It’s a small world. About a year ago a house came on the market in our neighborhood near our mountain house. It was this adorable fixer of an A-frame – so much charm, so little work (compared to our house). Brian and I had dreams of doing a budget DIY reno as an excuse to live up here for a summer at some point (yes, we’d do it ourselves), and this one was PERFECT. It was so close (walking distance), needed some work but mostly cosmetic and stuff we could learn/do ourselves, and its potential was huge. Big windows, cute A-frame ceiling, deck, open layout – just CUTE. We came THIS close to buying it before we asked ourselves the most important question (and needed to have some solid answers) – WHY?? Here was the thought process.
But first, here is a little video we made with an inside tour…
It would be a great investment to Airbnb out as a vacation rental. We weren’t that keen on renting out our mountain house, but we KNOW that because of the location near the beach and its charm, we could rent this out for vacationing families for sure. But as we looked at the numbers and the time it would take to manage, we did worry that unless it was fully booked or we charged a lot more on holidays we might not cover our mortgage. Which would be fine if WE were using it too, but just as an investment it made us nervous. But I also know I would give it away to friends, family, my team, readers – and likely we would not cover our mortgage because of that too. So for us maybe doing it just as an investment wouldn’t be enough of a reason.
It would be a fun project! I really wanted to do a DIY budget project and had a concept for it (see below). But Brian basically reminded me that I had JUST finished the mountain house – a project that truly took me to the brink mentally and us financially (also I’ve never been so grateful for a project as I am right now). Sure, I like creating work for myself but would this really be “fun”? Or is it just the idea? Or am I addicted to creating challenges for myself that ultimately aren’t good for me and our family? Ok fine, maybe doing it for FUN wasn’t the right answer (besides, having a relaxing summer writing my book, hanging with my family might be the real fun that I need).
- We’d document it for the blog and social content! Well, I love putting fresh projects out there, full of new ideas and I don’t want private clients. This is still true, but as Brian and I talked about it over and over, “content” doesn’t have to always sacrifice my mental health and our bank account. Besides, we just did a mountain house and if it were say in the desert or on the beach (ha) that would be one thing, but we realized that if the only reason left to do this was to be able to document a project – something you guys would be invested in – then another mountain house was definitely not going to be it.
Of course, then my business manager told us we couldn’t afford it, so we didn’t get it. It wasn’t right for us, it wasn’t going to pay for itself, it wouldn’t be an escape for our family, it was going to financially put us in jeopardy and create so much work and stress that I truly didn’t need. It also started to feel gross, where I was practicing overabundance in a way that was truly not necessary. The family that bought it is using it for their own getaway AND renting it out so it makes sense for them. We walked away and felt good about the decision.
Cut to last month when I saw it on Apartment Therapy’s Instagram – totally transformed but I recognized it. And get this, it was bought by a follower Casie Wilson, @Wilsonhaus. A dedicated reader in fact! I was so happy, jealous, impressed, all the things. So I reached out and here we are. They weren’t up here at the time but gave us the code and Brian and I (and the kids) snuck in and checked it out (and jumped on their trampoline). As I walked through we kept saying “oh that’s what we were going to do!” over and over although ultimately we had a very special and different plan for it (keep reading).
So we’ll start with the before and walk through what they did and what we had planned to do:
Here’s what it looked like when we saw it – the first day on the market. This area does EPIC garage sale weekends (4th of July and Labor Day weekend – literally everybody has one) so we were just at their garage sale when they were hammering the sign into their yard. We asked to go in and fell in love.
Our Plan for This House:
Here was our plan – this would be a 100% no waste project, where NOTHING would be new except mattresses/sheets, paint and maybe some appliances (I’ve never bought used before so I didn’t know about that). Everything else would be either thrifted, vintage, reclaimed, leftover from projects, kept as-is, found on the side of the road, or DIY’d – including the faucets, tile, etc. The other exception would be to paint it all white, but even with that I was like “I bet I can find a source for leftover white paint then just mix it all together.” It would absolutely be a budget project that Brian and I were going to DIY together, and I’d have days and days of thrifting ahead of me. In fact, my brother and his family were going to come live with us for the summer and do it with us (My brother Ken has to get on camera at some point in his life). It was going to be a real-time documentary project – not a year-long wait for the reveal, but a daily video/stories and updates. NOTHING WOULD BE NEW.
