We bought our first home in May 2010-a creamy yellow, builder-basic cape cod. The moment we walked in, we saw potential. Not only did this home become a place we adored, but by saving money taking on projects ourselves and making good design decisions, we were able to increase the home’s value nearly two-fold and set ourselves up well for our future. Nearly every surface inside and out was touched over our 5.5 years here. We sold our home (within days!) around Christmas 2015. Although it was difficult to walk away, we had completed what we set out to do and knew in our hearts that it was time for our next chapter. Feel free to take a trip down memory lane with us.
Our first impression of this house was “where is the driveway?” The shared driveway was confusing from an approach-standpoint and even more puzzling was that it ran parallel to the front of the house in order to access the garage at the far end of it. There was no landscaping to speak of-just some really tall weeds. A couple of rickety, makeshift steps led to a lackluster front door with pitted, shiny brass hardware. A broken sconce and cracked, plastic doorbell completed the sad scene.
We moved the driveway so that it no longer ran in front of the house, created a new walkway from the driveway to the house with slate pavers set in pea gravel, leveled the front lawn, seeded new grass, wrapped the windows and doors in wider trim and built a front porch with extra-wide, welcoming steps. We also formed planting beds on either side of the porch, brought in some freestanding planters for annuals, swapped out the old light next to the front door, added matching lights flanking the garage door, painted the front door a bold blue hue and installed new brushed nickel hardware. A beautiful, vintage doorbell replaced the old, cracked, plastic guy. Finally, black hardware on the garage really brought home the cape cod look and helped to break up the large expanse of white.
The entryway led directly into the kitchen and dining areas. Although we could see the potential the moment we walked in the door, there was a lot to be desired initially. From your vantage point at the front door, you could see four different colors: mustard yellow, brown, gray (with green undertones) and greenish-blue. This really cramped what could potentially be an open, airy vibe. Disjointed flooring with one half of the first floor sporting vinyl and the other half carpet that had definitely seen better days.
Although we did not expand the physical square footage of this area, we made several changes that grew the space visually and functionally. One of the smallest but most dramatic changes was reconfiguring an awkward, angular wall between the entryway and the kitchen to make it more visually and spatially pleasing. Simply squaring off this wall increased the peninsula seating real estate and made the kitchen and dining area feel more connected. Never underestimate the power of seemingly small changes. We also ripped up the vinyl flooring, laid handscraped Acacia hardwood flooring, hung art and painted the inside of the door a soothing greenish blue. We polished off the space by adding chunky crown molding, wider door trim and taller base trim, all with a fresh coat of glossy white.
The kitchen started off with track lighting over the sink, mustard-yellow walls, vinyl flooring, laminate countertops and orangey cabinets with no hardware. Oh and the only appliance in sight was a dishwasher. Our toaster oven got a lot of use back in those days. The smart layout was this kitchen’s saving grace. Although we loved the size and flow of the space, it felt like a trek to get from one side to the other while cooking. We knew we could optimize efficiency with the addition of an island.
We kept the same basic footprint of the original kitchen but everything else got the boot. The vinyl flooring was replaced with more hardwoods, we designed and installed all-new, custom cabinetry and quartz countertops and we brought in stainless steel appliances. The island sported a butcher block top that juxtaposed beautifully with the sparkly white quartz. To offset some of the darker, light-absorbing elements in the space, like the cabinets and flooring, we chose reflective materials like subway tile that stretched from the counter to the ceilings and polished nickel accents sprinkled throughout the space. We painted the one non-tiled wall gray to flow with the rest of the first floor and a narrow wall near the pantry got a magnetic chalkboard application to add a touch of whimsy to the otherwise formal space. The windows were trimmed in white and showcased white wooden blinds. The subway tile and cabinets were all capped with crown and we added over- and under-cabinet lighting. We swapped out the track lighting over the sink for two pendants and added two electrical boxes over the peninsula where we hung two complementing pendants. Our center ceiling light went to live at the thrift store and a simple semi-flushmount went up in its place. All of the lights that we installed were placed on dimmer switches, including the cabinet lighting. A reverse osmosis (RO) drinking system that had dual valves, one for tepid and one for near-boiling water (for tea!) made us feel pampered daily. The extra large, single basin sink was our baby. We so loved that thing and can say with certainty that we will never go back to a two-chamber sink after enjoying that one for nearly two years. The last bell and whistle was the nightlight that came on automatically in the dark with three brightness settings that we installed to make wee hour feedings with our new baby more pleasant.
The Dining Area
When we bought this house, the off-center light taunted us and the vinyl flooring had seen better days. Yellow and brown graced the walls, making the space completely disjointed from the gray walls in the living room.
