow, yes.

13. Really, truly think about the space before you embark on a remodel if you can. We spent four years planning, thinking and saving. I remember being very impatient and annoyed that we were considering everything, and now I’m glad we explored all options.

14. There are things you can, and should, cheap out on: window treatments (IKEA has awesome roller blinds for example), cabinets (lots of great pre-made options), tile.

15. Buy your appliances from the same place if you can. They usually give you a discount if you do.

16. Consumer Reports has a lot of useful reviews and advice. Worth the subscription just for a project.

17. Places you should spend your money are not usually visible. Plumbing, wiring, etc. That kinda sucks.

18. Work with a contractor who knows the codes and how to get permits. Our does and it made approvals in our notoriously difficult city pretty painless.

19. Think holistically about a space. We’ve had to, because it’s an open living area.

20. Create a space you will use every square inch of. Design a space for the way you ACTUALLY live, and not the way you WANT to live.

21. Things that will be terrible – taping and sanding walls.

22. Don’t start a design by thinking about what other people will think when they come over.

23. Don’t think that a remodel will necessarily increase your home value. Most remodels don’t do much, unless you are flipping a house and making the design broad to appeal to everyone’s taste.

24. DON’T get marble unless you are good with stained and chipped countertops.

25. Reuse furniture. You can always reupholster or paint it and make it look new.

26. Pinterest is invaluable. We used it as a way for our designer to get feedback on what we liked, and didn’t like. Check out our collaborative pin board here.

27. The biggest difference of opinion with your spouse will probably be over something ridiculous, like the faucet in a powder room. Not that that’s a real example. ;)

Are you remodeling or thinking of a remodel? Agree with me or disagree with me? You know I love to hear from you…

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Three Dot Blogging

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(Above – our living room!)

I find myself wanting to write, and having no time to do so. So, I’ll rely on that old Herb Caen classic.

Three dot writing.

…I think fiction might have peaked for me when I finished “War and Peace,” finally, in 2010. I haven’t truly been able to immerse myself in any novel in the same way since.

…I could re-read “Lord of the Rings,” “War and Peace,” “Sense and Sensibility” and “Pride and Prejudice” for the rest of my life and I think that would fulfill me.

…I know my brother will read the above and disapprove of me.

…My husband and my two kids are my favorite people to hang out with. I’d rather spend time with them than anyone.

…I wish I had read the climatic last scene of “War and Peace” for the first time while listening to the 1812 Overture on repeat.

…I never knew I’d ever love my job as much as I do right now.

…I truly hate the Oxford comma.

…Why did my two year stay in London affect me so much more than my four year residence in Santa Barbara?

…Why are remodels such a clusterf%$&?

…Is blogging inherently narcissistic? If I enjoy it, does that make me a narcissist?

What three dot thoughts are you wishing to share? What books could you read over and over for the rest of your life, if any?

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“I am Neville Longbottom”

Harry Potter Spoilers…

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I have written before about my admiration for the character of Neville Longbottom. This week someone linked to an older article on Stirrup Queens, detailing a theory I happen to agree with: Neville is the most important character in the Harry Potter universe.

I can’t relate to Harry, can you? He’s too, well, extreme. He’s been gifted with tremendous athletic talent for starters. He’s “the chosen one.” He’s an adrenaline junkie – he takes crazy risks often without thinking. Like sneaking into Hogsmeade when a homicidal maniac is looking for him or driving off with Ron in Mr. Weasley’s flying car, just for starters. He’s unnaturally resilient – how can someone lose pretty much every parental figure in their lives and still keep going? Don’t get me wrong – I admire him as a character, but his motivations don’t resonate with me. And I’m not sure Rowling wanted them to.

