What Wows You? The Little Things


As we’re finishing up the big things on the renovation—the electric, plumbing, floors, painting, etc.—we’re starting to turn our attention to the smaller details we hope will impress potential buyers. Sometimes the smallest features can make a home stand out. For us, things like antique-style crystal doorknobs, soft-closing drawers, and an ice-maker on the fridge helped win us over.

We knew when we started the renovation that we’d be budgeting a bit for these details, and we’ve been brainstorming a list of things we plan to include. Here’s what we’ve got so far:

  • A smart thermostat (likely a Nest)
  • USB-compatible outlets
  • Dual-flush toilets
  • Under-cabinet lighting
  • 6-burner gas stove

So what are we missing? What are some smaller features that help a home stand out in your mind? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Finding Fixtures: Balancing Vintage Style with Modern Needs


via Simply Grove

In our own extensive real estate browsing, we’ve noted how light fixtures can have a huge impact on the feel of the space, so we knew we had to get them right. Cheap, outdated fixtures can really bring down the look of a place, while attractive fixtures, carefully chosen to fit each room, can be a major focal point. We worked hard to find light fixtures that fit the home’s historic vibe while giving an occasional dash of modern style—and fitting within our budget. Because as much as we’d love to outfit the whole house in Schoolhouse Electric lights, that’s just not in the cards.

Here are a few of our finalists that fit the bill for being attractive, functional and affordable. Obviously, we didn’t use them all in the reno—you’ll have to wait for the “after” pictures to see which ones we chose!

Department of the Exterior: Outside Improvements

We’ve spent the last few weeks cleaning up the exterior of the house and building a new privacy fence for the backyard. Let’s take a little trip down memory lane: This is what the house looked like when we first bought it:


It was hiding behind lots and lots of old bushes, plus the home’s original wood screens and lattice were deteriorating badly. We debated just a bit before deciding to pull out all of the bushes, and we’re so glad we did—it really opens up the yard. Here’s how it looks now:


As you can see, we also changed up the lattice under the porch. We’d seen a similar treatment on other homes in the neighborhood, and we liked how it gave them a little more modern look without going overboard. Once it’s painted black (along with the porch floor), it’ll match well with the house numbers and light fixture we’ve chosen, which are both a bit more modern as well. The style of this house is very versatile, which makes details like these fun to play with. Here’s a better look at the fence, which has totally transformed the big backyard of this great corner lot:



We’re not quite done with the exterior yet. We’ve been waiting for a stretch of sunny days to get the house pressure-washed and the trim painted, and once that’s done we can do some landscaping and add our new fixtures. We also got a more period-appropriate front door that will bring some sunlight into the foyer—I just have to decide what color to paint it. Red? Cobalt? Something else? We’ll keep you posted.

Laying the Groundwork: A Very Messy House Update


If you’re wondering why we haven’t posted in awhile, the answer is simple: Because the house is currently in shambles. Our contractors have been hard at work doing all the nitty gritty details like upgrading the electric and plumbing, installing new HVAC and removing the radiators, and framing out new closets and the master bath. It’s not pretty work, but it’s the most important part of this renovation project.

The Kitchen. 
HVAC going in in the dining room.
Upstairs hall bath
Framing in the master bath/laundry closet
Todd and Matthew are slowly pulling out the old bushes.

The contractors still have quite a bit of work to do by our March 31 deadline (yeah—they’re really pushing it). Here’s what’s left for them to do:

  • Tile the bathrooms and install sinks/toilets/showers
  • Drywall the upstairs ceilings
  • Paint the exterior
  • Finish the electric/plumbing/HVAC
  • Refinishing the hardwood floors
  • And a bunch of other stuff

Once they’re done, we can take over. Here’s what’s on our punch list:

  • Painting the interior
  • Installing light fixtures
  • Building privacy fence
  • Installing the kitchen (that’s a biggie)
  • Landscaping

Who wants to come help??

Tips for Choosing a General Contractor


I wish I could say that Todd and I are doing this entire renovation ourselves, but we’re smart enough to know our limits. Besides the fact that we both have demanding full-time jobs, neither of us are the handiest people in the world, so we knew we needed to hire a general contractor to manage the bulk of the work.