This space was one of our favorite before and afters. The window was widened visually by adding white wooden blinds and ikat curtains hung high and wide. We bought a second-hand china cabinet, separated the top from the bottom, stripped and refinished the piece and created built-in wine storage that took the cabinet up to the height of the ceiling and allowed it to become built in with the crown. A new light-centered to the window-defined this as the dining area. Many a great memory were made around that table.
The list of offenses brought on by this space were numerous: vinyl flooring (hey, at least they were consistent!), dark greenish-blue walls, a medicine cabinet that protruded into the room, a bisque-colored toilet, a faux marble laminate countertop and a ho-hum faucet. And don’t even get us started on the orangey-wood vanity, hollow core door and trim. But the pièce de résistance was the light. Ariel called. She wants her shells back.
This was one of the first rooms we renovated-for obvious reasons. We tore nearly everything out, including the countertop, vanity, toilet and flooring, then went to work putting the pieces back. We reinforced the subfloor to hold the weight of tile, installed polished travertine floor tile and hung crisp white wainscoting, detailed trim and an accent tile band around the perimeter of the room. We continued the band of tile above the preexisting shower module for a super luxe and unified vibe for very little cost. The top portion of the walls got a coat of beige to contrast with the white trim. We brought in a rich, mahogany vanity with a complementing over-john cabinet for extra storage in this closetless space. The cabinet doors and drawers got some slow-close hardware and brushed nickel knobs and pulls. A granite countertop with integrated undermount sink and new faucet were such a sight for sore eyes. The preexisting mirror was trimmed out for a more custom look and flanking sconces were added. We installed a bright white toilet with a slow-close lid (This is a sanity savor, all you mamas out there!). A rainshower head and new shower trim kit helped the old shower module tie into all the newer finishes in the space. Finally, no “Meghan and Marco room” would be complete without art. Over our years here, we received more compliments on this room than any other in the house…until we completed our master bathroom, that is. Goes to show you that kitchens and bathrooms really do sell.
The entryway from the garage was basically just a hallway with a washer and dryer plopped down in it when we first laid eyes on the house…minus the actual appliances. There was a narrow but deep linen closet in place, but no coat closet or shoe storage in sight. This was not functional whatsoever for our family as we entered the home nearly 100% of the time through the garage. The floor was vinyl and the walls were mustard yellow.
The vision for this transformation was all Marco. He proposed moving the washer and dryer hookups to the basement, then building a custom area with a bench for shoe storage and a coat closet in place of the old W/D. Most couples go on a honeymoon right after they get married-we stay home and play with power tools. Match made in heaven. The finished product boasted two walls covered in a charming wallpaper, travertine floors, new lighting, a bold blue service door leading to the garage and rope lighting inside the coat closet that turned on/off when one of the French doors to the closet was opened/closed. We ripped the original linen closet shelving and hollow core door out and replaced them as well.
The Living Room
The living room was a great size and was a private oasis for us, positioned at the back of the house with views of the Oconomowoc River and nature preserve beyond. A sliding glass door led to another set of seen-better-days steps, a forest of dead trees and an overgrown backyard. The creamy white carpeting was stained and the fibers were fuzzy in the high-traffic walkways. Black, faux-marble tile on the fireplace surround and hearth provided no contrast for the wooden mantle. What’s more, the tile was made of some sort of plastic and melted when sparks landed on the hearth. Most of the walls were a warm gray tone which we ended up extending into many other areas of the first floor, however, the stair wall was dark greenish-blue like the bathroom and shrunk the room visually. An ugly boob light was the final nail in this room’s coffin. In a nutshell, the room seriously lacked personality.
We extended the hardwoods into this room for some major flow throughout the first floor. A small sample of the gray wall paint was found in the basement. We had it color-matched, then repainted the entire room-including the stair wall-with a fresh coat. We trimmed out the thresholds, windows and sliding glass door with white trim. We then went to work, adding crown molding and tall baseboard trim. Some gauzy, white curtains kept the room light and bright but helped filter the harsh sun in the afternoon when the room got the most direct sunlight. The windows and sliding door framed a stunning view of the river that ran through our backyard. Our fireplace received a makeover as well. We ripped out the old, plastic tile surround and replaced it with marble in a herringbone pattern. The hearth acquired large marble squares that we abutted to eliminate grout lines and, consequently, grout stains from soot. The mantle was put back in place and was gorgeous against the new, contrasting tile.
The Guest Room
The guest room just off the living room was another beige box. This room had some really great features. The room had a nice, large window like the living room. An extra-wide and extra-deep closet made storage a breeze. The carpet extended into this room from the living room, but unlike the LR, this carpeting was immaculate. Finally, the generous square footage was more than adequate to fit a queen sized bed along with additional furnishings. The closet was closed off by a set of sliding doors that did not allow for seeing the full closet at one time. The hollow core door and shiny brass hardware matched that of the rest of the house and the orangey trim extended into this space.
