Photo Pool Challenge: Little Things


We’ve been renovating for three years now, and we’re completely sick of it. The original plan was modest in scope: Five weeks for some minor structural and mechanical upgrades, skimcoating, refinish the floors. Alas, we keep fixing the same things over and over again, and we still have sewer gas, something (mice? rats?) living between floors, and leaks in the basement. Nothing is finished, nothing is decorated, and there are construction materials all over the place (behind the couch is a very convenient spot to store paint and tools, in case you’re wondering). So, this sounds like a trivial thing, but a few weeks ago we happened to buy some new pillowcases at Layla in Boerum Hill, and dressed up the bed with them and some other odds and ends we had lying around. We also put up some paint and wallpaper samples, hung a curtain and moved a rug. The second floor looks better now, even though it’s nowhere near done (that’s primer on the walls and rosin paper around the mantle in the bedroom, above). At least you can see the intention starting to take shape. What about you? Any tips for keeping sane while renovating? Please post stories and photos here.

 


Some wallpaper samples in the living room.

 


A back hall with some trial furnishings.

 


A closeup of the wallpaper we plan to use in the back hall. It’s Azul by Ana Montiel.

28 Comment

  • Sounds like my place 15 plus years and counting..

  • the story of my life. I’ve been in my brownstone for 2 years now and have only renovated the garden level (to get it rented out) and still my husband and i are living like we JUST moved as we are still saving to go on to ‘phase 2′ of renovations. thanks for posting this; i don’t feel alone in my continuous renovation misery…

  • the story of my life. I’ve been in my brownstone for 2 years now and have only renovated the garden level (to get it rented out) and still my husband and i are living like we JUST moved as we are still saving to go on to ‘phase 2′ of renovations. thanks for posting this; i don’t feel alone in my continuous renovation misery…

  • 38 years for me–you NEVER actually finish :-)

  • 38 years for me–you NEVER actually finish :-)

  • I think part of the problem is the overwhelming number of choices. Even if you have all the money in the world, just choosing a direction instead of constant waffling is really hard. That is one of the enormous values of a good decorator and/or architect.

    I think you should paint your bedroom ASAP. Just pick a color and do it in a weekend. Living with paint swatches on the wall for months is going to drive you nuts.

    • Duck, you are right on all counts! One problem we have in these projects is “preclusion”: Once you make a final decision and do something, all other options are gone. It becomes a slower process when we’re overwhelmed, but we’d rather be overwhelmed than stuck with a bad choice that would be a pain to re-do. And YES Cate! Paint the bedroom! Sometimes just one simple change lets you see everything else with fresh eyes and new enthusiasm! You don’t have to renovate first, or even do much for prep work. Just get a color you really like on the walls; it only takes one weekend, and you can change it just as easily in a year if you change your mind.

  • Ha! What a familiar feeling! We too have been in our place for two years now, and we JUST got all of the missing ballusters and a chopped tread replaced on our staircase. It’s such a great feeling to get one big thing you have been staring at everyday completed. The key I think is just staying focused, and not just accepting the way things are as being permanent. It’s amazing what you can get used to…you just don’t see things anymore after a while.

  • That’s why I keep being lured by the temptation to just gut a place except for the moldings and go ‘modern’ aka minimalist.

  • But, andrewluke, that’s SO boring; why buy and old house to ruin, err gut it. Just accept the fact that old house living is a process!

  • http://michelevarian.com/

    I saw some nice wallpaper patterns at Michele Varian yesterday. They also have nice pillows, mirrors and other cool things, etc. I bought a picture frame that, for $30 was much better than you would buy for the same price in a frame store. I’m still decorating my house; it’s been almost 10 years and I still have some issues with decorating and repairs. Oh well…

  • http://michelevarian.com/

    I saw some nice wallpaper patterns at Michele Varian yesterday. They also have nice pillows, mirrors and other cool things, etc. I bought a picture frame that, for $30 was much better than you would buy for the same price in a frame store. I’m still decorating my house; it’s been almost 10 years and I still have some issues with decorating and repairs. Oh well…

  • renovating an old house is hard. it was a snap gut renovating a post war aptmt. everything was painless except the times I had to pay the contractor.

    if you trying to make every room perfect, best as can be, etc, it’ll take forever to finish. take the mindset of making it nice now and upgrade later if the urge & cash are there to do so.

