If you’ve been following along, you have some idea of what our house looked like when we first bought it, and what our house looks like now. So maybe you’ve been able to fill in the blanks on our renovation yourself… but I think it’s still worth a post!
Brad and I owned our house for a WHILE before we started the renovation. We met with our awesome and patient contractor like ten times. Everyone told us to get along with it, but we stalled.
Thing is, it’s really hard. We hadn’t actually lived there yet, so we weren’t sure what really needed to change. We had a limited budget but no sense of how much things were supposed to cost until we asked and talked it out. And there were so many add-ons. Once you are doing windows, why not re-do the walls and add insulation! If you’re doing some, why not do it all! That sort of “slippery slope” reasoning caused a lot of our delays while we thought about things. Our contractor, Steve, was really great and talked us through everything.
Here is the floor plan that we started with:
Our main complaints were boxy rooms, poor flow, leaky vinyl replacement windows, poor ventilation in the bathroom, minimal insulation, a rotting front porch, and lack of light.
Rather than write a gazillion words in one go, I’ll do separate posts in the future to talk more about some discrete parts of the work we did – how we chose our bamboo floors, worked with our contractor, etc. I’ll also share the exciting and tumultuous sagas that were our bathroom ceiling and floor grate. But I’ll focus today on the two things that formed the heart of the renovation – floor plan changes and the new windows and walls.
Floor Plan Changes
Really, the biggest change overall was the open floor plan in the front and other structural demo.
I didn’t like the original look from the street, so I wasn’t unhappy to learn that the front porch (the house’s “nose”) was in pretty bad shape.
We probably should have replaced that front door with a window while we were at it. Instead we decided to just take down the porch and deal with the consequences later. (The slippery slope may be a logical fallacy, but it was very real to us psychologically throughout this process.)
We also tackled interior walls. Before, the view from the kitchen was something like this:
And in the living room you had the same problem:
We decided to take out the full wall between the kitchen and dining room and also one of the two cabinets that separated the living room and the dining room (in red below). We kept a small wall segment (in blue below) which is sort of in between the kitchen and the hallway, because it was load-bearing and so much cheaper to let that stay. The alternative would have been to go into the framing and add a support beam.
The remaining cabinet (in yellow above) was subject to heavy debate. I thought those cabinets were the WORST THINGS EVER and wanted them out of the house, every last one of them. But the advisory council (i.e., Brad) wanted to keep the remaining one for storage and to separate the rooms.
Turns out he was right! You saw it here first. Now that it isn’t symmetrical, it is a fun detail that helps to divide the rooms and add some character. Actually, painted white and dressed up, that thing I hated so much might now be one of my favorite features in the house. Sort of like how olives are an acquired taste.
With the walls gone, the view from the kitchen is much better. (Don’t get too excited by those parquet floors – they are actually vinyl imitations.)
I just couldn’t get over how much better the light was, too, without all those walls in the way. We now have light coming from three sides so we really make the most of what we get. Demoing the porch also let a lot more light in to the living and dining rooms. It used to tower over the front of the house.
All of this was made easier by the fact that we were going to take up the carpet and put down new floor as part of the same project. That way, we didn’t need to worry about patching any holes in existing flooring when we removed walls and built-ins. It also allowed us to lay the same flooring through into the kitchen (where there used to be a yellow and orange vinyl floor that was actually not quite level with the rest of the house) so everything would flow. While we were at it, we also extended the new floors into the guest room, since that was the only bedroom still with carpeting.
We ended up with this floor plan:
We didn’t remove a ton of the structure, but the result feels SO much more open. It is like a much larger house.
Windows and Walls
Alongside this work, we also replaced a lot of windows. We knew this would need to happen when buying the house. The seller was really up front about issues with the existing windows, and it was one of the reasons that we were able to afford it in the first place.
The windows were quite old. The seals were loose on many of them, causing them to be cloudy and leaky.
See what we were dealing with?
They also were vinyl insert replacement windows, which are simply set into the existing window frame so you lose additional light to the vinyl border that holds the window in place. Due to their age, these borders were also gray, stained, and cracked.
The two biggest windows were a little different. They used to be facing the front in the living room and dining room. Not only were they in bad shape, but they were really strange! They were big and LOW, and I didn’t really like the idea of people driving by being able to look in at knee level to where you are seated on the couch or at the dining room table.
Since windows are wicked expensive, we decided to replace only the ones in the main rooms that we would be using and save the rest for a later project. These are the ones we took on:
We left the one in the kitchen alone because we liked the size and placement and it was still in good shape, even if the vinyl border was a bit gray. So that saved a big expense. In the bathroom we went with a fixed replacement window (i.e., it doesn’t open and could be installed right into our existing framing) for another big cost saving.
