One of the biggest perks we get from writing about our home renovation is connecting with like-minded people – you know, you. We receive emails on anything from where we like to shop to who we’d recommend for plumbing and electrical and whole-house-gutting, from paint color favorites to suggestions on Chicago pet rescues. It’s obvious we love discussing all things home + pets, and recently, I found myself in an email thread with reader, Rachael (hi, Rachael!), who was in the midst of a whole home refresh. Every wall, piece of trim and kitchen cabinet was getting the Light and Bright treatment, and by project’s end, I was just as invested in the final product as she was! Having hired out the work, she writes:
We took a few days to get out of dodge while the heavy lifting was taking place this week, and I haven’t slept a good night since! I keep second guessing all of my choices. Will the gray be too dark? Will the white be too white? Is matte the right finish choice for the walls? […] I don’t know how you take on these projects all the time. This is a serious strain on my sanity! Can you write a blog post on how you cope with the challenges of indecision and heartache and the voodoo tactics you employ to sleep at night while in the heart of the process?
I shared our conversation with Scott, and he responded with a yup!, as in, Rachael, we get you. Whether hired or DIY, both options can be a mental drain. When hired (aka, not in total control), we find ourselves more anxious about the final results, whereas DIY (aka, all the control we could ask for) is not always the fastest or, sometimes, even the most cost effective solution. I want to start by saying that, yes, we do have heartache when things break bad, we do lie awake at night overthinking super white versus bright white, and although we’ve yet to try voodoo tactics, we dosmudge.
I’m an over-analyzer and planner by nature, and as a result, we do our best to start every project with a purpose and loose timeline. (I say loose because larger projects that need hired contract work can – and have! – gone off course in the past.) Before beginning our three-room-triple-threat at the end of last year, we gave ourselves a pep talk. We said, these are some of the last rooms in our house that require big time demolition. Let’s promise to have fun with it. Saying these things aloud help us to conquer any fears we might individually have about what’s to come, what decisions are yet to be made and what problems – if any, but likely – will arise. It lets us know we’re starting any project, large or small, on the same page. While crossing that finish line is a great feeling, we should have fun doing it, too.
Let’s say you’ve just started your project, and you’ve stated your happy mantras aloud, and then before you know it, you’re cursing the plumbing stack you didn’t know was behind that wall and is now causing you to re-think everything. There’s no downplaying how upsetting that can be, but in the grand scheme of things, is it really that serious? In most cases, probably not. Plans change. We press ‘reset’ on our brains, and we move towards a new plan. It’s not always easy (the kitchen door debacle immediately comes to mind!), but we force ourselves into a mental shift. We remind ourselves that everything will work out, because it has to.
Remember the day we smashed champagne on the side of this house? We had no idea what was to come. We didn’t know there would be endless lath behind the walls or that there would be a lack of insulation. But we also didn’t know we’d discover a hidden arch in the entryway or a chimney in the studio! We learned quickly that it would become a requirement to begin each and every project with a come-what-may attitude. Those curveballs don’t matter much when you’re kind-of-sort-of expecting them.
It’s frustrating (and somehow funny) how working towards a greater end goal can so easily begin to feel cumbersome when you’re in the thick of it. Do you ever question why in the world you’ve started such-and-such project and is it even worth it? We do. We do all the time! I really think that’s because anything that important to us will keep anyone awake at night. It’s a mix of excitement and the unknown, and even after almost 7(!) years of documenting our journey from our actual yellow brick home to this – our gray vinyl siding home (ha) – I still feel abuzz when I sit down to write. I want our decisions (and indecisions) to play a role before I hit ‘publish.’ Because when something is worth it, it’s rarely simple.
So, why do we renovate? We do it because we can’t imagine not doing it. It won’t always be this way, so we remind ourselves to embrace the experience right now. Throwing sledgehammers through these walls will go down as some of our favorite memories, and we still get a crazy jolt of energy when we finally find the perfect fabric for an upholstery project or mortar the last tile onto the floor. And when we write the story of this house, we make an effort to share the bad with the good, right here.
