Where did our home improvement story begin? Well, high school, if you count the desk chair we began refinishing the morning after our ACTs. But the real story, and the focus of this blog, began in December 2003. After six weeks of searching, and some convincing from Alex, we decided on the house that was, coincidentally, the very first house we toured with our agent.

Never mind that the owner was a little creepy and wouldn't leave the property during showings. Ignore the fact that the home looked like a run down bachelor pad, complete with damaged hardwood floors, little character, and a bathroom that Blanche Devereaux would have felt at home in. We looked past all of that and fell in love with the amount of space, the great location in the center of a highly sought-after historic district, the quaint outdoor courtyard, historic charm, and loads of potential. From the surface, it looked like it could use some decorating, as well as new bathrooms and a new kitchen. But boy, we would come to find out later that wouldn't even scratch the surface.

That being said, I invite you to tour our home, the way it appeared during our home inspection in December 2002. It's becoming clearer to me now why my mother had a horrified look on her face the first time she came to visit. I think her exact words were, “It will be...cute...when you're done with it.” Another close friend actually said to us, “Actually, I'm surprised you would buy such a crappy place.” (We still haven't let him live that one down.) But here it is, in all it's glory:

(We've made some significant changes to the exterior since then)

The hardwood floors in each room were damaged or removed and poorly patched. Here's the evidence the doorway to the living room was widened at some point.


Widening was a trend apparently. Here's evidence of how wide the upstairs hallway was originally. Then in the 1980s they moved the wall...but didn't take the time to fix the floor.


Yet another example of the damaged and unprofessionally patched floors. We still haven't been able to figure this one out.


They say kitchens and bathrooms sell homes. It's no wonder our house was on the market for more than six months!


Here's a look into the (now) dining room and living room beyond it.


Here's a look at the (now) family room.


Pictured here is the seemingly cavernous master bedroom, filled with a poorly placed king size bed and essentially nothing more.


Here's a view from the master bedroom down the hallway. The interior of the house was white on white with white accents... and featured a horrible and sloppy paint job. The transom window was one of the few truly original architectural elements of the house, but it was painted shut, the lift had been removed and it wasn't operable.


Though it was winter, we could see the potential for a very nice view out of our back window. The fact that we had our very own tree was an added bonus.


(The back yard has undergone some major transformations since this photo.)

The back of the house was without anything interesting, and the wall showcased poorly kept ivy and missing stucco.


The master bath was a DIY special. The vanity was poorly constructed, tiled, and grouted, not to mention impossible to keep clean.


The master bath tub was large, but had no shower curtain. It was also installed incorrectly and allowed water to sit against the wall, eventually causing other water damage issues. Did I mention the house was white on white? Oh, and the sexy one piece toilet with random light switch above it was one of a kind.


Though the master bath was a sight to behold, the guest bath was simply shocking. The room featured off-white square matte tile with gray grout to match the gray fixtures, and a shower with two shower heads that could comfortably fit six people. Hideous, to say the least.


The toilet in the guest bath was also gray, and the tile throughout the entire bathroom was installed floor to ceiling. It was dirty, dated and disgusting.


The front entry hall had potential, we could see it, even beyond the white cracked walls, white sloppy trim paint, and ceiling light you could only turn on with a pull chain. You can barely see it in the picture. Yes, you read that right, a PULL CHAIN!


(The changes the entry hall has undergone is one of my favorite projects we've taken on.)

The tile in the sun porch was also...um...interesting. Not our taste, but at least it was installed in a semi professional manner.


Here's the upstairs guest room in all of its baby pink glory. These cracked walls remained this offensive shade for more than eight years. I don't know how we waited so long to update them.


(Though it took eight years, the pink walls were finally eradicated.)

This is one of my favorite before photos. This view, from the bottom of the stairs, shows the gross carpeting, odd handrail, and complete lack of character our house held. We could see the potential, but I can't blame anyone who couldn't.


(We tore into the work on the stairs the first day we owned the house. The once awful eyesore is now a calming welcome to the house with custom wainscoting.)

And now I bring you the crown jewel of the back yard. An odd entry from the alley, custom built (maybe the owner was greek?) with an original interior door and lots of other molding that was not ready for outdoor exposure. This was constructed sometime in the 1980s, adorned for some time with a plaque that bore the name of the owner it was erected for,  and by the time this photo was taken, full of termites, rot, and general disgustingness. Some of our friends likened it to a port-o-john.


I was 24, Alex was 25, we were first time home buyers and old house newbies, but we were excited for what was to come. We went in almost blind, but knew it would be an adventure.

Of the whole house, and all of the things I knew we wanted to change, there was one thing that I loved in its current form -- the door knob on the front door. Sure, it can be spruced up and moved to a new door, but I loved it then and love it now.

(Though we loved the lock, the whole entry vestibule had to be redone as well. This included the task of making the transom window operable.)

From our experience, we do have a word of caution to any first time home buyers out there. If your home inspector tells you to ignore the water stains next to your skylight, get a new home inspector! What can I say, we were young, naive, and learned the hard way.

I'm happy to say that over the years we've made converts out of our naysayers. We're proud of what we've accomplished so far, and can't wait to show you more befores, durings, and afters from our home renovation journey!