  • My parents have that William Morris wallpaper in their dining room. It looks great against dark wood.

  • There’s a certain order to these things, unfortunately. We have to fix everything behind the walls first before we can close them up, plaster, finish the moldings and THEN prime, stain the wood work, paint and wallpaper. As it happens, one of our (many) problems is that we did a lot of very expensive finishing work and then had to recently re-open the walls because of this ongoing sewer gas problem. So I’ve been fake-decorating with samples and such! It’s better than nothing. And Bob, your place looks magnificent! Of course I know you replastered recently. Such a chore! That’s another thing we’re doing again, upstairs in the rental, because it wasn’t done correctly the first time. Arg, kill me now…

  • honestly, if i knew then what i know now, i would have just bought a condo OR continued to rent. Thinking, oh, renovating a brownstone will be fun! yeah, of course it is, if you have the funds. it’s funny, moving to NYC i always saw myself in a brownstone, now that i have one, i tell people all the time, it’s overrated. jmo

  • honestly, if i knew then what i know now, i would have just bought a condo OR continued to rent. Thinking, oh, renovating a brownstone will be fun! yeah, of course it is, if you have the funds. it’s funny, moving to NYC i always saw myself in a brownstone, now that i have one, i tell people all the time, it’s overrated. jmo

  • “One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”
    ― Sigmund Freud

  • I am extremely lucky in that my husband also takes that same view as Mr. Freud.

  • Cate, we all go through these doldrums when it just seems too big. I have restorations going on in 3 rooms right now, one bedroom on hold as-is for another few years, and if I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel for the livingroom (keep fingers crossed for this weekend!) I would throw in the towel. But once the livingroom is done, I’ll have that and the adjoining kitchen done, and I find that so inspiring. The best advice I ever received about restoring an old house came from Clem Labine, the founder of The Old House Journal. He told me to “get out and see some historic Victorians, like the Mark Twain House in Connecticut!” I asked if that would give me some good ideas for my house, he replied “I don’t know, but it will take your mind off the MESS back home!” That works for me! If you ever want to go out for drinks and trade horror stories, just let me know.

  • Cate, we all go through these doldrums when it just seems too big. I have restorations going on in 3 rooms right now, one bedroom on hold as-is for another few years, and if I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel for the livingroom (keep fingers crossed for this weekend!) I would throw in the towel. But once the livingroom is done, I’ll have that and the adjoining kitchen done, and I find that so inspiring. The best advice I ever received about restoring an old house came from Clem Labine, the founder of The Old House Journal. He told me to “get out and see some historic Victorians, like the Mark Twain House in Connecticut!” I asked if that would give me some good ideas for my house, he replied “I don’t know, but it will take your mind off the MESS back home!” That works for me! If you ever want to go out for drinks and trade horror stories, just let me know.

  • “And Bob, your place looks magnificent! Of course I know you replastered recently. Such a chore!” It is indeed and thank you for the complement Cate. Actually, we’ve skim coated only about 1/2 of the house so far and that in two stages, over a few years. We’d have to move out to do the whole thing at once. This is an example of how you’re never finished if you have an old house. There are rewards–even the not yet skim coated rooms look sort of magnificent (if you squint just a little) and the good news is that none of the rooms we’ve had skim coated over fiber glass mesh have had cracks return so, if we’re lucky, we won’t have to re-start that particular job as soon as the last rooms are done.

  • I did my brownstone renovation in steps over two years. I had a lot of work done, not a gut renovation but the place was a wreck and certain stuff had to be done to make it livable, i.e. new staircases, floors, kitchens bathrooms, everywhere. I had a contractor and had so much stress getting him to stay on the job and to keep going, so I could finally move in. I thought I was DONE. HA. It’s never ending. I have owned this place 8 years and have been in this duplex for 7 years and I still have pictures on the floor, leaning against the wall.

  • Cate, finishing the painting will really make a big difference. I’d try to get that done to give yourself a sense of accomplishment.

  • Cate, finishing the painting will really make a big difference. I’d try to get that done to give yourself a sense of accomplishment.