I am the proud owner of an ugly little house with a lot of personality. Maybe you're in the same boat?
Just over a year ago, my partner and I decided to buy an older home with a great location; we found it in Uptown Waterloo. A far cry from our new-build first house, the Uptown house is a two-story, 1920s double-brick building with some interesting features. Rather than spacious rooms with plumb and level walls, our new house has tiny, divided spaces with lumpy plaster walls — level is just a state of mind anyway. The change has taken some getting used to, but bit-by-bit we’ve been rehabbing the house and making it into a warm space that feels like home.
Here on the blog, I’ll be sharing our various projects, decorating tips and DIY tutorials to hopefully help you make the most of your own space. Since we’re just kicking things off, I thought I would start with three tips for getting your new house to feel like a home as quickly as possible:
Paint. Chances are good that your new house either has the previous owner’s terrible taste splashed all over the place, or looks like it has been dipped in a swimming pool of buyers-beige. As soon as you can, pick up a can of paint and change the wall colour in the main living spaces. Paint is cheap and can have a huge, visual impact. If you’re like me and are nervous about picking a colour, go neutral. A white paint with a hint of blue/grey/green is a lovely fresh look and will go with everything you own.
Hang your Artwork. As soon as those walls have dried, open the moving box marked “Art” and get something personal on those fresh, blank walls. Whether it’s a canvas print, family photos, or your kids finger paintings in dollar-store frames, adding something beautiful to a room will instantly give you that at-home feeling. Like the paint, art is really easy to change and/or rearrange. Don’t get paralyzed by arrangement decisions. Look for some inspiration, then get hanging! If you can't find the box marked "Art" buy yourself some flowers instead — you deserve them; this place is a mess!
Make a Memory. It’s going to take time to settle into your new home. Just looking around at the chaos of moving boxes, furniture and bubble wrap is enough to give anyone buyer’s remorse. So, take an evening, stop unpacking and spend some time with the people you love. Order a pizza, pop a bottle of champagne, and dance around your box-maze-mansion like no one’s watching — although, you’re neighbours probably are watching, so take like 5 minutes and put up a sheet or something before you break out your A-list dance moves.
Looking to add a bit of landscaping to your yard, but short on cash? Here are my top five sources for scoring a free garden of your very own:
1) FAMILY -- I've gotten most of my plants from my mom, mother-in-law, grand-mother-in-law and great aunt. They all have wonderful, mature gardens that need paring down each fall and/or spring. Remember that these seasons are the time when gardeners will be splitting hostas, dividing bulbs and moving plants around. Ask if they have any plants that they're planning to split and offer to give them a hand in the garden for a day as an exchange. If you're looking for free plants, this is the best place to start.
2) STRANGERS -- Don't jump in a stranger's van, but do keep an eye out for strangers offering up free goodies from heir own gardens. Kijiji, Freecycle and word of mouth are great ways to find random free plants. This summer, a friend of ours found a lady at his office who was looking to hire someone for some garden work. He, Jeff and I put in 40 minutes of labour and walked away with $60 (enough to cover lunch) and four mature plants for my own garden (a boxwood, juniper, bluebeard and dogwood).
3) SWAPS -- Chances are good that churches and community centers in your area host a plant swap every season. Check them out! They are a great place to trade a few of your hosta (yep, in the free-plant world, hostas abound: AND I LOVE THEM) for a lily or lilac. Don't be shy. Go meet some of the other gardeners in your area. Bonus points if you show up at the swap with a "Will Work For Plants" t-shirt.
4) NATURE -- Turns out, a lot of the plants you can buy in the garden center grow naturally in the wild (crazy, I know). While it's NOT OK to go steal plants from parks and strangers, I'm of the opinion that a clipping taken here and there (with discretion) is a great way to acquire new plants. Our neighbours scored all or their lilac bushes by cutting a small clipping from wild plants and starting roots in a glass of water. Certain vines are similarly easy to start from a simple clipping. Keep your eyes open the next time your out on a stroll, you might be surprise what you'll find.
5) SEEDS & LATE SEASON -- OK, this is kind of a cheater. Buying seed packets or late season plants is an awesome way to get the specialty plants you're after at a deep discount. Dig through your sofa cushions and check out the big box garden centers around mid-June. They will likely have a slew of stuff for under a dollar. These plants will be small, but if you can keep them alive for the rest of the summer, next year they'll come back robust and double in size.
Remember that free doesn't mean work-free. Many of our best finds have come with a good amount of effort required. But... if you're willing to put in the time, energy, compromise and PATIENCE, a free garden is definitely attainable. Keep the long-term in mind, accept anything that's on offer, and slowly build up your roster of plants. Eventually, you'll be the one offering up freebies to the next gardener, and your yard won't look like a lawnmower parking lot anymore.
I’m the owner of a home nearing its 100th birthday. The old girl is still standing, relatively strong, with many of her original details still in place. When you own a heritage home, making the decision to preserve or replace original details isn’t always an easy one. Unless you’re undertaking a restoration project, chances are your home is startling the awkward line between modern functionality and traditional form (what everyone loves to call, “character”).
