The madness of midway (and a video)

The best thing I can say about the demolition phase of this renovation is that it is over. It really is madness to take most of your house down the studs, essentially live in your master suite, wash dishes in your guest bathroom tub, cook on a camp stove, and (for a few weeks) do laundry on your patio. Madness.

In the spirit of documenting and sharing, I thought it was still worth sharing a few shots of the house midway through the renovation.

Walking into the house, the intrusive pantry is gone, as is most of the drywall around the kitchen. You can start to see the front-to-back view we’ll have when this wall gets cut in half.

Here’s a better shot of the kitchen, and it’s pretty empty at this point. We did a little extra demo by pulling down the entire ceiling, rather than removing the soffit and patching where it had been. The lights still work though, which means this space has 100% more light than the future dining room has ever had. So there’s that.

Staring straight into the kitchen (and future laundry room) the space feels simultaneously huge (thanks to everything being gone) and small (we’re putting a whole kitchen here?!?). Don’t forget that the space behind where I’m standing will be a huge wall of cabinets and a hidden pantry.

This view of the living room doesn’t even look that crazy. The drywall is almost out, but we haven’t even removed the slider yet (but we have decided not to keep it, per my earlier post). The carpet (and the hodgepodge of tile below) is on its way out.

This view is a bit crazier, showing the drywall we pulled from the upper part of the wall. That will eventually get recovered, but it did give us easy access to the corner of the attic where previous owners and contractors decided to leave rolls of insulation other non-essential building materials. Clean out commenced pre-drywall replacement. #RenovationIsGlamorous

The problem with these types of photos is the chaos. It’s really hard to take in what we’re planning. So once the walls were in place and the form was taking shape, I did a video tour to give you a better feel for the space.


A few notes

  • Yay walls!
  • I mention the washer and dryer will stack. I failed to mention that we decided to buy a new washer. Our dryer is new enough that the washer pair was available. So we’re not stacking our existing set…. which wouldn’t work….
  • The pantry still feels a little crazy here… buy trust that it all makes sense later.
  • I mentioned the need to address the ceiling to add lights. That’s a great set up for our next post, which will be that PLUS (thanks to the magic of the internet) ALL OF THE DRYWALL!!!


SIde note: If you’re still out there reading this – thank you. I know this whole transition from a super cool firehouse to a California ranch has been odd, and then I basically disappeared for months. Renovations were slow thanks to Aaron spending all of last fall in the Midwest. Once things got rolling my job became utterly insane. If I wasn’t working in the evening, I was completely exhausted and it’s hard for me to be verbose and witty whilst tired. The work pace may not let up, but we’ve got SO many things to show you and I’m energized by the progress we’ve made! All that to say (again), thanks for sticking around and checking in to our little corner of the internet.

Half the house renovation plan

When I say that we’re knee deep in this renovation, what I really mean is Aaron is exhausted from laying floors and I don’t recognize these before pictures anymore. The space has already undergone such a huge change and I can’t wait to share it with you! Let’s dive into all the goodies: before photos, an overview of our plans, floorplans and a video.

I’ve owed you a decent floorplan for a while, so here’s a look at the half of the house under renovation. Gray boxes are cabinets/built ins.

Items of note

  • The awkward pantry at the end of the hall
  • The laundry in the kitchen
  • The near lack of wall space in the living room thanks to an abundance of built ins and doors


Let’s dive into what the house looks like IRL. Here’s the view from the entry.

Straight ahead is a door to the kitchen and the ill placed pantry that turns the hallway into an awkward L. You won’t be surprised to hear that the pantry has to go.

Turning to the right, the kitchen sits behind the wall where the bar is. We are definitely planning to open this wall up.

Turning more to the right, gives you a full view of the front living room.

This is actually a pretty large space. To give you a sense, the desk is 10′. We absolutely love the corner window bank with the wide sills. We’re planning to turn this space into our dining room. We’ll add lighting (recessed and a slim custom chandelier) and paint (white for the walls, emerald green for the window nook).

Walking into the space and turning right again, you’re facing the front of the house.

This room is actually big enough to hold more than just a dining table. The corner next to the entry will become a casual seating area with a bar (the cart for now, a custom install later).

Now we’ve turned right again (basically we’re anti NASCAR-ing it up in here), facing the entry, coat closet and the back of the pantry.

You can start to see that we’re working with miles of carpet and some not-our-style (though what would be?) linoleum (in the entry and kitchen). All of this is getting pulled in favor of wood flooring throughout the entire house.

Turning right (yet again) you can see how this room flows into the existing dining area and back to the living room.