We’re rounding out 3 years in our current home, and we still have entire rooms – and a whole back yard! – we haven’t even touched. How cliché of me to say, but slow and steady wins the race. Same with renovation and all it entails: indecision and heartache and celebration and everything in-between. We’ll get there. You’ll get there. With time.
This weekend, Scott and I are headed to Mission Viejo, California, where we’ll be diving head first into Akiyo’s family room – with plenty of paint brushes, rollers, lots of lumber and tubes of caulk in tow! We can hardly contain how excited we are to get started. Since announcing the Lowe’s spring makeover campaign in February, we spent hours and hours (and hours) going over each and every application. Your families’ stories showed up in my dreams, your names were thrown around the dinner table as if we were BFFs, and not a day went by that we didn’t say to each other, I wish we could makeover ALL the homes. All of them! So, thank you for sharing your homes – and more importantly, your lives – with us. Thank you for injecting your personalities all over your submissions, and thank you to everyone who gave shout-outs to Jack and Chunk. They howl back at ya, arooo!
All that to say, we are so happy to have ‘met’ Akiyo and her family. Together with her 5-year-old son, husband and teeny pup, Katsu, they have recently moved in with her dad, back into the home she grew up in. This home, now her family’s forever home, has been mostly untouched for years, and they were stumped on where to start and how to make it work for everyone – dad/grandpa, their own trio and Katsu, too! It has become a multi-generational home full of silliness and laughter. The family room is where they secretly practice their dance moves (sorry, Akiyo!), sing karaoke and unwind at the end of a long work day. Coming in at 300 sq. ft., the space is so full of potential, and our minds raced with possibilities. Family room, there is so much in store for you!
Here’s what you see when you first walk in:
The room is flooded with natural light and an entire wall of windows(!), but almost every piece of furniture is pushed up against the remaining three walls (or under arrest as Scott would say!). Their biggest concern is making sure that there is sufficient seating for the entire family to gather together, snuggle up to a movie or work on crafts at the coffee table. With no central overhead fixture, there is a lack of ambient lighting in the evenings, and the mirror – although great for practicing those dance moves! – feels a bit dated. Katsu has created his own doggie door, i.e., there is a cartoonish puppy-shaped tear through the screen door. The beige walls and carpet could use a pick-me-up, and some extra storage would be nice! Let’s take in a 360-view:
We’ve been working behind the scenes on a design plan, and the last couple of months have been a blur of emails, texts and photos of paint swatches. But even more exciting? Progress is already being made! A ceiling junction box has since been installed, and the wall of mirrors, once adhered with liquid nails, has come down, revealing a sweet little note from the original homeowners. It reads: Wayne Davis | Louise Davis | 1974 | Our new home and mirrors. The message is complete with a sketch of an owl on his perch:
Also? New floors! You guys, we have new floors! (Okay, Akiyo + family have new floors, but we’re too invested at this point.) We chose this porcelain wood-look tile and had it installed in a random pattern with similarly colored grout. When Akiyo shot us this progress photo, our jaws dropped. The groundwork has been laid! All the celebratory emojis!
With a place for everything, and everything in its place, we’re officially calling the bathroom done! It’s been a few months since we first shared our plans, but the entire process felt surprisingly painless. After last year’s kitchen debacle still weighing heavy on our minds, we’ll be the first to admit that we were overly cautious when it came to hiring a contractor to rough in the new room layout, plumbing and electrical. We took a different approach and hired Jen, a designer by trade (more details here), but looking back, we could really consider her service as a peaceful, pre-demolition therapy session. Her role was to help us plan a proper layout (i.e., what works vs. what doesn’t), but the most invaluable part of her service was interviewing and negotiating with contractors. As a result, we hired a GC that we love (this was half the battle!) who carried out the plans – on schedule! – and left us with a big blank slate we could dive right into. Side note: If you need a Jen in your life, feel free to send me an email. Depending on your needs, it may be affordable than you’d think. I’m happy to spread the good word!
