The Perplexing Nature of Paint

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I distinctly remember the day we stopped by the Griffin house (our last renovation project) to see the progress the painters had made on the exterior paint job. We drove up, I looked at the house, and I asked Todd, “When are they starting?”

“They’re already done,” he replied.

It was only then that we realized the color we’d chosen, though very different on the paint chip, was so similar to the house’s original color that you couldn’t even tell we’d had it painted. Or that we’d spent about $3000 on it.

After some hormone-fueled tears on the way home (I was about nine months pregnant at the time), Todd made me feel a bit better by reminding me that the house did look cleaner with a fresh coat of paint, even if it looked like the same color. But it was then that we vowed that we would be much more careful when choosing paint colors in the future.

We probably could have gotten by with a power wash and trim touch-up on the Barton house, but we wanted to make it look new. We started by looking at the other houses on the street. We wanted it to stand out from neighbors, but not too much. There are a lot of light beiges and grays on the block, so we opted to add some color and depth.

We briefly considered a sage-ish green, but decided that would blend too much with its surroundings. So we shifted to blue—and that’s when things got complicated. There are about a million shades of blue to choose from. We spent quite a bit of time poring over paint chips and catalogs and Pinterest before deciding we wanted something veering toward navy with gray undertones. But that still left a lot of options.

So then we did something we haven’t done before: We bought paint samples. Lots of them. For both the house color and varying shades of coordinating trim. Our house looked like a patchwork quilt.

And we were reminded that in most cases, the color on the paint chip looks completely different in real life. One beautiful navy looked like purple on the house. A pretty slate blue looked almost pastel. The colors would also look different in the shade versus the sun, and depending on how many coats we applied. Our confusion deepened.

Finally, after many coats of paint and many trips to Lowes, we settled on a color combo we liked: Sherwin Williams’ Slate Tile with Black Magic for the base and trim. The painters aren’t quite finished yet, but we’re really happy with the look so far (forgive the crappy iPhone pic):

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So, the lesson of the day: You can’t be too careful when choosing paint colors.




The Surprise Gut Job


There are few things that can ruin a trip to Paris. One of them, we recently learned, is a text from your contractor saying, “I gutted your house.”

Luckily, this surprise news didn’t completely derail our vacation, but it did put a huge damper on the day, became a topic of frequent discussion for the rest of our trip, and made us extra eager to return home.

After several weeks of talking and negotiations, we’d officially signed with our contractor and gotten him his first check literally the day we left the country. We resigned ourselves to being completely hands-off for the first few weeks of the project, curious how much he would be able to get done while we were away. We were initially drawn to his ambitious schedule—he hoped to be completely finished within six weeks.

Things seemed to be going well until that gut-wrenching text. Our contractor was moving right along with our punch list—which did not, in fact, include gutting the house. The old plaster walls and trim weren’t perfect, but we were fine with them. However, he’d made the executive decision that the house would be better without them.

International calls were made, along with apologies and new agreements. Eventually we decided to let him finish up with phase one, repair what he had done, and reassess when we returned home (to put it simply).

We also decided to make the most of the situation. By taking out all of the walls and ceilings along with some damaged floors, we had unexpectedly been given a blank slate. So we decided to completely redo the electrical, add insulation, add new closets, and change the floor plan a bit. All of this while on vacation an ocean away.

The moment of truth came early this morning, when, heavily jet-lagged after a long day of travel, we went to check out the progress on the house. The walls have been opened up and the new closets have been framed out. HVAC, electrical, and plumbing are well on their way. Damaged floors have been repaired. The exterior has even been painted. It looks… good. Really good.

We have several weeks to go, and a lot is hanging in the balance, but we’re feeling good about where we stand. Here are some photos of where we are about three weeks in.

Opening up the hallway.
Starting to expose the fireplace.
Opened up the wall between the kitchen and dining room, and added French doors on the back.
Framed out laundry closet.
Oliver approves.
Looking into the dining room from the kitchen. Todd removed all of the plaster on this side of the fireplace.
Looking into the new pantry.
Bedrooms with new closets added.
This room will become a master bath in Phase 2.



