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A lot of good has come from our decision to buy an as-is fixer upper and do a complete home remodel. I won’t deny that. It has turned into one of the best things for our life in so many ways. We’ve learned to live simply, we’ve learned to appreciate having a home more, and we’ve taught our children some valuable lessons along the way about hard work, determination and the value of having do-it-yourself skills.

Here is a list of some mistakes we were either fortunate enough to avoid or unfortunate enough to have to learnas we went along.

1. Supersizing – to be honest, we have had and still have had thoughts of adding on to our home. It’s about 1800 square feet and we’ve toyed with the idea of adding a 2nd story for another 600 sf. The truth is though that rarely does an addition to a home recoup it’s cost in the short term. For us to decide to add on, we’d also be deciding to stay put for the long haul in this home. We’re not doing that. And when it comes time to sell we want the home to fit with the neighborhood and original style and we want to be able to recoup our remodeling costs.

2. Trying to make a home something it isn’t – in our case, we bought a 1960 ranch. It would’ve been silly to try to make it into a massive victorian. We chose to go spanish style cottage with ours. There are a lot of choices so make sure the style your home is when you buy it lends itself to what you want it to be.

3. Changing the function of rooms – for us, one of the biggest money and time savers was keeping the kitchen the kitchen and the bathrooms the bathrooms.

4. Do It Yourself – we haven’t (knock on wood) had any major mishaps with hubby taking on our remodel himself. He’s managed each project along the way just fine but it can be a huge money and time drain if you don’t know what you’re doing and have to call someone in to tear out your tile job and do it properly.

5. Costly renovations for little return – If you’re remodeling for yourself to make home yours for the rest of your days, it is one thing. If you’re remodeling and will be looking to sell someday, it’s an absolute necessity to know what people will be looking for in a home. Know what the return on a gourmet kitchen is vs. a midrange kitchen remodel. The biggest returns in remodeling come from replacing exterior siding, new windows, and kitchen and bath upgrades.

6. Underbudgeting – This one, I don’t know many people who stay within budget on home building or remodeling but it’s important to have some idea of what you’re looking at and a back up plan better than sinking into debt. Not planning for costs properly can either result in a delayed project, bigger debt, or work that lacks quality to cut costs.

7. Assuming you can live in your remodel while work is being done – you CAN live in your remodel, but if you choose to go that route, know what you’re getting into. Doing dishes in the bathtub while the kitchen is gutted, and eating out for most meals. Be prepared.

8. Not Planning for the Unexpected – You have no idea when you tear open a wall if you’ll find pest problems or moisture issues requiring structural repair. You may discover wiring that needs to be replaced, pipes that need to be rerouted or moisture problems that have rotted away joists or sill plates. Pad your budget and allow yourself a bit of flexibility in your work schedule to accommodate these not-so-nice surprises. We planned for all of the above going into our as-is remodel and we were greeted with all of the above!

9. Going Trendy – it’s always safer to go with classic design when remodeling because it will last and you won’t feel like you have to start over with remodeling in 3 years when what you chose is out of style. Classic colors and styles will appeal to you longer and to prospective home buyers when it’s time to sell.

10. Not doing your homework on your contractor – if you’re using a contractor or contractors for all or part of your project, get recommendations. Go see some of the work they’ve done. Ask previous clients how the contractor handled problems and if the jobs were done in a timely manner. Remodeling is stressful and can be expensive. Don’t add to that stress by not knowing what you are in for with an uncooperative or slow contractor. Get a contract once you’ve chosen your contractor with cost, scope of work and start and end dates!

11. No permit – find out of your projects require a permit and get one if they do. If you have a contractor doing your job, put them in charge of getting the permits to save you time and money.

12. Check insurance – Before your start your project, check your homeowners policy limits. Since policies are often purchased based on existing house value, you may need to make changes to your policy. Also make sure anyone working on your property is carrying Workmen’s Comp Insurance.

13. Unsafe conditions – use tools properly, wear safety goggles, keep your work area relatively clean. Nothing will delay your project longer than a stint in the emergency room for not taking proper precautions while working.

14. Skimping on Materials – know where you should be paying more for quality. From drywall to flooring, to countertops and fixtures. Decide what you want that fits the budget. Put in flooring that will last, not just the cheapest one you can find. If you want high end appliances in your kitchen, you may have to adjust your countertop budget and install laminate instead of solid surface. Make those decisions ahead of time so you can expect what your end result will be.

15. Not having a plan – this was, admittedly, us. We had a vague plan at best when hubby started tearing out walls and floors. Our plan was “remove it and replace it”. That’s about it. It worked out okay in the end but it would’ve saved a bit more of our sanity and patience and time if we’d laid out a step by step plan ahead of time to have an idea of what would happen when. And it could’ve been disastrous if we’d stumbled upon bigger issues during tearouts.



I posted the other day about needing to get to work on simplifying the kitchen. I am not done yet. But I have made some huge progress. I am embarrassed to say that I forgot to take pics before I got started and I refused to mess everything up again just to make all of you happy.

My goals were to

Declutter the windowsill

Here is a pic from weeks and weeks ago. It wasn’t this bad when I got started yesterday but it wasn’t all that great either.

