Back In The Saddle Again

After several months of extra-long days at the office, when January 1 rolled around, I was ready to start blogging again. The same day, we received a letter in the mail, telling us that our house was being re-zoned to a high school that was sure to take a toll on our home value. This came on the heels of months of grumbling about our neighbors a few doors down, who like to race hot rods up and down the street and have a less “conventional” way of acquiring income. On a whim, the hubby and I decided to look at a house for sale in a quiet neighborhood down the road in McKinney. That spur-of-the-moment trip led to two months of weekend showings, debate over what we really wanted (a fixer upper? something that was 100% move-in ready?), and lots of emails back and forth with our realtor. Then, two weeks ago, we toured a home that had been on the market for a few months, due to an overly aggressive list price and photos that looked like they’d been snapped by an 8 year-old with an iPhone. From the minute we stepped in the front door, I was in love with the flood of natural light, soaring ceilings, and attention to detail – moldings, trim, and built-ins. Plus, the home was in a beautiful, stable neighborhood – a must for us.

After lobbing in an offer significantly below the list price, we waited patiently – and were thrilled when our offer was accepted. We had our inspection last week, and if we can come to an accord with the sellers in the next few weeks, the home will be ours at the end of the month. It has been a whirlwind few months, and with this adventure heading in the right direction, I finally felt ready to share the news – and, of course, some pictures (just click on the picture to see the larger version).

The view from the street – disregard the truck, I was busy snapping pics during our inspection.

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Come on in… (Or, stop and paint the trim around the front door, if you’d like to help.)

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When you step inside, you can see the living room straight ahead, the dining room to your right, and to your left, Tony’s future study and a library/workspace for the whole family. Eventually, we’d love to unify the flooring downstairs with some medium-toned hardwoods.

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Don’t forget to look up while you’re standing here! The medallion on the ceiling is one of my favorite details in the house.

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The dining room is a great space for entertaining – room for an 8-foot table, plantation shutters, picture frame trim and crown molding. The door in the back of the room takes you into the kitchen.

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A sneak peek at Tony’s home office… Lots of natural light and plenty of space for a desk and credenza.

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And the library, which will be a great home for our bookshelves and current dining room table (with its leaves removed). It will be the perfect spot for crafting or homework. The trim in here makes me swoon… at least until I have to paint it!

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There’s even a full bathroom off of the study, in case you work up a sweat reading Stephen King’s newest tome. The border at the top of the wallpaper isn’t my favorite, but I do like the neutral faux-grasscloth otherwise, so I’m thinking chunky crown molding would be a great way to hide that floral trim. And the feet on the vanity… love.

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Next up, the living room. A built-in to hide the TV and trim all around the fireplace. Yes, please.

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The kitchen backs up to the living room (the hubby is daydreaming of watching football while we get dinner together on a Sunday). And I am pumped about the middle-of-the-floor outlet, because not running an extension cord to my laptop is gonna be the jam. It’s the little things.

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Heading in to the kitchen – lots of cabinet  and prep space, plus nice appliances. The sellers are even leaving the fridge! I’ll be the first to admit the colors aren’t exactly my favorite, but we’ll wait awhile before we tackle a reno. I’ll change my mind a million times before then, but I’m thinking espresso-stained cabinets and white & grey Silestone counters and backsplash.

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Through the kitchen, a butler’s pantry. I have no words for how much I love this nook!

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And the laundry room (again, more appliances courtesy of the sellers). Definitely more spacious than our current laundry room, which will decrease the likelihood of an errant elbow to the face or ribs as multiple family members try to remove their shoes at the same time.

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Backtracking to the other downstairs space now – the master. I’ll have to re-think our dressers-as-nightstands, because the room is a little smaller than our current master.

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One of the first things on our to-do list will be painting the master bathroom, which looks like Dexter had a plastic-wrap-free field day in there. Shudder. The texture is also pretty intense, but that will wait until a down-the-road renovation (when we’ll also get rid of that corner Jacuzzi).

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Taking a peek upstairs, we have 3 bedrooms.

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The last will be Livi’s – I’m envisioning built-in bookshelves on either side of her bed, giving her plenty of storage for her book collection and a loungey-feel.

The upstairs also has a second living area that opens up onto a second-story balcony, which will be amazing for enjoying the weather in spring and fall.

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The idea of moving is becoming more real as we hurtle through this process, and it definitely hasn’t been without mixed emotions. We’ve put so much time and love into our house, and have so many good memories here – there’s certainly a big part of me that will be sad to go. That said, I’m beyond excited to move and create more wonderful memories with our friends and family in a new space. So, I’ve got my fingers crossed that all of the details come together and that we’ll be getting ready to pack up in a few short weeks.