Our goal was to keep it feeling pretty and fresh, minimal for the most part. While we debated a soft color for the walls (even going so far as to paint swatches of soft grays, greens and pinks!), the simplicity of a bright white bathroom can’t be beat. On our walls: Silent White by Clark+Kensington.
We were able to enlarge the footprint of our bathroom by pushing back the shower wall almost 3′, but despite this leap in space, it was still somewhat challenging to find a double sink in the 48″ we’d allotted. Enter: IKEA! We personalized a GODMORGON cabinet with walnut fronts from Semi Handmade and topped those with 18″ Larkin pulls. The warm brass in the room mixed with a base layer of polished chrome and topped with these hearty oil-rubbed bronze sconces has our hearts. We say, mix all the metals!
With the vanity cabinet chosen and installed, the next hiccup was finding a mirror that was wide enough to span both sinks and still be tall enough to fill the space! Originally, you might remember that we were leaning towards double mirrors, but with two sinks, two faucets and two sconces, we realized that two mirrors might be overkill. We ultimately landed on the Upton mirror, a 40″ square, which, you guys, is huge! At the time we decided that this one fit the bill, it was out of stock, but we pre-ordered during a holiday sale and crossed our fingers that it wouldn’t be delayed too long (luckily, it only took a month, arriving during tile install). We weren’t in love with the mahogany finish, so I used a small foam roller to brush on two coats of our favorite black, Nein! Nein! Nein! OK Fine by Clark+Kensington. Side note: We started with 1 gallon of that color in an exterior grade satin finish years ago! We’ve since painted our porch swing, kitchen island, sliding doors and now this mirror – and we still have paint left.
We love the idea of art in the bathroom – the quirkier, the better! With the room’s color scheme falling heavily into the black and white category, we wanted to have a little fun with it.
We picked a couple of new pieces for the room, one of our tops being from local artist, Ryan Duggan. It’s a typical Chicago street view, but do you spot the dog? Ryan created an entire series around shitting dogs – it’s true! – and what better room to make an appearance? (If you’re not a fan of his already, you’re about to be! We have this one hanging in our entryway, and it makes us smile every day.)
Speaking of, uh, dogs, can I just say, we love our toilet! We thought we’d go with something sleek and streamlined, but we surprised even ourselves by choosing the more ornate Kathryn toilet during our trip to Kohler. The flush is quiet and oddly powerful at the same time, and the lid has a soft close which is so, so nice.
With minimal counter space on our sink vanity, we opted to install a sweet marble shelf above Kathryn, having only minor hesitation about drilling into our new tile. (We even picked up a marble toilet brush which is part ridiculous, part awesome.) With the first pilot hole done, there was no turning back – and we are thrilled with it! The marble pattern lends so much on its own, but I was happy to have a landing spot for this gold tooth planter by Christi Ahee we’d been eyeing for a while.
To top it off, we hung a photo from our recent travels down Route 66! I love nice repetition in photography, and we liked the soft colors from this abandoned motel in Amboy, California. Side note: I’ve since added Amboy #1 to The Print Shop, and Chicago locals, you can pick up the planter and more of Christi’s work at Humboldt House, too! HH is worth the trip.
Moving on to the floors, as much as we love the look of a vintage rug in a bathroom, we were determined to find something that was easily washable. The simple pattern on this one was a win for both of us, and it allowed the focus to remain on the black and white hex tile we worked so hard on! It’s nice and thick, but the back isn’t as non-slip as I’d like, so I cut down a rug pad remnant to keep it in place.
We couldn’t be happier with how the room turned out – a result of 3 weeks of demolition, an endless amount of tiling and a good month (or two!) of painting, fussing and installing those final layers that brought us to completion. Of course, what’s a reveal post without the satisfying before and afters? Until I dug up these photos, I had forgotten how bad it really was. Oof. But moving on! Let’s go!