Living In Limbo – Remodeling While Living

One of the hardest things about living in a home while remodeling is just that, living. Having to sleep, letting kids play and going about work is very challenging when half your house is a house and the other half is a construction zone.

It is as if our house is split in two. Half wonderful, half a nightmare. This picture pretty much sums up life right now. house splitHalf of our house is beautiful (and very lived in!) The other half is torn to the studs. The picture on the right is the back bedroom on the second floor and Ed sits on the third floor, all torn down to the studs. All needing new electric, framing, drywall and even stairs.

The kids, fortunately, play well despite being crammed into a small living space. The irony, we left our three bedroom home because we were outgrowing it…we’re currently living in what amounts to a one bedroom home. We survived the first half of this remodel and I trust we’ll survive the second half – I can’t wait to be finished!


Main Bathroom: The tiny room that took FOREVER!

With four kids amidst the chaos of moving and remodeling, pictures are pretty much the last thing on my mind. The bathroom did not look quite as bad as our before pictures below, but we’ll call it a miracle that I remembered to get pictures before the demo was complete. The bathroom had peeling linoleum stick tiles, old plumbing, old cast iron tub, no closet and peeling lead paint. For such a tiny room it required a LOT of work. The demo was actually a slow process as we attempted to make minor improvements before we were ready to commit to a full rip. This was likely the only time a homeowner is thankful previous builders used cheaper material. The gorgeous pink tiles were only plastic with some adhesive. Plaster is a huge mess so not adding real tile to the mix was a great thing. As you can see, the window was removed. This facilitate throwing the material straight into the dump making clean up much easier. We were thankful to once again have help from our friends as that cast iron tub was quite a beast.

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Our original plan was to complete the second bathroom we were planning to add on the third floor prior to ripping out the one and only bathroom in this house. While that would have been convenient for day to day living, it simply was not practical from a construction stand point. We needed to run new plumbing and add lines for the third floor. We simply needed to do this bathroom before even considering adding the third floor bath. We finished the demo on December 6th but we did not get a shower installed until December 15th! Thankfully it was the final week we had to travel for showers. Prior to demoing we had some plumbing issues and often showered elsewhere. It was a little odd to shower while seeing the studs. We opted for a rainfall style shower head and if we closed our eyes we could pretend we had an actual nice bathing space despite the studs…

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Remodeling can be harder than simply building as you already have space restrictions and previous plumbing/electric lines dictating parts of your design. We already planned to move the third floor stairs so we added about a foot of space to the bathroom and opted for a larger rectangular shower stall vs the smaller square one. We considered a shower/bath combo but decided we wanted to make better use of the space. We will have a bathtub upstairs so we were okay with just adding a shower and leaving more room for storage and breathing (yea, it is a REALLY small full bath). While we had the walls open we also ran new plumbing as necessary, added the lines for our third floor bathroom and we ran the lines for eventually moving the basement laundry to the second floor (waiting very impatiently for that!) We needed to add a few electric outlets, recessed lighting and ventilation fan before we could drywall. We also moved the radiator pipes to take up less room and boxed in one of the overhead drains. Though our bathroom still needed a ton of work, having drywall made the shower much more relaxing!

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Boxing in an overhead pipe, framing a shower stall and moving the wall about a foot meant there were LOTS of corners requiring spackling. This tiny space proved to be quite the tedious task for Ed spackling all of the corners. Once the spackling was finally complete he was able to begin tiling. Our plumber, and friend, was a HUGE help. Not only had he already ran new plumbing, aided in framing the shower and installed the shower, he offered to help Ed with the tiling. We were going to do just basic tile but with a small bathroom material costs are not very high so we opted to use a nicer tile with accent pieces. Quick set adhesive was used so we could reinstall the toilet after just a couple hours.

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After spackling, we were finally able to paint and add a vanity. It was definitely beginning to resemble a real bathroom!


We wanted to add a closet but opted for a large cabinet to keep the small space feeling open. We added a medicine cabinet for a little more storage. Crown molding was also added.

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Due to the layout and window lighting it was nearly impossible to get a good shot of most of the bathroom. The pictures can hardly show just how much work went into this tiny space, but it was definitely worth it!


A Place To Lay Our Heads

When we moved in we knew it would be at least a few months until we would have an organized and comfortable place to rest. We moved our mattress into the existing master bedroom and left our clothes in boxes. We decided it would be too difficult to move in the furniture and then try to demo and rebuild around it. We did not have a ton of space to work with but we knew we needed adequate closet space and room for our king sized bed was a necessity.

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I thought being in an unfinished room and living out of boxes was difficult, but the real challenge came when we needed to demo the room. We moved two small Ikea mattresses into the living room and spent a couple weeks camping out each night. Every morning we folded up the mattresses and attempted to make our house seem “normal.”