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Renovation Reality Check

In the past, Tony and I have always completed the bulk of our renovation projects without help from the pros. This time, we decided to call on some trades for help, in an effort to speed the timeline and limit our stress levels. Unfortunately, I think it’s safe to say we missed the mark on both points.

Let’s back up a bit. When I checked in last, we had finally kissed our “open concept” kitchen walls goodbye. The next step was tiling the backsplash, which we relied on a professional to knock out. The quality of work is just OK – there are definitely some sloppily executed details, which makes me slightly crazy. Pardon the iPhone photo.

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Cabinet painting was next up. This is where things really started to go awry. The contractor we chose had excellent reviews online, and really impressed me during our first meeting. Our project was a bit more complicated than the average paint job, since we elected to peel the thermofoil coating off of our cabinet doors and re-paint them, instead of opting for new wood doors. The contractor assured me he had just completed a similar job with great results, showed me some samples, and worked with us on staying in our budget. After day one, things were looking good. The cabinets were peeled and the doors were ready for hardware. P.S. Notice anything different about the cabinets? We also added feet – a small detail that makes a huge difference, in my highly partial opinion.

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After day three, when the first coat of paint went up, I started to get nervous. Brush strokes, blobs and chunks in the paint, and dings and dents that weren’t patched. I expressed concern, and the contractor assured me that these issues would be fixed. After day 4, I called in the big guns – Tony met with the contractor the following morning to let him know exactly what wasn’t up to snuff in the kitchen. Unfortunately, even after raising so many red flags, the end result simply isn’t good. I’m super bummed to have spent a pretty penny on a paint job that looks worse than what I could have done myself. Now, before you check out the pictures and chalk my concerns up to insanity, know that it’s practically impossible to capture the details of a crappy paint job on film – especially when you’re snapping pics at night.

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In spite of being less than thrilled with the work that was done by the pros, it’s time to call this project done – for now. Ideally, I’d like to order replacement doors for the cabinets and tackle the job of repainting the whole affair myself (after about a week of sanding off the current blobby mess). I’m also on the fence about a backsplash redo. But neither of these can be tackled when we’re in the middle of holiday season at work, so we’ll revisit in January.

Tony and I also tackled some more projects on our own. Hello, fancy new convection oven and pretty new microwave!

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I slapped a fresh coat of paint on the pantry door and the windowsills – nothing like a shiny, new coat of paint to brighten things up. I also ordered two black Tabouret stools for the bar, which I am loving. Please excuse the green tape – I’m working out the dimensions for a corbel. Definitely a visual thinker!

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Still on the agenda (hopefully before January):

  • Hem and hang our white Lenda curtains in the eating area
  • Sand and refinish my Craig’s List pedestal table
  • Replace the light fixture in the eating area
  • Add some architectural interest to the bar area with a pretty corbel
  • Sew a valance for the window over the kitchen sink
  • Find some chairs to go with our new-to-us pedestal table
  • Track down some less heinous alternatives to our current toaster and coffee maker
  • Taking some pictures of our handiwork with the benefit of daytime lighting

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On The Road to A Finished Reno!

After living without kitchen counters and a sink for several days, I can confirm that these are BY FAR the most important elements in a kitchen. Ovens and cooktops I can live without… running water, not so much. Late last week, after tackling the demo of our old counters on our own, we were working with a seriously function-less kitchen.

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Luckily, our countertops were ready for installation, so we didn’t have to manage without counters for long. After not-so-patiently waiting for 3 hours, our counters were in place and ready for ogling. I’m head-over-heels for the Carrera-esque pattern (and the low maintenance. Hallelujah). The colors are perfect, and I’m so thrilled we went with the 4 cm edge instead of the 2 cm.

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Although the new cooktop isn’t functional yet, we did have to put it in place for a test fit – so much more seamless and clean-lined than its grubby predecessor.

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Of course, no installation could ever go off without a hitch. The square corners we requested were lost in translation, leaving us with 3/4″ radius corners. Not the end of the world, but the rounded edge compromises the modern look of the counters (in my opinion, anyway). The upside is, there is less chance that a wee person will poke an eye out on a sharp edge in our kitchen. So bring your kiddos over, friends!

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We also kissed our “open-concept” (yep, that’s what we christened our wall-less kitchen look) goodbye. The installer that will be crafting our backsplash made a first visit to install some cement backer-board.

