Making a House a Home


In April of 2009 I took the plunge a bought a house… I learned a lot of lessons in doing so – like get a really good home inspector (I apparently did not), don’t be afraid to bargain (I did not), and in the end if you really want it, it doesn’t matter you’re going to get it, even if it does mean over paying for what turns out to be a lemon.

A typical Pittsburgh-ish house built in a steel suburb right outside the city lines, my house was built in the 1920s, matched 3 or 4 of the houses built right around it and clearly was in need of a little love and care – how much it would really need I had no idea.

In the 5 1/2 years since moving in I’ve…

  • replaced half of the windows
  • jetted the sewers lines
  • replaced the roof
  • rerun one of the french drains
  • removed most of the trees that had overgrown and were dangerous in back
  • replaced the front and back doors
  • gutted and redone the bathroom
  • and partially gutted and redone the kitchen

And I have no doubt that I’m leaving some out.  But you know, I can’t deny that the house is what I’ve made it now right?  Even if it is sucking all of my savings out of me.

I still have to redo some electrical (which I was told was done when I bought the house) and I’d like to get it fully insulated and have central air installed, but there’s time for that….

Let’s talk about the things I couldn’t be prouder of.

When I knew I had to redo my bathroom because… well… the entire thing was baby blue… from the tub, the toilet, to the sink to the blue glitter wall paper, and then a pipe broke, then the toilet broke and was macguivered back together, then the walls started to bubble because there was no exhaust in the room.

tools tools everywhere

blue – everything…. or grey – there was some grey… 

So I hired my boss’s neighbor who does contracting to put in my new bathroom.  We agreed I would purchase everything and he would gut, rerun plumbing and electrical and then install everything.  What an experience!  It took me 4 months just to pick out everything I wanted from the whirlpool tub to the vanity with the top that extended to only one side because I was determined to make the most of the space…

I think the final product turned out pretty damn amazing…

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down to the studs – yes – it’s an olllllllld house… and we had lots of fun electrical treats along the way…

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but there’s that beautiful new tub

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the official before and after – the space is small so its hard to get a full room picture but just a BIT of a difference wouldn’t you say!

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The vanity which is basically the center of the entire bathroom if you ask me…

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And a little reminder that I think it quite fitting.

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Full shot of the redo – yep – I’ll hang out in here and take a nice long bath any day of the week…

Ok so we’ve tackled the mess that was the bathroom – now that’s working and pretty and spa like.

Then a little over a year later it was onto the kitchen… oh the kitchen… the kitchen that when I bought the house, I thought oh there’s loooooots of storage – nope, not so, I never had enough room… Minnie was always on the counter, in the sink, stealing food, couldn’t ever find anything…

Just a mess… I went to the home and garden show in pittsburgh and long story short when with a local company who uses all local subcontractors for custom cabinets in the US, for the counter tops, I liked the owner and yes – were there some stumbling blocks along the way of course – there always are with anything like this but just wait until you see the results…. They sold me when they came to do the consult and instead of wanted to tear DOWN walls, they suggested filling IN part of a wall in order to add more storage and make the room more functional… I was all in…

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The before… on the right hand side there was a pass through window and doorway so there were no real options for the fridge other than basically the middle of the room… zero counter space… the bulkheads where horrible and well you get the idea… plus the chandelier in the kitchen? who’s idea was that?!

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clean up started and it still looked like the smallest kitchen or rather a decent kitchen with a horrible layout…

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Demo begins!

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Bulkhead came down and while we didn’t find any hidden treasure just like the bathroom we found electrical fun which added a few days to the project – but my kitchen is much safer now than it was before that’s for sure!

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the floor from hell

Now lets talk floors… The contractor didn’t do the floors – they would recommend that could do the floors when the project was done but I wanted the floors consistent under the cabinets so I insisted getting a few extra days after demo to pull up the old floor and lay a new one… oh my god was I stupid.  Thankfully I had some great friends that pitched in and one in particular that spent two days chiseling up the old floor – finding fun subfloors underneath then laying new cement board and over the weekend a team of us attempted to lay ceramic tile ourselves… Next time I’ll have a professional do it.

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Looked great right? Well the next morning over half the floor had popped… the mortar hadn’t been thick enough or the dog had managed to somehow walk on the tile or SOMETHING had gone wrong…. I scrambled the next morning to relay tile… Now the floor doesn’t sit level completely – thankfully I’m the only one that notices because I walk on it every day but yeah never again – I am not a DIYer

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meanwhile my dining room turned into this and I wanted to cry

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The wall was closed in and the doorways widened and squared off

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Then the cabinets came in!!!!!!!! and all was right in the world again… I went white because I wanted to brighten the kitchen up…

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I mean seriously can you believe that is the same room!?

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i am happy to announce that I am capable of grouting a floor though – as I did this all on my own and it turned out just fine I think.

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I went with a light yellow on the walls and red accents for the small appliances

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The window has since gotten a beautiful curtain and no it’s not a new window though it might look it – you can just actually see it now that the bulkhead is gone…

The cabinets are amazing – roll out trash bin, lazy susans, that pull out right new to the sink is a roll out spice rack! magic corner cabinets and the storage above the fridge is large enough to hide a small human…

So while the kitchen was being redone I was spiffing up the dining room a bit too… with this GORGEOUS table and bench from John Malecki at Studio AM in Homestead.

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So I’m getting there – things should finally be close to done by Christmas – all the wall patching painted and everything in a place… and for the first time since I moved into that house I’m going to be proud to show it off to friends and family.  It’s mine… It’s my home…

What are some of the intense home improvement projects you’ve taken on?

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