5 Kitchen Trends We Love

As we mentioned in the last post, the Barton kitchen is on the large side—at least for this style/age of house and neighborhood—and we’re super excited to create this hub of the home. We’ve been playing with different layouts using Ikea’s home planner (addictive), and thinking about how to give the room some style and personality without going overboard—we want potential buyers to easily envision putting their own stamp on the space.

We went fairly basic with our first renovation, with white cabinets, butcher block counters, subway tile, and stainless appliances. We loved the clean look, but we don’t want to do exactly the same thing. Here are a few things we’re considering this time around.

  1. Grey Cabinets

grey cab

White kitchens will probably never go out of style, but the all-white look can feel a bit one-dimensional. That’s why we’re leaning toward a pale gray cabinet instead. In the right shade, it warms up the room and adds an unexpected element, and it pairs beautifully with white subway tile (which we’ll probably use again, just maybe a slightly larger size).

2. Cement Tiles

cement tile

Cement tiles (or cement-look) are definitely very trendy right now, and they may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we love the look of a few placed over a range. It’s a simple, low-cost detail that can have a huge impact. And as trendy as these patterned tiles are, they’ve been decorating buildings in Spain, Portugal, and Morocco for centuries and no one’s complaining.

3. Open Shelving

open shelving 2

Yes, open shelving means you have to make a bit more of an effort when it comes to keeping your dishes organized, but it also means they’re within easy reach. And if you have cute dishes, why not show them off? The look is open and airy, and best of all, installing shelves is a heckuva lot cheaper than a bunch of wall cabinets. We think we can get away with it here because the kitchen will have a big pantry, too.

4. Subway Tile to the Ceiling

subway tile

Because we’re just going with shelves up top, we’re thinking tiling all the way to the ceiling will help create a more finished look. Subway tiles come in a range of sizes, but they always look clean and crisp—and they’re always affordable.

5. Herringbone Floor

herringbone floor

We haven’t decided for sure what to do with the floor—one of us is leaning toward wood to keep a nice flow with the rest of the house. But we also really like the look of a slate-like tile installed in a herringbone pattern.

The Barton House: Before Photos


Some people would walk into a house like this and walk right back out. It’s old. It’s dirty. It needs so much help. But walking into a house like this makes us giddy. We work hard to look past the grime and the years of neglect and see the possibilities. And there are so many of them. We’re so excited to get started on this house!

First, the exterior. It doesn’t look awful, but we’ll be painting it (stay tuned for a post on choosing exterior paint colors), completely replacing the roof, replacing the front door, landscaping, installing a fence, redoing the sidewalk, installing porch railings, replacing the light fixtures, and doing other minor repairs.



Inside, the layout is very segmented, with every room situated off of a main hallway. We plan to open this up as much as we can, including the walls between the living and dining rooms (above) as well as the hallway. This should brighten things up quite a bit and improve the flow dramatically. The fireplace will be a challenge to work around, but we’re excited about the wood floors and great natural light.


Of course, the kitchen is a complete gut job (as it would be in any older home). But if we’re able to open up the walls between the kitchen, dining room, and mudroom, we’re going to have a ton of space to work with. We may be able to add a walk-in pantry, an island, and a little breakfast nook if all goes according to plan. As for the overall look, we’re thinking of using classic subway tile again, a nice slate tile floor in a herringbone pattern, quartz or granite counters, open shelving on one wall, and some really great lighting. We want to make this room a real gathering place in the home.


There are technically four bedrooms upstairs, but one is very small without a closet. We’ll either turn that space into a master bath or a walk-in closet/dressing room, depending on how our budget shakes out.


This is the current state of the upstairs bath. Unlike the Griffin house, we won’t be keeping the clawfoot in this reno. It’s just too big for the space, which is pretty compact. Instead, we’ll be adding a new tub with a tile surround. The downstairs bath is pretty much too small to photograph, but we’re hoping to do something fun in there, like a patterned floor tile.


The bedrooms are all a good size, but as with most of these older homes, the closets are tiny. We could either eat into the floor space by adding new closets, or hope buyers will be OK with what we’ve got. We always lean toward the latter option, because we prefer to keep the square footage.


This house has a great backyard with both shady and sunny spots. We’ll be removing that old balcony and replacing the door with a window. We’ll also add a privacy fence around the whole shebang.