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And for a super-productive finale, we gave our kitchen walls a coat of Benjamin Moore’s Simply White in a Matte finish (you can peep it in all the pics above). The color is perfect – a creamy but not-yellow white. The Matte finish is a flat enamel, which is perfect for folks like us that love a flat finish, but want the wipeability of a satin. We’ve used low VOC flat enamel from Olympia for both of our bathrooms, but for this project, we opted to upgrade to higher-quality paint. In today’s world, it didn’t occur to me to verify that the paint was low VOC (unless you’re using oil-based paint, it’s tough to track down any of these extra stinky paint concoctions). After cracking open the Ben Moore, I was totally aghast at the stench from this paint. After spending $150 on 3 gallons, we opted to use the non-returnable paint, but it reaaaaally offended my nose and my environmental sensibilities. We spent the evening sleeping with the windows open, in spite of the 90+ degree temps outdoors. I liken that evening to sleeping in a paint factory in Vietnam. All that to say, I absolutely don’t recommend this paint.

Still on the to-do list: installing our microwave, oven and cooktop. Plus, on the “observing but not doing ourselves” list, subway tile install. After that, it’s just having the cabinets painted and tackling some of the details (curtains, swapping out the light fixture, re-finishing my Craig’s list pedestal table, and finding some new chairs and bar stools). The upside is, the end to this lengthy upheaval is actually in sight. Hooray!

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The Sounds Of Silence

Although we’re still a few appliances short of a full kitchen, I do have two shiny new friends I’d like you to meet. Say hello to the new fridge – a sleek, stainless number with grey sides from Frigidaire.

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In case you need a refresher on what used to live here – say buh-bye to Old A-Little-Bit-Yeller.

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We snagged it at Lowe’s during a Fourth of July sale and with a 10% off coupon, so the price was definitely right. Our last refrigerator was also a side-by-side model, and we were happy to keep the same form-factor (and save some pennies – French door fridges all seemed to have seriously spendy price tags). I’m loving the stainless finish, although I have yet to see how it’s going to hold up to daily life with the Sirchios, since we’re keeping the plastic protector on until the kitchen construction is done. I like the contrast with the white cabinets and am totally wooed by the digital temperature gauge (ridiculous but true). Even though the new refrigerator is the same size as our old one, it feels way more spacious, and I’m loving the extra storage drawer.

But you know what the best part about this fridge is? It doesn’t make a ghostly howling noise 24-7. It just sits quietly in the kitchen, keeping our food cold and giving us water. Everything I could ever want from a refrigerator!

Also on the already-installed list is our Bosch dishwasher. This model earned rave reviews for being quiet, which was my number one priority. The old dishwasher was like having a “waves crashing” sound machine turned up to maximum volume for an hour. Excellent for enjoying conversations and for maintaining your sanity. Installing a dishwasher was definitely new for us, so we begged my dad to drive to Dallas and play foreman on the project. After a few hours of labor, Tony and my dad had this pretty new number in place and ready to test out. So we pressed the “Start” button and waited. After a moment of panic when we thought the dishwasher was broken, we realized it was just that quiet. I’m officially in love.

Without further adieu, the old (plus a cameo from my favorite furboy)…

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And the new! (Also still rocking protective plastic. It takes the patience of a saint not to tear it off.)

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On the docket for the next few weeks: putting in the new oven and microwave. Can’t say I’ll be sad to have a microwave back where it belongs, instead of camped out on our kitchen table!

Plus, with a little bit of luck, we should have new counters any day now. Adios, grungy laminate counters that hate fun (yep, those are red wine stains from the birthday soiree).

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31 Years of Fun

After five years, a lot of sweat, and a sprinkling of tears, our house has come a long way. When you’re up to your eyeballs in construction dust, like we are right now, it’s easy to forget why we’re putting so much time and energy into our home. Luckily, my birthday rolled around, just in time to help me put it all into perspective. This year, instead of celebrating at a restaurant or a bar, we opted to invite friends over for a night of pizza, games, and potluck dessert (which turned out to be the best idea ever) – even though the kitchen is looking seriously worse for the wear. Having the house full of old friends and new friends and being surrounded by laughter, shouting (we are a competitive bunch, so games can get a little loud) and chatter really made me remember what the purpose of this whole journey is – to create a house that we love, where we can spend time with the people we love. And as it turns out, the right crowd can have fun anywhere – even in the middle of a disaster zone.

So, even though I was less than psyched about turning 31 (which sounds so much older than 30), it turned out to be a fabulous birthday. I will note that 31 doesn’t just sound older – it feels that way, too.  I closed out an evening of birthday fun by calling the police to report our super-shady neighbors, a group of twenty-something dudes living under one roof that love to host all-night ragers in their garage – with the door open. I’m officially THAT old person, y’all.

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P.S. Kitchen update coming this week! Hooray!

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Ready, Set, Reno!