And this is after a good purge

Keep the countertop as clear as possible
I have eliminated everything from the counter except the coffeepot, the spoonrest by the stove, and my knife block. Not too shabby. Oh and for today, my crockpot was there but that is just because, well, we need to eat. It’s put away now 🙂

Make items used daily more readily accessible
This was really already done, but here is a pic of the stuff I use all the time in the kitchen – my Ikea utencil and knife magnet bar, my teakettle, my favorite pan, and my knife block.

organize the pantry
Also, in organizing the pantry, I got the task of putting all my baking stuff up high. That stuff is all in the canisters on the left on the top two shelves.
All the extras of our pastas and rices are way up high. Enough coffee for a small army in case there is a total disaster and hubby can’t leave the house for 5 years. Also enough peanut butter for said instance. As we move our way down that pantry shelf, the stuff on the bottom shelf is what is opened and used regularly and as those get finished, stuff will make it’s way to the lower shelf and we’ll restock the upper shelves.
along with that lovely upper cabinet I just shared the cabinet below it houses all of our canned goods. You should’ve seen Eli when he saw me get ready to do this project. It is his favorite place to climb in there and knock those cans out and make them roll all over the floor. He’s been very good so far though.
Don’t worry, nothing is alphabetized. 🙂
And now you see what happens when I, an underbuyer marry an overbuyer. A frugal one though! Hubs stocks up at sales!

I still have to organize my lazy susan full of spices and clean out the fridge. But I am so happy with the progress so far!

I started working on paring down the kitchen a couple weeks ago. I’ve mentioned before I don’t have much focus so I started by filling a box of pots, pans and other random items that just weren’t getting used and taking that to Goodwill. In that process, I organized my pots and pans cabinet and my dish cabinet. But that’s it. I didn’t touch the other side of the kitchen, the pantry or the lazy susan. I am going to tackle that soon.

Here are the things I am doing to simplify my kitchen

  • declutter the windowsill – this space seems to be the catch-all for stuff. When I am clearning off the countertop, things just end up on the windowsill. I’m reducing mine to a couple of decorative items and functional canisters we use daily. Nothing else. Everything else up there either gets tossed or finds a new home
  • keep the countertop as clear as possible – i have a hard time with this but try to keep it to my coffeepot and knife block. By hanging a 3 tier basket, I no longer need a fruit bowl and a couple canisters we use daily are on the windowsill
  • put baking stuff up high – since I don’t bake very often, don’t keep all that stuff out and in the way of what I use daily. Tuck it away up high and keep the things I use more often  readily available
  • organize spices – either in a lazy susan or an organized spice drawer – preferrably sorted in alphabetical order to cut down on searching time. Go through  spices every 6 months to a year and get rid of the ones that have lost their aroma and replace them.
  • make items used daily more readily accessible – The best $6 I spent this year was on the utencil rack and magnetic knife rack I bought at Ikea and hung over my stove. No digging for the items I use each and every time I cook. And I have my pots and pans on a hanging rack. These things free up cabinet space and make cooking a breeze.
  • organize the pantry – this is the hardest one for me because we don’t have an official pantry, just 2 huge cupboards full of canned goods, pastas and cereals. Things get cluttered in there very quickly.
  • clean out the fridge – i hate cleaning the refrigerator but when I do, it makes me happy.

I’ll be getting to most of this tomorrow and will share some pictures of my results with before and after photos so check back!

I mentioned that we were working on installing the new countertop on a section of our kitchen cabinetry last week. Well, the tile job went quickly as did the grouting but then it took another week before hubby put the trim around it. So I can finally share the completed product. I think it looks lovely. As a reminder – one side of our kitchen has a black granite slab for counter as can be seen here


And this is what the other side looked like a few weeks ago – still with really fabulous white plywood. Sexy, right?


And a week or two ago when the project was in full swing


And now – the nearly finished product. I say nearly because while the counter is complete, there is still that pesky opening above the curtain that I am trying to talk hubby into covering but in some astonishing way, it isn’t at the top of his priority list. And because we are about to paint the kitchen, he didn’t bother to clean off his black grouty fingerprints from the wall. So you can still see those even though I tried to cover them up a bit. So here, our $60 black granite counter!


To test the theory that black is slimming, I placed my very favorite little mug that I like to use to make me feel cute and sophisticated. And I must say, she’s looking stunningly svelte there on the new black counter, don’t you think?


I haven’t really had much to blog about the past couple of days. The big Burns’ night celebration on Friday was wonderful and fun. Here’s a pic of my family with a nice little backdrop of the river behind us and bagpiper playing on the dock at sunset.


Saturday and Sunday were spent doing some little projects around the house. We decided to finally do the other kitchen countertop with black granite to match the other side of the kitchen. We got a black granite slab on ebay really greatly priced last year and never bit the bullet buying matching at Home Depot at full retail. We decided to do black granite tile instead of a slab. Much cheaper and it looks really nice. There are some finishing touches to do still before I can share pictures but here’s one of the cute little monkey helping his daddy 102_0558.jpgwith it.

And the best news in a long time is that my brother called me today to tell me he got married this morning!! He and his girlfriend have been together for almost 5 years and live in a cute little studio in Brooklyn together. In August, when my grandfather was dying, he called to tell him that they were engaged to be married and would be going to the courthouse for a simple marriage there. My grandpa, true to his terrible at keeping secrets ways, spilled the beans before he died. So we’ve all been expecting it but hadn’t heard anything and I wasn’t pressuring on it. I am so thrilled for them. He’s wonderful, she’s wonderful and they’re just so darned cute together they make me want to throw them up in the air and catch them.

Now I just have to come up with a super cool gift to send them to mark the lovely occasion.

That’s all for now!