The rose-colored glasses are off and we.are.tired of renovation. But would we do it all again? Well…
About the Episode:
If you asked me if I felt like spending every evening and most weekends removing spray foam insulation, repairing water damage, and basically tearing a house down to the studs and building it back up for 4 straight years… I’m not sure I would have said yes! But for my soulmate house? As Meatloaf says, I would do anything for love.
In this episode, you’ll hear:
- How we’ve made it through 4 continuous years of renovation
- What it’s really like to finally put the time and love into a house that has missed it so badly for so long
- Why answering the question “would you do it all again?” is complicated!
And so much more!
Follow me on Instagram @FarmhouseVernacular!
Follow Candi and Jake on Instagram @Restoring502!
Follow my YouTube channel, Farmhouse Vernacular!
Hello and welcome to The Vernacular Life Podcast, where we talk about anything and everything that goes on in our turn-of-the-century folk Victorian farmhouse. I am your host, Paige, as usual, and today we’re tackling a little bit of an interesting question. If you’ve been following along for a while, you know that we purchased this house about four years ago. It was an absolute dumpster fire. I don’t even think I realized how much of a dumpster fire it was when we bought it, but I’m well aware now, four years later.
And so the question comes up sometimes of, would you buy the house again? Would you do the renovation again? If you took everything that you know now, everything you know about the heartaches and the difficulties and the expense, would you buy the same house again? And this is a big question, because if you say yes, then to me, it almost feels like it’s shrinking how much work we’ve done on this house and how hard it’s been.
But if you say no, then it’s like, well, do you want to be somewhere else? And of course, this is my soulmate house, so no, I don’t really want to be anywhere else. So we’re just going to talk about some of my thoughts now that we are four years into the renovation and have almost completed the interior of the house and some of the stuff we learned, some of the stuff we would do different and a few of the tips and tricks that were pretty much vital to our survival while we were living in and massively renovating this house.
So be a good discussion, good topic, and let’s go. When I say we’ve been renovating this house for four years, I don’t mean we’ve been picking paint colors for four years. This house was built around 1905, 1906. As far as I can tell, it had electrical added to it in about 1935-ish. The original owner and builder died in 1944, and then the house was sold and sold and sold and sold and sold. And during a lot of those sales, it was rented. It was very short-term lived in, and then new people came in.
And then in 1980, the whole house underwent a massive renovation. At this point, they changed the location of the driveway. They took out all of the original windows. They put furring strips and wallboard over the entire house. They ran new electrical. They took down all of the old trees. This was a massive change to the house. At some point, they put in carpet with subfloor, and the difficulty was that that 1980 renovation was the last time that anybody put any serious money into the house. And I do mean the last time.
Since then, it was just dealt with. There were a few rooms that were changed. The previous owners pulled out wallboard in the study, which is the room I’m sitting in now, but they didn’t really do much. They didn’t change the electrical. They just put drywall back up. I assume what happened is they opened the walls. They saw how much work it was, and then they closed the walls back up.
So as far as I can tell, this house has never been properly cared for since the original owner. And I don’t say that to discredit everybody who lived here and owned the house between 1944 and when we bought it, because clearly the house is still standing. It didn’t burn down it. The roof was fine. The foundation was intact, but that’s about the best thing that you could say for it. Clearly they did some things that were okay, but nobody cared enough to really put in the money and the time and the attention and the love that this house needed to bring him to what I consider is his full glory.
In fact, when we were renovating the dining room, we found writing on the wall, and we haven’t really found much writing in this house. There’s a little bit that you can hear about back in the Halloween episode, some spooky writing that was in the master closet. But when we pulled down the drywall in the dining room, we found some writing, and it basically said,
“Take our advice and sell this house the same day you bought it. Get the heck out. It’s a nightmare. This wallboard was really hard to hang, and nobody likes to live here.” And I remember reading that and I was like, oh, why are you guys being so mean to my house? This guy’s my buddy. He’s my friend. We’ve made some pretty rooms together. Don’t be mean to him.
