Living Room: Part 1 of infinity

Let’s play a little catch-up. When we started the renovation, one of the first changes we made was to move the kitchen and open it up to the living room on one side and dining room on the other. The connection between the living room and kitchen is perhaps the most essential to the way we live and entertain. How are you not going to see the TV from the kitchen island?! It’s a must.

The way-before, wall by wall, going clockwise:

The pink room glowing through the door is now the kitchen and that wall was majorly opened up:

This the layout of that section of the house now:

The living room furniture arrangement is basically set, but definitely needs some fine tuning — including hanging the TV, increasing the seating, and generally making the room more balanced and cozy. Our current kitchen is temporary, but the appliances and island are set up where they will be permanently so we can test out the placement. Island view is working out well!

Guiding Principles

There are so many decisions to make during renovation. Who knew, right?! It can definitely become overwhelming. I consume so much design content via blogs, Pinterest and Instagram that my head swirls with all of the possibilities. So I have tried to come up with a few guiding principles for this house, which will hopefully make decision-making easier and the ultimate result more cohesive.

Keep it simple.

There are a million versions of every switch, trim, fixture, you-name-it. Sometimes the more I browse, the more confused I become. So I remind myself to “keep it simple” — in design, color scheme, execution, function, or in whatever category the decision paralysis occurs. To me, simple means clean lines, minimal detail, symmetry, neutral or monochromatic color combinations, function over form, and ease of installation or execution.

Won’t that lead to a sterile, uninteresting space? I think I have enough craziness going on with multi-color stained glass windows, ceiling medallions; not to mention all the pattern, texture, and color of my possessions. The space pictured above is an example of what I have in mind — achieving some quiet moments while other things get to be loud.

House Beautiful

This picture might seem inappropriate for “simple,” but what I like about it is the commitment to one color. Once I decided to go monochromatic in a room, half of the decisions were basically made for me.

Let things appear what they are.

“Honest materials” is a buzzword, but also a long-standing standard of design that I really appreciate. Basically, it dictates that things should look like what they are — in material composition and intended purpose. So no “faux” anything if I can help it. I like the look and feel of natural materials anyway and think they bring a lot of warmth and texture to a space. Natural materials also tend to age and wear better — they’re durable, but develop patina and character over time. Faux finishes chip and disposable materials become obsolete and have to be replaced.

Also, the original features of our house are all made of natural materials that were available at the time. Hopefully, the ones I add now will just blend in and age gracefully alongside them. The above photo of a country kitchen may be a little rustic, but all of the different materials give it so much life and make it feel authentic — wicker, copper, brick, marble, glazed tile, corded wire, etc. all the way down to the details. It also makes it feel like every material serves a purpose. There is a utilitarian angle to this principle.

Focus on history and timelessness.

The number one thing that attracted me to our house was its age — it was built in 1867. “They just don’t build them like they used to” is the truth. This is partly due to the quality of the materials and the level of craftsmanship that was used at the time. It all feels very formal. Since I’ve been calling the front room our “parlor,” I think it is safe to say I’m leaning into that vibe. So, I intend to focus on decor that has a similar air of sophistication and feeling of being anchored in the past.

our house on day 1

But also, let’s be real, I am a mid century modern fiend, so perhaps “the past” is only 50 years and earlier. I actually really love mid century modern design in Victorian interiors. I’ve found a lot of inspiration in New York City brownstones — some of them strike this balance so, so well. See below.

Elizabeth Roberts

It looks so fresh, yet still appropriate and timeless somehow. It’s traditional without being stuffy.

Evoke emotion.

After talking so much about vibes and feelings, I should confirm that I absolutely want to create an emotional response — in myself daily and in others when they visit. It’s hard to describe what that is, but I think there are certain vignettes or “moments” that elicit that response universally. Like an epic entryway. A wild secret garden. A romantic bathtub. A cozy, comfy living room. A candle-lit dinner table. Something that elicits a feeling that this space or the experience you’re having in it right now is special.

Southern Living

And after all this talk about simplicity and history and cohesion, there needs to be some drama and an element of unexpectedness to keep things interesting. I like crazy prints and quirky tchotchkes too much for them not to find a place in my home.

Susan Deliss

So all in all, I am aiming for a cohesive home that feels like me. Simple, authentic, historic, and a little wacky too. Hopefully if I keep reminding myself of my end goal, it will just fall into place.

The Quick and Dirty

My favorite type of design is the kind that comes together over time and feels very personal and collected. You know, tchotchkes from travels with meaningful stories and antiques that evoke the thrill of the find. That is definitely the goal. But sometimes you have to pull together a room quickly, because contractors need supplies and you need a home to live in. Those supplies can’t be precious antiques or custom pieces; they have to be ordered now and arrive next week for install! It’s the quick and dirty side of renovation.

Isn’t that pretty? This is the corner of the upstairs master bedroom and its built-in closets. As per my last post, we had to find a way to squeeze a new bathroom upstairs that would be accessible to both bedrooms. This corner was the spot. So within a couple of weeks, that same space looked like this:

The closets were pulled out. The floor was pulled up to install plumbing. A new wall was framed up. It was definitely not pretty any more. The pressure was on as to how to design this room within the space, budget, and pure do-ability. Here is a reminder of the new floor plan:

Each wall of this room had a limitation to work around: floor-to-ceiling window to the front, another window to the side, and two doors leading to each bedroom. I had to think a bit out of the box to place the tub, shower, vanity, and toilet. The tub was kind of a necessity and a problem-solver at the same time. From a Realtor point-of-view, I think every house needs at least one tub. Whereas a shower in front of the window would be problematic, placing the tub there created just enough of a buffer zone. The solution: a wet room.

