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The Story of Our (Very Unplanned) Home Renovations

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For the past three years, I’ve very deliberately written about budget-friendly decorating ideas.

That means that most of the time when I’m decorating, I’m working largely with what I have, scouring the aisles of HomeGoods or Target for decor deals, and throwing in a quick DIY project here and there.

I’ve done this because I know that most of us — including me — don’t have endless cash or time to dump into big projects. Just like you, I’ve got a mortgage to pay, two kids in school and daycare, student loans, and all that fun financial stuff that we all get to deal with when we’re adult-ing.

Big renovations were completely off the table. Until the kids got out of private school, at least.

But if you’ve seen my stories on Instagram lately or read my recent posts on Facebook, you might be sitting there wondering how in the world we wound up with THREE major home projects happening all at the same time.

The kitchen cabinet snafu that started it all

Since we moved into our home five years ago, I’ve always disliked the kitchen.

It wasn’t horrible, but it never felt like us, if ya know what I mean.

Here’s a nice grainy photo from the MRIS listing back when we bought the house in 2014:

Anyway, back in March of this year, Brian noticed that our upper kitchen cabinets to the left of our sink looked like they were sagging. After further inspection, we discovered he was right.

(I talked more about this kitchen cabinet incident  — and shared a couple photos — in this post.)

We panicked, especially because all our heaviest items — think porcelain dish ware and glassware — were in those cabinets.

We decided to remove all the items from those cabinets and then we took the cabinet off the wall.

But we didn’t have a longer-term plan. We just randomly decided to trash one of our cabinets.

In our defense, it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Operation “Save Our Dishes” was in full effect.

About a month later, we had our neighborhood handyman come in and repair the wall.

Then our kitchen looked like this (sorry for the unedited iPhone photo, complete with a cameo from my Swiffer mop handle):

We planned to keep the space fairly open to the left of the sink and add some simple shelving as a temporary fix.

To renovate or not to renovate?

A few weeks later, we started throwing the big “R” word into conversations.


“Should we just bite the bullet and do it? It’s gonna have to happen eventually, anyway.”

We talked to several contractors, and we even met with representatives from Home Depot as well as IKEA’s kitchen department to price out lots of different options.

The result of our meetings? We decided to wait on a major kitchen renovation. We still weren’t ready to take the plunge.

Then we came up with another idea.

New (white) cabinets, who’s this?

Now that we were in “this kitchen needs some kind of help” mode — but had decided against tackling a major renovation — we decided to paint our cabinets.

(Yes, shame on me for being a bad blogger and not writing a post on the cabinet painting process yet. But I promise … it’s coming!)

So my husband worked little by little on nights and weekends to paint our cabinets white.

It was a tedious process but the cabinets looked fabulous when he was done:

Big difference, right?!

Except when he was tackling the final leg of his paint job, he noticed that the other set of upper cabinets we had — these are to the right of our sink — were also pulling away from the wall.

It all felt like a bad scene out of an HGTV show.

The final straw (er, cabinet)

We took all of this as a sign that it was time to get a new kitchen. For real.

No more painting cabinets or doing “Band-Aid” DIY projects.

Yes, it meant we’d have to dip into our “emergency” savings. Which no one ever wants to do, but I guess these are the times when it’s okay. Besides, we’d been saving for home updates, anyway, knowing that there are plenty of ’em on our house to-do list.

So we met with a contractor who’s done lots of work in our neighborhood. We’d seen the kitchens and bathrooms he’s renovated over the years as we’ve visited our friends’ homes. We had plenty of proof that he and his team did great work and were trustworthy, which made us feel confident going into the renovation process.

Choosing cabinets, counter tops, the back splash, and all the other fixtures for the kitchen was actually a pretty painless process for us. I’ve heard plenty of horror stories of couples having knock-down, drag-out fights over counter top materials or kitchen island placement.

Thankfully, Brian and I have always had similar taste in decor … although maybe now that we’ve been married for almost 10 years he’s just resided himself to the fact that I’m usually going to have the final say on anything related to design. Happy wife, happy life, right?!

If you give a mouse a cookie (or a new kitchen …)

When we set out to renovate the kitchen, we hadn’t planned on updating our floors. No, we don’t love them, but they’re cherry wood and in decent shape.

So the original plan was to keep them as is.

But then we discovered that the previous homeowners who DIY’ed a lot of their renovations didn’t put that same hardwood under our cabinets.

And we were planning to change the kitchen layout, which meant we’d be left with some really awkward flooring issues.

Long story short … if you give a girl a new kitchen, she’s gonna need new floors. And because her home’s first floor is pretty open, she’s gonna need those floors on the entire first level. (This really has the makings of a great children’s book.)

Which is exactly how our “big project” tally moved from 1 to 2.

