Alice has discovered Frozen. When there’s any downtime at our home (which isn’t very often) she says, “Watch a mofie!” and we’ll say, “What movie do you want to watch?” and she always says, “FROSSEN!” It gets even better because she thinks Olaf (the snowman for you lucky folks who have no idea what I’m talking about) is “Frozen.” At one point he falls from a cliff and she’s says, “Frozen fall down!” Just so stinking cute we can hardly stand to correct her.
Anyway, in the movie there’s this song called…Fixer-Upper! They actually happen to be referring to a man, but I can’t get it out of my head especially the line that says…You can fix this fixer upper with a little bit of love! It’s sort of my new mantra and I’m clinging to it because when it comes to our house I’m thinking it’s going to take a lot more than a “little bit of love.” But hey, makes for a happy thought.
So, this past week we’ve been doing a lot of work behind the scenes. We’re at the point where a lot of the demo is finished and there isn’t a lot we can do physically so we’ve taken to our graph paper and Sketch Up as our contribution.
When I say Michael is good at everything, it’s for real. I downloaded the free version of Sketch Up on my laptop months ago and tried several times to start drawing the house. After I couldn’t even get the little lady in overalls to go away I gave up and felt better when I heard that even architectural students spend entire classes learning the program. But about a month ago I mentioned it and Michael says, “Let me try.” And I swear to you that three hours later he had the entire house drawn in detail. Show off.
We are soooo not designers and it’s been super helpful to refer to as we’re making decisions and trying to configure all new rooms like the kitchen and the master bath. When we started this project people kept asking if we were gutting the house and we would say…No, no, no. It really just needs some cosmetic work. But after standing in the foyer yesterday and looking around – yeah, it’s gutted. Like the only thing left is the staircase and some puny cabinets in the laundry room. And the remnants of a brick fireplace. And three hanging pendant lights. And some doors and knobs. But that’s it.
EVERYONE told us this would happen. It’s not that we didn’t believe you, we just…didn’t believe you. We truly thought we could save some of the cabinets, maybe the foyer’s hardwood, keep the bathtub in the upstairs shower. But as time went on we considered the fact that this is the only time we’ll have walls and ceilings torn down and the real opportunity to make these changes. So things just kept flying out the doors and windows and the whatever the quickest route to the dumpster was. It’s left us with a shell and I’m slightly overwhelmed, but mostly just excited about putting it all back together.
Since we now have a shell, the timeline and the budget are (much like Sir Galahad) in GREAT PERIL!!! But our builders are seriously awesome and are working with us at literally every turn to make sure we stay on track. They’ve been giving us lots of homework recently which is sort of fun.
Last week we stayed up late into the night – until 11:00! hahah! – drawing up electrical and plumbing plans. Having never done a total remodel before I was not prepared to make some of these decisions quite yet. Wait, I have to know where every light switch goes right now? I really have to decide where I want all the furniture so we can have proper receptacles by nightstands and TV’s? Where will the Keurig live? Um, well, I was thinking it would be nice to have it tucked away somewhere. Oh, you have to know? Like, right now? Ok, give me 24 hours.
So we made it happen. Plumbing and electrical plans are complete, hallelujah! And that’s really a weight lifted. Again, so glad Michael is good with spatial concepts. I would’ve never dreamed how many configurations you can give a 3’x6’ island so that a sink, ice maker, and trash can all fits while still having room for some bar seating.
Speaking of appliances – we picked those out too! Really we got so many things marked off our list last week I’m getting smug just thinking about it.
We chose a combination of appliances (all in stainless) because there wasn’t one brand I liked for everything. We went with Whirlpool for the fridge, microwave and dishwasher, but I didn’t like the handles on the Whirlpool ice maker so it’ll be Jenn-Air. I’m most excited about the range – it’s a Samsung Flex Duo that still fits in the space of a single oven but has two separate dual ovens so we can cook a family favorite of crescent rolls and a chicken casserole at the same time. Just call me Martha.
It doesn’t bother me at all that the appliance brands won’t match, but the owner of the store said you’d be surprised at how many people order the decals for a higher-end or matching brand and put them on their appliances. Isn’t that awesome?! I think we’ll get Sub Zero decals and put them on all of ours.
Michael and I had a day-date on Saturday to visit lighting and plumbing supply stores in Huntsville and it was really productive. We priced all the faucets and fixtures for the kitchen and baths. As we were browsing we both kept coming back to the same collection of Delta faucets, Cassidy, which is a sort of antique looking collection that we really like. I joked at one point that maybe we should name daughter #2 Cassidy (because with all these other decisions for the house, who has time to consider baby names?!)
