DIY Home Renovations

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“DIY Home Renovations” is a post by Adina J in which she tells the story of her family room reno.

DIY Home Renovations

When we first bought our current house, we were your typical house horny property virgins*. We considered our 1,700 square foot, 3 bedroom, 2 ½ bath house as a “starter home”; you might think we were anticipating breeding an entire hockey team, but no. We had simply bought into the HGTV Jugend Doctrine that every family member, including those not actually living with us, had to have their own room, bathroom, and maybe a distinct postal code, in our house. After some contemplation, we came to our senses. Our current house is bigger than the respective apartments each of us grew up in… put together. We survived all those years of living in close quarters with (gasp!) our parents and it’s safe to assume that our kid(s) will, too. So, instead of looking for trade-up opportunities, we decided to settle in – and renovate.

[*I wasn't actually a property virgin as I owned a condo previously.]

Our purpose in renovating was to make our (forever) house suitable to our long-term needs. Had we kept to our original plan of only owning this house for 5-10 years, we wouldn’t have bothered with these renos. While they make the house more “livable” for us, we have no idea what value — if any — they add to the house; I would have cared if I was worried about pulling out our equity in the foreseeable future. Because of this, we were very careful about setting a budget, being under no illusion that the money we’d sink into renovations would constitute an “investment”. It is merely another cost of living a comfortable life — somewhere on the “frugality / spend thrift” spectrum between counting toilet paper squares and buying a million dollar condo in downtown Vancouver. Because of our limited budget, and the fact that my husband has a ton of relevant experience, we decided to go the DIY route.

There are a myriad of renovation projects we’ve undertaken in the last 3 years. Most of them are works-in-progress, as DIY projects of this scale are wont to be. They include, in no particular order: building a garden shack for storage; insulating and dry-walling the garage, finishing the basement, and renovating our family/bonus room. It is the latter project – and the only one I deem substantially complete** – that I’m going to talk about today.

[**The built-in units in the family room still need some cosmetic finishes, plus a rolling staircase -- once our kid is past the monkeying-around stage.]

One of the weird things you may not know about me is that I love books. Those old-fashioned things made of paper. I prefer them over their electronic counterparts, and have been in the habit of collecting them for years. I stopped keeping track of my collection about 2 years ago, at which time I had close to 500 books; that number is probably over 700 by now. One of my lifelong dreams has been to have my own home library to house my collection. Fortunately, I married someone receptive to the idea so we decided to turn our family/bonus room into a library. Because two of the room’s four walls have large windows, and there is a vaulted ceiling, we aimed to maximize the available wall space by putting in floor-to-ceiling built-in shelving units. We (ahem, my husband) also decided to use the large space to install a projector with a 100 ft² screen. Hey, marriage is built on compromise, okay? In the end, the total cost of the reno came in around $3,000. It should have been closer to $2,200, but our budget got derailed by a sofa. Here’s the cost details.

We got a great deal on our built-in units; my husband just so happens to work for a millworks company, and they generously offered to custom-make our cabinetry (to my husband’s specifications) during a “slow” time in their shop. We paid about $1,000 in total. My husband and father-in-law assembled and installed the units, not without a lot of blood, sweat, and some tears (mine). This represented the majority of the reno work, minus the wiring on the projector unit, which happened later; it probably took about 30 or 40 hours of actual labour, which was spread out over about a month.

The projector and screen cost another $1,200 at Costco. Given all the money we saved in reno costs throughout the house due to my husband’s efforts, we agreed this was a fair recompense for his labour. Although I was initially indifferent to the idea, I have to say that watching kids’ cartoons on a massive screen has a certain je ne sais quoi (more on that in a moment).

Here is a “before” look at our family room, prior to us moving in (furniture pictured is not ours):

DIY home renovations
Somehow, I managed to forget taking a “before” photo of our own stuff … HGTV fail

And here is an “after” look, post-shelving renos. All of the furniture was our old stuff, except the lamp and sofa throw pillows.

DIY home renovations
Rattiest IKEA couch ever … but we love it so!

The trouble actually started, innocently enough, a few weeks earlier during our basement renos. Mistakenly, we thought we were closer to completion of our basement than we actually were. Fun fact: I was also about 6 months pregnant at the time. In anticipation of finishing the basement, we decided to get a new couch for that space; the plan was to store it in the garage in the meantime. Being the frugal type, we went the Kijiji route for the new-to-us couch, scoring a gorgeous microfiber sectional for $500. All well and good. Except that, months later, when the basement was finally dry-walled, we came to realize that our measurements had been off. Putting up the walls in the staircase to the basement ate up a crucial inch or so of space. The result: there was no earthly way that our massive sofa was going to make it down the stairs to its intended destination. Believe me, we tried. And tried. And made a big hole in our brand new drywall. And failed.

