Austin and I have lived in our new house for three months now, and it’s already hardly recognizable from the house we toured in October. It was built in 1900, has a half-acre backyard, is located in a historical neighborhood in Des Moines, IA and was a steal of a price because it needed a lot of improvements. It sat on the market for five months, which is unheard of in such a competitive real estate market like Des Moines’. We are so thankful no one else saw the potential in this home (or wanted to take on quite this much work) because we were able to buy the worst house — for now — on our favorite street in town way under value.
We weren’t looking for houses when this one randomly came up on our radar. The pictures in the listing were awful and nondescript, but there was one picture of three dark wood doors on a single wall that instantly hooked me. I figured if there was this much character on one wall, the house had to offer more than what was being shown online. After seeing that the foundation was perfect and that all walls were square, we couldn’t believe it hadn’t been snatched up — even with bright orange and green walls. We made an offer the same day we saw it and got to planning our mostly DIY renovation.
The three doors I had originally fallen in love with ended up being the door to a coat closet, the door to the upstairs and then a door to a tiny room that the previous owner had used as a sewing room. We weren’t sure what to do with it. We thought about an office but figured whichever one of us would work in there would just get cramped and never want to be there. Then we thought about a full bathroom. Both of the existing bathrooms in the house are located on the second floor. A bathroom on the main level would allow friends and family members with mobility limitations to be able to visit without worrying about using the stairs. It would also be nice for overnight guests if we eventually had sleeping space on the main floor. My mom had the idea to turn it into a laundry room with a half bath to make it even more functional. Austin and I agreed that we didn’t need three bathtubs in the house and that having the downstairs bathroom pull double duty as a powder room and a laundry room was the most practical use of the space.
It was incredibly convenient that this itty-bitty room to the left of the stairs was situated directly above the basement laundry and directly below the guest bathroom on the second floor. It made plumbing a room that had never been plumbed a much easier endeavor. We had a licensed plumber bring the water lines in, an electrician change out the knob and tube electrical for bathroom-safe wiring and had our contractor run the gas line up for a new dryer. The rest of the plaster work, tiling, installing plumbing fixtures, cabinetry, etc. was done by Austin and his 73-year-old father.
I’m definitely biased, but the space is so pretty now. For stock cabinetry, beginner’s skills and the cheapest fixtures we could find for most things, the laundry room looks and feels the way I had envisioned. The paint color really makes this space. We went with a beigey-pink for the walls, a warm sand color for the cabinets, white trim and accessorized with black. The other rooms on the main level have more cool tones like greens and dark blues. We figured that a small bathroom was the perfect spot to do something a little experimental with color while also adding some warmth to the walls. We reused the countertop from our coffee table redo since the legs broke during our move. The countertop is now the perfect space to fold laundry, but can look less utilitarian by styling it with vases of flowers when guests are visiting. I can also easily unfold my drying rack over the stool for a spot to air dry.
While some of the rooms have a long way to go before they look the way we hope, it’s so nice to know that the laundry room is done and that our guests can comfortably avoid the mess of the bathrooms we’re working on upstairs. It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect for us and how we’ll use it. —Lauren
Photography by Austin Day
Image above: A not-so-functional room on the main level became a highly practical space for housework and accommodating visitors.