Overdue Before-and-Afters of Our Mid-Century Brick Ranch Renovations.
I didn’t want to say anything about it, but it’s like she knows.
After all the accoutrements, the lavishing of ceiling fixtures, the adorning with paint and the stripping of floors, it’s like she knows, like they always do, it wasn’t all just for her — that behind the vintage painted cabinets we had an ulterior motive: re-sale.
It’s just part of being an Air Force family.
So she knows we’re leaving her, and while the new owner is young and friendly and adorable and plans to love her and invest in her for years and years to come, she knows we were the first. The first to see past her mint carpeted interiors and make a real investment in the thin-planked hardwoods beneath. It took us only 4 days to sell her — a record even more impressive than the standard set the last time we did this — and it’s almost as though it all happened so quickly that she’s just now finding time to catch her breath, take stock, and express her feelings.
Or maybe that’s me.
I was over seven months pregnant when received a painfully ambiguous text from Justin:
“Please call me ASAP. I have news.”
Of course I didn’t see the text for a couple of hours because I was out to lunch with a friend and my phone was buried somewhere in the depths of my purse. Eventually he’d gotten so fed up with my unanswered phone that he could no longer contain himself and sent me a screen shot of his projected assignments. I had to squint and zoom in on the photo, but it was there — preceded by 45 characters of indecipherable words and acronyms but wholly unmistakable: ITALY.
By that point I had parted with my friend and wedged myself behind the driver’s seat of my ’99 Chevy Tracker and I screamed, scrambling to heave my burdensome torso back out of the car and run across the parking lot while trying to catch my friend and screaming, “We’re moving to Italy! We’re moving to ITALY!”
The patrons dining outside must have been alarmed, but I didn’t care. The Dream was finally coming true — with the exception of an extra several hundred pounds of baby gear. I couldn’t not be excited.
It wasn’t until later that we learned the orders were actually *only* for Justin — not his family (aka. the fetus and me). Thus launched the beginning of the most stressful stretch of months of our lives: preparing for our first baby, wondering whether we’d have to spend a year apart with me as a single mother while Justin experienced my dream of living abroad, and then, finally, when family accompaniment was approved, preparing for an international move as first-time parents with a newborn.
Which meant we had to sell our house.
Fortunately I’d been Marie Kondō-ing the shit out of the place for months. In fact, I credit this book for clearing the space and the energy in our home and our lives to open the opportunity for Italy.
Call me crazy for believing something like that, but see if I care when I’m sampling all the cheese in Bologna.
So we didn’t have a lot to do by way of preparing for re-sale save for finishing up a couple of small projects, cleaning, and marketing. Then, prior to every showing, I’d waddle around like a baby manatee who suddenly sprouted legs to vacuum up dog hair, sweep, dust, turn on lights and music, and then heave myself and my 60 pound mutts into the car where I’d drive down the street and stalk my own house in the summer June heat.
It was totally worth it.
I’ve been terrible about documenting our progress with this house, but here are some before-and-afters to show how busy we’ve been over the last four years.
I don’t have a great close-up shot, but we removed the wallpaper mural, painted the walls and trim, painted the front door, painted the tile grout, removed the cabinet doors to create a bookcase, changed the light fixture (with this one), and hung some fun copper hooks I bought in Sweden.
Entryway wall color: Sand White by Glidden
Front door color: Cloudburst by Sherwin Williams (both inside and out)
Living Room BEFORE:
In here we mostly painted and removed the carpet — what a difference! The rug is this one from Safavieh.
Living room wall color: Sand White by Glidden
Dining Room BEFORE:
A large portion of the wood flooring in here had to be replaced due to the wonderful sight and scent of cat urine that had soaked through the carpeting over the years, so that was the biggest expense in this room. Otherwise we just painted, exchanged the brass light fixture for this one, and called it a day.
Dining room wall color: Sand White by Glidden
Laundry Room BEFORE:
Technically this wasn’t even a laundry room when we moved in. The previous owners used it as an office-slash-litterbox room (because who wouldn’t want to work in such close proximity to feces?), but with its access to the garage and back yard, we knew turning this into a laundry room would increase our home’s value significantly. (And bonus — Justin could continue to wash his stinky military gear in the garage.) The odd layout posed some challenges and our plumber had to get creative to make these work, but it was well worth the effort.
We also painted the wood paneling, bought some vinyl flooring from a sexist floor guy, installed our old kitchen light in the ceiling where a weird speaker used to be, and I stuck much of my office equipment in here when we realized our baby needed a place to sleep, too. (Fortunately that built-in bookshelf already had 2 outlets in it, so getting the printers to work was a simple matter of just plugging them in.)