Turns out, that’s a little easier said than done. Having never worked with a contractor before, we weren’t even sure where to start looking for one. We also didn’t know how to make sure we were choosing the right one—especially considering that we are essentially putting our investment in his hands, not to mention giving him a big chunk of our funds. Luckily, we learned some things along the way. Here are our tips for finding a contractor, whether you’re doing a small project in your home or a full-scale renovation.

Ask for references. We started out by asking our realtor for some recommendations. Because we specifically chose to work with a real estate firm that’s familiar with home renovations, they had quite a few good contenders in their rolodex. It was a great place to start.

Do your own research. We didn’t want to just blindly take the advice of others without seeing what else was out there, so we did some investigating of our own as well. I looked at local “best of” lists, Houzz, and just browsed Google for sites that appealed to me.

Get multiple quotes. A good contractor will put a lot of effort into creating a thorough quote for your project, and at times I felt guilty for asking potential contractors to spend so much time on something when we might not hire them. But remember: This is how they sell themselves. It’s all part of the process. Get at least three quotes so you can compare them and choose one that works for you.

Don’t automatically choose the lowest quote. We had one contractor who came in with a quote about $25,000 above our budget. But when we told him that we were thinking of going with someone else, he magically dropped it $20K, then another $10K. The price was right, but we felt like he had given us the runaround, and we questioned how much we could trust him.

Find someone who’s comfortable with your type of project. We are renovating a historic home, and it was important to us that we found a contractor who was aware of the needs of this kind of project. One guy seemed perplexed by many standard features of the home, as if he’d never been in an old house before—immediate rejection. Another suggested doing away with several historic features. Nope.

Go with your gut. You’re going to be working closely with this person for several weeks or even months. You really should like them and trust them. If something about them rubs you the wrong way—whether they seem condescending or dishonest or inexperienced—then don’t feel bad about eliminating them from the running. Do your research, trust your instincts, and you’ll find someone to help you get the job done.


Great News for the Neighborhood


When we were hunting for a house to renovate, we always took into account the surrounding homes. Were they in good shape? Were any being renovated? Had any recently sold? For the Griffin house, we were encouraged by a home that had recently sold for an above-average price on the next block, and another that was undergoing a full renovation two doors down.

As we’ve started our own renovation, we’ve watched the house at 3018 Griffin come to completion and hit the market. The renovator, a local realtor, did a great job of maintaining the home’s historical integrity while still giving it a beautifully modern look. He priced it much higher than we expected—$324,950—and we held our breath to see when and if it would sell.

We didn’t have to wait long. The house sold within a day, for above asking price. This is good news for the person who put so much care into this renovation, and very encouraging news for us! Check out all the photos of the house here.

In related news, Zillow recently ranked Richmond as the fourth hottest housing market in the country for 2016.

Demo Days


After receiving a few quotes from contractors, we realized we could shave thousands of dollars off of our renovation costs by doing most of the demolition work ourselves. The last few weeks have been spent pulling up tile, toilets, walls, wallpaper, and more. I’ve got to give credit to Todd, who has done the vast majority of the work himself. (Apparently, he enjoys it.)

kitchen before after.jpg

The kitchen was the biggest demo project. We tore out the giant wooden cabinets, appliances, the sink (saved for later), and part of the walls to make it easier for the electrician to install new wiring. We also pulled up the tile floor when we realized there are wood floors underneath. We’re hoping to restore these, seal them, and keep them for a cohesive look throughout the house.

DSC_0956-2_thumbDSC_1087-2_thumb.jpgNext up, Todd and Erica’s step-brother Matthew tore up the ceramic tile in the upstairs bathroom and found… more tile! This second layer will be nearly impossible to get up, so our contractor suggested that we just tile over it. (We’re thinking of going with something vintage-looking, like this.) And yes, we’re refinishing and keeping the clawfoot tub. We’ll also be installing wainscoting to cover up a thick tile-like wallpaper.


This room may not look like much (in fact, a friend affectionately dubbed it “the murder room”), but this will be the site of one of our biggest projects in the house. Because it’s not really usable as a bedroom (there’s no closet), we’ll be transforming this into a master bathroom, upstairs laundry, and storage space.