OMG, it still sounds like my dream project because despite loving the house where I’m sitting in right now SO MUCH. However, the financial and emotional stress of it definitely wore on us and I just don’t want to do a big fancy renovation ever again, really. This little house would be full of charm and soul and be super eclectic and eccentric – more quirky cabin than “scandi chalet,” BELIEVE ME. And such a good story about what you can do without creating any waste in the world. THAT was my plan and I still really want to do it at some point because I know that I can make it look rad while being environmentally friendly.
But as far as design-wise I didn’t have a plan because you can’t if you are going to thrift everything. We were also going to paint it all and we thought white for the main space, but could have done color or dark for a bedroom or two. And we knew that we were going to just sand/refinish that GORGEOUS flooring. But besides that, no real structural changes, no window replacement, nothing major – spend as little money as possible on the remodel and then thrift my heart out.
Obvious potential, right? Huge windows, cool/strange architecture, open plan, etc.
It’s a sweet 2 bedroom, 2 bath with a loft. It was on the market for 380k when we looked at it and it’s walking distance to the beach club which is huge for real estate up here.
I didn’t know what we were going to do for the kitchen – keep those cabinets and try to make them work? Paint the tile? I think we decided to get rid of the island, and upper cabinets, bring in a reclaimed island that would also act a kitchen table (kinda like what the new owners did!).
This bathroom was one that was recently renovated so we didn’t want to have to rip it all out. Instead, we were going to work with the tile – embracing the stone. I don’t mind the stone, but what dates it a bit is all the different directions and borders, etc. But it truly would have been a waste to demo out when its all one color and can easily be designed around. The vanity would have gotten a paint job, and likely kept the same stone top.
The loft above was their den, but we would have brought the TV down to the main floor and used this as a playroom and the murphy bed = extra bedroom. It was pretty dreamy up there with treetop views and felt like you were in a treehouse.
The bedrooms both were cute – the paneling was already white and the beams were dark (which we would have painted). They were simple rooms that didn’t need a lot – just fresh paint, sanded floor and decorated.
1 Year Later – How the Wilson’s Renovated
They painted it a warm white which I LOVE although I might have painted the exterior dark (cause I love a dark house).
Main Living Room and Kitchen
That fresh coat of paint absolutely transformed the house – and if you are a wood cabin lover (I hear you, I live with one) just know that it was pretty old, dated and kinda gross. Sanding and refinishing the walls is FAR more expensive than spraying it all one color. And remember that in the summer it’s really hot up here so yes, it’s a cozy winter cabin but it’s also walking distance to a beach so it can play that vibe really easily, too.
I spot my favorite Target chairs 🙂 I loved how they kept it so light and coastal. They have 2 kids and their goal was to make it EXTREMELY family friendly – for themselves as well as their future airbnb families.
They opened it up and made the kitchen the entire length of the wall, as an L instead of the island/bar/counter thing in the middle.
I remember us thinking, “where are we going to put the TV because there really isn’t a good place for it”. You can see where they put it right next to the fireplace in between two of the rafters – and it’s totally fine (mostly because it’s The Frame so if you have to put a TV in an awkward location at least have it be The Frame.
How excited would you be for this to be your airbnb??
They kept it super simple in the master bedroom – but by painting the dark beams it make it feel so much brighter and bigger. The architecture is just so sweet.
That murphy bed blew Charlie’s mind (understandably). I love how they left the inside the. natural wood to make it more of an accent. That loft space is such a transformation.
This is why Brian and I were so excited about this house – the paneled walls, big windows and soaring ceilings + pretty floors make it really easy to dress up. You’ll notice that everything is super simple in this house – not to say that it wasn’t a lot of work, but you can keep it so simple because of the built-in charm.
How cute is that little kids hidden area? Kids love a nook, and right now ME, TOO.
Apparently we aren’t the only ones who wanted oval wicker headboards… love these and they work perfectly in this room.
This was the bathroom with the dark tile which is still there, but they tied it in with that adorable forest bunny wallpaper – SO CUTE. And they just painted the vanity, switched out the knobs, counter and faucet. The countertop is from Concrete Collaborative, by the way. I think it turned out so cute and I appreciated that they leaned into it with the wallpaper so much – it makes that room such an experience to be in, regardless of the tile.
I did a quick interview with Casie with all my burning questions (assuming you’d be into them, too).