Laundry room wall color: White Down by Benjamin Moore
The kitchen saw the most change and was one of the first projects we tackled. Take one look at the “before” photos and you’ll understand why. We decided to rearrange the layout to make it more functional and paint the cabinets and old ring pulls to save a little money. We installed recessed lighting, this chandelier, laminate countertops with an integrated sink, a faux limestone backsplash, stainless appliances with a hidden vent hood, a DIY copper pendant light, an industrial kitchen faucet, and the Jackson kitchen cart from World Market to finish it all off.
The real show-stoppers though are the custom floating shelves that Justin built and, of course, my oversized wall map of Paris. Any time someone comes over, they have to know about the map. It’s a statement. And it’s actually available on Amazon now for a very reasonable price! And here are the instructions for how Justin built a frame for this oversized art.
Kitchen wall color: Sand White by Glidden
For a room we figured wouldn’t be a lot of work, it certainly took a lot of work! We painted it ourselves, and working on that tall ladder is not something I’d care to do again. To save a little money on the curtain rods, I bought some inexpensive conduit from the electrical supply area at one of the big box stores and spray painted it bronze. That’s it! No end caps or anything and no one has ever noticed. Or at least they’ve been too polite to say anything. I added some rod brackets to hang them and some ring clips to hang the inexpensive Ikea curtains, and viola! Drapery hardware that probably amounted to less than $15 a piece.
It took me a couple of years to convince Justin that we should move that makeshift dry bar over to the other wall. Previously that weird wall that juts out into the room served no purpose. We couldn’t put our t.v. there because people would have to walk right in front of it to get into the room, and I didn’t want a large piece of art there because this wall is right next to the wall with the huge Paris map. Finally he surprised me while I was in Italy by cutting down the laminate counter and moving it where I wanted it — which unfortunately also required him to refinish the floors in this room due to the support that had been holding the counter up previously. He also took two leftover wall cabinets from our kitchen and used those for supports and additional storage.
Then, just a couple of months prior to receiving our orders to move to Italy, I’d convinced him to build those beautiful floating shelves to house the rest of the things that had been in my office-turned-nursery. I didn’t get to enjoy them for long, but at least I know the new owner loves them as much as I do.
The final rooms were pretty basic — just some wall and trim paint, updated window treatments, and switching out some of the hardware like replacing the old brass doorknobs with oil-rubbed bronze.
That’s right. We literally did nothing in the hall bath and called it “retro” in the marketing. We’d already spent enough time and money on renovations for our area (most homes around here haven’t been updated at all), and this tiny room would’ve been a money pit.
And it didn’t deter the house from selling quickly, so there’s that.
Those of you who’ve been here a while know that it’s been a long-time dream of mine to experience living overseas. I not-so-secretly envisioned myself on a Hemingway-esque introspective retreat, staring at the well-dressed street traffic from the foggy windows of foreign cafes, pensively crafting the first draft of my second novel while sipping a glass of Montepulciano. I’d bring fresh produce home to Justin and the pups where we’d listen to mid-century French music and cook a multi-course meal to enjoy al fresco beneath the twinkle lights in our magically mosquito-free garden.
But life, as they say, often has its own ideas about what’s best for you.
Never did I envision dragging a cumbersome stroller into the cafe, bumping into chairs and praying my kid sleeps for at least an hour while I hash out some haphazard phrases. Or worse, that I fail to even venture from the thick, protective walls of our 13th century abode out of fear that I’ll be labeled “That American” mom who doesn’t know how to raise a proper tantrum-free child — one who dines with utensils and sleeps through the night.
In fact Justin and I were pretty well convinced that he’d finish out his military career here in Virginia — that the military would not, in fact, ever realize our dream of experiencing life in another country. And I’d be lying if I said that didn’t play at least a partial role in our decision to have a baby. It had taken 14 years, but I’d finally mentally adjusted to the fact that if we ever wanted to live overseas, we’d likely have to make it happen on our own. And if we’d likely have to make it happen on our own, we’d likely never make it happen.
Besides, our little brick ranch is perfect — aside from occasionally rowdy neighbors — for raising a kid.
And she knows it, too. So, almost in protest, little things seem to be breaking here and there — things we need to fix because we don’t actually own her anymore. We’re tenants in our own home. The new owner was kind enough to allow us to rent until the end of October, after which we’ll be living in hotels, both here and in Italy, until we have a more (semi)permanent home.
I wonder, though, whether I’ll ever be content to have something permanent.
Growth in the form of change is a beautiful thing.
One day this house will understand.