We were fortunate to have the help of a few friends and the ability to use a dump truck to aid in the demo process. Ripping out plaster and getting four walls and a ceiling down to the studs can make a ridiculous mess. We started with just one outlet in the bedroom so we had an electrician come in and add several new outlets. We also added recessed lighting and ran the wires for a ceiling fan. We exposed the brick fire wall and insulated the exterior walls, the joint wall with the bathroom and the ceiling. We will eventually have four boys on the floor above us so insulating wasn’t optional.

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One full wall and two half walls were drywalled, we left exposed brick in the closet and we did one full and one half wall with wood for an accent. We chose a cool blue color which we felt went well with the earthy tones of wood and brick.

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We have plans to do a barn style closet door. We purchased the door but in an effort to remain in budget and keep this a debt free remodel we have put purchasing the hardware on hold. We put a vanity area in the closet as well. I am looking forward to having the door, this way when I’m running late I can close the door and pretend my room is clean after the mess of getting ready!

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We reused all of our old bedroom furniture but purchased new linens to match the different style. We left the original hardwood floors.

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We had a great sized mirror from an estate clean out that did not match. We were able to paint it and it fits perfectly above our dresser.

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We also added crown molding and oversized base boards for looks as well as simplifying the spackling and painting process. We are very pleased with how our room turned out. The first night we slept in a REAL bed (frame, boxspring and all!) we slept better than we had in months. A relaxing and comfortable bedroom definitely improved our nightly rest and therefor our days.

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Christmas Trees and Christmas Saws?

The hardest thing about living in a home during remodeling is life needs to go on. Homework, birthday parties, sports practice and holidays do not stop while you tear down and rebuild. Certainly some activities are skipped and invitations declined, but in thirty years the boys won’t remember picking paint colors as fondly as they’ll recall going to a Christmas light show.

We wanted to really enjoy the holiday season, celebrate it and be thankful for the real reason for the season. I had visions of going as a family to pick and cut down a tree, but four little ones and a chaotic house sometimes means choosing practicality.  Oh, and of course the need to stay within the budget. Every dollar spent on other things is one less dollar going towards completing the rebuilding. Budgeting during this is a delicate balance of getting the house done while still experiencing some normal life.

We found a Black Friday deal on a pre-light tree at Lowes. No Norman Rockwell style family adventure. Though anyone with kids knows there’s no perfect outing regardless of location. Hopefully the boys remember our impromptu stop at a gourmet donut shop and not the toddler emergency potty incident involving a bottle in the car… Life with boys is never dull!

The layout of our old home only allowed for a small tabletop tree. This meant we did not have enough ornaments. Due to the character and architecture of our house I wanted classic style ornaments.  Not being able to justify spending a lot on ornaments, I bought ribbon and hooks and made simple bows. I might be the least artistically talented person so while not an impressive task I was still very pleased with how it turned out.

This picture perfectly illustrates our lives at the moment.  The Christmas tree showing an attempt to live life and the saw showing the state of our house.


From Holding Up The Roof To Holding Our Dinner

What do you do when you want a classic wood table for a big family but it isn’t in the budget? You build it! With all of the demo work going on we had lots of extra wood pieces just laying around. Not only does it cost money to dispose of debris it also seems unwise to get rid of good solid wood. When the kitchen ceiling was raised there were a lot of beams left over and there were also some beams from the third floor demo. Ed’s creative nature saw this as a future table:


He cleaned up the wood and used a biscuit joiner to put the pieces together. Once the table top was secure and put together he used a belt sander to prepare it for staining.


He used Minwax espresso stain to match the bar and used polyurethane for a top coat (not pictured). One side of the table was secured to the brick wall. The other side is supported by a leg also made from the beams.


We were given old pub style chairs that need to be re-stained. Will share an update whenever we get around to finishing them. The table very comfortably seats six, but with some closeness there is room for eight or nine.

Trash to Treasure

I am amazed that Ed can see something so random and picture it as something not only useful but pleasant for the eyes. We had a pot rack in our old home and we really wanted another one. We are also working with less cabinet space than our old kitchen had. Ed found some old wood fence or railing type item curbside on trash day. He cleaned it up, screwed each rail for reinforcement, and then stained it to match the bar. He got a thick wire roll and used that to secure it to the beams. (He did say the wire was very difficult to work with and would recommend another method, perhaps chains)



The Test of Our Patience…The Kitchen

The kitchen, the room where food and memories are made. In this case, it was also where nightmares were made. The kind of nightmare where you realize you have to cook dinner for a family of six in a microwave. Things could have been much worse though, and I am being slightly dramatic. Our first kitchen was in the living room. The house had an existing kitchen but after living in a finished home it was difficult for us to picture using it. This is what we started with:


Nothing except the wall frames were salvageable. We began by ripping out the cabinets which showed just how damaged the plaster was. kitchen2

Once we had the cabinets out we really needed to decide what exactly our first floor layout was going to be. We considered doing an open floor plan but with such an old home we did not want to mess too much with anything that might impact weight bearing. We decided we would have a bar facing the kitchen. Cutting and measuring that out happened before we made the kitchen layout.


