Wednesday, December 4, 2013

House changes 2013

2013 has been the year of making updates to our house, but all of the them actually occurred well before any nesting urge kicked in, and nearly all of the bigger projects have involved exporting out our work rather than DIYing anything like we may have done in ye olden days before kids. (See the weekend we spent making our kitchen backsplash for evidence of our previous lives.)

Although we still have a couple small-ish household tasks to accomplish before baby boy arrives, such as getting our carpets cleaned, we had a lot of projects completed primarily in May and June that have made our lives a lot easier lately.

This is probably the single biggest change in our house. We decided to paint practically every open area in our house the same Dolphin Fin Behr paint color that we chose two years ago for the nursery. We love the color's soothing and versatile nature. Because the downstairs level of our house really needed to be painted after making a renovation, we decided to go ahead and bite the bullet and get all non-bedroom and non-bathroom spaces professionally painted, which meant the foyer, downstairs living space, stairwell, upstairs living room, kitchen, and upstairs hallway. The fresh paint gives our house a more streamlined look and is a major upgrade because it's so much easier to clean. After almost seven years of our own wear and tear on the walls, mostly thanks to the dogs, plus the previous owners' five years of use, the hallway and stairwell were looking particularly beat up.

Exporting out this work was a major coup. Figuring it would take us at least a month to paint all these spaces in between work and childcare, we got several estimates and settled on the cheapest bid. At $1,800, it may not have been cheap, but it was most certainly worth it. Plus, there would have been no way we -- read: Matt -- would have been able to paint our insanely tall stairwell without breaking a limb. To my amazement, the contractor rolled into our house eight men deep at 8 a.m. one day in May, and by 6 p.m. they had not only painted all the open spaces and all the trim and doors in the house, but they'd also put all our furniture and accessories back exactly where they'd found them. I am converted. 

This year also brought us some sofa changes. We decided it was time to invest in a mid-sized sectional for our main living space. We spend about 80 percent of our waking time at home on this level, so having a sofa big enough for our expanding family and for entertaining guests -- and, let's be real, to accommodate my husband's tendency to want to take an afternoon snooze without taking up the entire couch -- led us to decide it was time to invest in a real, adult sofa that we hope will last us several decades.

We really did our homework on this purchase, visiting Crate and Barrel and Arhaus and Pottery Barn, only to discover that for the same price we could get superior quality at our favorite local furniture store/megalith: Belfort Furniture outside Ashburn, Va. We chose the Drexel Heritage line that allows customers to customize nearly every aspect of the sofa from layout to arm design, seat cushions, base, and of course upholstery. Our favorite style was, fittingly, called the Natalie, and our sofa layout is ultimately a four-seat sofa with an attached two-seat love seat. We also upgraded to the eight-way hand-tied seating, which through our sofa research we discovered to be the old-fashioned way of creating the sofa base that helps ensure longevity. All in we spent close to $4,000 on this purchase, but again, I think it is very much worth it as I treat our sofa like our (soon-to-be) third child.

We also opted for the Guardsman protection plan. I'm so glad we made this decision because within one month of getting our sofa delivered, there was a chocolate mishap and a blue crayon mishap. We learned our lesson on both, though we were thrilled to see how skillfully and efficiently the Guardsman service provider worked in about 30 minutes to remove all the stains on the sofa. Thankfully, we haven't had any more incidents since then, but I am sure we have some in our future, so I'm glad we have this insurance policy on our sofa. Using it once, it was has already paid for itself.

Getting this major sofa upgrade meant that our old, much cheaper Broyhill sofa with a chaise extension got relegated to the downstairs living space. After living with the sofa downstairs for about a month, we realized that the chaise was just getting in our way, and because it was no longer really needed and it had gotten rather destroyed by dog toe nail scratches, we found a local upholsterer who was able to cut down the chaise and resew it for $150. He did an excellent job, and now the old sofa already looks a lot better and it's better suited to its new home -- though it's not nearly as comfortable as our lovely new sectional.

Rearranging middle level
The new sofa purchase helped to divide our large main-level living space into two -- or maybe even three -- sections: the sofa/TV watching area, the play area, and, depending on how you look at it, the computer area.

Although it may look a little awkward,we opted to keep the leather chair and ottoman on our main level in the play area because it offers practical seating for when adults don't want to (or can't) sit on the floor with Natalie during play time. It's functional, and while it's not my favorite design choice, it's a reality of life.
Our bookcase has also sacrificed two of its five shelves for Natalie's books and toys that don't fit in her toy box, but again, this is a reality of our new life. (Her toys have expanded since I took this photo.)

To help the computer area feel lighter, we bought a clear Tobias chair from IKEA as our new desk chair. I absolutely love the way this simple change helped open up the space.

Downstairs addition
We wanted to enclose our downstairs living space so that we could have a more private office area in our house. We love our house because it's so open, but the open floor plan can present some logistical problems when babies, toddlers and dogs are involved. Besides a bedroom (or bathroom!) there is no place to escape to for getting quiet work done.

So, we hired a contractor/designer who lives in our neighborhood to build a wall and door frame with a French door to enclose our downstairs living space as a new office area. This area still serves as a living space (and it still houses our giant TV that we use for movie nights) but 95 percent of its use is as a home office. As an added bonus, because the room includes a closet plus a window (and a door to the backyard and even a full bathroom) it counts as a fourth bedroom in our house, which will be great for resale value. We can use the space as a guestroom, provided we have guests willing to sleep on a sofa or air mattress. The new addition added tons of functionality to our house and was well worth the nearly $2,000 investment and three days of workers in our house.

To round out the space, and to account for the loss of our guestroom storage space, since that room is now becoming Natalie's new room, we purchased our very first IKEA Expedit bookcase. I totally get why people love those things -- they can hold a ton.

Not-exciting changes
Of course, home ownership means having to perform maintenance and make upgrades you can't avoid. Unfortunately, such maintenance still costs a decent amount and no one else even notices the change. This spring and fall we had to complete two such upgrades: repairing wood rot on the door frame leading to our deck, and repairing water damage from a pipe not firmly caulked on the roof.

The wood rot was painfully obvious, and I'm glad we fixed it when we did because it was not only an eye sore, but if we'd allowed it to go on much longer we might have needed to replace the entire door and frame, which would have been a major expense. I wasn't thrilled to pay about $350 to replace many pieces of wood and get the frame sanded, caulked and painted, but it was a necessity.

The roof problem I would not have noticed if I didn't have a toddler who likes to play with shoes and scarves in our master closet. One day I happened to be lying on the floor with her inside the closet when I looked up and noticed that there was noticeable water damage on the ceiling. So, we called up our favorite contractor who, upon inspection, gave us the welcome news that we would not need a new roof, as I feared, but instead told us we needed to perform a simple fix on some caulking around a pipe on the roof and then repair the damaged dry wall, which it turned out affected not only the master closet but also master bath. Again, not another $400 I wanted to drop, but absolutely necessary.

We have been busy improving our house this year, but it has been pretty stress-free because we have performed very little of the work ourselves. The reality of life with children is just that there is not enough time to DIY like we used to, and we do not have the technical expertise to perform many of these tasks anyway. Saving us headaches and giving us time together as a family is the real benefit of hiring out nearly all our work this year.

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