But I just think that everybody’s reaction and plan for this house was to just keep covering it up. It’s like, I don’t have time to do this right. Just cover it up. When we gutted the kitchen, we found that there was basically the drainpipe for the upstairs bathroom, the three or four inch PVC pipe that drained the toilet and the sink and the tub, that was actually built on the kitchen side of the wall.
And then they built a false wall around it. And that’s what they hung cabinets on. And the whole house was the like that. It’s just nobody took the time to do anything properly. It was just add more layers, put on more furring strips. It’s fine. We’ll cover it up, and nobody will ever notice. And because of that, every room in this house has required a complete to-the-studs gut job.
So renovating for four years is one thing, but renovating a house where every single room is virtually uninhabitable and you have to gut it all the way down, that’s a different animal. And I don’t have a ton of experience, obviously. This is the first real house that we’ve renovated, but sometimes I look at people, and I see their project is to get the dining room looking good.
And the dining room has all the original trim, and it has decent electrical, and the biggest issue is that there’s some plaster cracking and some old wallpaper. And I’m just like, how nice would that be? Can you imagine that if the only thing I had to do in the dining room was just to strip wallpaper and patch plaster? The house would be done in a month.
So that extensive of a renovation, I would be lying if I said that it doesn’t take its toll on you. And by this point, we are working on our 10th room at time of recording, and we’re kind of over it. We’ve said, “All right, we’re not going to do another house like this ever again,” because we very much thrive on doing things that are new and interesting and solving new problems.
And by 10 rooms of this house, we know what the issues are going to be. We know what the sequence of work is going to be. We know what all the problems are going to be, and we’re just tired of solving them.
So knowing what we know now, knowing the state of this house, knowing how bad it was, would we do it again? And I think the answer is a tentative, it’s not tentative, it’s absolutely a yes, but it’s a yes with some caveats. A funny thing happened when we walked into this house the first time. I was sitting at work, and I had this ink to check the listings.
I usually checked them every two or three days, and I hadn’t checked them in a couple of days. And I just got this overwhelming feeling of Paige, you need to stop what you’re doing right now, and you need to go look at the house listings. And I tend to listen to that intuition when it rears its head. So I said, okay, give me one second.
And it was a Thursday, and this place had been listed on a Tuesday. And by the time I got to the third picture, I was in tears because I had looked at so many houses. I had looked for a year-and-a-half for something that was like, this is it. This is where we’re supposed to be. And everything had a problem.
Nothing had the right feeling. Nothing was cute enough. Nothing had enough property. Nothing worked. And I looked at this house, and I just got this rush of confirmation of, this is it. This is your house. This is the thing that you’ve been waiting for. This is why you haven’t found any other house because this one is where you’re supposed to be.
And so I immediately sent the link to Brandon, and he didn’t respond within 42 seconds. And so I called him, and I said, “I don’t care what you’re doing. I need you to go look at this house right now.” So he’s like, “Okay, okay, okay.” He pulls it up on the computer, and he’s like, “Holy cow.” His exact words were, “I would eat hot dogs for a year just to be able to live in that place.”
And it was right at the top of our budget, but it was way more land than we ever thought we could get. And the house was so charming, and it was so cute, and we just knew. That night, we drove out to look at it, and we sat and parked on the road, and we looked at it over the hill and were like, “Oh, that could be our house.”
But when I walked into the house, when I see things in my imagination, it’s like there’s a separate movie screen in the back of my head. And so I can see what I’m seeing with my eyes, but then at the same time, there’s another movie playing in the back of my head that shows me whatever my imagination is dreaming up.
And I am not kidding that when I walked through this house, I saw nothing with my two physical eyes. I was walking through this house as it could be. I wasn’t seeing the horrible carpet and the wallboard and how much work it was going to be and the ugly windows. I didn’t see any of it. I just saw this house is amazing. This house can be amazing. And somehow I managed to see that without seeing any of the work involved in it.
But obviously, we managed to get the loan. We managed to buy the property, and it was all fine, but I had no idea, no idea what we were in for, not even a little bit. We tore into the first wall, and we hit the spray foam that’s in every exterior stud cavity of this house. I remember being like, oh crap, what did we do? Did we make a mistake?