The wet room is one big space that houses the tub and the shower with one glass enclosure to protect the rest of the room from splatter. The shower is positioned farther from the window, so no real worries about water or privacy. But now what about a vanity? The only wall space on which it could fit has a window smack dab in the middle. Solution: mirror in front of a window, duh.

See how hours of mindless blog/Pinterest browsing pays off?! I had seen all of these images at some point, but they surfaced only when I needed solutions for this awkward bathroom. And now they serve as validation that my ideas for the space aren’t that crazy, even if they are a bit unconventional. As for the look of the bathroom itself… another old favorite image popped into my head:

I’ve probably Pinned this image a million times, I love it so much. Just black hex tile and plain white tile (I opted for subway). Sometimes the obvious choice is the best choice. Not only is this tile combo a real budget-saver, it’s also the kind of old-timey, utilitarian simplicity that I really appreciate and want for this house. These humble materials are something they may have used 150 years ago when this house was built. Plus, eventually, this will be the guest/children’s bathroom, so it doesn’t have to be luxurious. A little mood board for your pleasure:

I keep seeing beautiful Asian screens for sale and think one might work in this bathroom behind the tub. I’m still undecided, but that concept has continued to inspire the rest of the design: black and white color blocking, simple lines, gold elements, botanical/bird wall art, Oriental rug, minimalist pendants, etc. I think it’ll be good! I guess that’s the thing about renovation — some decisions have to be made quickly to keep things moving, but some guiding principles will hopefully help the space feel special and consistent with the rest of the house.

Tweaking the Floor Plan

I love old homes. But of course, a home built 150 years was laid out for a completely different lifestyle and purpose. Our house didn’t even have bathrooms when it was built. And it didn’t have any closets when we purchased it. Yes, there had been some layout tweaks over time, but even those were somewhat puzzling.

Here are the original floor plans from Day 1:

The immediate issues were:

  1. the kitchen was located in a hexagonal-ish room with no built-in kitchen cabinets at all — admittedly, hard to do in a room with few 90 degree angles
  2. the bathroom upstairs was super small and basically non-functional — not to mention that it was built on an old porch, which was suffering structurally
  3. no “master suite”
  4. no closets at all
  5. compartmentalized rooms with little flow

From my very first visit to the house, the wheels starting turning as to how to make the floor plan more functional for us. Or more functional, period. Something that is never far from my mind is resale value. The new layout would also have to be marketable — what would a typical buyer expect to find inside this home? Thankfully, I think our goals were similar to what I hear buyers ask for all the time — open living/entertaining area and convenient bedroom-bathroom situations.

At the same time, I didn’t want to rob the house of its historic qualities either. The original layout is an “American town house” according to the HDLC guidelines — designated by its long narrow shape and a side hallway, as well as verticality (two stories in the front) and a double gallery (balcony up and down). As a preservationist at heart, I very much wanted the house to retain this floor plan and feeling. Here is what we came up with:

This configuration solved the above issues like so:

  1. we switched the kitchen and dining rooms — the kitchen could now be in an actual rectangular room and the dining room in a hexagonal space, which is much more workable
  2. the bathroom upstairs would be relocated to the front of the house between the two bedrooms, where it could serve both as a “Jack and Jill” bathroom; the old bathroom would become the very first closet this house ever had
  3. the master suite will eventually be on the first floor, at the back of the house, with the laundry room becoming a closet and 3rd bathroom; the existing bathroom will serve as the powder room and accommodate the laundry and/or storage
  4. as you can see in #2 and #3, closets are happening!
  5. now that the kitchen has moved in-between the living room and dining room, there is much better flow, further aided by opening up the walls a bit — a large cased opening between the living room and kitchen and just a floating fireplace stack between the kitchen and dining room

Some of these changes are already in action, while some other will have to wait for subsequent renovation phases. I expect that our full vision will be realized in a couple of years. So far, every change feels like a step in the right direction though — almost like the house should have always been this way!

First Things First

Have you ever had feelings for a house? In early August, I walked into a house and became totally infatuated with it. It was creaky and awkward and outdated, but I could see its potential right away. It had all of the old-house charm one would hope for and more. The soaring ceilings, the original wood floors and casings, the grand staircase in the entryway… it all made my heart flutter a bit.

The potential was so evident to me that I drew up the new floor plans that afternoon . The kitchen would move here, these walls would come down, a new bathroom would go here… and the budget would go up and up. Nothing like an accountant husband to alert you that reality. For the next two months, I crunched numbers and made secret Pinterest boards for this fantasy house of mine. My husband was confused and annoyed at my fixation. I would say “but the stained glass windows!” and “of course we need a front parlor!” to no avail. We kept looking, but how could anything compete when I thought I had found the one?!

1235 Annunciation before picture

All the while, I was afraid that someone would snatch it away from me, but the property continued to sit on the market. Having done my research on the real estate market and added up the renovation costs, I wasn’t surprised no one was biting at that price. Eventually, I made a more practical argument to my husband about our needs/wants, the neighborhood, the potential for appreciation etc. and got him to agree to take a chance. As a Realtor, I also had some idea of what might be happening behind the scenes with the seller and listing agent growing impatient. We made an offer I thought was fair and… we got it! It turned out to be a win-win for all involved.

After months of pining for this house, it was almost unreal that it actually worked out for us. But like I said, renovations are no joke — we are in the thick of it now. I am still obsessed with designing every corner of the house, except now it is actually time to make those decisions for real. I hope that this blog can serve as part diary as I hash it all out and part entertainment for those of you who care.