One of Michael’s must-haves is the ice maker and one of mine is a clawfoot tub for the master bath…which was by far the biggest ticket item on the quote. We’re going to shop that around a little so if you have suggestions for sources, we’re all ears!
Wrapping my head around lighting was harder than I thought just because there are too many stinking choices. We did hit up two lighting places and got some good ideas. I’ve heard Wayfair and Bellacor have really good deals and prices, so that could be another place we can save. Having a local, family-owned business we are really big on “shopping small” (plus you get way better customer service!) but I wouldn’t consider these places small so I don’t feel too bad scouring The Internets to save a buck there. Or again, up for suggestions.
I did fall in love with this Restoration Hardware piece for above the clawfoot tub, and look! It’s “on sale” for only $550. (Can you feel the sarcasm dripping from my fingertips?) Oh well, I’ll just find something similar somewhere. I follow this really neat blog called Copy Cat Chic that always has great finds like this, so I’m keeping my eyes peeled.
Our last stop after a yummy brunch at Another Broken Egg – y’all those biscuit beignets OMG – was Southeastern Salvage. We’ve loved this place for years and are so excited to be able to take advantage of it now with a project! Before we even owned the house we visited and I had a vision when I saw this Carrara marble tile mosaic for the master bath shower floor. We needed 16 sq. feet and when we got there we bee-lined for the tile section and snagged the LAST box with 11 sq. feet and after some digging came up with 8 more pieces at $6.88/sq. foot which is less than half what you can find it for in box stores or online!!! So that was a win for the budget, for the bathroom and my soul.
Yesterday we met with the cabinet maker. Originally we thought our builder had a guy on his crew that could take care of us in that department, but it quickly became evident that we have a need for far too many new cabinets and had to get someone specific for that job. I’m sure he thought I was crazy when I handed him a 24 page packet detailed foot-by-foot (with photo illustrations, of course) of how I want every cabinet in the house to look and function. But we were on the same page and he does great work.
We’re waiting on a quote to make final decisions and I’m already preparing myself to have to scale back from what I gave him, which I’ve learned is just part of this process. Ask for the Taj Mahal and land somewhere just south of there…like maybe the Maldives…
Last week was a fun one! Since Michael was in Mexico (and is safely back now, thanks for the prayers!) I was the one who got to check on the house every afternoon. I was like a kid on Christmas morning going in to see what had changed from the day before.
I will confess. I may have lost my vision and my excitement there for a few weeks once the house was officially ours. Last February when we took our first look at the house I could really see it becoming something special, but then we paid for it and the reality set in that there's a lot to be done on a fixed budget and it was hard for me to get past all that.
This week helped me get my groove back! With all the old (read: nasty) flooring gone, the cabinets and fixtures removed from the bathrooms and the WALLS REMOVED I was able to see it, really see it, again. This place is going to be cool.
The first few days of last week progress seemed slow, but they were able to get all the popcorn off the ceilings, most of the wallpaper off and the bottom cabinets pulled out from the kitchen. On Tuesday our builder brought us two old Polaroids of the house when it was first built. I'm a super visual person and being able to see the house clean and well-kept was really an inspiration to dig in and fight for this home. No wonder the neighbors give us hugs when they see us! It would be so sad to watch a beautiful home like this on your street fall into such disrepair.
We'd been working on getting some antique doors for the front of the house, the "service entry" (that's what Mr. E called it and it stuck) and the door we are adding off the kitchen to the back yard. We visited Southern Accents in Cullman, AL several weeks ago to see what they had. If you live in Alabama and have never been to this place I highly recommend you go. It is just the coolest. We will be headed back for other pieces for the house for sure! We found the two single doors we needed easily - one from Chicago way back when. The other we didn't get the history on. But the opening for the front door is like 54 inches wide (which is weird - for those of us who know nothing about standard door measurements) so we ran into a little trouble there. We ended up falling for a set of antique double doors from Philadelphia that were actually already spoken for. But this week they became available again so I snagged them up!
On Wednesday, I picked out garage doors. The problem with having to pick out garage doors means we also have to pick out exterior colors already which I am going back and forth on because...
I want to paint the brick. Michael does not. We typically agree on everything, but this happens to be one topic we're both pretty set in our own opinions. My side of the story is: the brick is sort of a strange, orangey color that I'm not super in love with. I also just happen to be obsessed with painted brick - actually whitewashed or smeared brick, either one. Michael's side is: he thinks the brick adds to the old English flair of the house which is part of what made us fall in love with it in the first place. The brick is a very special, antique, wood-molded brick that's hard to find and pretty pricey. He's afraid we'll regret painting over something with all that history. And you can't take it back.