Given how the house looks now and given how much I love this house and how every room just makes me feel like the house and I are more and more in sync and I’m listening to what he wants, and he is giving me the confidence to do some really crazy colors, the more that happens, the more I think, yes, we absolutely would do this house again.
We will probably never do another house this bad again, just simply because I don’t even know how you would pay someone to do some of the things that we’ve had to do in this house, just because it’s so much. There’s so much wrong with it. And the biggest issue is that now after four years, we are staring down burnout hard. It’s basically been four years of this is all we do on the weekends. This is all we do on the weeknights. It has taken thousands of our combined hours to get the house looking like this.
So the thought of giving up another 1,000 hours and another four years, or whatever, to doing this again for a house that I’m not soulmates with, that doesn’t really sit very well with me. It just doesn’t sound very appealing. It doesn’t sound like something that I want to do with my free time. I would much rather have more cows and more chickens and possibly get some ducks than spending more time on this.
But I also feel like, well, now we know how to do this. And both me and my husband, we like to have skills in our repertoire, and we like to gain new skills and do new things that are interesting and grow our skill base. And so doing this again, it’s not really growing our skill base. It’s just doing more of the same.
So I think we would probably prefer to grow skills in a different area. We would like to farm better and eventually have a milk cow that actually lets me milk her. And we would like to have an opportunity to have other hobbies and other interests where the house has taken that for four straight years. It’s not very mentally stimulating to work on the house anymore.
It is when it comes time to buy paint colors and when it comes time to buy rugs and things like that, but it’s just kind of boring at this point. All of the infrastructure stuff, it’s like, you pull down the walls, and you’re like, oh, look, water damage. Oh, look, spray foam, the stuff that we’ve been fighting with for the entire renovation.
It’s just not interesting anymore in terms of the actual day-to-day tedium of the renovation. Of course, we’re going to finish it because we have two more bedrooms to do upstairs, and then we have the exterior of the house and all the porches and the roof.
And I have this idea for this screened-in sunroom thing that we’re going to build off the kitchen that’s Brandon’s really excited about. There are things to do, and there are other projects to tackle, but we’re over doing the rooms on the inside. We’re about done.
So the renovation burnout, I would say it hit pretty quickly. We did the halls, and then we did the bedroom, and by the time we hit the study, which was particularly challenging because it was two spaces that we turned into three rooms. So we had all the complications of three rooms plus a very complicated bathroom, tile, electrical, dealing with the electric panel that’s in the study.
There were just a lot of things that went on in that project that made it drag on for a lot longer than it needed to. And so we started to hit burnout in that phase. We’re like, okay, we’re still fine. We’re still going. But I can feel the enthusiasm is waning. The rose-colored glasses are off, and the reality of what it means to be renovating for four years straight has completely hit us.
So some of the tips that we have channeled or harnessed to get through this and to keep going in this house, I wanted to share with you. The first one, I think this is pretty much non-negotiable. You need one place in the house that the renovation does not touch. It doesn’t matter if the place is beautiful. It doesn’t matter if it’s perfectly styled, if it’s exactly what you want or what you want in the future.
But you need a place that you are not working on, that you are not traipsing renovation dust through, that you are not storing tools in. You need one place that you can relax, one place you can unwind. And you can shut the door, and the renovation chaos can be out there, and it can go insane, but in this one place, it’s just you. And there’s no renovation, and there’s no project, and there’s no never-ending to-do list. And it’s just you being calm in your space.
So for us, that was the parlor or master bedroom on the first floor. When we renovated this house, we started with the upstairs and downstairs halls, and we did that because every room in the house was horrible. Every room in the house needed to be gutted completely down to the studs.
And so we decided that if we’re going to make the biggest mess, we should do that first. The halls touch every other room in the house. You can’t get from one room to another most of the time without going through the hall. We knew that tearing that apart was going to be the biggest pain because it was just going to just infect every other room of the house.
So we decided to do that first. And for many years, we had basically the bedroom was nice, and the kitchen was functional, and every other room was storage. We literally had two or three rooms that we lived in for multiple years, and that was just because we didn’t want to put our energy into trying to make this really ugly, really gross room look nice when we knew in six months we were going to be tearing it out.