The closet underwent a full redesign that became Meghan’s main closet (wearing scrubs most days, everyday access to her closet was not a necessity). We built custom shelving to house both folded items and hanging clothes. The sliding doors were swapped with a beautiful set of French doors that made viewing the entire contents of the closet a treat. More interior rope lighting was installed to allow the closet light to automatically turn on/off when the doors were opened/shut. The door to the room was given a matching paneled door. Ralph Lauren suede texture paint in a deep coffee bean color enveloped the room. The ceiling even got its own special treatment: metallic copper. This kept light bouncing around the darkly-painted room. The room was wrapped in crown molding and beefy baseboard. A black string chandelier and sconces flanking the bed provided some nice, customizable lighting for our guests’ needs. Art and accessories polished off the space.
The high-pile carpeting on the stairs didn’t match the living room carpeting and the two spaces ran right into one another. Despite many cleaning sessions, our vacuum cleaner was still pulling up pet fur from the previous owners years after we moved in. The wall that the spindles rested on was dark greenish-blue and dinged up. The railings, spindles and posts, too, had seen better days. There was no light above the stairwell which made climbing the stairs to our bedroom each night a bit of an obstacle course.
We hung a chandelier on a dimmer switch that could be controlled from both the bottom and top of the stairs. We ripped up that old carpet, patched the holes left by the staples, sanded everything down, stained the treads to match our hardwood floors, painted the risers and spindles a crisp white and laid a cushy rug pad and runner rug.
The Loft (turned Nursery)
Standing at the bottom of the staircase looking up, the wall to the right did not exist. A railing enclosed a large loft when we bought the house. Though this space worked well to store things that were in limbo from other rooms as we remodeled, we knew it would not stay a catchall space forever. There were two can lights in place, which were inadequate to illuminate the large space. The walls were painted army green and the same shaggy carpeting was underfoot.
We erected a wall to create a third bedroom, framed and added a door, painted the walls a soothing warm gray, reinforced and leveled the subfloor, laid hardwood floors, installed a fan for ventilation and added two dimmable chandeliers to better illuminate the space. We hung white wooden blinds and curtains. Twin closets (with more auto switches) made the most comfy little nest for our little bird. Some meaningful art also earned a spot.
The Master Bedroom
This room had many strange angles where the walls and ceiling meet. The walls were a sort of greige with yellow-green undertones. The ceiling was glaring white. The contrasting paint only amplified the weird angles. The lighting was poor and the doors-the only non-hollow doors in the entire house when we bought it-were stained a very orange color with shiny polyurethane to really exaggerate the effect.
We painted the entire space-walls and ceiling-a cohesive white. With some minor upgrades: chandelier, paint and furniture placement, this space became our relaxing retreat.
The Master Bathroom
Oh dear. Worst space ever. There was a strange half wall with nothing beyond it. A gigantic jetted tub and a claustrophobic shower made absolutely no sense. The tile was a boring, ugly ceramic variety. Dark brown paint felt heavy and dirty. The vanity had a single cavity which made storage a challenge. The crowning glory: there was only half a toilet seat. Why?? The door swung into the room and created a traffic jam where the shower, vanity and doorway intersected.
This room saw one of the largest labors of love we have ever given a space. We gutted this room to the studs, added insulation to make the dormer room more energy efficient and completely reconfigured the layout. The heated floor (set on a timer!) was the epitome of luxury. The shower was expanded both physically and visually by incorporating shiny subway tile and a glass enclosure that allowed light to stream through the space. We sold the jetted tub and brought in a much more space-appropriate clawfoot model. We even incorporated speakers into the room which could be operated from a wall unit near the tub. A double sink, wooden vanity with a marble top and polished nickel hardware was a stunning addition and added warmth to the cool space. New sconces and chandeliers on dimmers were such welcome upgrades. We even designed a custom toilet paper cubby and installed an integrated child toilet seat. This room truly was a masterpiece when we were done with it.
The pier was barely wide enough for a single person to navigate safely. We longed for an area to sit and watch the water flow, taking in the beauty of the nature conservancy beyond. We saw countless wildlife during our time here, including adorable fawns with their mamas and one particularly captivating encounter with a massive buck just across the water.
We built a deck that led to a new, wider pier, with a landing spot to enjoy the river. We installed a solar powered cap light on one of the posts and bought a secondhand table and chairs to give us a place to dine al fresco. We used this space often and were so happy we invested the time and energy early on to transform it.