Next steps: We’re getting quotes from contractors and starting to put together our budget and shopping list, with everything from tile and light fixtures to appliances and doorknobs. Luckily, we learned a thing or two from our last renovation, so this stage will be quicker—and probably more fun—than last time.

Want to see what’s inspiring us? Take a peek at our Barton House Pinterest board, which we’ll be updating on the regs.

On to the Next: The Barton House


After many months of waiting, we can finally share some news we’ve been excitedly sitting on: We have purchased another house to renovate! And we’ve already learned something from this experience: Short sales are no joke. Seriously. Lots of red tape. Lots of back-and-forth. Lots of waiting. But it was worth it, because we got a great deal on this house.

And it’s a good thing we did, because it is going to need a lot of work. Previously used as a halfway house, it’s in serious need of TLC. It needs a brand-new roof, new HVAC, and all-new kitchen and bathrooms. Refinished floors and significant exterior improvements. Not to mention all the little things like paint, light fixtures, and landscaping. The current layout isn’t great, so we’re planning to tear down a lot of walls, too.

A few things we love about this house: The big, shady backyard. The spacious kitchen (we’re planning to put in an island). The original tile fireplace. The beautiful wood floors that just need a little work. The spare room upstairs that will either become a master bath or walk-in closet. The location just off up-and-coming Brookland Park Blvd., spitting distance from Black Hand Coffee and The Luncheonette.

Stay tuned, as we’ll be documenting the process once again from beginning to end. We can’t wait to share the journey of this house with you!

Richmond’s Cobblestone Group Getting HGTV Show


When we first moved to Richmond, we noticed that a lot of the renovations in the neighborhood had a look that we really loved. We soon learned that they were the work of the Cobblestone Group, a renovation and construction firm run by husband-and-wife team Josh and Breese Romano. Since then, we’ve loved following their growth, and they’ve served as an inspiration for our own foray into home renovations.

We’re so excited, then, to hear that the Cobblestone couple is getting their own show on HGTV called Richmond Rehabbers! This is great news for this hard-working young company, and great news for our city. Best of all, the pilot episode features a renovation happening in our own neighborhood of Battery Park. They’ve transformed many dilapidated homes in the area, and we can’t wait to get a closer look at their process.

Check out Cobblestone’s website to see some of their impressive transformations (like this amazing flip on our block, pictured below), and read the article about HGTV’s Richmond Rehabbers here.


Renovation Resources: Our Favorite Places to Shop

Shopping for a renovation project can be fun, but it can get overwhelming fast. You may have to buy faucets, light fixtures, cabinets, doorknobs, tile, paint, and a whole host of other things—and you want them all to be just right, right? Unfortunately, you’re not likely to find everything you need at a big box store. You’ll have to do some digging.

Our advice: Take it slow, if you can. Focus on one need at a time, rather than trying to pick out everything at once. Say you’re trying to decide on a light fixture for your foyer? Settle onto the couch and pull up Pinterest. Browse for a bit, saving your favorite images. Once you notice a trend that consistently appeals to you, head over to a few favorite sites and start shopping. Keep those tabs open, compare prices, and then pull the trigger. Then move on to your next need!

After our first renovation project, we uncovered some favorite resources for attractive and budget-friendly items. Here are our favorites. What are yours?


Light Fixtures — We’re firm believers that a good light fixture can transform a room, and for that reason they’re worth investing in. Our favorite sites for vintage-inspired fixtures are Schoolhouse Electric and Barn Light Electric. That said, you can often find much more affordable versions of these lights at Wayfair, which is by far the resource we use the most. Even Lowes and Home Depot have really stepped up their lighting game lately, so don’t overlook them.


Tile — We are obsessed with Floor and Decor. It’s a massive store with tons of tile at reasonable prices. They even offer free classes on tile and floor installation on the weekends. Browsing the tile in-person is the best, but they also have everything available online. If you like cement tile, Overstock has a pretty good selection.


Sinks — If you like farmhouse sinks, Ikea has one of the more affordable ones we’ve run across. The Scandi superstore has some great sink cabinets as well, though many of them do scream “Ikea.” (Try swapping out the hardware for a more custom look.) Wayfair also has some good sinks, and even Amazon has a nice selection — it’s worth it to search for anything you find on Amazon to make sure you can’t get a better price. We had to buy an extra-small pedestal sink for one of the bathrooms in our last renovation, and we found it at Signature Hardware.

