The Lake House, Post #3

Stuff is going down at The lake house.   Figuratively and literally.  (click on link to check out the first two lake house posts).  I hate showing ‘before’ and ‘progress’ pics without ‘afters’, i do.  Its like wine tasting where you taste it and then spit it into a bucket – sure, still kinda fun, but ultimately very unsatisfying (not to mention uncivilized and disgusting).  No climax. No cathartic release.  No fun at all.  But i’ll do it anyway.  I’m a masochist (and a sadist, sorry) like that.  (ooh, ‘Design Masochism’ could be a great new name for the show…., no?)


Here is your taste (or tease….or torture):


Nobody is living here right now, that’s why its messy – my computer, my potato chips and bottle of water are making them look like shut-ins, but it was our mess.  And this is all the staged furniture – not the homeowners. It was all just staged to sell the house, then left there to be the new homeowners burden (it is now all donated). 

The major problems:

Laminate flooring.  It’s a bummer. It doesn’t look bad in these picturs, but it looked really cheap in person. I get it, its inexpensive. I used it in my office redo last week, but its a rental and i wanted a $150 update. I would always save up for real or engineered wood in my purchased home before using this quality of laminate – which is very, very low quality. It looked like vinyl stickers.  (i know there are some better quality better looking laminates out there, so if you have laminate don’t hate yourself, most of it is not this bad).  

The brick and beams:  Those beams are wood underneath but they are painted brown, not stained. I hate it when people paint wood brown. It would be like painting me white, its just not necessary; i already got that covered. It (I) just needs some pretty stain (or makeup) to enhance it.  But stripping and staining is way more labor intensive than just painting over, so that is getting painted all white.  

Everything needed to be freshened up to create the airy, casual feeling that we wanted, and nothing does that faster than white paint. 

The cabinetry, the hardware (look how big that handle on the drawer) the color of the wood on the door….. THE TILE ON THE WALL! There are a LOT of finishes happening here.  Here’s a secret – try to limit the amount of finishes in your house to just a few – aka, you don’t need a different floor for your kitchen if it shares the same space as the living room – just keep the wood going.  But using so many different tiles looks sooo messy.  Its just like a color palette – the more colors you add the more hectic it will look.  

Calm down, house.  

Oh and also this house is apparently in Greece, as is indicated by the greek column.  Very grand and not random at all.  

Never do that.  Even with a gun to your head.  It’s not worth it. 


But the open layout is great.  And the architectural details are good – brick, beams, huge ass windows…its potential is HUGE.  But it just needed some ‘secrets’.  (aka, white paint, new flooring, new cabinetry and new furntiure, accessories, color and love).  

So here is where we were a month ago (6 weeks or so into the renovation). 

Stuff everywhere, but already so much better.  White, bright, airy and so much less busy.  Remember that the less contrast in a house, the less busyness, and the less hectic energy flowing there.  We are bringing in contrast in the furniture and accessories, but we wanted the foundation to feel calm and peaceful and easy – this is their weekend escape from their hectic New York life.  So i had to equalize and calm down all the finishes to calm down the energy.  We want it to feel energetic, but not hectic – a hard but good balance to strike.  

Here’s what i did: 

Painted the brick and beams white – looks like here there was only one coat in thes pics, but there are two coats now.  I used Benjamin Moore’s ‘Super Bright White’, because it doesn’t get much whiter than that.  I used semi gloss on the beams and brick, and flat finish on the walls.  At this point i hadn’t painted the hearth because the stone was nice and i wanted to see how it looked, but after everything else was painted white it looked super random and weird so it is now painted.  

The flooring is prepped here (above, the laminate is taken out) and we put in radiant heating which looks like this underneath:

Previously there were these extremely unattractive wall heaters everywhere that looked like this:

Thats the master bedroom before we removed the heaters. But they were everywhere downstairs as well. It sadly gave the homeowner nightmares, and we can’t have that.  

Radiant heating basically just means that the floor is heated – that all the heat comes  up from the floor. It’s efficient, smart, luxurious, etc, and yes not cheap (about $12,000 for labor and materials). But there is no better time to do it than when you are replacing flooring – you have to rip up your floor to do it.  This wasn’t in the original plan and it caused us to have to up the budget, but for resale it was crucial that they did this, and like i said, it was now or never.   

Meanwhile in the kitchen,  we lowered that ledge behind the sink.  It was strangely high and cutting off the room. There wasn’t enough space for a big counter with a lip for a bar area anyway – we wanted the sofa to face the lake, so it needs to go there and its going to take up most of the space, just giving like a foot of space behind it.

