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Essay

Finding Peace and Quiet in a Longterm Renovation

by Lauren Chorpening

I’ve always known I wanted a fixer-upper. I’m not afraid of things being chaotic for a season if it means my husband and I can live in a place that really feels like us. My mom was incredibly hands-on with my childhood home. Weekends were for trips to the home improvement store 30 miles away. The secret to living in a house that needed some love, I learned, was to do it in stages and keep the other areas of the house (even if they need updates too) as livable as possible. The house Austin and I just bought in January is much more of a renovation project than my home growing up, but the lessons of small steps and first-things-first made this project seem feasible when we first saw it.

After four months, there’s not a single room that looks the way it did when we moved in — some for better and some for worse (for now). While we knew it wouldn’t be a five-week start-to-finish project like an HGTV series, we have been surprised at how quickly some of the most intense rooms have been transformed. We’re still in the thick of renovations but only two rooms are left to be finished on the first floor, and that feels like such an accomplishment. There will come a day when I don’t have to pull up the rug in the kitchen for fear it will get trashed by all of the building materials and plaster-covered shoes going in and out. There will be a time when we get ready in a bathroom that doesn’t have plastic sheeting covering up asbestos insulation and rotting wood surrounding the shower. Some day soon we will have kitchen cabinets that don’t grind fine metal shavings onto all of our cookware. But even with those daily annoyances, we already feel at home in our space (and we know it’s a privilege to live in a home we can fix) because before we moved in, we made a plan to make some low-priority projects the first ones to be done.

The bright orange walls, yellow trim and popcorn ceilings in our living room and dining room were refinished in the two days after we got the keys. Cosmetic updates could have been the least of our concerns with some of the major trouble going on in the rest of the house. There were holes in the ceilings of a few rooms, leaking pipes and illegal electrical, but we painted the living room, dining room and our bedroom first. The third day after closing, movers brought over all of our belongings. Since Austin and I knew that the months (and potentially years) to follow would be full of plaster dust, plastic doorways and a list of projects that would seem endless, painting the main living space before our furniture arrived was our chance at normalcy (in a small way) during our big undertaking. Having a clean, comfortable space in the middle of our chaos has been invaluable. We’ve been able to rest and retreat from the mess and anxiety of unfinished projects.

Attitude and realistic expectations have played a huge role in how we’ve coped with the ongoing projects, especially since we both work from home. We don’t have set timelines on when each project will get finished. Apart from our plumbing and electrical updates that we hired out in February, Austin is doing most of the work himself and with family. Doing it this way allows him the ability to focus on his business deadlines rather than a reno deadline. And when I need extra quiet to write or work, I can run to a coffee shop or indoor projects get put on hold for the afternoon.

It’s not always convenient to live inside a renovation but we’ve honestly loved our time so far. We’ve been able to make the living spaces livable and accept that the in-progress rooms will get done when they get done. –Lauren

Photography by Austin Day

Finding Peace and Quiet in a Long Term Renovation | Design*Sponge
1/11
We've been adding layers to this space over the last four months. We had custom shelves made for the corner since there isn't much floor space for surfaces in the living room. We also got new, extra deep chairs from Article that I work from most days. The space felt a little "floaty" when we first brought our furniture here, but it keeps feeling more and more finished. Originally we were going to replace the living room light fixture with a modern one but have decided that cleaning it up and replacing the glass globes will be more fitting.
Finding Peace and Quiet in a Long Term Renovation | Design*Sponge
2/11
We were really fortunate to not have any structural, plumbing or electrical issues in the living room and dining room spaces. Scraping the popcorn ceilings, painting the walls and trim and decorating have made these two rooms feel like home since the beginning.
Finding Peace and Quiet in a Long Term Renovation | Design*Sponge
3/11
We've had so much help from family and friends on this project. Having a place to eat lunch together in the middle of a labor-intensive day has been a great morale booster.
Finding Peace and Quiet in a Long Term Renovation | Design*Sponge
4/11
Not all is as pulled together as it seems. Thankfully this is the last room that looks like this - though for a while, Austin's office was also a dumping ground for frequently used tools and moving boxes. We have a large, unfinished basement where we'll add tool storage in the future. This room will be a family room with a sectional and our TV - though we've actually enjoyed being without a TV these last few months.
Finding Peace and Quiet in a Long Term Renovation | Design*Sponge
5/11
Austin's office had leaking pipes in the ceiling. When we came to do our final walk-through a few days before closing, we realized that the furnace had died and that the pipes in the bathroom above Austin's office had burst. Unfortunately, the sellers were unwilling to work with us on fixing it so we chose to move forward with the closing and to pay for the damages ourselves.
Finding Peace and Quiet in a Long Term Renovation | Design*Sponge
6/11
The kitchen isn't connected to the dining room which I thought would be hard to get used to, but having it at the back of the house has been really nice. Our back door leads to a garden that the previous owner spent 50 years landscaping, and walking out to get branches or fresh flowers is a daily breather from the constant projects.
Finding Peace and Quiet in a Long Term Renovation | Design*Sponge
7/11
The kitchen is small but functional so far. The layout wasn't great when we moved in but since they are modular, we were able to rearrange the space to add a dishwasher and more counter space.
Finding Peace and Quiet in a Long Term Renovation | Design*Sponge
8/11
We still plan to replace the cabinetry since there's metal and rust dust on everything we store in them. Creating a new layout meant that the current counters didn't work so we got a few pieces of butcher block and have loved how functional and pretty it has made the space.
Finding Peace and Quiet in a Long Term Renovation | Design*Sponge
9/11
As unfinished as this space is, we love cooking in here. We wanted a dishwasher and we had to replace the 60-year-old refrigerator so we got a new set of appliances and gave the gas stove that came with the house to my parents. We've entertained more in the last 3 months than we did combined in the 2 years in our apartment. Working appliances and counter space make all the difference.
Finding Peace and Quiet in a Long Term Renovation | Design*Sponge
10/11
The upstairs guest bathroom was in pretty sad shape. The leak in the roof that had caused the damage had been fixed in 2009 but the previous owners left the bathroom ceiling exposed after. There was plaster damage in almost every wall.
Finding Peace and Quiet in a Long Term Renovation | Design*Sponge
11/11

