My husband and I moved into our first home in June of 1995. As with all new home owners we were excited to have our independence, but not so much about the balance in our bank account.

Surprisingly the process of purchasing a new home didn’t take very long, possibly because we had a limited budget and multiple options were hard to find. We did however have a creative touch; although I wasn’t working in the field at the time and had the natural ability and eye for design. As with every first home purchase we had to make sacrifices, so we focused on the items that were easiest to upgrade; floors, hardware and light fixtures. Others like upgraded windows, cabinets, sinks and showers we had no choice, but remained hopeful we could do down the road.

The good news is that we purchased the smallest model (1,750 square feet) in the subdivision; this meant that our home was surrounded by larger homes potentially adding value if we were to sell down the road. In attempt to get away from purchasing a box we bought a model that was broken up with a wood portion on the second floor. Knowing that sooner rather than later the wood would have to be replaced.

First homes are a struggle, but you always find a way to make ends meet. The process of making ends meet, time and savings will allow you to pick away at making the cookie cutter you purchased into your home.

We began with the backyard fence, excited about the privacy it would provide as well as give us a better feel for the size of the yard. We engaged our three neighbours in the project as they would have to share the costs. One had no interest in putting up a fence creating a potential issue (I’m sure this happens more often than we think). Knowing this we made the decision to go ahead, put up the fence with that portion completely on our property. We hired a company to install the fence posts; we installed the remainder of the fence.

Next came the front of the home because that’s the first thing everyone sees. Knowing that in most cases the Water, Sanitary and Storm lines travel across the driveway and that portion of the ground would settle over time we waited as long as we could to have it paved. We widened the steps on the front porch to create a more welcoming entrance. My Husband’s dad was a bricklayer so as a kid he would help out and eventually had a good grasp on form work, rebar and concrete. A little cost, a lot of patience and sweat goes a long way. We then hired a contractor to install an interlocking stone walkway from the driveway along the side of the home all the way to the back yard, stone runners on both sides of the driveway and cover the porch and steps with flagstone.

I focused on the interior design of the home; painting, furniture, pictures and other inexpensive items. Furniture took a while; we had an empty Dinning and Living room for the first two years until we could put enough money aside. I focused on the basement and adding an Office/Workshop, laundry room and more living space. Eventually as we renovated other rooms, changed furniture the basement living space became storage space filled with boxes (it’s incredible how much stuff you collect over the years).

Finishing your basement forces you to foresee potential future work and allow for access to important items; Gas valves, water shutoffs, Cleanouts, electrical access, and ventilation. At this stage we were in a position to finance the purchase of a hot tub so we pre-serviced all of the wiring, installed it in conduits so it was ready to go when needed.

Once the basement was complete, we designed our new deck that included three different levels, a canopy, custom “L” shaped bench and our new hot tub. Construction took a good chunk of the summer, but was ready in the fall so we could enjoy the tub throughout the winter. We had a retired neighbour who worked with steel and hired him to create two custom gates. One of the gates was installed on the wood fence at the entry to the backyard, the other was installed between our home and side neighbour’s (we split the cost of this gate).

Being in the home for 12 years we had completed the large items, so now came the true reno work. First, we removed the carpeting on the second floor and replaced it with hardwood. A few years later we renovated our Master bathroom; our 25-year shingles had to be replaced after 15 years (hired a roofer). Had the exterior wood portion on the second level of the home removed and replaced with stone work (this was contracted out) and only the second-floor windows replaced (budget restrictions). We also renovated our Powder room on the main floor.

In 2015, after all of the additions and changes over 20 years we discussed our next steps; do we sell, start over or make a dramatic change. The dramatic change was renovating the main floor to maximize the space, but most important create a bigger kitchen with an area where our family and friends could gather.

The main floor consisted of four areas, Kitchen, Living, Family and Dinning. The four areas were separated by two 4-inch-wide walls (usually non-load bearing), remember my design background? I reviewed the “as built” drawings and confirmed that the home was built using two laminated beams; the first spanned the entire width of the home (25 feet), the second from the garage back to the first beam creating a “T” and allowing for the vaulted ceiling at the back of the home. Next, remove the drywall surprisingly, it wasn’t too bad; we only had some electrical, plumbing and vent work that needed to be moved.

Now we’re committed so I begin to put together some ideas that include removing the two walls and totally opening up the first floor. Electrical, plumbing and vent work had to me moved to the centre area supporting the junction of the two beams. Our finished basement would become our main living area for the next several months. We moved the fridge to the garage, kept the stove plugged in and moved it around as needed, the laundry sink in the basement became our kitchen sink.

Ultimately the design we went with expanded our kitchen another 50% the length of the side wall transitioning into a nook with a large island (8’ x 4’) containing a farmhouse sink and dishwasher. This area was formally our kitchen and dining room. The new fridge and stove remained on the side wall. The Stove vent had to be moved 2 feet to allow for the new design and the microwave was moved to the centre area.

Our family room became our dining room and the living room remained. We moved the fire place 8 feet closer to the centre of the room along the opposite side wall of the home. I don’t do electrical, plumbing or H-Vac so we hired contractors. Our vaulted ceiling in the back portion of the home was finished with drywall and would constantly crack over the years. My wife came up with the idea to cover it with barn board, this way it adds a design feature and cracks will not be visible.

Remember that our basement was finished which meant that we had to complete the electrical, plumbing and HVAC work from the main floor. We removed the subfloor in the areas affected which made it challenging. In one case our plumber accidently stepped through the basement popcorn ceiling leaving an area that we could never match. I painted a logo of my favorite football team (sadly the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) on a piece of wood 2’ x 2’, Squared and covered the hole left in the basement ceiling.

During the renovation we encountered multiple challenges that required adjustment, changes and/or difficult decisions, but this was to be expected. We built up the centre unit, added pot lights on the flat and vaulted ceilings and build another unit from scratch that contained the fire place, drawers and a spot for our television.

I worked my magic with the finishing touches; repainting and staining the furniture to colours that complimented the new design and colour scheme. Refurbishing furniture allows you to keep your cost down and keep quality items you purchased over the years. She added an old door to the center unit and converted the window portion into a chalk board. Our design required a tall cabinet that wasn’t very deep where we could keep our mugs, cups and wine glasses. I found one at antique market that was almost 100 years old; refurbished it and is now a focal point in the kitchen.

We began the project on July 21, 2015; had committed to hosting our family Christmas dinner that year, and although not totally completed we met our goal. In no way were we pros, but we were patient, hired the right people and put a lot of time and effort into making our box our home. Most important, we gained new skills and saved roughly 70% in labour costs.

The thing about creative people is that they get bored very easily thus I have our next project ready, set and got to go.

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