Wow, buuuuuuuusy.  I have no idea what they were thinking with this flip:  fake granite, stone tile, weird different tile flooring, laminate, brick, maple cabinets….there is no consistentcy, no coherence, no design plan here at all.  

We faced out our grecian column to be a simple white beam (they’ve since cancelled their toga themes house warming party) – the contractor just tore down the facade of the beam and built a wood box around the load bearing beam underneath.

The kitchen which was huge and extremely cheaply done is now demo’d and we find out that it was previously two rooms and there are washer and dryer hookups in the back and clearly it needed to be two room.  So we had to reconfigure our cabinet plans (Yes, they were already ordered and being built…. this is what you call a massive ‘hiccup’ that kept me from sleeping, but ended up working out).    

That hole in the ceiling is the plumbing being prepped for a clawfoot tub in the middle of the master bedroom directly upstairs….YES!  It’s an awesome big old tub from Victoria and Albert

Hello, big ass beautiful raw wood mirror.  Aren’t you just opening up the space even more and reflecting light everywhere whilst making a huge statement?  Why, yes you are.  

So here are some sneak peeks into whats happening elsewhere in the house:

White cesarastone, light blue penny tile backsplash (from nemo tile), brushed brass hardware (from Restoration hardware on their 50% off sale, not sure if there are any left), white shaker cabinets (from Jilco Cabinetry – extremely good service, helpful guys)…. open, airy, bright, modern with a classic vintage vibe.  Our goals were timeless, but stylish and i didn’t want them to have to touch it if they wanted to sell it in 7 years.  


Ooooooh, we have some green going on in the kids bathroom, yes we do.  

I’m going back May 1st for the first install – meaning the house should be totally done – construction-wise, and we can start decorating – which frankly is the most fun part.  But even seeing it tranformed this much gets me super excited.  

Frequently asked questions:

What is the budget? Sorry, its not my money so i’m not talking about it. But its a very reasonable budget for a lot of vintage pieces,  splurges here and there and supplemented with big box stores and thrift stores.  Its a casual lake house for a casual family so nothing is too expensive or high end. 

How long has it taken?  We started demo in early February and should be done May 1st.  3 Months.  Which is not bad considering it was almost a gut renovation.  We have almost every major piece of furniture ordered and ready to be delivered, but it could take another few weeks after that to really make it feel finished in the space.  

How do i design a house in New York from Los Angeles? Its not ideal, honestly, but I have a great project manager there, Lana (check her blog) who handles the day to day and checks up on the house, coordinates with the contractor (who is great) and then I go out there around 7-8 days a month – sometimes two short trips sometimes one longer trip.  Yes, travel is part of our contract.  

I can’t tell you how excited i am to get over there and start decorating. As many of you probably know from renovating your own house, that renovating is stressful and serious and expensive.  Every house is different, every house has its own quirks, needs, etc and there are so many things that can go wrong – and not in a ‘this lampshade is too big’ kind of way.  More in a ‘your foundation is weak’ or, ‘you have mold’, or ‘the water heater won’t heat enough water to fill that huge bathtub that you want to put in’ kind of way. I’ll be so glad when its just a beautiful blank canvas for me to do my magic on.  

Now its your turn to share your biggest renovation ‘hiccups’.  Comment away, it will make us all feel better because it happens to the best of us.  


  1. Danielle

    Wow – what a difference a coat (or 2) of paint makes! I can't wait to see the next developments and the finished product! Thanks for sharing the process!

  2. Eagle Eye

    First of all, I just discovered your blog on Wednesday and show, so since I'm stuck inside on this rainy weekend writing papers for grad school, you've basically been a godsend, plus, you're giving me great ideas for my own space…

    My boyfriend and I live in an apartment his mother owns which she agreed to renovate for us (long story, the reno was long needed, she already had workmen, there were also good financial reasons, not just spoiling us!)

    The reno was terrible, the house had been worked on intermittently by different people for the past 100 years, there was literally a pink door in the bathroom behind the shower and they found 4 layers of ceilings in the kitchen! What we thought would be just a little bit of reworking became a total gut job and our little 980 sq ft apartment took 3 mos!

    But it looks beautiful now, I was able to design my own kitchen and my bf and I are slowly (emphasis on slowly, we're grad students so we're super broke) decorating the place – so I guess it was worth it in the end.

