The value of re-making your home

By Caitlin Kelly

Kotowski Palace in Warsaw, interior design
Kotowski Palace in Warsaw, interior design (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As someone passionate about interior design, and who has studied it seriously at the New York School of Interior Design, I enjoy this blog, the public face of an American design firm, McAlpine Tankersley.

I liked this recent post about why it’s worth re-making your home:

Change is always necessary to promote growth and without varying from the comfortable and the everyday, lessons are seldom learned. Faced with potential, however, fear kicks in and says, “let’s just keep things the way they are”; even if a situation is stagnant, it’s my stagnant situation and I’ll sit in it. But how can change have value? An example I can show (because you do tend to come here for visuals to accompany my soapbox) was evident in Bobby’s personal Montgomery home.

In the ten years he lived in this English cottage, the interior underwent three major transformations. As designers, we always use our personal homes as living, active laboratories. We try things out on our tireless, often unsuspecting, families before we suggest them to our clients. Experimentation and change in our environs are personal tools of lesson and discovery.

This is so true!

I’ve lived for 25 (!) years in the same top-floor, 1,000 square foot one bedroom apartment. I doubt I’ll live anywhere else, which is a little depressing, (it’s small and New York is brutally expensive for most larger spaces in neighborhoods we like), but also focuses us intently on making our home the prettiest, most efficient and most comfortable and welcoming we can make it.

It’s absolutely been my design lab.

When I moved in, it was all a bland, boring beige, with cat-pee-stained/stinky oatmeal-colored wall-to-wall-carpet. Gross!

I’ve changed the wall colors here many times, currently a deep mustard in the bathroom, a cool beige in the kitchen, a soft gray in the bedroom and dining room, and a soft yellow-green in the living room and hallway; since there are few doors, the sight-lines make a major difference if the colors and tones relate poorly.

I’d also rather invest in fewer, better items, (like many Europeans do, living in small spaces) than face the expense of designing, furnishing, cleaning and maintaining a large(r) house. Not to mention the cost of new roof/boiler/furnace and all the attendant work of cleaning and maintaining any outdoor property.

If you’re wealthy, great!

But if you’re not, re-using your home-space to its best advantage is often more about being creative and open-minded: re-purposing, re-covering, repainting, moving things around, editing heavily, building your own items and scoring great finds at flea markets, tag sales and auctions.

I read every shelter magazine out there, every month, so I see the blinged-out mega-mansions some people live in.

But I also read blogs like Design Sponge and Apartment Therapy, which feature regular folk with smaller budgets or less opulent taste.

As we finish up our kitchen renovation — one for which I waited 25 years — I already see the enormous difference it makes, emotionally and practically, in our lives. We didn’t pour $50,000 or $100,000, (yes, people do) into our small galley kitchen.

But we did splurge on some items: honed granite counters, high-end appliances (a Bertazzoni gas range and Bosch dishwasher), and spend-y Farrow & Ball paint for custom-made cabinets and walls.

I love the little surprises that (happily) occurred — the shelves we bought have a subtle green-ish gray stain that perfectly matches the cabinets. The narrow grooves in our drawers and cabinets (in lieu of external hardware) create runnels of sunlight reflected from the windows. The new cream tile, with its glossy surface, bounces much more light, both artificial and natural.

At Luxor Design Northgate Mall / louis-quinze ...
At Luxor Design Northgate Mall / louis-quinze style interior. Definitely more formal than our place! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been an amazing experience, and the second reno we’ve done; we re-did our one, tiny (5 by 7 foot) bathroom four years ago.

I gained a lot of confidence from the results, and now hope to find some part-time work as a designer using these as my portfolio.

The next major step?

Refinishing and darkening our hardwood floors.

Have you re-made your home?

Changed its colors or designs?

23 thoughts on “The value of re-making your home

  1. We recently redid my room. We got back from a vacation and my mom couldn’t stand the cat-pee-stained carpet anymore so we ripped it up to expose the nice hardwood floors underneath. We then decided to tackle the walls, ripping off paper, replastering and painting and redid the ceiling. It was a lot of work, but so rewarding and fun. Love the result and enjoy my room so much more now!
    Congrats on your kitchen!!! It’s looking so nice!

    1. Cat pee stained carpet is THE WORST! Our apartment stunk so badly when we bought it I could barely breathe…it’s been hardwood floors (and no cats) ever since.

      You new room sounds terrific.

      And thanks!

  2. Hi Caitlin: We have lived in many places over the years since my husband retired: Maine, Prescott, AZ., New Mexico, Tucson and now Colorado. Our first remake was an 1860 Federal style Victorian in Maine which looked like it had not been touched in years -(Eisenhower years newspaper under the carpet). We installed two new bathrooms, repaired horsehair plaster walls, repainted those walls, period lighting fixtures, refinished wide plank pine floors and renovated the horse stalls in the barn for my gallery. It was a beautiful house. We did the same for a cottage down by the water which we subsequently lived in. Prescott got a stucco-walled yard to keep out the critters, a ramada and a studio/guest house. New Mexico got paint and another separate guest quarters and studio – that house needed the least work because two designers built it. We are still working on the Colorado house but found two practically new faucets in a yard sale – will do some renovations next year. The Tucson house is practically perfect and I love it so much. I read a lot of design magazines, too and sponge it up. But renovations can get expensive and tiring, never mind the disruption so from now on – just as little work as needed to make the place our own.

