Kitchen Renovation — Inspiration and Plans

There are so many things I love about our house. I love the original features, like the hardwood floors, tall ceilings, and original windows and transoms over the door frames. And I love the way that we’ve made it our own. Unfortunately, I did not feel the same way about our kitchen. So, naturally, we decided to rip the whole thing out and start from scratch.

Before:

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Our kitchen, dining, and living areas are all one open room, so I wanted the kitchen to look like it belonged in the same space. The rest of the room feels cozy and collected — I guess what people would call “eclectic”. We have a lot of antique and mid century modern furniture, travel knick-knacks, art on the walls, and colorful Persian rugs. We’ve focused on natural or honest materials like wood, wicker, brick, wool, and linen. My goal was to bring those same vibes to the kitchen. However, that’s so not what kitchens are like, by their very nature! Kitchens are all about uniform cabinets, cold stainless steel appliances, and straight-up functionality. It was a challenge figuring out how to bring warmth and visual interest to a mostly practical space.

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In addition to reflecting our personal taste, there were other considerations too. As a historic preservationist at heart, I wanted to honor the 100-plus lifetime of the house and make choices that seemed period-appropriate. And as a Realtor, I had resale value and increased equity in mind. I’m not sure how long we’ll be in this house, but I don’t want it to look dated or worn out by the time we decide to sell it. Basically, I wanted the kitchen to look timeless and not (too) trendy.

Floors

I seriously considered mosaic tile (Galatoire’s style) or some ornate Victorian pattern— both would add some much-needed old world style to the kitchen. At the end of the day, I decided that would be too stark of a contrast to the hardwood floors in the rest of the room. So I tracked down some salvaged wood that would match the grain and width of the existing floors. In a city like New Orleans, with historic houses and renovations around every corner, salvaged material is big business. I was found a supplier who was just about to pull some heart of pine tounge-and-groove out of a 1910s house in Greensboro, Louisiana. Perfect.

For fun, my rejected flooring ideas [click the picture for the source]:

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Cabinets

Over many years of reading design blogs and living vicariously through other people’s renovations, I’ve seen some amazing Ikea kitchens, often with Semihandmade doors. Ikea cabinets are an affordable option with just as much integrity, quality, and warranty as more expensive alternatives. And considering that a local company, Blue Bag, will deliver and install Ikea kitchens in New Orleans, it was an easy choice to make. The Bodbyn doors, a medium gray with traditional paneling, was the Goldilocks choice. Not too dark or too light (I’ve seen too many white kitchens). Not too rustic or too modern. Although Semihandmade had some great (mostly shaker-style) options, I didn’t love them enough to add another factor to the renovation.

Some examples of gray Bodbyn cabinets in action:

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Open Shelving

Open shelving is one thing where I totally surrendered to a trend. I had my reasons though. Hopefully, displaying kitchenware on shelves will elevate them to objets d’art, which will kind of replicate the way we display other knick knacks around the house. Airy shelves instead of blocky upper cabinets should give the kitchen a similar balance as the rest of the room. Speaking of “airy,” I intend to have totally floating shelves — as if by magic. The key is having thick enough wood that you can bore holes in the middle and hide the brackets.

Some artfully arranged floating shelves:

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Countertops

I was probably the most excited about new countertops. I’ve been dreaming of luscious Carrera marble for forever. Now, marble comes with many, many caveats. And everyone in the world will try to tell you that you’re making the most foolish choice! Yes, I know it’s a soft stone. Yes, I know it can stain and etch. But I want it anyway. A couple of articles helped me feel much more comfortable with my choice (here & here).

In my mind, nothing can compete with the warmth and beauty of marble. I felt that honed (matte) Carrera marble was the absolute right choice for the antique look that I was going for in my kitchen. And I decided that I will welcome the patina it will develop over time. Coincidentally, around the time of making this decision, we visited Charleston and saw Carrera marble bars/counters/tables everywhere. And they looked great despite all the red wine, lemon juice, and who-knows-what that has surely been spilled on them by thousands of people!