What we've decided to do (for now) is leave the brick for two reasons. 1.) I may love it once the trim is repaired and painted, new doors and windows installed, landscaping done and the bow tied on the house. 2.) We actually don't have space in the budget to paint the brick right now anyway. ;)
So, I'm struggling with paint colors for the trim, siding and shutters/doors. I know I don't want the trim to be white or anything with a yellow tint at all, so I'm leaning toward Sherwin Williams Felted Wool and Amazing Gray - it's a toss up for which would be siding vs. trim right now. For the shutters and single doors, I'm thinking SW Charcoal Blue. (?!?) The front double door I expect will be stained with a pretty antique-looking glass in the windows. We're going to do a test of some of the paint against the house soon so I can get a visual and go from there. I'm up for suggestions on anything you've seen look good against similar brick!!
Anyway, back to the garage doors. Our builder suggests picking out a garage door that is already a color (aka: you don't have to paint) because they last longer and require less upkeep. I want to make sure they match the trim colors as best possible...again, paint dilemma. I went with garage doors without windows to save a little money. Plus, the garage has plenty of windows already. We are going to add some interesting hardware which will match the style of the house and blend really well.
The best day was Friday when I walked in to a completely open new family room!!! Y'all I wish I hadn't been alone because I was so excited! It is a NEW HOUSE with all that natural light coming in and the open feel of that big room. It makes the whole house feel so much more welcoming. I can't get over it! The wall between the kitchen and dining room is still braced for support so it wasn't quite the same, but I could still get a feel for what it will be like.
The house was clear from most of the demo debris, and the master bath space really opened up once that was the case. I was even able to stand at the door of each room and think of the type of furniture we are going to need to make this house a home!
Three weeks today and we’re seeing progress inch by inch. Actually, I think it's getting worse, but that's just part of the process.
Michael spent a lot of time last week pulling up the remainder of the carpet and it was amazing the difference it made with the smell in the house. Then, one day during work he texted me this picture.
It took me a solid 5 minutes to figure out what in the world it was, but then I realized – the wall between the “formal sitting room” and the “living room” is gone! Admittedly, I am obsessed with Fixer Upper (because, let’s be real, who’s not?) so in true Joanna fashion, the first thing I said when we went to the house was, “These walls have got to go.” Michael took some convincing, but he (like Chip) loves a good demo day so it really wasn’t that hard. We are super happy with the result and actually being able to SEE the French doors and natural light when you walk in the front door makes all the difference in the world.
In the process, we also found more friends who had been inhabiting the house apart from spiders, mice and squirrels. Termites. A fair bit of termites. Who joined us through the fireplace and some of those pesky rotten windows and have really done a nice job eating their way through our house. FORTUNATELY, it’s brick so they could only get so far. We talked to a pest-control expert and he says it’s really not that bad and a pretty easy fix. Well good, but it’s still one more unexpected surprise. He’s going to get rid of the termites and we'll get a bond so hopefully we won’t run into anything down the road...I mean, I’m all about nature, but let’s keep it outside y'all.
One of the parts of the original house we were really hoping to keep were the hardwood floors in the foyer. But, as luck would have it, the threshold has been missing from the front door for Lord knows how long and we discovered significant water damage in the foyer. See ya later only original hardwood. You know it's getting good when there's caution tape inside your front door like a crime scene.
We got some good news about the ceilings! The popcorn came off really easily so there's no more talk of replacing all the ceilings - just the parts that have suffered any water damage. We also met with the builders to talk about adding recessed lighting downstairs and have decided to go ahead with that. Good lighting is something that's important to us and also something that would be difficult and messy to go back and add later on.
We've also decided to go with wood replacement windows just on those that are beyond repair. I'm really happy with that decision. I think the final product will maintain the integrity of the house and look great, even if the windows aren't brand new.
Over the next few days Michael kept ripping down walls and tearing out cabinets – we want to shorten the wall between the dining room and kitchen as much as possible and we’re totally gutting the kitchen and master bath, because, um, did you see the before pictures?
One night I arrived to find Michael drenched in sweat, karate kicking those walls like it was his job. He literally said, “I’d pay admission to do this.” He is such a keeper.
That keeper left for a mission trip to Mexico last Friday, so y'all keep him in your prayers. While he's gone I'm going to try to keep it between the lines. We'll see!!
