I hinted at the fact that I renovated my formerly sh**hole house (purchased in 2012 when LA was “affordable”) on a budget. Renovated and furnished for under $55K, to be exact. Still, it took everything we had—which didn’t include a whole-lotta-dollas—so we’re talking “sweat equity” (and the blood/tears that naturally come along). We found a contractor willing to teach us, help us and loan us tools. My mom, stepmom, 11- and 13-year-old step sisters (pro tip, child labor is cheap), later, my wife and a couple of very good friends put on their construction hats (nope, couldn’t afford those) and made the house a home, er… liveable-ish, at first. It’s taken YEARS to become truly comfortable and stylistically, it’s still mostly filled with decent Craigslist purchases I made in my mid-20s.
After hinting at my humble, but very loved, home in my basement post, comments popped up requesting to see it and Emily asked if I’d let you in. “Sure! No problem.” But as we geared up to shoot, nerves began and I had to do a quick soul search after almost chickening out. My house and the budgets involved have been MODEST (I’m going to show you all the numbers…but spoiler alert, we’re talking under $55K for reno, furnishing and everything!). I’ve always been incredibly proud of the Craigslist/DIY solutions I’ve been making work since my early 20s…up until being asked to bring them to a, y’know, slightly popular blog. Blog-worthy? I wasn’t yet a designer during these renovations. Adding this budget bungalow to our lineup of aspirational/inspirational editorial seemed like such a leap.
But my brief soul-search brought me to this: As a newer designer building a portfolio, I’m scared. This isn’t what I’d necessarily do, given real resources. I might not even grab the same “finds” as the designer I am today, a whole decade later. There isn’t a sponsored item, heck even an item that cost more than $650 (second-hand sofa) anywhere in this house, so there’s not a chance this project compares to a “real” portfolio…or even a Makeover Takeover reveal. It’s not that.
Still, I’m really proud of what’s gone into making it work. And aren’t most of us in the same “make it work” boat? Look, I’ve spent the last several months visually producing and styling Emily’s second book and it has meant tours of jaw-dropping homes. I’ve witnessed a large percentage of these homeowners apologetically point out things they have yet to “fix” or upgrade. And these are book-worthy homes! So, when is a house good enough? Why does sharing our homes uncover such deep vulnerability and why are we all apologizing? I’m both a confident individual AND on a mission to stop needlessly apologizing (ladies!)… so, screw chickening out. Today, I’m very PROUD to let you into…
THIS “beauty” that awaited us upon purchase in 2012. She’d sat on the market for several months, bank-owned and UNLOCKED. Nobody wanted her…just 980 square feet of hot mess.
Here she is from the outside now (above), but let’s begin this Cinderella story in the first room of the house (though stay tuned this week for my kitchen reno and bed/bath)…
The Living Room
First impression: Iffy ballet studio!
There was a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall mirror and an unmistakable smell of mildew. The old windows leaked, allowing water to mold away the walls below. And there was a needless, badly veneered faux fireplace hogging very limited space. The room was (and currently is) quite dark, as a neighbor’s cinder block wall blocks most of the light just outside. We loved the cove ceilings…didn’t love the fact they were, along with every other ceiling in the house, covered in “popcorn.” What. Was. That. Trend? And, to our pleasure, a quick peek under the cheap plank flooring revealed original hardwood!
The windows (throughout the house) and the sliding door were replaced by a licensed contractor who agreed to charge less if he didn’t pay any additional laborers…formally bestowing us his unpaid assistants. The contractor replaced all plumbing/electrical throughout the house and repaired molded walls. We left these jobs to the pro, but were hands-on everywhere else, cutting down costs IMMENSELY (though likely cutting down years of our lives, as well. Stressful!)
My family, friends and I (henceforth called “the team”) scraped the overhead popcorn, spackled the uneven walls, and hung a mid-century pendant found on Craigslist. We sanded the worn original flooring (throughout the house), but called in a pro to do the staining/sealing because we wanted to make sure it was done well and were too burnt out by that point to make sure of it ourselves.
The ballet mirror (unsafely) came down thanks to a hammer…as did the faux fireplace, which sadly revealed a gorgeous, original plaster surround that couldn’t be salvaged. (Damn you, ’80s faux brick!)
Why the wall to wall curtain? You’ll find us hiding the wall-mounted AC unit that came with the house, which we unfortunately still need, behind said curtain, which really isn’t the prettiest textile (don’t love grommets these days), but they had enough panels at TJ Max to stretch the wall, so good enough. It would be room-transforming to no longer have to hide this ugly AC box. If we paint and powder coat this box so that it disappears, the poor placement of the unit still makes it impossible to center art above the sofa. It’s a conundrum. Central A/C is not in the budget, so this box is our homely, slightly annoying best friend for now. But speaking of art, my friend Shawn painted the old door in the corner.
Here’s a peek behind the curtain:
(Have you spotted Atticus yet?)
The sofa (which now has springs falling out), coffee table, begging-to-be-refinished campaign chest (above), rocking chair and side tables were Craigslist finds. The wingback chair is the first (and so far only) reupholstering I’ve ever done after finding it in an antique shop in 2010.