Austin and his dad have been working on mudding the new cement board and drywall to get the guest bath ready for tile. This project has taken the longest but we are so excited to have a nice clean place to get ready so we can start working on the bathroom off of our bedroom.

SOURCE LIST

Living Room
Couch — West Elm Antwerp
Chairs — Article Luxu Chair in Cedar Green
Rug — RugsUSA
Coffee Table — Capsule Home
Lamp — West Elm
Shelves — Joshua Moland
Shelf Brackets — World Market
Curtains — IKEA

Dining Room
Table — CB2
Leather Molded Chairs — West End Salvage
Side Chairs — Wayfair
Light Fixture — CB2
Rug — E-Carpet Gallery
Lamp — CB2
Mirror — West Elm
Credenza — IKEA
Cloud Print — Max Wanger Print Shop
Desert Print — Austin Day

Kitchen
Refrigerator — Whirlpool
Stove — Whirlpool
Dishwasher — Whirlpool
Rug — E-Carpet Gallery

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Comments

  • This looks lovely & I much prefer living in a space and figuring out the best layout rather than ripping everything out in the beginning. Also time really helps putting things into perspective later. After completely renovating our 140 squaremeter flat five years ago and living in between boxes and chaos, we now reminisce about this time in our lives.

    I would have loved to see the garden though :) would be really cool to see what 50 years of gardening looks like.

    • Yes, have loved getting to know the space before starting projects. A lot of our initial plans have been tweaked because we’re more familiar with the home and our needs than we were before we moved in.

      And I’d love to show off the garden sometime!

  • Wow, how did y’all know? This is exactly what I needed to see and read right now. We’re currently on month…five? of a kitchen relocation/renovation and it’s starting to take a toll on our collective physical and mental health. It’s our third major project since moving into the house two years ago and I was starting to think it’d be the one that broke me. Don’t get me wrong…I’m grateful that we have the ability to do these kinds of projects, and we knew what we were getting into, but as another commenter said — it’s nice to see a house in progress. And to see someone else’s “dumping ground” room. :) Good luck with your continued renovations!

    • Thanks Margot! The garden has been such a sweet surprise this spring. We moved in January and had no idea what would pop up. It’s already gone through so many stages. I think the lilies are next. :)

  • I love your kitchen! It is so very lovely. I would look into sandblasting and then powder coating your cabinets.

    • Interesting! I hadn’t thought of that. There are several rusted through holes in a lot of the lower cabinets. I’m not sure they’d survive sandblasting but I love that there is always more than one way to solve a problem. Thanks Andrea!

      • First I have to say your home is so inspiring! I have a metal sink cabinet that looks very familiar to your kitchen cabinets I was determined to save. I am very lucky that my boyfriend’s dad owns a machine shop, is a master welder and made it happen. He cut out the rusted bottom and replaced with new metal then had the entire thing powder coated. Im sure this wouldnt be very cost effective to do all you cabinets, but there are definitely options! The sink is now the crowning jewel of my kitchen!

  • Your home is so beautiful. Great job, well done. You have chosen well with living room furniture as well. The home layout is very inviting and comfortable. You chose a wonderful home. Love and extreme comfort I believe you have achieved.

  • Lauren, your house is lovely and clearly took a lot of time and care. I did smile at “long-term”. Four months in and you only have two rooms to go? Count yourself lucky, that’s fast! I’m in year six, but I’ve got an big old house and am doing a lot of the work myself. Enjoy the process!

    • Most of the upstairs and exterior (which is is really bad shape) are not even going to be attempted until next year. It’ll be a two year project most likely but we’re biting off small pieces at a time. Thanks so much!

  • The overall color tone of the house creates a relaxing atmosphere, just as the title of this article. The renovation made drastic changes to the space, but everything seems to be successfully executed. Awesome work!

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