We were beyond thrilled to find wood floors under the brown tile. We’re thinking of leaving the wood floors in the master bath rather than tile over them. Thoughts on wood floors in a bathroom? (Here’s an example of a local reno that I loved.)


Also, under the weird orange fabric wallpaper, we found even weirder greenish paint and several layers of wallpaper. Look closely and you can see the tape where we’ve mapped out the double vanity and laundry closet.

With that, most of the demo is done and we’re just waiting to start working with our contractor in the next few weeks. In the meantime, we’ll be shopping for fun things like light fixtures, faucets, and paint colors. Stay tuned!


Found Treasures


The previous owner of the Griffin house did a pretty good job of clearing out her stuff, but we keep finding little leftovers—and the discoveries are more exciting than annoying. Our nephews were thrilled to find an old badminton set and a little lantern tucked in the basement’s ceiling. There’s much more down there, and under the house, that we haven’t had time to sort through.


But my favorite find so far has been in the shed. I was stacking up some old carpet in the corner when I stepped on a small pile of papers. I picked one up and immediately recognized it as a love letter written from a man to the woman he wanted to marry. He expressed how much he missed her, and how it killed him to imagine her with someone else, and how he couldn’t wait until they were reunited. I quickly picked up another piece of paper and found an address and date stamp. It was written in 1942 and sent from a military base. Our romeo was a soldier writing to his sweetheart back home.

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 8.18.17 AM

I hope that we can track down the owner of these letters, or their children. But if not, we may see if a local museum is interested in them. I was also thinking it would be neat to take one of the letters, frame it, and hang it in the house as a reminder of its past.

I’m sure we’ll be finding many more treasures as we continue cleaning up the house. Follow Erica on Instagram for the latest and greatest.

Fifty Shades of Gray (Grout)


When we started the mini renovation of our kitchen at home (which will henceforth be known as The Gray House), I knew that I wanted white stone countertops and classic white 3×6 subway tile on the walls. The question was, what color grout?

If you’ve never gone grout-shopping before, you may not realize that there are a ridiculous amount of options available. We went to the store expecting to make a quick decision, and instead we found ourselves weighing the merits of Charcoal versus Warm Gray versus Delorean Gray.

Here’s how we ultimately made our decision: Pinterest. Over the years, my “Kitchen” board has become filled with images of subway-tiled kitchens, so I did a quick assessment of the spaces I’ve been drawn to. Here’s what I decided:


via Martha Stewart

  • White grout looks classic and clean, but tends to create a one-dimensional look with the white subway tiles. And because our cabinets are off-white, we wanted a bit more contrast. Still, it hides mistakes, which we were expecting to make a few of.


via Lonny

  • Darker grout has a more dramatic look, but it tends to darken a space, and it’s harder to hide mess-ups. It’s also what we had in the kitchen pre-reno, and we wanted a change.


via Our House

  • Light gray grout highlights the pattern of the tile and adds some depth to the backsplash without shining a spotlight on its flaws.

As you may have guessed based on the image at the top of this post, we chose a light gray grout (Keracolor “Silver”) for our backsplash. It went on a bit dark but dried to the perfect shade of pale gray.


Stay tuned for a full post on our backsplash project.

Feeling bold? Check out Apartment Therapy’s roundup of colorful grout options.

To Keep or Not to Keep?


One of the most important things to us as we embark on this renovation project is finding a balance between maintaining the historical integrity of the home while making it attractive to modern buyers. Already we’ve had to ask ourselves some tough questions:

  • The clawfoot tub takes up most of the upstairs bathroom. But it’s beautiful. Can we find a way to work it in?
  • Our realtor suggests getting rid of the mud swirl ceilings. Erica thinks they’re lovely. Todd is undecided.
  • The sink in the kitchen is undeniably cool, but undeniably impractical. Can we use it anywhere?
  • The radiators are in solid shape, and they’re a great heat source. But do modern buyers want them in every room?
  • The home’s original windows are in good shape too, and studies have shown that replacing them actually has a negligible impact on energy costs. But will modern buyers see that?
  • There are hints of features that have been removed over the years, including columns in the foyer and pocket doors between the dining room and living room. Do we invest the money to add those back in?

As we move forward and weigh our options, we’ll be sure to share how we come to a decision on each one of these questions. Have an opinion? Feel free to leave a comment!