Faucets — For bathrooms and kitchens, we’ve found good faucets all over—Lowes, Ikea, Amazon, Wayfair. If you need something special (like we needed for the clawfoot tub in our renovation house), try House of Antique Hardware. Amazon tends to have the cheapest selection—just be sure to read the reviews to make sure you’re not getting a piece of crap.

Bathroom Fixtures — Towel racks, toilet paper holders, etc.—I usually order the Moen brand from Amazon. Classic, and cheaper than anywhere else.


Cabinets — Ikea all day!

Appliances — We haven’t found any one store that has better prices than any other—it just depends on what kind of sales they’re offering at any given time. We do try to shop around big sales (like Memorial Day or Presidents Day), and just get the store to hold the appliances if we’re not quite ready for install. If you shop at the store a lot, it’s also a good time to open a credit card—you can often get a nice percentage off your purchase, or get 0% APR for a year, if you’d like to wait to pay it off. In the past, we’ve bought appliances at Lowes and Best Buy.

Door Hardware — We usually go with basic bronze doorknobs for both interiors and exteriors, and Amazon has the best prices. House of Antique Hardware has some really cool stuff if you’re going for a vintage vibe.

Mirrors — We like to think outside the box when it comes to bathroom mirrors—i.e. don’t limit yourself to vanity mirrors or medicine cabinets. Target has a nice affordable selection—like this beautiful round brass mirror that would be perfect for a powder room.

Doors — We have some good local resources for salvage doors (Paul’s Place and Caravatti’s), but need help finding more modern options. Any leads?




How We Financed Our First Flip


After sharing our last post on how much we made on our first flip, several people asked us how we actually financed the project. We don’t have wealthy families backing us, and neither of us makes a ton of money in our day jobs—I’m a part-time editor and freelance writer, and Todd is a small business owner who pays himself a modest salary. So how did we come up with the cash to get into real estate investing?

The short answer is, we used money from the sale of our first house to pay for the renovation, and we were able to get a second mortgage because our own home in Richmond was so affordable. The long answer is, a fair amount of research and strategy has gone into every house we’ve bought (going on four now), and luck has been a big factor, too. [Disclaimer: We are not financial advisers and we don’t pretend to be experts on real estate or investing. These are just some things we’ve picked up over the years.]

We bought our first house in Charleston, S.C. in 2011. At the time, I was making $30K a year as an editor at a local paper, and Todd’s business was so young that the bank wouldn’t count his salary toward our mortgage application—so we didn’t have a lot to work with. Our budget was maxed out at $150K, and our options were limited, but we felt like we were throwing our money away on rent.

Our friends encouraged us to buy in the suburbs, where our money would stretch further. But we didn’t see much investment potential there, so we focused our search on one small area on the outskirts of Charleston that might generously be described as “up-and-coming.” Drugs, shootings, hookers, you name it—North Central had it all.

But there were also a few reasons we felt confident it was on the upswing: It was close to downtown (which was rapidly moving northward), it was adjacent to two much nicer neighborhoods, and it was filled with charming historic homes, a growing number of which were being renovated. After looking for about a year, we bought a 700-square-foot cottage at the high end of our budget (pictured above). We got more than a few raised eyebrows from concerned friends at our housewarming party.

Less than four years later, we sold the house for nearly double what we paid for it, and walked away with close to $150,000.

Of course, this isn’t typical. Charleston’s real estate market is insane, and we got really lucky with our timing. We couldn’t even afford to buy on the peninsula if we lived there now. But after doing so well with that house, we knew that there was only one way we wanted to invest the money we made: with more real estate. And that’s when we decided to try our hands at flipping a house.

A few months before selling the Charleston house, we’d decided to move to Richmond from Boston, where we had been renting an apartment. We realized we could never afford to buy anywhere close to Boston, so we started casually Trulia-stalking different cities, and Richmond stood out because of the number of big, beautiful, historic homes that were surprisingly affordable. Most of the houses we found were located in an area, Barton Heights, that seemed a lot like North Central in Charleston—close to the city, close to more expensive neighborhoods, and with a fair amount of renovated houses on the market alongside cheap fixer-uppers. We flew down for a visit, fell in love with the area, and made an offer on our house.