So last year, at the end of last year, when we finished the dining room, we were amazed because we now basically had an entire floor that was beautiful. There were no piles of furniture anywhere. There was nothing stacking up. There were no renovation projects in the middle. Everything was painted, everything was beautiful, everything was styled. And this was our first experience living in this house with a large proportion of it renovated. In fact, a larger proportion of it renovated than un-renovated.
But for those first few years, we only focused on having a functional kitchen and a sanctuary, and we let everything else go, because we just couldn’t. We just couldn’t. That was pretty much it. We couldn’t put the mental energy into keeping up all the rest of the house when we were trying to renovate quickly, when we had full-time jobs out of the home, and when we were trying to do all of these other things.
So we just made sure that our bedroom was a place that was clean. It had a rug, it had lamps, it had some side tables, it looked really nice or as nice as we could make it in the current condition. And that really saved our sanity. That was where our air conditioner was in the summer. That was where our TV was. We binge-watched all of Game of Thrones in that room. And so if you’re going into a massive renovation, pick the rooms that you need to function very carefully and then just let the rest go. It’s fine.
Tip number two. And this one is probably the hardest, especially when that mid-renovation boredom hits in, and that is to stick with one project at a time. I am a chronic starter of things. I love starting new projects. I love dreaming up new projects. I love thinking about new projects that I might want to do but don’t ever actually get off my butt to do.
I love thinking about the possibilities of projects. Finishing projects is not my strong suit. It really is not. And I’ve had to be very careful about sharing what projects I’m going to do, because a lot of times I share them, and then that’s enough excitement. I’m like, oh, I want to do this. And then I lose all interest in doing the actual project.
So with that kind of personality, Brandon is a little bit better than I am, but with that kind of personality, it would be very easy to just start picking away at things all over the house. It’s like, well, I don’t really feel like thinking about the electrical in that room over there, so I’m going to come over here and start pulling off wallpaper.
And it doesn’t see seem like a huge deal in the moment because it seems like something that you could just manage. But when you start 10 different projects all over the house, that means 10 parts of your house are in some kind of chaos. And that makes it really difficult to find any kind of peace, to find any kind of calm because you literally have renovation psycho-ness all over your house. And you can’t stop it.
So we have always been very, very strict about the projects that we’re doing. We give ourselves a lot of variety within the project, and I think I talked about this in the episode on making lists, we make sure that we have a lot of different things that we can do within that project. So if we don’t feel like pulling nails out of the floor, we can think about electrical placement, or we can insulate, or we can rebuild this window sill.
And we give ourselves variety within a project, but we do not stray from the project at hand. Because once you start that, it’s a very slippery slope into your renovation taking over your entire life and having no safe place, no place to get away from it. And ultimately, I think that’s not a great strategy for mental health in a renovation.
We were very fortunate because our projects were very room-based, so we can close the door on them, and the whole thing stays contained in that one room. And I think if you’re able to do that, if you can do projects that don’t take the entire house, that just makes it a lot easier for you to be able to compartmentalize the crazy of your renovation.
Maintaining your sanity is crucial because the house will not get done without you. So if you’re fried, if you don’t have a place to relax, if you don’t have a good spot to go to just get away from everything, the renovation will not survive. So take care of yourself first.
Tip number three is to keep the project moving. And again, we talked about this in the list episode because our lists and our 30 minutes of house philosophy are really what help us move forward. We figured out that we don’t necessarily need these big room reveal, paint color, dramatic things all the time.
We don’t need that. We need tiny little progress and the ability to check something off a list. So we keep the project moving by breaking it down into the smallest chunks we possibly can, so that when we go to work on something, we can cross it off. We can feel like we made an accomplishment. We can feel like we moved the project forward, and that keeps our momentum up.
There is nothing worse than starting a renovation project, and I’ve read blog posts about this, and it just drags on for years and years and years. And you’ve been working on the same room for three years, and it hardly looks any different. And every time you sit down to scroll your phone or watch TV or something, you have that nagging guilt hanging over your head of, I really should be working on the room.