We haven’t arrived at the kitchen yet, but you may have noticed from the floorplan that it is rather compact and, as I mentioned, it has the laundry area. Changes need to be made!

In order to expand, we needed the space currently dedicated as “dining.”  One other key element when considering where to put things: we didn’t want to trench in order to add plumbing. That meant the washing machine and kitchen sink would need to stay relatively close to their current home.

Establishing that we wanted to absorb this space into the kitchen, yielded another challenge: how to effectively rework the space so it felt open, but not like it was cut in half by a large walkway (which is the current vibe.) I’m telling you all of this from this angle because it’s easiest to envision the pantry that we’re going to make. We’re taking some of the space from to post to the right as pantry and then adding floor to ceiling cabinets in front of it. This will give us a huge amount of storage and shrink the walkway to a more reasonable size in the kitchen.

All of that space behind the table will be PANTRY!!

Dining room aka FUTURE PANTRY

Flipping around, you get a view into the kitchen and a peek at the laundry area. Let’s take a quick look at the compact kitchen, then step back here to talk about our plans.

Yep – that’s a laundry area taking up valuable real estate…

Ok, so now you know what we had. It’s all going.

Literally every single thing in this space, including the soffits. We’ll build a wall between the kitchen and laundry area (remember those appliances have to stay close to where they are – no trenching) to give the washer and dryer a dedicated room. Then we’ll open as much as we can to the left and right to expose the kitchen to the adjoining rooms. We’ll be left with a U-shaped kitchen of lower cabinets, with a range range centered on the far wall and miles of new countertops!

Turing right from the view above, you get a look at part of the living room.

The footprint for this room is rather large, but as the floorplan demonstrates, this space has a lot of awkward built ins, exterior doors (3) and wood paneling.

To get some much needed wall space, we’re moving the existing slider and replacing it with an existing window. We’re also planning to remove all of the paneling and drywall in this space. We just couldn’t get past how nice the walls would look as one continuous surface. The paneling isn’t our style and, unfortunately, the previous owner textured the drywall above it, making it impossible to match. Going back to the studs will allow for an easier rework of the electrical in this room and give us a chance to re-insulate with more modern materials.

Stepping into the space and turning left offers this view

We absolutely loved the vaulted ceilings and we don’t mind the chevron wood slats… though we will surprise no one by saying the ceiling could use a good coat of white paint. The ceiling fan is the only light in this space and in the evening I want to die a little. We compensate by leaving all of the kitchen lights on all the time. All that to say we need to figure out how to get more overhead light and that may (spoiler alert – WILL) affect the final design of the ceiling.

This also gives you a good view of the bar that backs to the kitchen (aka the reason our couch… really any couch… won’t fit in this space.) All of the built ins are getting pulled. In the future, this wall will hold the slider and the entrance to our backyard. Reorienting was important, because eventually this will open to our outdoor dining area.

The view from the opposite side of the space:

This gives you a good look at the awesome MCM fireplace… and the rest of the built ins. The fireplace stays basically as is. We’ll remove the mantel and refinish the hearth to cover up the leaf imprints, which you can see better in the photo below. Once the room is cleared, the couch will face this direction. We’ll add shelves to the left of the fireplace and a screen/projector combo for maximum TV viewing that can be hidden away when not in use.

And to round it all out, here’s the view from the family room, through the dining room to the front room:

Let’s steer back to the floorplan, with a view of where we were:

And where we’re going:

Does your chest feel lighter looking at the open space in the family room once all the built ins are out… or is that just me?

With this layout, I feel like photos and floor plans are only so helpful. So I’ve made a truly awkward iPhone video tour of the space. (You’re welcome?)


A few notes:

  • I made this video on Jan 15 (my birthday!) and it’s funny to hear how the plans have evolved since then. I mention that we “think the front room will become the dining area.” Obviously, based on the notes above we’ve settled that.
  • We are not taking out the half wall in the entry. Aaron’s assessment of the post is that it is built “strangely.” We decided that losing that half wall was not worth the effort it would take to make sure the house is still structurally sound… which seems rather important.
  • Not sure why I sound super nervous…
  • We actually decided to leave the deep freeze in the garage for now and just put shelves in the pantry. More on that later when we get into the details of all the individual spaces.
  • Seriously, I sound like I am panting


So that’s (mostly) where we started. Obviously we’re adjusting and refining as we go. We’ll start to dive into the details and finishing choices (like the AHmazing floors Aaron is installing this week) in the upcoming posts.

Workshop – before and after

Over a month ago, I shared the makings of the California workshop.  Time really flies when you’re knee deep in a renovating half of your house. But before we dive into the details of that makeover, I wanted to share the finished workshop along with some before pictures because those are always my favorite.