I especially like the combination of marble counters and matching backsplash:

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 Backsplash

Yes, I mentioned that marble backsplash already. I also had another grand idea:

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We saw so much beautiful tile on our trip to Morocco and Spain — like works of art! I think this 30″ by 30″ space in the kitchen will be the perfect opportunity to splurge on something beautiful. Moroccan cement tiles are definitely having a moment right now, so I’m going to proceed cautiously there. I have my eye on some hand-painted terracotta tiles at Stafford Tile & Stone. I think the latter will be a more timeless look.

Something like this:

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 Appliances & Fixtures

This aspect of the planning was all about functionality. Ok, maybe a bit about form as well. We chose a matching KitchenAid appliance suite with a somewhat industrial or “professional” look (this was the showroom consultant’s lingo and apparently all the rage right now). Despite this description, I actually think that the style really suits our home, because it kind of evokes an era when appliances were more utilitarian-looking. Anyway, my main concern with the appliances was actually resale value. Buyers like the appliances to match and trust certain brands etc. We also chose a touchless faucet, which I’m actually kind of excited about. It’s something I never thought I needed or wanted, but it was a fun way to embrace some extreme modernity in an otherwise traditional kitchen.

Final touches

The accessories will really allow me to warm up this kitchen and bring in some textures that we have in the rest of the room. I’m thinking…

simple unlacquered brass hardware that will patina over time:

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large wicker pendant light over the island that matches our Marcel Breuer Cesca dining chairs and reed roll-up shades:

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either arched or bare-bulb wall sconces over the shelving:

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and another vintage Persian rug or runner, of course:

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So far, we’ve done the demo and made most of the decisions. Wish me luck that everything goes according to plan!

12 steps to buying a home

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1. Choose a Realtor

A Realtor is your best asset in finding the right property and then making it yours. Your Realtor will educate you about the market, help you evaluate properties, negotiate a winning contract on your behalf, and represent your rights on the way to the closing table. The right Realtor for you is not only competent and reliable, but also someone you like and trust.  Plus, to buyers, the services of a Realtor are 100% free.

2. Get pre-Approved

Talk to a lender to set your price range. Your Realtor can recommend some great local lenders to contact. A lender will help you determine your price range, your monthly mortgage payment, and your out-of-pocket costs for purchasing your home. Once you are pre-approved, you can act quickly when you see “the one.” Plus, a pre-approval letter will make your offer look more attractive to sellers.

3. Search for a House

After discussing what features you are looking for and what neighborhoods suit you, your Realtor will send you property listings that match your criteria. If a house stands out, then your Realtor will set up an appointment and accompany you to see it in person. With a Realtor’s trained eye and expertise by your side, you are well-equipped to choose the right house for you and your needs.

4. Make an Offer

When you find the house you love, make an offer! You and your Realtor will strategize and compose an offer that is favorable to you and likely to be acceptable to the seller. Your Realtor will also research recent comparable sales, so that you can be confident that your sale price is in line with fair market value. Sometimes the seller makes a counter-offer and you may follow that with your own counter-offer. Your Realtor must be a great negotiator so that you get the best deal, considering all market factors and each party’s bargaining position.

5. Pay a Deposit

Immediately after your offer has been accepted, you have to submit a deposit check to the seller. The amount of this check is usually around 1% of the sale price. The deposit will be returned to you if you choose to cancel the contract due to unsatisfactory inspections, low appraisal, or failure of financing. If you choose to proceed with the sale, the deposit will be credited towards your down payment at closing.

6. Schedule Inspections

Inspections of the property will allow you to assess the condition of the property. Your Realtor can recommend reputable inspectors in your area. If there are defects that you were not aware of when you made your offer, then your Realtor will negotiate with the seller to either fix these deficiencies or pay an appropriate amount of money towards your closing costs. If the inspections or any other research into the property reveals that this is not the house for you after all, you will be able to cancel the contract.

7. Order the Appraisal

Your lender will require and order an appraisal to be done. The appraisal will inform the lender of the estimated value of the property to ensure that you are not overpaying. If the appraised value is lower than your sales price, your Realtor will negotiate with the seller to adjust the price. However, if the seller refuses to lower the price, then you may cancel the contract.

8. Obtain Insurance

Your lender will require that you obtain homeowners’ and flood insurance for the property. Your Realtor can recommend some reliable insurance agents. If possible, you should obtain these quotes during your inspection and due diligence period. Plus, getting quotes sooner rather than later will clarify your exact out-of-pocket costs at closing.

