Falling in love with a “fixer upper” isn’t easy

This isn’t a story of love at first sight.

In fact, let me tell you about the other guy.

When I was looking for the house we would raise a family in, I had my “type”. I liked ’em old. In fact, I had a sweet spot for houses built around 1915. And I fell hard for one we still call “Kenilworth”.

Kenilworth was a classic brick Georgian Colonial with a vast sweeping staircase as soon as you walked in, a butler’s pantry with all the vintage hardware and a fireplace in practically every room. The wood work was exquisite. The back entrance had an extended portico and the brick underneath still had the imprint of carriage wheels.

“It has the original ice box!” I pleaded with my husband.

“Why would we need an ice box?!?” Mark shot back, trying to talk sense into me.

Once he found out from the home owner that it cost a budgeted $400 a month (every month) to heat the nearly 6 thousand foot dinosaur, my old home dreams were dashed.

Mark wanted a new build. I wanted character. Our house hunting followed the same script as Kenilworth for months. But I was also pregnant and only getting bigger. We had a deadline and had to act fast.

I guess you could say we ended up splitting the difference when we went to look at a fixer upper built in the late 70’s. The moment we walked over the threshold of what would become our home, I had a dueling sense of disappointment and a strange feeling of familiarity, like I had been here before.

It was not at all what I had been looking for. But at the same time, I knew in my gut that we would end up here.

Everything needed replaced, from the light fixtures to the staircase to the faucets (I could go on). It felt dark, like no natural light was getting in. Someone 20 years earlier had meticulously faux painted every inch, including the kitchen countertops and the ceiling of the master bedroom.

(I’m really selling this, right?)

“You can always change a house, but you can’t change the location,” my mom told me.

She didn’t full out ask, but I think with a grandchild on the way, she was hoping we would move into this house so we could be closer. And, to her credit, the house was in a fantastic location near beautiful parks, great schools and close to most of our family.

As much as I saw the daunting projects that lay ahead, I loved the idea of making it my own. I saw a lot of ugly kitchens while house hunting, and also ones that had been updated with choices I wouldn’t personally make. So, I figured a couple good paint jobs and some new cabinets would do the trick, right? There was potential for character, maybe not an icebox, but still.

Three emails later, we had bought the house.

At this point, I’d love to tell you: “we replaced the cabinets and lived happily ever after”. But it wasn’t that simple. Nor that cheap. As we sunk money into the house, we also fell in love with making it part of our family’s story.

Our house story is one that I find myself telling over and over to friends and acquaintances. I think it’s because the majority of us can’t buy our dream home as soon as we start our families. And whether it’s right away or years down the road, we all face the question: “Do I fix this place up or move?”

For us, we recently faced that same question again. Our family grew with now three beautiful kids and we found ourselves wanting more space. But where we live already has the kitchen I’ve chosen, the light fixtures I found, the memories we’ve created. So…we decided to do our biggest renovation project yet and add on rooms.

The back of our house torn off in 2021. The start of a year of renovation!

If you’ve gone through any sort of renovation, you know, there are big decisions and little details, all equally stressful. And if you’re like me, you scour the internet for inspiration and try to figure out how to make your space truly your own – and at the same time, create a timeless space so you don’t have to renovate every time trends change.

Through out this post, I’ve shared some before and after photos. We’ve been under renovation for 8 years. Every room was torn apart during our latest construction project. But as I go through figuring out how to decorate and design each space, follow along as I make every inch of this home our sanctuary.

Oh yeah, and that other guy? I still fantasize about that incredible butler’s pantry. But deep down, I know it wouldn’t have worked out.

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