We paid $175,000 for the house, which was about $125,000 less than we were approved for. This gave us the wiggle room to get a second mortgage for our first investment property several months later. As a side note, our own house now appraises for closer to $300K, which means we have enough equity in the property to give us another borrowing option if we need it.

Again, we’ve lucked out a bit with our house purchases so far, but I don’t think you need a windfall to get started in real estate investments. Here are our key takeaways:

  • Buy as soon as you can afford to. If you can scrape together enough for a down payment, you’ll often find the mortgage payment is cheaper than (or at least comparable to) rent (depending on where you live, of course).
  • By placing a home’s investment potential at the top of your list—right alongside a master bath and open floor plan, or whatever else you want out of a home—you’re more likely to walk away with a profit when you move on to your next home.
  • Don’t be afraid to live in an “up-and-coming” area—they usually aren’t as bad as they seem at first glance.
  • Be ready to get out while the gettin’s good. In other words, if you can sell your house and make some money—which you can use to repeat the process again—it’s often worth the hassle of moving.

How Much We Made On Our First Flip


Anyone who’s watched their share of HGTV knows that flipping houses is a risky business that can have a big reward. So how did we do with our first flip? I’ve avoided discussing the financial aspects of this venture for fear of seeming tacky, but I realize it’s one of the details people are most curious about (not to mention the numbers are right there on Zillow). So here it is: the nitty gritty on our first renovation project.

We bought the house in December 2015 for $102,500. At the time, the house was priced on the high side for its condition—livable, but in need of a complete renovation to bring it up to date. Similar houses in the neighborhood were going for under $100K, but most were being snatched up by cash buyers within a day or two of hitting the MLS. So we raised our budget slightly and snagged the Griffin house.

Our then-realtor (whom we have since parted ways with) estimated that we could renovate the house for about $40,000. Renovated houses in the area were selling for about $200,000, so we felt safe with the investment potential—especially given that our contractor assured us he’d be done within six weeks.

Well, six months passed, and it became obvious that our original budget was unrealistic for the quality of work we wanted to do. We gutted the kitchen and two bathrooms, added a new master bath, refinished the floors, updated the electrical and plumbing, added HVAC, did work on the roof, and a bunch of other stuff. Our final tally was around $75,000.

We grew anxious as our costs increased, but at the same time, housing prices in the neighborhood were rising as well, including one house two doors down that sold for over $300,000. We crossed our fingers and hoped the trend would continue, but the market took a bit of a dip just in time for our July completion date—summer doldrums are no joke in the real estate world. Still, things were better than when we started, and we listed the house for $265,000. After a few weeks with no bites, we lowered the price to $259,500, and a few weeks later we sold it for $256,500.

So the final tally is:

Purchase price: $102,500

Renovation costs: $75,000 (ish)

Sales price: $256,500 (- ~$5,000 toward closing costs)

Realtor fees (6 percent of sales price): $15,390

Taxes (approx. 20 percent of profit—still waiting for final numbers) & Fees ($3000ish in interest): $20,000ish

Total earnings: $38,610

We put a lot of hard work and time into this renovation, but it was worth it—we were very happy with the results. We also learned a lot, and I think we can shave down our renovation costs in the future, and maybe be more strategic about when we go to market—and how we work with our contractors. We’re definitely planning to do another renovation project in the near future. In fact, we’re currently under contract with another house in the neighborhood. Stay tuned for all the nitty gritty on our next renovation!

A Bath Renovation for Under $1000

It’s been a few months since we wrapped up our first renovation project, and we’re happy to report that the house sold within a few weeks! Since then, we’ve been busy adjusting to life with a newborn, but that hasn’t stopped us from working on our own house between naps, feedings, and diaper changes.

The upstairs bathroom has always been one of our least favorite rooms in the house, with builder-grade beige tiles and cheap light fixtures, a particleboard vanity, and a drab paint job. We’ve considered hiring someone to update both of our bathrooms at the same time, while adding a third master (more on that later), but in a fit of DIY inspiration, we decided to do it ourselves.

The project is still underway, but we wanted to share our plans before the big reveal. We’ll include the final numbers in the next post, but here’s a peek at what we’re up to:

Budget Bath Update