For many of our local Vancouver friends maybe it seems a bit show-offy to be writing about renovating what would be considered a pretty massive home to anyone hoping to buy in the city. Even the hardest workers amongst our generation are struggling to become homeowners of a condo or townhouse in the city and here I am about to go off about our sprawling rancher on a third of an acre. The catch, of course, is that we had to say goodbye to our coveted city-dwelling status and move to a small community a short ferry sailing from Vancouver. While Tom and I would love to still reap the benefits of raising our kids in the diverse, liberal mecca that is (ideally) the city, there is an undeniable trend building amongst our liberal friends and acquaintances towards a life with a little land, a garden, and room for our families to grow and play. The trade-off for losing out on some of those amazing city events and experiences is that we get to have a home that is unsullied by overbearing landlords, rent increases, or strata rules and regulations. Of course that #RenoLife is not for everyone; some people just wanna score a gorgeous, move-in ready remodel and if you’d rather go to the dentist than paint a room definitely do not buy a fixer-upper; it’s okay if it isn’t your thing. But for me, homes, like life, are all about the journey, and renovating has given me a much-needed outlet for my creativity at a time in my life (stay at home mom with two young, needy children) when I desperately need that outlet. So if you want renovation advice from someone who knows close to nothing about renovation, home ownership, or design: read on, friends!
We Are Our Own Masters! Home ownership is like adulthood: there are some really gratifying experiences associated with having independence but between those times of fun freedom are many, many un-fun responsibilities. Sure, you can spend half of every paycheque on cool vacations but in order to take those sweet vacay’s you have to do the work, file your taxes, go to bank appointments, take our your recycling, and do all that general adult stuff that you wish you didn’t have to do. The freedom that comes with both adulthood and home ownership comes at a price and that price is having to spend your time and money on things that are boring and mundane. Once you buy your own home and can no longer call your landlord to come fix shit when it breaks you gotta go old school and call your dad or call YouTube and learn to do it ya damn self. The upside is that if you feel spontaneously compelled to paint a room after a bottle of wine on a Friday night you can do it without asking anyone’s permission (except maybe your partner’s, depending what your relationship is like). Once when my husband was half asleep and hopped up on NeoCitron I asked him what he thought about me painting his beloved piano blush pink and he said “I’d love a pink piano”. Highly recommend asking for your spouses opinions in this way.
Do A Quick Google First This is the worst advice ever for a parent but the best advice for a homeowner. Do a quick google (or a deep dive, depending on the complexity and scope of the project you’re about to undertake) and educate yourself before jumping in. Assess whether your project will require a professional or if it’s something you can easily learn to do yourself. There are so many things that a human of basic intelligence can do on her own and hear me when I say that after you do it, even if you screwed it up the first and second times, you will feel so badass and proud of yourself when it’s done whether you planted a garden, demolished a shed, installed a light fixture, sanded and refinished a piece of furniture, patched a fence, or took apart the plumbing under your sink to get out all of the environmentally friendly millennial metal straws that your kids somehow poked through the drain. A quick google will also tell you when you’re about to do something that should really be left to a qualified professional, like, say, getting the rabid mama racoon and her three day old babies out from under your crawlspace and relocating them to a nearby wood.
Consider Starting with a Blank Slate Depending on what things look like when you first get possession of your new home (no matter the size!) it can sometimes help to tone down some of the more distracting elements in order to more easily find your own home style buried within the noise. If you are a first-timer like me who isn’t at all sure about your actual home style it can help to start with as blank a slate as possible and work from there. When we got possession of our rancher some of the rooms were dark, distracting, and oppressive despite the huge south-facing windows so I painted everything white. We’ve gone through at least 15 gallons of paint in six months. Once the turquoise, purple, and gold walls and murals had been whitewashed into oblivion (yeah, we bought a pretty eccentric home…) I was able to start putting together my own vision for each space, sometimes completely changing the functionality of a room. I know that not everyone loves the all-white-everything aesthetic that is so hot in home decor right now but sometimes it can be hard to see the potential in your home without removing the big distractions first.