I condensed A LOT of our house hunt into one post, but one thing I didn’t mention was all of the time I spent visiting open houses and touring with our realtor solo. It helped us to get a feel for the features we could expect in a home in this region. By the end of the search, I could basically look at the garage first and backyard second and tell you if we would be interested. One of the items we added to the “nice to have” list after seeing it in a lot of garages was a loft space for extra wood storage, which we were lucky enough to get in this space.

One thing that makes this space so ideal for Aaron’s shop is the garage door (and the nice weather), which basically allows an instant extension for cutting long items.

I love seeing how Aaron made this space work by putting smart storage throughout, including building a revamped miter saw table (the original was too big to move out of the firehouse) that houses the compressor and hanging drill storage.

So the workshop is done! … and currently filled to the brim with Ikea cabinets and assorted other kitchen pieces. I promise it won’t be another 30 days before I bring you up to speed on all the work going on.

The one time I surprised Aaron by assembling our wine room

When we lived at the firehouse and I gave people a tour of our basement, I would Vanna White my arm dramatically at the would be wine cellar that was just a huge jumble of boxes and say, “This is all wine. We either have a serious collection or a series problem.” The truth is we had both (though not necessarily in the way I was implying). We had a pile of wine in boxes that was so loosely organized thusly: cheaper whites on the right, cheaper reds in the middle, expensive stuff more to the left, “we bought this recently and I’m setting it wherever there is space” kind of on the right and in the middle.

Moving only compounded the problem. We couldn’t tell if wine was covered by the corporate move. To avoid losing our entire lot, I repacked everything into fresh, non-wine packaging boxes. The bottles survived the trip, were stacked into our third bedroom and promptly deprioritized as a project… until Aaron mentioned that he was thinking about buying a case of wine so we “knew what we had.” This was shortly before his weeks long trip back to the Midwest to fulfill fall wedding photography commitments, and it planted a seed in my mind, which was already fixated on “what the hell am I going to do for 6 weeks while he is gone?”

The answer: surreptitiously purchase wine racks, catalog our entire collection and surprise him.


Finding cheap wine racks actually proved to be relatively easy. Costway’s 120-Bottle Wood Wine Rack provided a no frills solution with a lot of space… which I needed because my initial estimate put our cellar around 400 bottles. I ordered four and hoped the “no tools needed” assembly was true.

In the meantime, I set to work unpacking and cataloging wine. I made a spreadsheet outlining the type, varietal, region, year, winery, number of bottles, and cost. The Vivino app was a huge help because it allows you to search their database by just taking a photo of the label. It worked 85% of the time, which saved a lot of googling. Simply working through all of the wine, loosely grouping it and getting all of the packing materials ready for recycling took about 6 hours. In the end, the dining room and part of the living room were overrun. I had to be careful when and where I FaceTimed with Aaron just to make sure I didn’t accidentally give him a peek (much more on that later.)

The spreadsheet allowed me to do very nerdy calculations. Here are some fun stats:

  • Total collection: 445 bottles
  • 76% red wine
  • California rang in with the most bottles from an area at 127, with about half of that specifically from Napa
  • Most bottles from a single winery went to Seufert Winery, a small Pinot Noir maker in the Willamette Valley that we fell in love with during our Pacific Northwest trip.


The third bedroom/wine room instantly became the catch all for things that didn’t have a home. So it took another 4 hours of unpacking, sorting and finding a home for things, like Aaron’s vintage camera collection, all of our decor, our art collection (most of which is too large for this house), before I had a clean slate, which you saw at the top of the post. Then I was ready to assemble the racks! True to the description, these were truly the Ikea of wine racks. They came with 4 legs, 5 shelves, 64 pretty long screws and one, tiny allen wrench.

With the shelves assembled, I *thought* I was finally ready to  load them up and call this project a success. I was wrong for two reasons.

1. 455 bottles of wine technically fit on racks made to house 480 bottles of wine, but that doesn’t leave much room for organization. I had devised a system to group varietals and regions then stack cheaper bottles left to right and bottom to top. I needed at least one more shelf, which I promptly ordered.