To help you decide what to keep and what is OK to let go, here are a few key things I consider when assessing the character pieces in my home:
Condition –If something in your home is in really rough shape, it might not be worth saving. Baseboards that have been chopped into pieces, cracked, stained, painted and re-adhered to the wall probably aren’t going to look great even if you put hours into refinishing them. Before you launch into a restoration or salvage project, assess the condition of the piece to determine if it can even be repaired and if the investment is feasible.
Quality –Not everything from 100 years ago has inherent quality; just like today, products and techniques had their cost and you got what you paid for. Keep the root value of a piece in mind when deciding on projects. Is your hardware made of tin or brass? Is that door hollow or solid? While it’s perfectly fine to keep lower-grade items (I restored my tin hardware), be sure to weigh the underlying quality when deciding if a piece is worth your time and money.
Character – Moving beyond pragmatic assessments, if you love it, keep it. Don’t give up the elements of your home that make it special to you. Even for those considering resale, keeping unique features intact is still important -- buyers will remember a home with unique characteristics.
Functionality – Does it work? A beautiful, solid, hand-crafted antique door doesn’t have much value if it doesn’t open and close. If it’s not just ornamental décor, don’t save stuff that doesn’t work.
Lifestyle – Beyond basic operation, does it work for a modern lifestyle? That old stove may look fabulous and still operate, but you may not want to stoke a fire every time you make dinner. I’ve said it before, but your stuff shouldn’t be dictating how you live. If something in your home doesn’t work for your lifestyle (and your committed to staying in the home) don’t feel guilty about replacing it. It’s your home, your life, make sure it works for you.
Got advice, comments, strong opinions on heritage elements in a home? I’d love to hear them!
Tia Lougas at 10:50 AM
How to renovate and stay married
Thursday, March 27, 2014
There’s a reason that your grandmother told you never to wallpaper with your partner. And, that marriage counselors recommend never undertaking any big home-improvement projects in your first year of marriage. Renovations are friggin’ stressful!
Even the simplest projects can go off the rails quickly -- with budgets and timelines stretching or the finished product not matching expectations. All of this leads to a lot of confusion, frustration and even anger. Add to these emotions physical chaos, a lot of dirt, sweat, tears and even blood and you start to understand what your grandma was talking about. Intentionally or unintentionally it’s easy to direct the stress of renovations at the person you love the most. So how do couples get through renovations and still want to live together? Here are a few tips to help you maintain sanity (and your marriage), even during the toughest projects.
Take turns taking the lead.
Most projects don’t work well with two head honchos. Realistically assess your skills and interests and figure out who is going to lead during the various steps in the project. It’s ok to do this on the fly, but it’s important to respect the role AND (in my opinion) for everyone to take a turn. Swapping the lead shows that you respect and recognize each other’s strengths and keeps contrasting opinions from halting the project – when we disagree about how something should be done, the lead gets to make the final call. Because we both lead at various points, we each make concessions and no one feels bulldozed; plus we both have a sense of ownership over the final product. Win-win!
Take a break.
When tensions hit a peak, just take a break. If you work when you’re frustrated, the quality of what you’re doing is going to suffer. Truly. During our bathroom renovation, we both had points where we had to say, “I’m frustrated. I’m going to go for a walk.” Getting out of the renovation zone helps clear your head and cool your frustration. For big projects, I think it’s even OK to take a weekend or two off. Don’t let all of your home-time become frustration-inducing renovation time. Do things you enjoy that don’t involve power tools. It’s good for your mental health. That said, I often find that the weight of procrastination is worse than the work itself. Once you’re calm, carry on.
Keep your sense of humor.
"I’m going out for cigarettes!” This is our running renovation joke as two non-smokers. When things aren’t going our way, one of us usually makes this comment – the subtext, of course, being that we’re going to start driving and never come back. It’s ok if your sense of humor doesn’t lean that way (I know, we’re weird people), but try to remember to laugh when simple things get messed up. It’s going to happen. Better to shrug, crack a joke, and try something else than blow up in a fit of anger.
Appreciate what you’ve accomplished
There are going to be points in your project where all you can see if the unfinished mess in front of you. Take some time to remember what you’ve already accomplished and latch on to these thoughts for precious life. This is one of the reasons that taking a lot of photos before, during and after renovations is great -- you get a chance to see precisely how far you’ve come. Way to go, you!
Hopefully, once the project is finished, your relationship will be even stronger than when you started. Or, you actually went out for some cigarettes and are now basking in the Mexican sun with your demolished house (kitchen, bathroom, basement) a distant memory. Feels good doesn’t it?