Progress, not Perfection: this has been my mantra since we moved into this house. It’s much too easy to get sucked into the comparison game on Instagram without seeing any of the behind-the-scenes details. There’s no end to the filtered, perfectly staged homes featured on the internet but as always it’s not fair to compare our journey to someone else’s highlight reel, or our fixer-upper to their painstakingly remodelled Dream House; they may have worked ten years to get that house to where it is. To combat that I make sure I’m not fixating on getting each room “done” (what does that even mean, anyway?). Instead I just try to focus on functionality first. When each space is functional (or intentionally lacking function, but very pretty), then I can tick away at small improvements and make simple changes that I love. This can mean something seemingly major like painting the exterior of our house or something minor like moving some light fixtures around or reorganizing a closet. Prioritize whatever you have the energy and motivation to prioritize and eventually everything will come together. Some weeks we get a lot done on our home and some weeks we just look around and think through the next steps. This is true for seasons, too: we did a ton of projects in the Spring, Summer and early Fall, then settled in and are planning on taking Winter off to recoup (and pay off our bursting line of credit…).
Most Renovation Necessities Are Not Fun You already know this, but life is not HGTV. There are times that you will indeed have the time and money to do a full room makeover that completely transforms a space but more often than not renovating is about dropping a shitload of money on stuff that is explicitly not fun, like upgrading your roof, insulating your crawlspace, or getting a new fireplace insert. The majority of your money as a homeowner will go into boring stuff like that so be sure to really enjoy it when a fun project comes along that you’re stoked about! I wish that I had taken the time to enjoy the really good ones a little more instead of rushing through them to get to the next thing. So far I’ve found that the journey is just as fun as the “big reveal,” which I certainly wasn’t expecting when we got ourselves into this whole homeowner gig.
Don’t Be Afraid to Cut Corners I know many people might disagree with this one and normally if you’re gonna do something you may as well do it right the first time, but you don’t have to do everything the right way right away when it comes to your home, and as a logical adult you likely have an idea which things are structural (don’t take shortcuts) and which things are superficial (shortcuts often okay). Most of us won’t have the money to do every single update we want to do right away or even in the first few years and this is especially true if you have a lot of “un-fun” upgrades to do (lookin’ at you, plumbing and electrical!). In the meantime, there are a ton of shortcuts you can take to make your spaces look nicer while minding your budget. If you can’t afford to re-tile your entire front entryway you can paint or stencil that ugly tile to get you through a few years while you save up to do the job the right way. There are amazing high quality backsplash decals or peel-and-stick tiles to update a kitchen for the same purpose (kitchen reno’s are big bucks!). You can sand and stain dated wood floors rather than replace your entire home with expensive oak-engineered hardwood. A coat of paint and some new hardware can completely transform a dated kitchen or bathroom without having to gut it. If you’re renting you can often paint as long as you agree to paint it back before you move. Peel-and-stick wallpaper is another renter-friendly option that’s readily available on Amazon and comes off easily when you need to move. The moral of the story: there are a lot of options these days, so while you choose which things to throw your hard-earned money at you can still make changes that you love to the rest of your home. Another way to cut corners is to be honest with the people you hire about your budget. We’ve saved lots of money by doing the cleanup and junk hauling parts of jobs ourselves to minimize labour costs. If we can prep a job ourselves or come in later and do the sanding and finishing, we’ll just ask the contractor to give us an itemized quote so we can decide how involved we want to be and what’s worth our time. Sometimes a quote can almost double because of the time it takes to clean up after tree-felling, demolition, etc. It’s hard work but you’ll save a lot by doing it yourself.
Be Patient This is a laughable concept to anyone who is following our renovation journey on our instagram account because we’re diving into new projects every weekend, usually before the current one is even finished. I know myself well enough to know that my motivation for projects ebbs and flows, so when I’m going through a phase where I’m energized and excited to get stuff done I roll with it and accomplish as much as I can before the inevitable “Netflix phase” (aka January to March). But when I say it pays to be patient I mean this in terms of furniture pieces. When you first move into a new place, whether it’s a sprawling rancher or your first tiny, cute bachelor apartment, it’s easy to just go nuts at IKEA and bring home all new stuff. Depending on your circumstances maybe this is the best option for you! But finding the absolute perfect piece at a thrift store or garage sale is the biggest thrill (at least for some of us nerds). It’s always worth it to wait a little while for something different and gorgeous that’s a good deal. Unless you’re freakin’ rich and then by all means get what you want! But second hand pieces are way cooler 🙂
After our first six months in our fixer upper we feel like it’s finally starting to feel like our family home. I can’t believe it took half a year but we’ve gotten our house to a great “blank slate” place and are ready to infuse some of the rooms with some more interesting concepts and starting thinking about those things that make a house into a home with personality: art on the walls, some gorgeous wallpaper, a funky kitchen backsplash. Unfortunately we are currently out of money so it’s time to get creative!
If you’d like to follow along on our journey feel free to follow us at @northwestrancher