Neville is another story. Neville is a kind of Gryffindor everyman. He’s a klutz, he can’t fly, and he isn’t athletic. He’s bullied by Professor Snape, and has a terrible memory for schoolwork. He has little confidence in his abilities or his smarts. He has a chorus of naysayers like his grandmother, Draco Malfoy, Snape (and I’d argue Professor McGonigall isn’t that nice to him either) implying and often outright saying he’s less than. You’d think he’d be the first to fold to Voldemort/the Death Eaters and to be afraid to stand up to those who demand capitulation. On the contrary, his refusal to capitulate results in the action that leads to Voldemort’s downfall.

It’s a wonderful moment. The twins have taken an interest in World War II because of this book, and reflection on those “darkest hours” brought me back to Neville Longbottom. When it’s most important for humankind to act, we need to stand up and say: “I am Neville Longbottom. And I won’t back down.” Sadly, the echoes of the past are still deadly.

Do you relate to Neville? Or Harry? Or, say Hannah Abbott, who is my daughter’s favorite character?

(As an aside, I am ALWAYS sorted into Gryffindor in every online quiz, even the silly BuzzFeed ones. I’m a neurotic worrier who is afraid of a lot of things like flying and heights and not eating organic food. Shouldn’t I be a Hufflepuff?!?)

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Picking a “Design Aesthetic”

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Doesn’t that sound so pretentious? I can’t even, but I’m not sure how else to describe deciding on the vibe of our living area.

First of all – THANK YOU for your advice on the last post!! Super helpful, and now I have a whole new list of appliance makers to look at. I knew you guys would be wise.

So – one of the biggest roadblocks in this remodel was getting my husband and I on the same page about what we wanted the overall feel to be. Our design comfort zones are fairly diametrically opposed.

I’d call my style “Pottery Barn meets Norman Rockwell.” I grew up with Pottery Barn catalogues and something about the neutral couches/red accents/oversized country accessories really stuck with me. I loved the vibe of the pretty yet casual living rooms, complete with lounging yellow labs and the silver framed (and monogrammed!) black and white photos of beautiful families. If I could afford any painting by any artist, Norman Rockwell would be way up there. Something about his work speaks to the kind of domesticity I aspire to. BTW – his work was more important than you might think.

Darcy calls my design aesthetic “pedestrian.” I would classify his design taste as “fancy dentist office.” He loves everything super modern, white, stark and minimal. It’s – not for me. So, we’ve had to try to meet somewhere in the middle.

Over the last few years, Darcy has been working with some really talented people who specialize in writing about remodeling and home design. I think it’s safe to say speaking with them probably heightened his expectations, in a good way. He was very focused on making our remodel thoughtful and considered in every regard, which was frustrating in that the planning phase took two years. Yes, for real. And not gonna lie – I have gotten frustrated at the speed from time to time.

At one point, Josh Groves with Remodelista came over to speak to us about our project. In addition to giving great tips for the remodel, he had me focus on what place really resonated with me from a style point of view. And I realized it was London. In our neighborhood of Notting Hill, we were invited over to several neighbors’ homes, which were very old and beautiful on the outside – the buildings were Georgian in some cases. But the living spaces were modern and clean and stylish in a really fresh way. I wonder if it’s the weather, but I think no one has quite figured out how to make homes lovely and inviting like the British.

Once I made that leap, it was easier to gravitate more towards the modern, and meet Darcy in the middle. I could keep some warm, inviting touches yet be more contemporary.

Anyway, that’s where we are in terms of design. If you could design your home in any style, what would it be?

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Before…

Slowmomma, long one of my favorite bloggers who has been absent like me, recently put up a lovely post about how our stories matter. Even the boring ones.

So many stories I’d like to share here are literally not my stories to tell. But, I can talk about our remodel – long in the works, now officially begun.

When we bought this house, we knew we’d have to redo most of the living area. In fact, most of the house it’s safe to say, is butt-ugly and broken down. However, it was a good size for the area and we could afford it. So, we bought it. Five years now, we’ve lived in it. It’s seriously first world problems central to complain about an ugly and broken down house but I have to say living in it kind of depressed me in a very minor sort of way. First of all, I didn’t like hosting playdates or having people over, not because I thought anyone would judge me, but because it’s just not fun hosting people in a house that in one particular case actually stabbed someone. More on that later…

So let’s break down the problems:

Brokedown Non-Palace

It’s important to remind myself, because I am always going to read posts like this and feel like a dumbass for embarking on this remodel, that our kitchen is literally not functional. Why? Let me count the ways.