2. Loaded up with bottles of wine the Ikea of wine racks didn’t exactly stand up…

They needed to be attached to the wall and for that I would normally turn to Aaron, who couldn’t know about this project. Thankfully my dad was there to rescue me. A quick call helped me settle on 2″ L brackets, with long screws for the wall and shorter screws for the shelves. To be honest my brain remembered all of the measurements long enough to regurgitate them to an employee at the local hardware store who clearly recognized the “how the hell am I supposed to find these two screws in this aisle of screws” look in my eyes. He also helped me select a drill bit because there was no way I was going to find it in the pile of boxes that was Aaron’s unassembled workshop. I did, however, feel pretty smart for lying to Aaron via text and saying the neighbor needed to borrow our stud finder. He didn’t. It was me. #coolunderpressure

I digress. Back at the ranch with seemingly all of the tools in hand, I had to FaceTime my dad to find out how to replace the screw bit (?) with the drill bit (WHY DO I HAVE A RENOVATION BLOG???) and I was off and running. I successfully attached the brackets to the shelves and the shelves to the studs in the wall. There are only a few extra holes in the wall where I misread the stud finder. They’re hidden by bottles so I call that a win.

A few hours of stacking the shelves led me to this gloriousness:

It’s all here and organized and ALL I WANTED TO DO was tell Aaron. Actually that was a theme throughout this project. Somethings you should know about me is that I’m really bad at keeping gifts secret, and I’m really, really bad at lying. To counterbalance this, I told basically  everyone else in my life about this project – friends, family, coworkers. It was the ONLY way to keep my excitement from bubbling over and telling him about it all. It’s a wonder someone else didn’t spill the beans.

But the day he got home after 6 weeks away it was SO SO SOOOOOO worth it. I wish I could have figured out a non-weird way to video tape his reaction. The reveal went down like this.

Me: Casually enter the house, trying not to act too excited “Let’s put your suitcases in the bedroom” (knowing we have to walk by the wine room and expecting him to ask why the door is closed.)

Aaron: Brings a suitcase to the bedroom and walks back to the living room.

Me: A little panicky that he’ll notice some of the random things I unpacked to make space in the wine room but still trying to act casual “Oh, I have a surprise for you in the wine room.”

Aaron: (Basically knowing that it can’t be much because I am AWFUL at surprising him) Oh really?


He was completely floored and called it the best surprise I’ve ever given him. Honestly, I still don’t know if he was more surprised about the actual surprise or my ability to keep it from him. Either way it was totally worth all the time with the allen wrench.

Since then, predictably, we bought the final rack  (to be fair the Cabernet Sauvignon rack was much too crowded… hahaha) bringing the total to 6, and he has purchased more wine. #wehaveaproblem

Three major upgrades

I always struggle with writing about major projects that we contract out. While 100% necessary, they always feel a bit bland to talk about. There’s not much story to “We picked out shingles. The end.” But in the interest of thoroughly documenting the updates to our new space, these changes seemed worthy of a post.

Let’s start at the top (literally). Despite the thousands of words I used to tell you about our location and specific house hunt in SoCal, I’m pretty sure I didn’t explicitly mention that Aaron saw our future home for the first time on inspection day. When we pulled up, the first thing he said was “It probably needs a new roof.” This was quickly confirmed by the inspector and later by multiple roofing companies. However, the sellers will go to their grave claiming the roof was fine. Negotiations post inspection may have been (they were) a little frustrating.

Thankfully, we had enough money in reserve from the firehouse sale to cover the new roof, and Aaron worked his usual sourcing magic to find a great, affordable small business to take on the job.  We opted for their suggested brand (CertainTeed Landmark series) and requested all of the gray/black samples, which gave us these options: Georgetown Gray, Thunderstorm Gray, and Moire Black.

While none of these compliment the current beige on beige on brown color scheme, a new exterior paint job is on the list for 2018. We’re leaning toward a mid century blue gray exterior, but didn’t even have paint swatches at this point. We opted for Moire Black on the roof to ensure the finished look isn’t too monochromatic  in case we go a little more gray than blue when we choose the shade for the house.

From there we just had to watch them work and pay the bill.


We are both very excited to dive into painting this summer. Famous last words, right?

The second upgrade also became apparent on inspection day. We always recommend booking additional inspections for any major systems that may be of concern. Normally these are inexpensive and totally worth the peace of mind. Along with a traditional inspector, we asked an HVAC expert to give the furnace a once over. Besides being old AF (it’s original to the 1960s house), the inspection revealed a cracked heat exchange, which meant it needed to go. After a few bids, we hired Castle Air to replace the system. We were really impressed with their thoroughness, including adding additional vents to achieve better airflow.

The third major change was an upgraded electrical panel and adding a sub-panel to the garage. This gave us enough power to build out the workshop. We even found a local stucco pro to patch the exterior around the new, enlarged panel. The workshop has been Aaron’s main focus in the weeks he’s been in California. It’s crucial to the kitchen/dining room reno we’re planning to dive into in a few short weeks!