  3. absolutely, it is an ever-evolving project. i live in a tiny bungalow, 900 ft., that i call the cottage. i am constantly changing colors, use of space, angles and on and on. love it though, i think our space changes as we do.

    1. I agree. When I moved in here — I was 30 — I painted the hallway a brilliant lemon yellow. I loved it. But it later became soft yellow, coral (ugh) and now the F & B color (Gervase Yellow) I really enjoy. The living room was faux-finished (a big deal then) then a brilliant Chinese red (loved that one).

      I really like the notion of home being a safe place to take our ideas out for a spin. I am weary of journalism’s endless battles these days, so I hope I can edge my way somehow into the design field. I don’t think it will be easy, but I would like to use these skills more often. It makes me a lot happier than cranking out my 100000000th story.

      1. that’s interesting, i did the exact same thing with colors. when i first moved into the cottage, it was after being divorced and living in many rental places where i was not allowed to really make any decorating changes, so i celebrated my freedom with lots of bold colors. over time, as i settled into my surroundings in the cottage, and in my life, i went with softer, more muted tones. i understand your longing for a less stressful and simpler life and i hope you find a way to living and earning in the design field you seem drawn to.

      2. It was my first non-rental place, so that freedom was heady indeed. I think the softer colors now aren’t dull, but they let the accessories and objects we’ve collected, our art and photos, take center stage instead.

        Thanks. I am not wildly optimistic entering a new field at my age, but even as sideline with a few clients a year (income-earning) it would be great. I’m also now seeking other forms of paid writing beyond journalism. Time to take the pressure off that failing industry.

  4. I just love all the choices you made for your new kitchen, especially the tile (in your previous post). It looks like the renovation will be over soon.

    I renovated my kitchen about 6 years ago. It was my first (and only) renovation project. The contractor just disappeared two weeks into the project — wouldn’t answer calls or emails — leaving me without plumbing, lights, countertops or backsplash. Luckily the cabinets had been installed. I had to hire new subcontractors…so it didn’t turn out as I’d expected. I know not all contractors are that unreliable, but I wouldn’t be looking forward to doing it again soon. I thought it would be like the HGTV design reveals. Ha! 🙂

    1. OUCH. Sadly, there are way too many horror stories like that one. We were very lucky — we found our guy because his mother lives directly across the hall from us and her place looks great. I asked who did the work…

      I interviewed two local guys, both of whom came highly recommended, but neither were suitable. It’s difficult, esp. you may not know what to ask or expect, to manage a project like that, and the people you hire and pay to do it.

      Not sure how we were able to get our guy on a low-ish budget but he has had $400K projects, so he brings that level of professionalism from working with very high-end, super-fussy clients.

  5. Our current home was purchased as a project home. There is not a room that has not been reworked in the past 7 years. Our Tuscan family room took the most time and energy. but, my writing room was my favorite project.

    1. Interesting idea. I hadn’t thought of my home as a project, per se, but it’s evolved over time. I wonder how many people just want to move in and live in their home, and how many enjoy the process of remodeling, renovating and making numerous decorative changes. I know it freaks some people out, in the time, money and confidence it takes to make decisions.

      I would imagine anyone with young children, and many, is not wildly interested in it. It’s a great result but disruptive.

  6. My husband is constantly redoing something in and outside our home. From the extension in 2009 when we married that gave me a room of my own (studio space) and added two more bathrooms to the one and a half we already had, to redoing the kitchen for the third time in eight years, he always has a plan. He just finished changing the whole layout of our hallway adding hardwood floors and reorienting the steps and he’s heading into the attic next. He is a man who loves a project!

      1. Budget is certainly a big factor as the floors in our home would illustrate. We have three rooms left to convert to hardwood from laminate and are waiting for a sale on flooring. Fortunately, he does the installation.

        I have to admit that I have become a bit of a girly girl at home leaving him to do the house projects for the most part on his own and all of the gardening. I’ve always been the one to do the DIY in my previous relationships with one exception and I revert to type when I am in the US doing the DIY and big gardening jobs on my house when I’m there.

        After I posted on Facebook about fixing my stepmom’s freezer on a recent visit to the US and taking the hard drive out of some old computers that she was giving away, I may have to join John with more of the hands on happenings here at home.

      2. Oh, I agree. I love doing stuff, but am happy to have Jose do stuff as well. In general, though, for bigger projects we hire people and pay them…I’d rather know it’s done safely and well than muck it up myself.

      1. He’s certainly a man who can get things done. It’s just one more way he represents a nice change for me. Having done things (DIY) on my own for years, it has been a relief to have someone else be responsible for it. He loves renovations and I expect when he runs out of things to do here we will need to consider buying a house to remodel and sell on.

      2. If I had the money, I’d buy something and re-do it. The only major money I’ve seen people make is by smart acquisition and disposition of real estate. The rest is crawling by inches — mutual funds, etc.

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