We had two options. One, try to re-sell the sofa. We knew we’d be taking a hit (on a sofa we had yet to use, and had no means of delivering); plus we’d still have to buy yet another sofa for the basement – a lose-lose proposition. The second option was to re-purpose our sofa. Given its size, the only feasible plan was to move it into the upstairs family room, and move our old couch downstairs into the basement. Luckily, the furniture gods finally took pity on us – and we managed to move the behemoth up the stairs, where it (mostly) fit. Admittedly, it took some getting used to. The sectional had a completely different style and vibe than our old family room furniture and, because of its sheer size, it dominated the room like a giant brown mushroom. So, off I went to find new accessories for the big fungus, erm, sofa in the room. By this point, our budget had become shoe-string, and the need to finish the renos imperative. (Another fun fact: I went into labour about 2 hours after I helped my husband finish the flooring in the basement.) For just under $200, I ended up getting some new coffee tables, throw pillows, a picture shelf (to disguise the extra space where the sofa didn’t quite fit the bump-out under the picture window), and some decorative knick-knacks.

Voila, the finished product:

DIY home renovations
Note: the projector was still missing at that time.

All’s well that ends well. Right? Well, the story isn’t over. In the less than two years since he was born, our son has completely co-opted our lovely library/projector room for his own purposes. The one silver lining is that the room, capacious as it is, has saved us from being afloat in toys and other baby paraphernalia elsewhere in the house. So, finally, here is our family room as it stands today (not pictured, play pen, pack n’ play hidden behind sofa, random crap on the floor):

DIY home renovations
Now you see it! The projector, that is. And the ravages of parenting on personal style.

Next week, stay tuned for my tips on DIY home renovations.

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17 Comments… Share your views

  1. Making your current home a forever home is a perfect idea for securing your future. As soon as the mortgage is paid you will have the available cash to hammer away at retirement funds (after post secondary education costs for all those children you will add to your family, of course). Those who keep buying up and up and up end up increasing their mortgage over time and eventually have to go through the agony of leaving their home to downsize in order to afford retirement. Sometimes that means you have to leave your neighbourhood and start over somewhere else. I think you Gus have got it right!

    • It’s such a common belief these days, ingrained by the RE industry and the media, that people need to constantly be “moving up”. If you’re starting with a 400 sq. ft. condo, that may be the case. But most “starter homes” are now well over 1,100 sq. ft. – the average house size 40 or 50 years ago. We both grew up in Europe (where living space is always at a premium), so we should have known better, but we still got (temporarily) seduced by the propaganda.

  2. So when are you going to upgrade, and how much are you selling for? :) I would love those built-ins!

  3. That’s a good looking sectional!

    I also like the built-ins. I like that they match the slope of the ceiling and the lower ones have built in lighting. I might steal them before Koala has a chance to buy them…

    • Thanks! It serves as a wonderful toddler trampoline. Only drawback is static during the winter months. Not bad for $500, though.

      As for the built-ins, all credit goes to my husband, who designed them. Forgot to mention (and not sure if it’s apparent) but the shelves are completely adjustable, which is very handy. I am very excited to (eventually) get a rolling staircase – it will be, like, a legitimate library then, lol!

  4. *Drool* I also have a book-love affliction. My massive woodworking project of doom is a giant bookshelf/beam contraption for our living room. My spouse keeps repeating to me “this is not a challenge” referring to my ability and desire to fill all of the beautiful, empty shelves.
    We want a “study” library thing in a house one day. It will be glorious and full of nice wood shelving :-)

    • Book-lovers are a special (dying? sad face) breed. Those who are not don’t understand our obsession ;)

      One of my favourite episodes of Extreme Homes (or whatever that show is called on HGTV) featured a loooooong rectangular, loft-style house with one side/wall made up completely of book shelves. A massive wall of books! I was in heaven.

  5. Wow, those built-ins are amazing!!! They completely changed the room. I agree with Rosemary that making your current place a forever home is a great plan. Just because someone else doesn’t think it should be a forever home doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. If I don’t have kids, I could very well be happy in a > 1000 sqft two bedroom condo for the rest of my life. (Yes, I like space and I’m okay with that.)

  6. You’ve discovered the great thing about not planning to move: you can renovate in the way that suits the way you want to use and enjoy your home, instead of always obsessing about whether the “buyers” will object. The sectional also looks like the perfect place to lounge while reading.

    • It is!! Or it used to be, back when I still had time to lounge ;)

      Buyers would probably hate our house – IKEA furniture mixed with hand-me-downs, laminate in the basement (the horror!), carpet upstairs, etc.etc.

  7. Gorgeous! I love books, and when I have money left over, I buy food… (can’t recall the attribution). Love the typewriter too, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen one of those.

    My built-ins in my library/office flank a wood burning fireplace. Funny how years ago I wrote on a list of goals/dreams that I wanted a library with a wood burning fireplace and it came about without really trying. But we also have bookshelves throughout the house in other rooms because of the lack of wall space / too many windows in my library. Same thing here with the kids and pets congregating in my woman-cave.

    • Ooh, a wood-burning fireplace! Lovely!

      I love vintage typewriters too. Mine has needed its ribbon replaced since forever, but one of these days I WILL write the next great Canadian novel on it, LOL!

  8. I’m going to have to do a series of posts on my “Extreme DIY” projects, completely gutting a kitchen will be one, renting an excavator and putting in a pond stream and waterfall would be another! The bookshelves work really well in your family room. I really like the flexibility since you can make an entertainment section anywhere in the room if you wanted!

    • Wow, those definitely sound extreme! Too extreme for me, but kudos for being brave. I love seeing before-and-afters of people’s homes – I’m nosy like that ;)

  9. This is really an interesting story of home renovations, Adina thanks for sharing this this great story. This room is looking so attractive after renovation.

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