We were not originally in the market for a fixer-upper. We thought we’d find ourselves a nice condo or small single-family home that maybe needed a little repainting. Or maybe it was a just a tiny bit outdated, but we would tackle that over time.
But then we realized that we actually DON’T LIKE SHARING, so a condo was out. And none of the single family homes we could afford had room for us to grow. So when we came across a three-bedroom fixer-upper in a great town right near our families… we were ready to think outside of the box and take on the project.
That was greatly helped by the fact that, although there was a lot that we wanted to change, the house was livable. The walls and roof were all in one piece, the heat worked, the water ran. What more can you ask for?
I’m looking forward to sharing a lot of the progress we’ve made, including our “big” initial renovation. At some point, I’ll also write up all of the precautions that we took before making the purchase to understand the full scope of what we were taking on. At first glance the investment looked pretty scary, so we spent a lot of time and money on many many different inspections, and a lot of time in negotiations.
And you’ll have to bear with the photos in this post. When we bought the house I had no intention of sharing it on the internet, so I was only taking pictures with my cell phone to remember it myself. I wasn’t trying to get every angle or every detail, and I certainly wasn’t worried about those small extras like focusing the camera.
Here is the house as we first saw it:
Here we have broken seals that made most of our windows practically opaque. See all that fog? That’s what happens when the seals don’t work.
Here is the floor plan we started with:
There were a ton of small, boxy rooms which did not flow well for us. To go from the kitchen to the living room we had to wind around through the dining room or through the hallway. (And, let’s be honest, we mostly eat in the living room in front of the TV, so this was a real pain.)
The wooden porch in the front was rotting, which was starting to cause damage to the house. It wasn’t used because the driveway has a pathway to the kitchen door, but not to the front porch. However, it blocked a lot of the light from the big windows in the living room and dining room.
And the color choices didn’t help with the light situation. Here is the view of the living room from the dining room, with the front door partially hidden in the left of the image:
That shaggy, blue-green, smelly carpet ran through most of the house. And the walls were various shades of gray and beige making everything look darker and dirtier than necessary.
The windows were vinyl replacement windows, so an extra few inches of gray framing blocked even more light. And with their broken seals they leaked a ton, causing a cold breeze.
You can’t see in the picture, but the walls are not plaster or drywall; instead, they are made from a material called luan board, which is like a really thin plywood or a wooden cardboard. Over the years it had warped so you could see cracks where the boards came together, and some of the walls bowed in different ways. It was also harder to patch holes made from hanging art, so it was pocked or still rocking the old nails and hooks.
And this picture also doesn’t show the ceiling fan, which came right out because it was probably not a good idea with our 8 foot ceilings. You can see the wires from where it was removed.
Here is the view of the dining room from the living room, with a “disapproving Brad” for scale:
The dining room was tiny, with hardly enough space for a table for four. All the built-in storage (usually a good thing!) felt really imposing because it was all around you in a small space. The storage was also in terrible shape, with painted hinges, drawers that stuck, doors that didn’t stay closed, and shelves that were unstable.
The one window in this whole front area that got good light – that east-facing window in the back of the picture above – was small and off-center, and also had a broken seal. (Dammit, seal.) All of the finishings were really cheap – builders-grade lights, flat vinyl baseboards with peeling paint, boxy window cornices, and “industrial” wall grates.
The kitchen deviated from the established color scheme:
In here, we had a vinyl floor, laminate counter, laminate backsplash, and walls all in different shades of yellow. To be fair, the orange curtains helped pull it together. The room was really small, because a looming yellow wall cut it off from the rest of the house.
We also have handles in the middle of the upper cabinet doors. We didn’t notice that in our first walk-through, but once you do you can’t unsee it. It drives me absolutely crazy. Why?!
But the problems were not just cosmetic. The faucet didn’t work well, and the dishwasher leaked constantly, causing rot under the floor. Some of the veneer was coming off of the cabinets, and the laminate counters were falling apart in places.
Also, none of the outlets were GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets, which basically means that we were a lot more likely to get electrocuted if something went wrong here. Nowadays GFCI outlets are required in all places where there is water, like bathrooms, kitchens, and basements, but apparently that wasn’t the case when this house was done.
The hallway resumed the standard color scheme:
This is the “main drag” that runs down the center of our house and connects nearly all the rooms. It was super dark and depressing. Beyond the fact that it has no direct access to natural light it was only lit by two dim recessed fixtures on either side. Even in the daytime it was very dark in the middle.
This is where all the various shades of paint used in the house came together. In the hallway alone, we had six different shades of gray and beige. In a few places, we even changed color right in the middle of a piece of trim. You can also see our shiny brass doorknobs, painted-over brass hardware, and cheap hollow-core doors.
The carpet was pretty beat-up, and was creased in some places. You could also hardly open that door at the end of the hallway because it dragged across the carpeting.
The bathroom was one of the better spots:
The vinyl floor is a neutral pattern that mimics tile, and while the vanity is made fully out of beat-up laminate, at least it is white. The tile looks like nice white tile in this picture, but it is actually a deep salmon-pink that was coated in white enamel many years back. You can see some places where it has cracked and peeled, but overall it is in okay shape.
But don’t get me started on that ceiling…
I have many feelings about the bathroom ceiling…
Maybe we should just move right along. I’ll do a post on that in the future.
All three bedrooms are about the same size:
Up front, across from the kitchen, was a room was so green you could film a move in it and set it anywhere. Even the doors and closet were painted green to match. But it has a big window and hardwood floors – even though the pretty wide-board pine is punctuated by a big stripe of some other type of wood entirely. This is the room that I took over to be my office/dressing room.
The room we chose to make our “master” bedroom has the only south-facing window in the house and real hardwood floors. Still, it is pretty small, and we’re only able to fit a bed, bedside tables, and one dresser in the space. We also had to do something about the vinyl replacement windows and cornices.
This last bedroom smelled awful, with something weird coming up from the brown carpet. I still have no idea what it was. It smelled like death and toxic chemicals. It has only one window that opens to the outside, and another that overlooks the three-season porch in the back. It is also the only room with crown molding and real wood baseboards – but of course they were painted several different colors.
So, now we’ll move along to the three-season porch:
This room has its plywood under floor exposed, which in a rare stroke of decorating genius and foresight is painted this year’s Pantone color of the year. So it is very current and trendy.
It is also quite musty, and is not insulated or heated beyond the wood-burning stove.
This space was built with three windows on either side, but no windows facing south to the back-yard, where you find the best light and view. It is a major missed opportunity that we hope to rectify down the line.
Finally, the basement:
Here we have a lot of space, relatively high ceilings, laundry, a utility sink, an extra room framed out, and also a bonus bathroom (installed without notifying the town, apparently, but fortunately now grandfathered in for us). It has a door out to the garage. The furnace, water heater, and oil tank are, in the words of our home inspector, “fully depreciated in value.” We’re just hoping that they can hold out until we make the switch over from oil to natural gas, which we want to do soon.
I think there is a ton of potential in this basement, but with so much work to do on the rest of the house it will have to wait for a good long time. The stairs to the basement are also quite treacherous – narrow, steep, and low – so we’ll need to do something about that if we want to make the basement good living space in the future.
If you’re still here, thanks for looking at all these ugly old phone-camera photos! This house has so much potential but it is kind of hard to see it in these pictures.
For a sneak-peak at the progress, you can check out my house tour, where I’ve put up a few more recent shots. This is after a renovation, decorating, and a whole lot of DIY efforts. The tour is pretty sparse now, but I’ll be adding more and more as I do some posts on all the work we’ve done. So stay tuned!