9. Hire a Title Attorney

Find a title attorney to verify the title, provide title insurance, and coordinate the closing documents with your lender. Your Realtor can recommend good title attorneys and companies in your area. The title attorney will assure you that there are no issues with or liens on the ownership of the property. If there are, the title attorney will remedy them before closing.

10. Get Final Loan Approval

Although you already submitted some documents during pre-approval, your lender will require you to submit additional documentation to verify your funds and income. Your loan application will then pass through the lender’s underwriter before it is finally approved and you receive your mortgage.

11. Attend the Final Walk-through

A few days before the closing date, you and your Realtor will walk through the house to make sure that it is in better or the same condition as the day that you made your offer. Make sure that the seller has fixed any defects that they promised to fix at the end of your inspection period.

12. Buy Your New House!

Shortly before the closing, the title company will tell you the final amount of funds that you must bring to closing. This amount will include your down payment, insurance premiums, escrows, lender fees, titles work fees, title insurance, and potentially prorated property taxes, rents, or condo dues. Any seller paid costs, including the amount you negotied after inspections, will be taken off your bottom line. The title attorney will have you sign all of the paperwork at the closing. Finally, you get the keys to your new house! Congratulations, homeowner!

5820 Louisville Street, New Orleans – $399,000

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UPDATE: this property has been sold!

5820 Louisville Street, New Orleans, LA 70124

$399,000

2,543 sqft living area

4,671 sqft total living area

4 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms

MLS # 2127666

This classic Craftsman style home  has beautiful original features, including unique herringbone pattern hardwood floors, built-ins, and stained glass windows. It has a raised basement with tons of storage for things big and small. Part of the basement is finished into a large media or play room (486 sqft not included in the living square footage) and another bathroom. In addition to the four bedrooms, there is a bonus space attached to the master bedroom suite. Currently, it is accessible through the suite only, which would make for a perfect nursery, office, or dressing room. However, this space could be a 5th bedroom if another door was installed to the living room. Two bedrooms are located on the raised level and another two are located on the top floor, off of a large landing suited for a homework or play room. In fact, there is a lot of flexible space throughout the house! 

You can enjoy the outdoors from the front porch, screened-in porch in the back, or the wonderful and spacious back yard. The back yard features a beautiful pool and another patio. The outdoor space is ready for grande pool parties or BBQs! The driveway can accommodate three or more cars.

This home is conveniently located close to the 610 split, making any kind of commute a breeze. Or you can walk or bike throughout the neighborhood and enjoy everything Lakeview has to offer. El Gato Negro, District Donuts, and Another Broken Egg Cafe are just a few blocks away!

Check out more pictures.

Check out more info on Realtor.com and let me know if you have any questions!

Real Estate Myth: I want to buy a home someday, but I can’t afford a realtor

This will be the best news you’ve ever heard: I work for free.

OK, the truth is that I do get paid at the end of the day, but my fee comes off of the seller’s bottom line at the closing. My services to buyers are 100% free.

This is how it goes down: when a seller and listing agent sign a listing agreement to put the house on the market, the seller agrees to pay the commissions of both agents. The listing agent will take half and (be so kind as to) share the other half with the “cooperating agent” on the buyer’s side. Despite the fact that my check will come from the seller, my professional duty and loyalty will still be to my buyer clients, of course. (Another fun fact: that check actually goes to my broker/office who then cuts me my share.)

So what’s the deal if the house is for sale by owner?

First, for sale by owner properties are very rare (only 9% of the national market, according to the National Association of Realtors). Second, if it so happens that my buyer client drives by a sign and wants to see the house, I will still negotiate my fee into the contract so that it will be paid by the seller in the end.

I don’t think I knew this before I was a real estate agent. And I still have people asking me the cost of my help all the time, so I wanted to throw it out there. So if you’re thinking about buying a house (or getting close to thinking about it), you might as well call me up. It’s never too early to seek out the (free!) advice of a realtor. We may not be driving around listings next Saturday, but I will sit down with you and lay out the general buying process. Believe me, there are other myths to unpack. Also, there might be steps you do want to take ASAP, such as checking your credit score or learning about your lending options, because it could help your home-buying position and opportunity in the future.

Anyway, I’m always down for a coffee date.