Welcome to the first post in my new blog series on our home renovation! Join me as we tour through before and after photos. Since this post is the first one, I'll start with a little background.
I don't know how many of you have been through something so dark, challenging, and life-altering that if you were to look at a timeline of your life, there would be a line that divided the first part of your life from the second - but I have. "The Me After...", or Kimberly 2.0, or whatever you want to call it - this is me today. The line was drawn on March 1, 2017, with the birth of my son, Redmond, and the extreme medical crisis he endured. We almost lost him on several occasions, and the fight to keep him and see him become the bright light that he is today nearly broke me.
Actually, maybe it did break me. Maybe "The Me After..." is the one who has survived the breaking and has had to find a way to heal and move forward?
When a crisis like I experienced happens, the entire world seems to becomes dark. We're taken down to the smallest part of ourselves, shaken to our very core, and made to face the worst parts of who we are. The darkness is suffocating and crushing. Death seems preferable to the constant fighting just to survive. But imagine that suddenly, Light breaks through. You are lifted up out of the dirt, soothed and nurtured, given space to breathe. The crushing, suffocating fear is gone and you're no longer bound by chains of death and darkness.
What would YOU do?
That's the best way I can describe what happened to me when my son was about nine months old. It would be another couple of years before things really calmed down, but the worst of it was over. I did some hard work, going through trauma therapy for PTSD, and suddenly my world was a different place. Before that line was drawn on the timeline of my life, I'd harbored fears that had no basis in truth, and I'd let them hold me down. The change in perspective didn't make my fears go away, but I had the courage to step over them and move on.
I'd always LOVED home improvement shows, but even before that, I'd notice beautiful old houses that were crumbling with neglect and think, "I'd love to fix that house up. There's so much character there." I love style and design, and while I was in three-hour-long lectures in seminary, I'd keep my hands busy by designing houses on the back of my notes pages. (Don't worry. I also paid attention to the lecture. I'm just someone who concentrates better when I'm also creating something. I have no idea why.)
I have file folders and binders full of photos I've torn out of magazines or printed off of advertisements. Every beautifully-designed house I enter causes me to take mental notes. I never actually considered that I'd be able to put that passion into practice.
As the darkness that had fallen over my life lifted, I realized that my capacity had also expanded. Kind of like elastic that's been stretched too far and will never go back down to the size it was. I wasn't using every waking moment (and many of the ones when I should've been sleeping) to feed and care for Redmond. He wasn't yet "healthy," but he wasn't in complete crisis either. After I rested up a bit, I didn't know what to do with myself.
So, I started researching real estate investing. I read everything I could get my hands on and learned that it was certainly possible for me to flip houses. You don't have to have gobs of cash on hand. There are really smart investors out there who are willing to teach others how to do it, and much can be learned for free. (If you're interested, check out www.biggerpockets.com to get started.)
I took the leap in 2019. Working with a partner, we flipped a historic home in a nearby town, selling it during the Covid-19 lockdown. You can read more about it here. It was a bigger project than we realized and we learned a lot. In the summer of 2021, I began to look for a new project. This time, I wanted to renovate a house with my own taste and style in mind, rather than only considering what's trendy right now (which is the best way to do it if you want to sell right away). I also wanted to be able to enjoy all my hard work and live in the house for a while.
My realtor immediately knew the right house for us. It took me a few minutes to see the vision, but as I walked around the house, my mind began to fill with images of my children running through the long halls, memories being made on those entryway stairs, and all the wonderful ways I could express my creativity as I restored what had been lost through years of sadness. There were also some original design decisions that I didn't understand and wanted to update.
It's a 3600-square-foot, Georgian-style brick house with four bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, a partially finished basement, two fireplaces, and a beautifully-landscaped (although overgrown) yard. But the kitchen was only 10' x 12' and entirely closed off. It had beautiful cherry cabinets and had been updated at some point, but the colors were dark. Despite a large window, it felt much too small for such a grand house. Right beside the kitchen was a large and bright laundry room with more cabinets and closets, plus an exterior door. On the other side of that space was a den with a wide, brick fireplace and French doors leading to a screened-in porch.
I got out my measuring tape, graph paper, pencil, and eraser and started planning. I wanted to open up the space as much as possible to give it a cozy, heart-of-the-home feeling. I envisioned my children doing their homework in there while I made dinner, sitting at the island to talk to me while they ate snacks, and watching movies together as a family. I wanted to be able to look out at the back and front of the house to watch where they were playing. I also wanted a kitchen that would be a pleasure to cook in with a large pantry, double ovens, and a eye-catching hood vent over the stove.