  3. that white really brings out the pillar. At first I thought it looked pretty random, but with the new white design it looks perfectly at home

  4. I love the white painted brick and beams…It's an immediate improvement! I had a similar brick wall fireplace in my house when I first moved in and painting it was first on our to-do list. It made a huge difference.
    I'm very excited to see the final transformation!

  5. Angela

    Thank you for fixing the column!! Looking at it literally made my head hurt…..And, until I knew you were addressing it (by actually "dressing" it-ha!), I could not concentrate on any of the other wonderful things you are doing!

  6. Christa

    Wow, that lake house is really coming along. I've been waiting to see what was happening there. Very exciting changes!

    I seem to have blocked the memories of my first remodel. I only remember that I will not start demolition until all fixtures and materials are on site. Even things like countertops, which often will adjust by a half inch or so – ordered, paid, held for me at the shop for final cut. Because the one thing I do remember is that having the timeline blown because the tile or faucet didn't arrive yet is what can really kill your budget.

    I also have a major regret for my current house. I had the floors finished with a concrete overlay, and the concrete artist I hired talked me out of installing radiant heat. Now I am saving up to redo, and the $7k I paid for the floor finish is wasted. :(

  7. Lesley

    It's looking great! I know you can't talk about overall budget but can you give a general idea for the kitchen cabinet cost? Like "double the Ikea cost"? I'm afraid Ikea might be the only think in our budget, so I'm curious about any somewhat budget-friendly options.

  8. Tori

    My hubs and I are about to purchase our first house, and can't wait to start the renovation. One major aspect of it would be to lower the living room. The house was built in the 70's and you've got to walk up 4 stairs to get to the front door and living room, then you've got to go down 4 stairs to get to the rest of the house. Super random, and I just want it to be all one level. Has anyone ever undertaken a task like this? Was it horrible? Should we just embrace the elevated space? Thanks so much for any tips.

  9. Kim

    I only just found your blog this past week, and am enjoying it very much. You are very creative and write in a fun way. Love all of these "progress" photos. I have used Benjamin Moore Super White in some rooms of my home recently and love it. Here is a recent "hiccup". Last year I wanted new white doors in our home, and my husband was sure he could save us a couple of thousand dollars by machine spray painting the doors himself. It seemed reasonable, because he proved himself to be quite competent when we last machine spray painted our home. But the doors are a different story altogether. We literally see drips on the side of every door. It seemed to take forever for him to finish this project, and he literally painted, sanded and re-sprayed all the doors (about 14 doors) three times. Some of the doors to our closet, bedroom and bathroom that I painted do not have drip marks, but I used a roller on them, and they do show a slight texture, of course. My husband has had numerous successes using a machine to spray paint all kinds of things, except doors. Before this summer is over, we will have hired a professional painter, whose work we have seen, to re-paint every single door in our home. We have seen the difference, and there is a BIG difference. We think the expense will be worth it!

  10. Katy

    Call me crazy, but I am actually digging that sketch (or painting? I can't tell) of the deer in the before picture. But, more importantly, I can't believe how great the white looks! It is so fresh and airy. I can't wait to see more progress shots, and of course, the "after". Also, side note, this morning I ignored my alarm and stayed in bed drinking coffee while watching an old SFAS (the untamed modern funk one). It was a great way to start my day!

  11. Ah, the endless renovation debate. My husband and I bought our first house together a little over a year ago and have been busy renovating ever since. Most of it we did ourselves, including installing the 'dreaded laminate' (only thing next to ugly carpet in our price range), scraping six rooms of wallpaper and popcorned ceilings and repainting all the bedrooms. We did hire a contractor to do two bathrooms and re-do our skylight, which turned out to be installed incorrectly, basically it could fall at any second, and the 'correct' fix would have involved an architect and a whole new skylight system… very expensive, luckily our contractor was awesome and re-framed it himself. Not the best solution, but at least its safer now.

    @charmaine – don't paint your beams! they will get lost in the white ceiling, instead stain them a darker color wood, like espresso, to make them pop out.

    I have the same problem as the lake house, too much orangey wood, and I debate painting it as well, all the freaking time. I feel like I need a designer (Hey Emily!) to come in there and just be like, WE ARE DOING THIS! Otherwise I keep chickening out, and I have left our raw wood, which looks stuck in the seventies…. Would also love to know anyone's opinion about my wood situation, picture here on the blog:


  12. I do not have any tricks but really loved gaining insight in ways to let go. For me this is not just about the material things, but also other things that you hold on to in your head. Thanks Chris for the great insight

  13. Maddie

    I would love to see your pre and revised cabinetry plans and hear a little more about how you solved that problem!