Comments 10


4/27/2011 at 10:06 AM
totally awesome to see what your house looked like prior to upgrades... what a canvas! it's amazing how different it is!
Thanks! It was pretty hideous when we first bought it, or "bachelor pad chic" as we lovingly referred to it. We still have a long way to go, but it's nice to be able to see that we've made some substantial progress along the way!
get real
4/18/2012 at 4:59 PM
This place was a dream home even before the "renovations" (I don't really consider painting a renovation, but OK...) you did. It was definitely not a fixer-upper. If your friend thought it was "crappy" you have some pretty stuck-up friends.
6/11/2012 at 10:05 AM
I gotta say, your idea of "crappy" is definitely not mine. The house needed work, I agree, but doesn't hold a candle to the falling-apart, crushed foundation houses we looked at when we were buying last year. Your house was just ugly. Lucky you!

P.S. Did you ever figure out why they put in the funny floor repair by the fireplace? Makes me wonder about fire damage or plumbing leak.
Hi Starr, thanks for not thinking our house was as "crappy" as our friend. :-) Admittedly, the majority of what we saw was, as you said, ugly, and that was lucky. Unfortunately, as we've gotten more into the renovation, we've discovered the crappy. Massive termite damage, back of the house falling down, major water issues, and scary electrical discoveries. We've slowly whipped the place into shape, and we're really happy with how it's coming along. I nervously anticipate yet still dread our eventual kitchen/family room swap, as I know the whole existing kitchen is build directly on dirt, no foundation, with a rotted sill, but we'll get to that. If we were buying today I think we'd be looking at houses with much bigger initial projects than those we took on when we bought our house. Our experience and budget would allow for bigger problems now, but as fresh faced kids buying their first home, we had to get a place that would be immediately livable while we renovated, but it had to have good structure and adequate systems. We definitely put ourselves in over our heads since we didn't know what to expect, but we did a pretty good job of figuring things out as we went.

As for the floor, we've slowly learned all of the various reasons for the patches all over the place. Moved walls, wider doorways, water damage, and removed radiators are the typical culprits. The ones by the fireplace were most likely due to water damage near an old radiator. I'm glad it's repaired, but I'm sort of sad the radiators are gone.
10/15/2014 at 9:25 AM

Your home is lovely.

To be honest, this post is extremely alienating. Your home had some renovations that weren't done up to standard, but it certainly wasn't crappy in its original state. Most homes this old have some "quirky" renovations performed on them and interesting paint colors. Nothing here appears unlivable or even that worn.

Your stairs as they were when you moved in look nearly identical to mine. While they're definitely on our to-do list, I've never felt embarrassed by there appearance. Perhaps I should be?

Tina Matteson
10/15/2014 at 9:31 AM

Katie, I felt the exact same way after reading this. What a lovely home and fun project to work on. I have a 114 year old house and while many things weren't done the way I would have done them, I appreciate that over time people did what they could and likely tried their best.


Thanks, Katie.

Sorry you felt alienated by the post Alt disappointed, but I'm a little confused as to why because I think your sentiment is the same as ours. We didn't think our house was crappy at all, we thought it was awesome, even if some of the finishes were rough around the edges and not at all our choice. We just had a good friend (who apparently had a few too many and lost his filter) that told us our house we had just closed on and were so very proud of was "crappy."

We bought the house specifically because it was very livable, and would allow us to update it at our pace (which has turned out to be super slow). There were a lot of things about our house that needed to be changed, updated, fixed, adjusted, etc, but that was lucky for us, because it meant we could buy the house with the budget we had. The house sat on the market for over 6 months in the super crazy 2002 bubble because a lot of people just couldn't see beyond the issues when so many other houses around us had already been "completely updated."

As for the stairs, the biggest problems were the way the hand rail would catch pant legs and trip you at the top of the stairs, and how ground in filthy the carpeting was (the photos simply don't do it justice). It just hadn't been kept clean, and with almost no money in our budget at the time, removal of the carpet was a cheap and easy first project we could tackle ourselves. Besides, it was the only part of the floor in our entire house that was carpeted, which seemed odd.

Honestly, I think if you're living in a house with a to-do list, there's no reason to be embarrassed by any aspect of it. Even if that means you kept a flexible dryer vent as a downspout and used duct tape to temporarily patch rot holes in your siding...and we might know a little about those two items.

10/15/2014 at 9:25 AM

Ugh, THEIR! OopsAlt smile

11/18/2016 at 2:14 PM

I truly enjoyed reading about your journey. My house was built in 1926, I've lived there for 15 years and am still working on it!
Like yours, mine was "decorated" in "rental home white" paint. BUT, like yours, I saw potential. It is what is referred to as a "craftsman - built" home, with a custom made stained glass piano window and matching stained glass window between the bedroom and front porch.
Has all oak beautiful trim throughout the living room and dining room, with a built in hutch.
No, it's not huge, but it has so much character.
Right now, I'm working on stripping paint from the oak window frames (outside frames) and re-glazing. . talk about painful! Alt smile
In any event, thanks for the great reading!

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