After a lot of consideration, we decided that we needed to move the laundry room to make space for the pantry. It didn't make sense to me to have the washer and dryer so far from the bedrooms. It made the most sense to move the laundry room upstairs. I'll show you that later, but for right now, let's look at this kitchen renovation!
We use the side entry door the most because it's easiest to access from the driveway. Before the renovation, if you came in from the side, you were immediately in the laundry room. Solid wood doors and cast iron heaters spoke of a different time and the quality put into everything built here. This view is what you would've walked into.
The washer/dryer was on the other of the side door. There was also a second kitchen sink, black laminate counters, and a large window.
On the other side of this wall, behind the cabinets, was the kitchen. One thing we were able to save and reuse was the black cast-iron cabinet handles, which you can see in the updated kitchen.
Moving on to the kitchen, this was the entrance into the den. These two doorways had matching cherry doors. The one on the left opened into the den (beside the fireplace) and the one on the right opened into the dining room. This photo was taken after we re-did the dining room walls. They had been dark red.
Yes, that's wallpaper on the ceiling. There was also some water damage on the ceiling from a plumbing leak. The leak had been fixed, but the damage had not been repaired.
The countertops were cement with a tile backsplash. I really liked that apron sink, but we couldn't save it. Taking out the cement counters caused a lot of damage.
We considered keeping the cabinets, but the configuration didn't work, so we were able to pass them on to a family member who's building something new and could build to their specifications.
After these two main walls were torn out, the kitchen, laundry area, and den were all open. The cabinets and closet from the laundry room were also torn out. We moved this nice refrigerator to the garage and I love having it for extra storage. (If you look closely here, you can see the custom blue and gold cookies we were gifted to help celebrate closing on this house.)
In the next photo, you can see what it looked like after demo. The framing was already in for the pantry. It took a special tool to get the layers of flooring up, and then we discovered water damage that required a new subfloor. (THEN we found out that the type of flooring we ordered required a different kind of subfloor, so that was fun...) Some years back, there had been a water leak in the upstairs bathroom. It caused damage to the bathroom floor, floor joists, and kitchen ceiling too.
What you can't see here is how we discovered that the wall between the kitchen and laundry room contained all the plumbing for the kitchen. It had to be moved and you can see the new drywall around the window where we rerouted the pipes. (I use the word "we" here loosely. It was the plumber who actually did the work. We have exactly zero plumbing skills.)
You can see how open that made it. We ended up tearing out the entire ceiling to repair the water damage and reroute the plumbing to the upstairs bathroom and new laundry room. We also replaced a rotting floor joist and added some extra support for the new bathtub that was installed on the second floor. We had to extend the huge support beam between the kitchen and den so we could remove the two support posts on the left.
Spaced opened up, beam installed, and new drywall!
The hole in the ceiling remained for a while because all the plumbing for the upstairs bathroom is up there. Supply delays hit again, so we just had to wait. Looking into the dining room, you can see that we removed the door into the dining room too. We considered opening it up further, but the open concept and large windows really limited our wall space for cabinets, so we left it as it was.
The first coat of primer really changed the look of the space! (This is where the cubbies would eventually go.
When the cabinets were finally installed, I knew we could move in. That was a good day! I chose navy cabinets for the bottom and cream-colored cabinets for the top and around the refrigerator. It took a few more weeks to get the navy hood vent in due to manufacturer delays. I also found a new apron sink to replace the one that was damaged. At this point, the new electrical had been roughed in, but the den hadn't been painted. See the dark brown wall to the right?
I had so much fun shopping for countertops for these cabinets. Working with a local contractor, I went to a huge warehouse full of slabs and walked around for a long time, comparing prices and designs. I didn't have a strong desire for one material over another, as long as it was a solid surface. Because we have color in our cabinets, I decided on a simple white polished Quartz with light gray veining for the perimeter counters. For the island, I chose the design that made me the happiest. It's a brushed Quartzite (natural stone) with a lot of movement. I stood and stared at it for quite a while, trying to picture it on my island, and finally decided to go for it. I was worried it would be too much, but once it was installed, I was very happy with my choice.
These photos show the (almost) finished kitchen, including the finished ceiling, navy hood vent, floating shelves, lights, trim, and counters! (I realize this isn't perfectly staged, but we live here and I'm a big fan of reality. This is how it is, friends. Welcome to my house. LOL.)