Plumbing

We have no hot water in our sink, and we have no water pressure. Oh, don’t be dramatic! I hear you saying in my head. Nope – we literally have no hot water that can come from our kitchen sink, and very little water pressure. Exhibit A.

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That is the most water pressure we get. For real. Which means we do all our dishes, including our pots and pans, in the dishwasher. So, why no hot water and water pressure? Old broken down pumbing. We have had many reputable plumbers come out to give us the same sad opinion (which was also in the home disclosure packet) – all our pipes need to be replaced. Why is complicated, but it basically comes down to this. Don’t buy a 50+ year old home with galvanized pipes, y’all.

So, we’re looking at ripping up all of our downstairs and replacing all the pipes, already an intrusive, expensive endeavor. But what else is wrong?

Broken Appliances from the Early 60s

The appliances are original to the home. There are many, many problems with that.

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1) Only two of the burners on the cooktop actually work. The others won’t actually heat up. So cooking Thanksgiving dinner is not really possible.

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2) The oven door won’t shut. Enough said. These appliances are so old, that no one even has the parts to fix them according to several electricians.

3) It takes roughly twice as long to bake things as the recipe calls for. Probably because of the oven door that won’t shut. ;) However, the oven goes from raw to burned super fast. So if I am baking, I basically have to monitor the baking really closely. When I made these cinnamon rolls for family over the holidays, I spent about three hours staring at the oven to make sure they didn’t burn.

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The scene of the crime

The Tiles of Death

These heinous tiles are also dangerous. A friend leaned up against the bar one time and the tile crumbled, broke and stabbed him in the chest, drawing blood. For real, people! The ugly tile hates us as much as we hate it.

Questionable Design Choices

Let’s move on to the weird design choices that were made when the home was built. Yes, I am calling them weird. I am judging.

Weird Kitchen Cabinets

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Hey – I know! Let’s block the flow of the open floor layout by putting some random cupboards up, making the kitchen extremely awkward.

Dirty Looking Linoleum

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Here is the lovely original linoleum floor, which is impossible to clean and always looks dirty. IT COVERS THE ENTIRE LIVING AREA FLOOR, which means someone honestly thought that a family would enjoy it that much.

White Carpet

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At some point, an owner thought the linoleum was an odd choice for the entire living area floor (word), so they decided to put down off-white carpet that shows every single possible stain, including in the DINING AREA (uh, what?). Worse, it’s a Berber carpet, so you can’t use those cheap carpet cleaning machines you can rent at Safeway. I had them professionally cleaned a few times, and someone breathed on them the next day and they turned grey. HATE THOSE CARPETS THEY ARE THE CARPETS OF SATAN.

Fireplaces! Fireplaces! Fireplaces!

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Apparently massive ugly brick fireplaces with huge and deadly hearths were the height of fashion in 1962. Not only did multiple people trip and fall over those hearths, when my son was 2 he fell on the corner of one and got the scar in the middle of his forehead. I consider this incident my worst FAIL as a mother. But he likes the scar because he thinks it makes him like Harry Potter. And well, being like Harry Potter is definitely a good thing. So, I guess I can forgive the fireplace hearth.

So yeah. It’s time to make this a working, functional safe space. A non-heinous one would be a bonus too.

This is the point, dear readers, where I ask you if you have any advice. Either for living through a remodel (Oh yes, we are living here while we do it because we are crazy. And cheap.) or any appliances you love – looking for recommendations on convection ovens, refridgerators, cooktops, dishwashers.

And if you are curious what design aesthetic we’re going for (champagne taste on a beer budget basically) here’s our Pinterest Remodel board.

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