And that’s really why we created this dual system of hyper-specific, broken down lists and the 30 minutes of house. Because we found that just working on something for 30 minutes, just making a little bit of progress gave us enough of a feeling of accomplishment that we could put the rest away. It’s like I did my 30 minutes, and now I’m going to go watch TV, and I’m not going to feel guilty about it because I moved the project forward.
And then when you’re adding up, for us, it’s two people, 30 minutes of two people, four or five times a week, that’s a decent amount of time. And if you’re not doing a renovation that requires you to gut everything, if you are pulling down wallpaper and you’re touching up plaster or you’re just repainting, you can get a lot done in those amount of time chunks.
So we found that it really helps our motivation and helps us not feel like we’re drowning and not feel like we’re totally beholden to the renovation to make sure that it is moving forward all the time. And the 30 minutes of house really helps with that, and the super detailed lists really help with that.
The last tip, and I guess this is maybe more of a life and relationship point of view than it is a specific renovation tip, but it’s laughter. I love laughing. I love humor. I love jokes. I love making myself laugh. I love making my husband laugh. And so what you’re doing in a renovation is insane. If I heard what we were doing in this house and my best friend and her boyfriend were doing it, I would be like, you’re insane.
What do you mean you’re doing this entire thing by yourself and you’re living in the house at the same time? It’s just absurd. And I’ve seen so many people on Instagram and on YouTube who are doing the same level of insane things.
There’s an account I follow on Instagram. They are called Restoring 502. And their house, it went months with literally no kitchen floor. Nothing. The walls were just suspended, and you could look down into the basement. I’m like, you guys are insane. And then at one point their basement basically needed to be filled in because it wasn’t usable, and it was just flooding and wet and everything. So they filled the entire thing in with gravel and shovels by hand. And I’m like, you guys are insane in literally the best possible way. There is no other way that you could be more awesome, but you are also insane.
And so I think you just have to keep that perspective. You have to understand that yes, it’s insane now. And this is really hard, and we’re itchy, and we’re tired, and we’re exhausted and we’re sore, and we just spent so much money, and we’re so sick of doing this. But at the end of the day, it’s quite an adventure.
It is a serious adventure, and it’s very interesting. If you look back at your life and you say, “Okay, what did I do with my life that was unusual?” It’s like, well, we lifted the corner of the house with carjacks. That was pretty cool. Or we filled in the basement with shovels and gravel. That was pretty cool.
And I think you have to take the renovation somewhat seriously, because you have to make sure that you’re doing it right, and you’re meeting all of the rules, or you’re getting a color that you like, or the layout works for your family or whatever. But it’s also such a zany and ridiculous adventure that I think if you don’t laugh through it and you don’t maintain that humor for it, that you can still get through it, but it’s going to be a heck of a lot less fun.
Fortunately, after four years we have figured out how to make the whole thing very funny. And we know what parts of the renovation we have little inside jokes about, and we say different things, and we crack each other up, and it’s just bantering back and forth. And a lot of, I think, well, not a lot of it, some of the banter shows up in some of my YouTube videos with my husband.
And people always say, “You’re being mean to him.” I’m like, “It’s banter, and I’m editing out his very, very spicy remarks in response to me. This is our coping mechanism. This is how we get through the renovation without losing our minds. We have to riff back and forth and laugh while we’re doing all of this.”
So I think laughter is the cherry on top. If you can figure out how to do all of this and do it well and not break your budget and have a little bit of free time and keep your sanctuary, so you have one place that’s away from the renovation, if you can laugh on top of it, I do think renovating a house like this is a great adventure.
And because of that, yes, we would do it again. If I was teleported back to four years ago, and this is where we were, I would grumble, and I would be very grumpy. And I would say, “Are you kidding me? I have to pull down all of this spray foam again?” I would be very upset, but I would do it all again.
So I hope that was fun for you to listen to. I guess, other episodes that will be fun, going along with this, are some of the renovation mistakes that we have made here. There’s two episodes on it, and they will be linked in the show notes. Because if we were teleported back four years ago, I would have a chance to fix some of these mistakes that we made. So definitely go listen to those. If you are listening on whatever podcast platform you have and you have the ability to rate and review, that would be very, very much appreciated. Thank you so much for hanging out with me. As always, I’ve loved having you here, and I will see you next time. Bye.