I love the gold light fixtures and cabinet handles. The floor is a luxury vinyl pattern that was inspired by the barber shop at the 1920's Main Street at Sauder Village in Archbold, Ohio. I chose vinyl because I was tired of everything breaking when it hit the tile floor at the farm house. This floor feels really good under my feet, especially when I have to stand for long periods of time while cooking or cleaning. It also makes me so happy every time I look at it. I love the pattern and the subtle colors.
I found the floating shelves on etsy.com at DIYdadDesign. I was able to order them to my exact specifications - length, color, etc. They arrived more quickly than expected and with everything I needed to hang them.
Since there's a pattern on the floor, I thought a simple backsplash design would be better. The backsplash I chose is a 4x12 polished subway tile with a frame. Under the hood vent, I found a mosaic, herringbone tile in white and gray with a gray limestone pencil trim.
We have stainless-steel appliances, and we decided on a glass-top stove for safety reasons. The controls are much more difficult for little hands to reach and we won't have to worry about gas leaks.
The wall color is a custom color through Benjamin Moore, called Silver Shadow (borrowed from Behr). The trim is Benjamin Moore Elephant Tusk. The navy throughout the house is Benjamin Moore Newburyport Blue, which matches the navy cabinets.
The most exciting part for me is the cubbies! I designed them to help us contain all the papers and shoes and bags and treasures that tend to pile up all over the house otherwise. They were custom-built through our general contractor: Graber Custom Renovations. Painted to match the cabinets, we also stained the bench to match the floating shelves.
The baskets on the bottom (from At Home) are for shoes. Coats and backpacks hang in the larger section, and school papers go in the mail slots. Anything that the kids leave laying around (after repeated attempts to get them to put their stuff away) goes into the navy baskets (from Amazon) at the top. Can't find what you're looking for? Check your basket! (Ahhhh....)
Next, let's take a closer look at the coffee bar and pantry! I love the artistry of pottery, so I've been picking up things I appreciate here and there for years. This seems like the perfect place to display them, with some space to add to the collection. The antique coffee grinder on the wall is a gift from Rick's father.
The pantry door is one of the doors that was originally in the laundry room, and it awaits paint to match the trim around it. The light blue entry door is original and will be painted to match the front door and navy cabinets, just as soon as it warms up outside. The trim around the windows will also be painted to match the cabinets and other trim when the weather improves. I also plan to add plantation shutters to the windows in the near future. The sun shines in very brightly in the afternoon and the glare is intense.
The view from the kitchen into the den! (I'll do another post with more details about the den soon.) I didn't have enough wall space for the planned double ovens, so we added a second oven in the island. Both ovens are convection and one also works as an air fryer! Yay!
Looking into the dining room, you can see all the way through the entry hall and into the living room. Again, the trim around the windows will soon be painted to match the upper cabinets.
We still lack one small piece of trim to finish above the cabinet to the left of the hood vent. Supply delays have been a real thing with this project. (We are also awaiting transition strips between the kitchen and den flooring, so for now we have rugs covering the area to protect it.) The door to the right leads to the garage. I will probably update the photos once everything is complete.
I have been asked several times how I did this project. The answer is with a measuring tape, pencil, graph paper, and a whole lot of erasing. There were definitely some hiccups along the way and a few sleepless nights trying to figure it all out. I scoured books on kitchen design and Pinterest, then asked for advice. My contractor, Steve Graber, was a big help in guiding me through some of the more challenging aspects. I also had a lot of help from my assistant, Caylin Benson. I don't know how I could have done this project while being a present wife and mother without her. She and I did most of the painting ourselves, and when I got completely burned out, she took that part over.
One thing I decided very early on was this: if I don't LOVE it, it's not going in this house. I'd rather have a blank wall or mismatched furniture or whatever else than to put anything in here just to have something in that space. I'm glad I made that decision. Every day I look around this house and smile. What a privilege to be able to use my creativity in a way that lights me up inside. One of these days we'll probably sell this house, but for today I'm going to thoroughly enjoy living here.
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Contractor: Graber Custom Renovations, Steve Graber
Plumbing and HVAC: Sterling Plumbing, Greg Wyse
Electrical: Woolace Electric, Eric Woolace
Counters: Black Swamp Cabinets, Pete Grieser
Backsplash: Mark Lemley
Kitchen Flooring: King's Flooring and Furniture, Defiance, OH
Additional Painting: Mark Peterson