The shelving…DIY. Katie and I wanted a visually lightweight storage solution that also helped “hide” the TV box a bit and we found this tutorial. It seemed an affordable alternative to those sexy, vintage wall units we may never afford. After struggling to figure out material needs and shelf spacing via rough sketches on loose-leaf (thank god for CAD these days), we settled on a design and planned to dedicate a whole weekend executing it. FUNNY. Two weeks and one complete breakdown (each) later, we were very happy and only spent $450…and only that much because we opted for higher quality wood that we could seal instead of paint. Pine could’ve cut that cost in half.
My mom and her wife gave us the (working!) mid-century record player. The mirror above is vintage from Etsy.
- That GIANT pendant puts off surprisingly little light and wasn’t the best scale or functionality choice. But maybe I just need to figure out how to clean it?
- Though I’d love custom windows, the budget allotted standard/big box one. Fine, but why the faux mullions, Young Velinda? “I know what this gorgeous garden view needs; a vinyl grid!”
- DIY sanding of floors is as easy as it looks on TV (and pretty fun) and renting a sander from Home Depot is cheap ($50ish). I wish I’d chosen a lighter stain or had just sealed the raw redwood, but there’s 0% chance I’m removing all the furniture again (or coughing up the funds) to make that change possible in the future. It’s totally fine, I just find myself still drooling over the ‘raw’ wood of the Mountain House (Link).
- MDF molding instead of hardwood made me nervous, but so far, I don’t mind that I couldn’t splurge for real deal because they’re holding up just fine. (Buy backup in case a section needs to be replaced in the future…it can’t really be sanded/healed as easily as wood).
The Dining Room
First Impression: “This basic box is the best room of the house.”
Small, but bright with a new window already in place! There was a hallway-leading door with original character and a pretty, arched doorway off the living room. Again, we found original flooring beneath the faux. I figured it’d feel tight/not have great flow once a table came in, but what’re ya gonna do…besides get rid of POPCORN CEILINGS? Whyyyyy?
(Nice bandana, Young V…?)
You’re looking at a dining table, second-hand IKEA shelf and DIY pendant (Orb-lando!) I brought with me from my last apartment. The chrome/wood chairs were purchased in the desert several years ago when I was, for some reason, determined to have Palm Springs furniture in my house. I could afford these. I found the bookcase by the curb on my street and decided to refinish it (never did that).
On the walls…the bar sign from our wedding and some subtle gray lines that were painted upon moving in (2012, same time the rug was purchased). Katie and I almost painted over them when we redid the kitchen in 2016, but weren’t committed enough to losing them to go through the trouble. Are these totally dated now? *Hands Splayed Shrugging Emoji*
Throughout the house, we painted every wall…and door. That involved dismounting them and removing each hinge/knob, soaking the hinges in acetone and then chipping away layers of paint, sanding down decades of paint layers on the doors themselves, and finally, spray painting the hinges and hand painting the doors. My mom earned a medal of honor for this particular project.
One of the best decisions Young Me made during reno was swapping the window in the dining room for French doors. It makes the room feel so much bigger as it becomes part of the garden when opened up. We LOVE the breeze during meals and there’s now a lovely, indoor/outdoor flow for entertaining.
- Once again, I’d opt for a different lighting functionality. The single bulb doesn’t give off great light for dining at night. It was even worse when we used an Edison bulb (the current bulb’s much “cooler” brother).
- Thinking we couldn’t afford to add a door to the budget at all, we put in the most basic french door available. Worth the added cost. Wish I’d spent more. This model is pre-primed and must forever be painted. Okay, fine. But the plastic-based latching system feels on the cheaper side and can be a little finicky to operate.
- The table and seating have been collected over time and feel about as accidental as their combination actually was. Incorporating several styles is fine, but this just doesn’t quite jive in a way that makes my heart happy. Are we rustic? Are we mid-century? Are we ’80s? Whatever we are, we are NOT comfortable. The glass table takes up little visual space, which is nice for the small room, but the top just balances on the bases, meaning if you lean on it, you risk… not sure… shards of glass in your leg? Living on the edge over here while we eat our oatmeal. (But guess you’ll find us hiding under here when “the big one” hits…?) Katie and I love playing games together and usually shift the chairs around so we both get an upholstered seat. The others are just no fun to sit on for any length of time. It would be SO amazing to have nothing but comfortable seating. Downsizing our dining surface for an even easier flow is definitely “on the table.”
Before we dive into the ins-and-outs of the budget, let’s look at the before and afters for each space (and the front exterior), because it’s fun:
As for the kitchen you see through the dining room, the house has one! But this post is already a beast and I have TOO MUCH to say about gutting a kitchen and pulling it back together for under $20K. So come back tomorrow and I’ll break it down. For now, the numbers so far (including room-specific numbers as well as the “general reno” notes that applies to the whole house):
Before you go… can we give a huge round of applause to our new(ish)ly-hired photographer, Veronica, for these stunning “after” photos! This is her first feature on the blog as an interior photographer (she normally shoots Em’s fashion posts), so if you see her, buy her a drink! Okay… see you all tomorrow at my place! BYOB.
***photography by Veronica Crawford