We needed electric work done. There were only two outlets in the kitchen and neither were up to code. Extension cords had been used for appliances which made us a little uncomfortable as far as fire safety goes. One of the biggest hold ups was getting an electrician in to update the current wiring, add outlets and doing so without ripping out the walls completely. We have a basement but unfortunately under the kitchen there is only a crawlspace. This meant suiting up and climbing under there to access the plumbing and electrical lines.


We decided to add a skylight and do a vaulted ceiling so we could make the smaller kitchen feel more open. Opening the ceiling was a great choice because we found some beams in poor shape and we were able to replace them. After the ceiling was done and we had electrical wires and plumbing in place we were able to add drywall. We did not want to take down the plaster walls in the kitchen so we cut into them for electrical lines, added insulation and then drywalled over it.


Once we had measurements our next step was to design a kitchen. We took to Google and started a search for the kitchen of our dreams that would fit into our budget. The fourth picture was our loose inspiration:

We wanted quality cabinets but we also needed them to fit into our budget. We had looked into IKEA but with our computer packed away and four kids the idea of sitting in the kitchen design area induced panic attack like symptoms. Several contractor friends recommended AAA Distributors. We took our measurements and within five minutes they designed a wonderful kitchen layout. We bought bottom cabinets and had them assemble the cabinets before we picked them up.

With cabinets ordered we needed to get shelving, appliances, flooring, lighting and accessories within our budget. We bought wood and wooden brackets, basic commercial tiles, lighting, and in-stock laminate counter tops at Home Depot. We went to IKEA for accessories, organizers and butcher block for the bar. We reused the barstools from our old home, purchased used appliances and used left over paint from the kitchen in our first house.

As mentioned before, I am not a photographer and our house is quite lived in!

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We will likely add and change things in the kitchen as we get a better feel for our needs in this house. For now though, we are very thrilled. I am thoroughly amazed with my husband’s skills to build a custom kitchen for under $4500 that included electrical and plumbing work. The boys are enjoying finally having a place to sit and eat!


Our First Kitchen

Moving into a house that needs to be essentially rebuilt is difficult, to say the least. Not only did we need new cabinets and flooring, but we had to repair ceiling beams, walls and plumbing. Those things take time, nearly eight weeks to be exact, not that I was counting…

What did we do in the mean time? At first we used a lot of take out but quickly realized it was cutting into our kitchen budget which turned out to need every penny and then some. We slowly built our first kitchen…and it was in the living room. Ideal? Definitely not, but it helped to keep take out costs down and provide just a slight sense of normalcy. Cooking for a family of six with just a microwave, mini fridge and crock-pot wasn’t easy but we did survive!


This living room really became just that, a room full of living. With the rest of the first floor tarped off this room became the laundry sorting room, play room, kitchen and office. My work packages and books were nestled under a folding table, my kitchen sat on top and my children played a couple feet away. I’m very thankful this is no longer my kitchen!

First Things First, Where Do We Sit?

The biggest challenge of this house versus our old house is we had to move in the day we closed.  With our old home we had two weeks from closing until the lease was up for our apartment. Thanks to Ed’s late nights, and even an all nighter, the major things were knocked out before we moved into that home. This time closing was not finished until about four in the afternoon so much of the day was spent dealing with paper work rather than settling. We knew it was a huge project but furniture hides a ton! The first three days were HARD, we had no where to just sit. Our furniture was moved to the garage so we had the space to work. This was our living room the day we moved in:


Peeling wallpaper and thirty year old carpet made for a less than relaxing environment. See the blanket? That was the only spot to sit.

When Ed said he was going to paint over the wallpaper I was worried my normally thorough husband was looking for a shortcut.  After some research we found a thorough technique to safely paint without needing to remove the wallpaper. Removing wallpaper from a plaster wall is not just time consuming, it poses the risk of crumbling plaster accompanying the wallpaper. This is the technique we used:

He also spackled and patched the ceiling.  It took about two days to prep the room. First spackle, sand and culk, and then priming. We chose Behr paint and primer in one and avoided semi-gloss which can draw more attention to flaws. It took another two days to paint and pull up the carpet. With four kids, work and everyday activities our timelines rarely go as planned.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, like wearing your four month old while painting.


Once the painting was complete we were able to rip up the carpet. It can be tedious to make sure every staple is removed.  We used a shop vac with the flat attachment to get strong suction to get dust out from between the boards of the hardwood floor. Finally we used Murphy’s oil soap to clean. Aside from a few spots the floors are in great shape. Eventually we will refinish,  but for now they’re great.



We have since hung curtains and added more furniture.  Currently, though, this room is also functioning as our dining and kitchen rooms so updated pictures will have to wait. The house still feels overwhelming at times but now we are able to sit and relax for a moment.