Well, we've officially "had" the house for two weeks today. Of course, Mr. E just moved his last load and dropped off his keys a few hours ago. I really feel for him in all this. I can't imagine leaving somewhere you've lived for 30 years and deal with sorting through all that stuff. But, I am convinced that this is a good move for him because we've found some...very interesting living conditions during the demo phase.
On June 7 we did a walk through with our contractors. Turns out we're all a little more overwhelmed than originally anticipated. Partly because there was still so much freaking stuff, but also because as the piles started being moved we uncovered some of those "interesting living conditions" I was referring to. Nobody will say it out loud, but it's straight up scary to be in the house right now.
To stay within budget, the plan is to salvage as much as possible on the exterior and interior of the house. However, most things like cabinets, carpet, wallpaper, etc. have to go (for sanitary reasons in my book more than anything) so we're looking around for places we can save.
Unfortunately, there aren't many.
First of all, we may have to replace all the sub-flooring if we want hardwood throughout the house because some of it is rotten and it's only rated for laying carpet. And with a toddler, two dogs, a cat, a husband who works at a tire store and a baby on the way, I'm going to be stubborn about this and say absolutely NO CARPET will come back into that house. Diva moment.
The ceilings are a toss up because they're popcorn and may or may not be able to be scraped. Add a few spots of water damage here and there and we started talking about all new flooring and all new ceilings downstairs. Ouch.
Then we got to the windows. Originally they didn't look so bad and we talked about replacing just a few that were beyond repair. After further inspection, we realized there's a lot of moisture in between the glass on most every window...and that can't really be fixed. So, we started talking about what kind of replacement windows to get. Because the house has such historical charm, I really want to stay with real wood, but vinyl is more practical and cheaper. With 25 windows this is definitely going to be a budget buster no matter which route we go. Decisions, decisions.
A few more things here and there and we realized the house is just going to take a lot more TLC than we might've thought. It has to be done. I get that. But flooring and sheet rock are not nearly as fun to pay for as new built ins or fancy back-splashes. Square one people, we're just trying to get back to square one.
So where do we save? We work.
Michael's grandad brought a ton of farm equipment to the house to start clearing the lot. It was so overgrown you could hardly see the house, and you certainly couldn't walk through the backyard without getting that Heart of Darkness vibe. Michael kept saying the house needs "a good shedding" and boy, that's what it got! They cut limbs, sawed bushes, massacred trees - anything to make the lot navigable so people could actually get to the house to work on it.
To illustrate my point, they pulled a BOAT and a 1965 Studebaker CAR out of the backyard that I didn't even realize was there. Michael's grandad is the proud new recipient of the Studebaker (he loves antique cars!) and we're just happy to see it go since it doesn't actually have a motor.
They pulled vine and vine of poison ivy off the sides of the house. Don't get me wrong, I'm all about ivy growing on the side of a brick house, but not the poison kind. Plus, Michael is terribly allergic. One morning I referred to him as "poor Daddy" and Alice repeated it for the rest of the week. Haha!
It was honestly like an exhibition for a few days. Every time I dropped by to check on progress there were at least 3 other people just there to gawk. I don't blame them. Gawk away. This house is about to win the Most Improved of the Century award.
Michael's grandad and grandmother came every day for almost a week and put in a full day's work while Michael and his dad would join them around 5:00. It took several days, but the improvement was really impressive. I felt pretty lousy that I couldn't do much to help, but heavy loads and machinery are not really my forte. Plus...pregnant. Thank goodness for a strong husband and a willing family!
The last week was mainly focused on trash disposal. We're on massive red dumpster #3 at this point with no slowing down in sight. There are trailer loads of scrap metal in our driveway that we plan to take to see if we can get anything for them (every little bit helps!) and the inside of the house is just so dirty. It's probably not super safe for me to be in the house because of all the rat/squirrel/dog feces and the state of the carpets.
A portion of the carpentry crew came and pulled off all the rotten siding from the house. We're replacing it with Hardie siding which will require minimal upkeep going forward - which is one thing you'll learn we are ALL about. They also cut new cornices and installed those. It's funny - both Michael and I said we would never pick something like that out, but for some reason the little ornate details just fit this place and we love them.
While we've all been waiting on the last load of Mr. E's stuff to disappear so we can get inside for real, more family and friends have come to help do what they can to get us started. I'm so appreciative to them for volunteering and saving us some money because I'm practically zero help in making this house our home right now. Maybe now we can afford to replace all the windows. :)
About the author:
Andrea is an Alabama girl with a love for travel, tea and books. She is mommy to daughters, Alice and Eleanor, and wife to Michael. Together they are tackling a fixer-upper to make it their home for years to come.