We chose a divided light style by Anderson Windows, which matches the colonial look seen throughout New England towns like ours. There are a lot of options for divided light, from windows actually made from 6 different glass panes, to a simulated style that places a grill over a single larger pane. We chose the simulated divided light, but a good quality kind that has the grill on both sides and between the two layers of glass to really make it look solid. Windows are so expensive to replace, we figured it was worth the incremental investment to get it right.
For the two big, low front windows, we switched to side-by-side double hung windows, which still let in a lot of light, but are higher up and fit in better with the neighborhood. Here you can see the old window footprint and our new windows installed.
To bring in even more light, we replaced two small windows (facing east in both the dining room and master bedroom) with matching bays. Not only does this make those tiny rooms seem bigger, but they add some character and interest to that side of the house. Over time, we hope to make that “side” into the “front,” and these windows were the first step.
It was really hard to get bays in the right scale that we needed! Even the smallest standard built bay is quite big, and would have dwarfed our walls and looked ridiculous. Deciding that it would be better to have them be the right size rather than exactly match our other windows, Steve was able to get them built for us in a custom size by Harvey Building Products. We went about as small as we possibly could, and it ended up perfect.
My only regret on those windows is not getting them pre-painted in standard white. Sure, it wouldn’t have matched our trim color exactly and would have cost a bit more, but painting each of those little pieces is a huge pain in the. IT IS NOT WORTH IT.
You might notice something else different in those after images – the walls! We learned in our home-buying process that our walls are not made of the stuff that I am used to walls being made of – drywall or plaster. Instead, we have something called luan board. Picture really thin plywood, or a middle-point between plywood and cardboard. It’s what is often used to make dollhouses. Yeah, not great.
Over time the panels of this stuff had warped, so you could see cracks and waves inconsistencies throughout each room. Also, it is hard to patch damage from hanging pictures and the like. You can see some of the stuff stacked in this construction shot:
We were going to just live with it, but removing it to replace the windows caused even further damage, so following Steve’s advice we decided to go with blueboard and plaster for all the walls in the rooms where we were doing windows.
It’s that slippery slope again. But so happy with that decision.
And isn’t that trim awesome? I wanted the trim to move our 1950s ranch toward looking more colonial New England, so I went with rosettes (those square things in the corners) and other traditional pieces.
Of course, it isn’t that easy, because nothing ever is! We needed to coordinate 6 trim pieces in total, and since we were not working with an architect or designer, we were on the hook for picking them all ourselves. It was hard to visualize the scale and how it would all come together. Fortunately, the place we wanted to buy from, Anderson & McQuaid Co., has all the trim profiles posted on their website, which I poured over for days.
And of course I made scale drawings, because I just can’t help myself.
We did end up changing out the “stool trim” listed above for a cut that was thicker, more substantial, and that was actually intended to be a window sill (oops). But the rest worked!
I was most worried that the apron trim would look too puny, but I think it came out fine. I didn’t like any of their specified apron trim options, so I asked Steve to make one out of a standard casing, and fortunately he said that was no problem.
We definitely went all out on the trim as a finishing touch, but I think it was the right place to splurge. It does so much to make the space look rich and complete, and dresses up the areas that we skimped on other updates. It makes our cost-saving fixed replacement window in the bathroom look particularly extravagant.
(You can see how that looks all painted in my house tour.)
We also ran the new baseboards down our hallway, where we kept the luan board walls and simple flat board trim around the doorways. Just switching out the dinky vinyl baseboards for our more ornate and substantial ones made a huge difference.
Of course, painting all this ornate trim was a huge pain and probably took me like a year. But we’ll just forget about that and enjoy it now that it is finally done.
We love being able to flow through the open space in the front, and that we can still see/hear each other when we are in different rooms.
The light is also gorgeous. This is a north facing house, so I was nervous that it would always be a bit dark. It is quite light and airy. And the ornate trim painted a bright white makes the most of it.
The two bay windows were our really big expense but there is no question that it was worth it. They make everything brighter and bigger.
And I love that I can have a lot of plants without sacrificing floor space.
We’re also really happy with the decision to keep that small structural-support wall that is between the kitchen and the hallway/living room. As I mentioned, it would have been so much more expensive to take it out. It gives us just the right amount of separation between the living room and kitchen so we can each be doing something different in those rooms if we want. It also helps us reclaim some of the storage we lost. The space is too small for a kitchen island, but we are able to put a decent sized cabinet against that wall, which we use for mail and miscellaneous storage.
In the grand scheme of things, these were relatively minor changes that make a huge difference in how we live in the house. I mean, it’s not like we gutted the entire place, swapped rooms, or moved around appliances!
Of course, I’ve glossed over some other big stuff that we did, like new floors and some updates in the kitchen, which I’ll do whole posts on in the future. I also didn’t have time to get into some of the smaller issues that hung us up along the way – because there is always something. I’ll talk in the future about our bathroom ceiling and our floor grate (hint: see a spoiler in the image above!).
Thanks for reading!
(Sharing at Thrifty Decor Chick’s February Before and After)