Got tips for renovating with your beau? Send them my way! And, check out everything we've been DIYing (together!) over on our blog moreofeverything.ca
Tia Lougas at 8:00 AM
How to Compromise and Buy an Awesome House
Thursday, February 27, 2014
When we started shopping for a house in Kitchener-Waterloo, we had a long list of “wants”: three bedrooms, more than one bathroom, character features, a good sized yard, garage space… there were probably 30 must-haves on that list. However, as the weeks rolled on and we saw nearly all of the houses within our desired price-range, it became pretty clear that something had to give.
Yep, we compromised; crossed must-haves off our list, lowered our starry-eyed standards, and focused on what was most important to our life right now. Everyone wants that “This is the one!” feeling, but even dream houses aren’t perfect. If you’ve been struggling to pull the trigger (you know who you are) here’s how I prioritized my shopping list and bought an awesome house.
Location is king. Yep, we all know it, so don’t pretend it doesn’t matter. Live where you want to do your living; it’s that simple. We compromised on size to live within 5km of work and the downtown activities that we love. In the end, it’s much easier to update the flow of a house than the flow of a neighbourhood. That extra 30 minutes in the car may not feel like much when you’re house shopping, but do the drive twice a day, in traffic, for the next five years… hopefully you really love your car.
The Right Now. What functions in a home are part of your daily life? We have a large dog and a love for gardening. Sure, we could live without a yard, but… it would majorly change how we spend our time. Compromise on areas that will have less of an impact on how you live your life right now. Focusing too much on future plans is a sure way to get home buying paralysis. Be present, buy something that will work for you as you are.
Your Stuff Doesn’t Have Feelings. Chances are, “Where will we put our stuff?” is one of the top thoughts flowing through your head when you’re viewing houses. It’s a natural thing to consider, but it shouldn’t be the deciding factor. We got rid of several pieces of furniture that didn’t work in the new house (even some with sentimental value). Don’t buy a house just because it has a room for the pool table you never use. Your stuff doesn’t have feelings, it doesn’t get to decide where you live. Period.
When we first saw our current house, we didn’t think it met our needs. It was small, needed a lot of work, and nearly electrocuted our realtor (seriously). But, when we focused on what we really needed and how we lived, it was a great match – an awesome little house. (And, don’t worry, we’ve fixed that trick light switch).
What’s the biggest compromise you’ve made for a new house? What’s the one thing you absolutely couldn’t take off the “must-have” list?
Sometimes the scope of work involved in a fixer-upper home becomes a lot clearer once you’ve finally moved in. All of those “easy-fixes” that you noticed during the inspection suddenly become a very long, intimidating list of “to-dos.” It’s easy to get overwhelmed!
Our house if caulk-full of projects. Some are big, costly and complicated while others are minor, cheap and cosmetic. It’s precisely this variance that makes prioritizing so tricky. I hate the colour of the kitchen cabinets, the downstairs toilet needs to be replaced, and I’d love to add crown molding to the bedroom. What takes priority?
I’ve noticed over the years that some people jump right in, starting multiple projects in a crazed fit of productivity, but never really end up finishing anything. Others get paralyzed and don’t start any projects, anticipating of a “major overhaul” in the future.
In my experience, striking a balance between needs and wants, acceptance and intolerance can go a long way in making the ownership of a fixer-upper less stressful – I might even go as far as to say enjoyable (especially as projects start to get crossed off the list!).
So, here are my top tips for making your project list more digestible (and actionable!):
Function Over Form. Looking over your list, consider what is actually broken vs. what simply doesn’t look good. Fixing a leaking drain pipe should take priority over painting the ugly cabinet that it’s hiding inside. Start with the functionality of the things you use on a day-to-day basis or problems that are causing further damage by not being mended – you don’t want your list getting even longer!
High Traffic Areas. If the basic functions of your home are in order, I like to start with projects that fall into high traffic or public facing areas. Consider where you spend most of your time and prioritize projects that improve the functionality and enjoyment of these spaces. A fresh coat of paint in the living room is often an easy place to start.
I Hate It! Your home should be a place where you feel at ease. If you walk in everyday loathing one particular thing, bump that project up your list and change it as soon as you can. That said, it’s a fact that there are going to be areas of your home that you’ll have to accept as they are for some time; so don’t play the “I hate it” trump card too early or too often.
Longevity & Resale. Likely resale isn’t the first thing on your mind if you’ve just moved in, but you shouldn’t disregard the ongoing value of your home as you pick your renovation projects. Sinking $15K into a media room is enticing, but tackling a really outdated bathroom first might be smarter in terms of your home’s value. When investing in projects, don’t forget to consider how long the project is intended to last and budget accordingly -- is this a temporary fix or a permanent solution?
Budget & Skill. While it might be nice to tackle our entire to-do list in one foul swoop, in reality it usually takes time to save up and get the work done. Consider which items on your list require more savings and skills (like a kitchen remodel) and start saving now! As you work toward these bigger projects, keep up your motivation and develop new skills by crossing a few of the smaller, less expensive projects (like painting or small repairs) from your list one at a time. Small projects really do add up over time -- trust me!
What’s the first project you tackled or hope to tackle in your new home? What’s the one thing you wish you could change right now?