After penny-pinching, planning, and not-so-patiently waiting for the last year, it’s finally time to tackle the rest of the kitchen. And (surprise) we’re taking a little bit of a different approach to this project. With the hubby and I both juggling intense work schedules, there’s not a lot of time left to manage a major DIY renovation. So although we plan to do some of the smaller elements in the kitchen ourselves – painting, swapping out light fixtures, connecting new appliances and plumbing – we’re leaving the big projects to the pros. Here’s the game plan, from the top down – plus a refresher on the design inspiration for the kitchen. Love that Tommy Smythe!!

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1. Update the cabinets with a fresh coat of creamy white paint & some satin nickel hardware. I snagged my hardware on Ebay for a song – less than $70 for all the pieces we’ll need. And don’t worry – the colors actually match in real life.

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Also included on the painting quote: taking my Craig’s List bookshelves from chestnut to soft white. Thanks to the scale of the kitchen project, I got a heck of a deal on the bookshelf paint job. Hello, visual calm!

2. Gussy up the walls and ceiling with – you guessed it – white paint. We’ll match the shade we choose for the cabinets.

3. Swap the scratched, dingy and hideous laminate counters for Silestone in the Lyra pattern. Love that it looks like Carrara but happens to be incredibly durable, antimicrobial and is guaranteed against scratches for 15 years. Plus it’s low risk for radon emission (admittedly, that’s per the manufacturer).

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4. Install a lantern light over the kitchen table. I found this fixture on Wayfair for less than $100 a few months ago and it’s been waiting on our guest room ever since.

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5. Replace our old appliances with sleek, stainless steel appliances. They’ll definitely be a visual improvement, and according to the specs, our new dishwasher is less likely to sound like a tidal wave than our current model. We chose Frigidaire appliances from Lowe’s for everything except the cooktop (Whirlpool) and the dishwasher (Bosch).

6. Trade out the old burgundy and white backsplash for timeless, white subway tiles… Something like this.  Swoon.

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7. Have the floors steamed and the grout re-sealed. Why so soon? The installers used an acid wash to deal with the grout haze last summer, which ate away the grout sealer. And unsealed white grout + a family of four (including the wild animal that lives here) = recipe for disaster.

8. Upgrade the kitchen table to a painted pedestal ($50 on Craig’s List and just waiting for me to work some magic), find new kitchen chairs and barstools, and execute about a million other smaller-scale details.

We’ll be managing most of the demo ourselves, and we already got a head start. Now you see the burgundy backsplash…

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Now you don’t!

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Next up: floor cleaning/re-sealing and installing the new dishwasher and fridge. Stay tuned!

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The Perfect Pair

After months of Craigslist stalking, I finally scored the perfect pair of bookshelves – for just $75 each. At 7′ tall, they actually take advantage of the high ceilings in our living room (working with vertical space isn’t exactly my forte). I love that the bookshelves are solid wood – so no off-gassing here – and have just the right amount of traditional trim detail to fit in with our other pieces.

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I bought the shelves with the intention of painting them (and the existing TV stand) white, so it feels like a unified set. But once I had the shelves in place, I got a little gun-shy about painting them. I really like the contrast with the white walls. Plus there’s the screw-up factor, coupled with the “not enough hours in the day” phenomenon. Of course, I also love the visual quiet that comes from white shelves. And I’ve got a hankering to replace the wood backing with mirror, since I’m part crow and can’t resist anything that sparkles. This image from House Beautiful makes me happy happy. The mirrored backs on the built-in make the room look huuuuuge, no?

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I also love how great this basic Ikea Expedit looks layered with a mirrored back and swanky accessories.


Eclectic Living Room by Bala Cynwyd Design-build Firms Design Manifest

Once I decide what to do – or not do – with the shelves, I’ll get serious about the business of actually filling the shelves up. The trick for me is managing to actually make the shelves functional – AKA provide storage for the multitude of books and other things that are lurking around our Lottery House – without making them completely dizzying. Some of my favorite inspiration images…

Contemporary Home Office by San Francisco Photographers Alex Amend Photography

Traditional Living Room by Los Angeles Artists and Artisans Blue Tangerine Art

Contemporary Living Room by Ottawa Kitchen & Bath Designers Tanner Vine – 2Go Custom Kitchens Inc

Contemporary Living Room by San Francisco Architects & Designers Feldman Architecture, Inc.

Still on the to-do list for the living room:
1. A fresh coat of paint on the wall behind the sofa
2. Adding our new plug-in wall sconces behind the sofa when they finally arrive
3. Turning my fabulous dragon fabric into art… or pillows!
4. Maybe recovering the ottoman. Vertical space might not be my forte, but being indecisive definitely is!
5. Finding the right curtains. Crisp and white, with a pinch pleat or back tab, and not $100 per panel. It’s that last point that seems to be so tricky.

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