Life (and 1980s homes) are full of surprises

A few Saturdays ago, we had a great meeting with our contractor about the kitchen. Signed the contract, felt excited … this was going to be good.

That’s when we noticed the water spots on the ceiling in the living room.

Our contractor had already left, so I called him Monday morning and asked him to come back and take a look at the ceiling.

We’d had a small water leak in our master bathroom shower about a year ago, but I thought we’d fixed it.

Here’s our master bathroom, by the way. I’ve got another fabulous photo courtesy of the MRIS for ya:

Brown, brown, and more brown. Fifty shades of brown, basically.

He returned early that next week, and as I was waiting for his arrival I was looking around my daughter’s room and noticed the carpet was discolored. (Her bedroom and our master bathroom shower share a wall.)

Then I bent down and touched it. It was wet.

And I moved her nightstand about 12 inches to the right …. and there was a mushroom growing out of the carpet.

Yes, a mushroom. A real freaking mushroom.

After the meeting with our contractor, we learned we had a pretty big water leak in our shower, and were told that whoever redid this master bathroom previously didn’t configure the shower floor correctly. So it was bound to leak at some point.

And all of a sudden we had project #3 on our hands: A new master bathroom shower, plus wall repair and new, non-moldy flooring for my daughter.

Silver linings

While no one likes discovering water spots on their ceiling, or a cabinet that’s pulling away from a wall … I’m a “glass half full” person and like to find the silver linings in every situation.

The bright side? We’re updating a lot of old things in our home — which I’ve wanted to do since the day we moved in.

But these projects weren’t “must haves” until recently. They were filed under the “yeah, that’d be nice to do but we don’t really need to do it right now” category.

Our renovations kicked off this Monday. The shower repair is well underway and the kitchen got demolished yesterday.

Brian was bummed about the kitchen demo, though, because he “wanted to go all Chip Gaines on it” with a sledgehammer but our contractor said no. There were some hopes and dreams destroyed that day.

I can’t wait to share more updates and show you what our new kitchen and bathroom look like! I’m sharing lots of updates daily on Instagram stories. If you aren’t following along with me there, go do it!

In the meantime, please send us all your prayers and good vibes … and if you’re feeling generous, some wine and takeout.


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Saturday 6th of March 2021

Hi! That looks great! I noticed that the cabinet that fell was attached to some sort of stub wall off the ceiling. We have that in our kitchen as well. How difficult was it to remove that? We are planning on doing a kitchen remodel and want to are cabinets to sit higher to the ceiling.

Thanks in advance! Danielle


Saturday 6th of March 2021

Hi Danielle, thanks! Yep, we used to have soffits in our kitchen (that weird wall space between the ceiling and the tops of the cabinets). Our contractor was able to remove ours because there wasn't any plumbing running through it. However, that's something you'll have to check on with your contractor -- sometimes if there's plumbing inside the soffit that means they can't be removed, but usually you won't know that until you have a professional open up the wall space and inspect it. Good luck with your remodel!


Sunday 27th of September 2020

Hello! We are talking about renovating our kitchen in Annandale. It’s a bit smaller than yours. Would you mind sharing information about whether the contractor helped save you money over going with Home Depot? Thank you!


Sunday 27th of September 2020

Hi Christy! I don't know that we *saved* money by working with an independent contractor, but I do believe we got more bang for our buck that way. The interesting thing that I learned about working with Home Depot -- that didn't really become clear to me until we met with a kitchen designer there -- is that there really isn't a huge opportunity for customization. They expect you to buy everything through them (naturally) and you really have to work with what they've got that's in your budget.

By using an independent contractor, you can source things from different vendors (not just one), and they can help you customize your space more. For example, with Home Depot we would've been able to choose from only a handful of cabinet colors. However, because we worked with an independent contractor we were able to get a custom color island at no additional cost (the contractor painted it for us and told us to pick any Sherwin Williams color we wanted). We were told at Home Depot that a painted island was out of the question, unless we wanted to do it ourselves after the fact.


Friday 13th of September 2019

Our house was hit by lightning two weeks ago, so I feel your pain. We're in repair-or-replace mode right now, too. Hoping & praying that all your renovations go well! :-) Look forward to seeing your cool new spaces. I know they'll be great.


Friday 13th of September 2019

Oh my gosh...I'm so sorry that happened to you! Hoping that you and your family were not injured. Good luck with your repairs and home updates! And thanks so much for the kind words about our renovations.

Judith Dreyer

Friday 13th of September 2019

can't wait to see the finished product... Your ideas sound great.


Friday 13th of September 2019

Thank you! There was a bit of a domino effect with the projects, but I'm really excited to see it all eventually come together.


Friday 13th of September 2019

Can’t wait to see it all come together! So excited!


Friday 13th of September 2019

Thank you! I can't wait, either...counting down the days. :)

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