1. How much did you spend on the updates?
I should know the exact dollar amount, but I haven’t done the math yet. I’m guessing we spent about 30k. This includes boring exterior fixes we had to do for wood rot issues, painting the house inside and out, refinishing the floors, re-plumbing, and remodeling the kitchen 🙂
2. How long did it take and was it longer or shorter than expected?
Umm… it took MUCH longer than expected. When Will and I first started making plans for the house, I said, “Let’s do an IKEA kitchen!” It’ll be cheap, we can do it ourselves, and probably get it done in 2 months! Ha! Boy was I wrong! The entire renovation ended up taking us 7 months to complete. It was 7 months of driving up and down the mountain on as many weekends as possible and during school breaks. We tried to give our kids lots of “play” time, and go on adventures in between working on projects, which definitely slowed things down. Also, I’m not the best at things like, measuring, so there were MANY trips to IKEA to return and rebuy kitchen parts. All in all, I’m thankful it took longer to renovate, and that we were able to spend so much time at the cabin as a family. Rather than it just being an “investment,” it became an adventure for us all and gave us so many beautiful memories.
3. What were your biggest challenges/any surprises (good or unfortunate)?
This is gross… One of the first times we stayed at the cabin, I noticed that the toilets were always brown. I thought it was just dirty from the old owners, but it turned out, we had lead pipes that had rusted and we needed to replace the plumbing on the ENTIRE house! We definitely hadn’t planned on this, and that was the big reason renovations took so long for us. We booked our plumber to come and help with the kitchen, and he found the rusty pipe issue. But by the time he was able to come and help with that, winter had hit, and the snow stopped him from being able to finish all the work. We finally got all our plumbing done in January, and had to patch and paint lots of holes in walls. We finished all our renovations this February, but if it weren’t for the plumbing issue, we would have been ready MUCH sooner.
4. Do you have regrets and what were your best decisions?
YES! I regret not measuring twice before I ordered all of our cabinets! Since we live 2 hours away from the cabin, I couldn’t just go and measure myself. Also, I had to wait a week in between going up because our kids had camps, husband had work, yada yada yada… This was a very expensive mistake and took way more time than it would have if I had just waited the week to double-check everything. On the flipside, my best decisions were Every. Single. Rug. in the cabin. My husband jokes that I just wanted to start an Airbnb so I’d have an excuse to buy rugs. He’s not wrong. I love them ALL! Especially the stair runner. Another favorite is the instant hot water faucet in the kitchen! You never have to microwave water for hot cocoa, or ramen, or wait for water to boil for your pour-over. It’s the most used part of our whole kitchen!
5. Did you do any of the work yourselves or hire out?
We hired out the exterior wood fixes, painting, plumbing, and countertop installation. Everything else we did ourselves. It was definitely a labor of love and also felt like a weird team-building exercise for my husband and I. It forced us to work together, cheer each other on, and trust each other. But also, I feel like I need to say, building an IKEA kitchen with your husband is not for the faint of heart. Anyone who says it’s easy is feeding you LIES!
6. I (and likely all the readers) would love to know the kitchen sources (countertops, cabinet color/maker) I should admit that I was DEFINITELY inspired by Mandy Moore’s kitchen. I loved the green and pink and white, and definitely used that as inspiration for our cabin kitchen. The doors are from the Sarah Sherman Samuel line at Semihandmade, Beadboard in Agave. Countertops are from Concrete Collaborative in Alabaster Mixed Chip, Faucets are Newport Brass, Knobs are Schoolhouse Electric.
7. Lastly, I would love to know how easy it was to strip the floor and paint the entire thing white?
I can’t speak to painting since we hired that part out. But stripping the floor was a breeze… at least all the videos Will sent me looked like it was! He rented a sander and brought two very good friends up to the cabin. They sanded down all the old stain in a day. We paid them in beer. Everyone was happy. Will went back to sand the floors the next weekend with a finer grade paper, but since the hard part had already been done, the rest of the sanding was fairly easy. He vacuumed very thoroughly in between, then applied two coats of sealer. That’s it!
Now for the ever satisfying Before and Afters:)
A huge thanks to Casie and her family for letting us sneak into your house, play with your legos as if our kids have NEVER seen a lego, but seriously having a change of scenery was awesome for an hour.
Also, I want to say that I seriously couldn’t be happier that this wonderful little fixer-upper ended up in your hands. It turned out SO special and you (and the people that will stay) are going to create the best memories in this home. xx
Question for the obviously FAR future… would you guys be into our original idea with Brian and I DIY renovating a house? I think it would be so fun (and challenging). Maybe someday:)
All “after” photos by Amber Thrane