Maybe Matilda: ‘Before’ House Tour

Friday, June 22, 2012

‘Before’ House Tour

Thank you all for your kind comments on our first home! Many of you mentioned in comments that you didn’t think it looked that bad, especially compared to my description of it as ‘a wreck’. That’s cute of you. You haven’t seen it in person. It does look nice in that picture, doesn’t it?


And it is a pretty house, it really is. I’m kind of crazy about it. I just don’t think I can fully express in pictures how dirty and run down it is on the inside. It truly can’t be comprehended until you’re up close and personal, and these pictures just don’t do it justice. It’s like an attractive-looking woman who you’d be surprised to learn has been smoking 3 packs a day and consuming a steady diet of bacon and Ho-Hos and crack for a lifetime. Plus she’s a hooker. My house is that hooker. It looks all right until you take a peek-see inside. You’d have to mosey on over to our little abode and take a stroll through that front door and run your fingers over the inch-thick grime covering every surface and take a deep breath of the ammonia tang of years-old pee in the air and take a gander at the cracked and busted baby blue (baby blue!!!) countertops to gain a full appreciation for this beaut. But it has great bones, it’s a great canvas, and it’s already on its way.

We learned right before we closed on the house that it had been a rental for the past few years, which explains so much about it. Jeff and I kept wondering how someone could let their house/yard fall into the sort of condition that this one was in, but of course . . . renters. They didn’t care what the house looked like/smelled like . . . it wasn’t their house.

But on the plus side of it being a rental, it is a completely blank slate. There are no funky 1950s bathrooms tiled from floor to ceiling in pink, or dated wallpaper that would be a nightmare to remove, or dark wall colors to try and cover up, or other bizarre personal preferences homeowners love to install. It’s messy and dirty and stinky, but completely blank and ready for us to update however we want (and it was inexpensive enough that we can actually afford to give it some updates—hooray!). Every wall is white, every carpet is beige, and the bathrooms are just your typical ‘builder standard’ without any crazy tile or fixtures to worry about. Empty canvas over here!

You’ve seen the exterior of the house . . . step through the front door and you’ll find yourself in this entry room:


One element we REALLY wanted in our house was a front living room area combined with a ‘hidden’ kitchen . . . as much as I love the idea of a very open floor plan, I hate the thought of my kitchen (with its sink full of dishes) being the first thing visible when someone walks into the house. And it seems like a lot of houses are built that way, with a nice big view of the kitchen from the door—I don’t love that. Once I got over the dog pee smell on our first visit to this house, I loved that a front living room and dining area are visible from the door, and not the fridge and kitchen sink. And check out those high ceilings! Neat, huh?


This is the dining area straight past the living room . . . I’m crazy about that super-bright bay window! And the light fixture, of course, but that goes without saying. (Decorating question: should I bother with curtains/drapes for these windows? I don’t want to block any of that great light, but would it look too naked without them?)

And call me crazy, but I kind of like this currently-goofy kitchen:


Sure, those cracked baby blue countertops are a little silly and of course we all hate oak cabinets right now, but I love the layout of the kitchen. Not to mention that this is about 5 times my current amount of counter and cabinet space in our apartment. I’m planning to paint the cabinets a bright glossy white and add some pretty silver hardware, and the blue counters are going to have to be replaced (well shucks) as well as the sink and faucet if I can swing it in our rather-limited budget, but I love how it’s set up. Plus there’s yet another huge beautiful window above the sink looking out over the backyard—I love all the windows and natural light in this place!


Head down a few stairs and you’re in the family room:


. . . complete with massive, sooty stone fireplace (speaking of which, does anyone have any secret tips for cleaning a massive, sooty stone fireplace? I’m guessing just a whole lot of scrubbing, but I kind of hope there’s some miracle product I don’t know about yet.). We’re planning to knock down a few small walls in this room (including the one you can kind of barely see on the far right of that picture above) that make it feel really small and closed-off from the rest of the house, and replacing those sliding doors with French doors to make it look even brighter and less ‘apartment-y.’ This is a really long, narrow room that’s going to take a little clever setting-up to look cozy and friendly instead of like a giant hallway . . . thank goodness I have an interior designer for a mom who knows just how to handle rooms like this.

Upstairs we’ve got three standard-looking bedrooms that really just need new paint and carpets:



And two bathrooms which are a little closer to the grody side of the ick spectrum:


Do you see the sink? Yuck. And the toilet is suspiciously yellow and odorous . . . now I’m hoping more than ever that the pee smell in this house is pet-related. Gross gross gross! I despise the linoleum on the floor (it didn’t look so bad when we were just walking through, and doesn’t look bad at all in this picture—it almost looks pretty!--but now that I’ve inspected it more closely, it’s peeling up around all the edges and is really worn-out and cheap-looking), so tiling the bathrooms is being added to the to-do list.

This big room in the basement has us a little baffled:


We can’t figure out what it must have been once, or what it was intended to be. Three-quarters laminate and one-quarter carpet, two closets, and . . .


. . . do you see the floors/wall on this side? It’s plumbed as a bathroom. Weird. We can’t figure out what it was meant to be (maybe someone planned to finish it as another bed and bathroom?), and we’re not entirely sure what to do with it. But while we figure it out, it’ll make a nice combination craft/chiropractic room—it’s a huuuuuge space, so hopefully we can manage to share nicely like good little children. Jeff seems to think it will be his man cave. How adorable of him. Doesn’t he know that’s what the garage is for?

There’s another teensy room in the basement (storage area, I guess?) and a rather creepy little laundry room that both aren’t worth sharing.

We’d love to beef up the ‘deck’ (translation: knock this down and build a real deck) (those sliding doors are the ones in the family room, and that’s our realtor standing in the doorway [who I am fully prepared to run away with if he were so inclined because he was fantastic and so helpful through this whole process]):


And check out this jungle of a yard!


Just imagine the grass and weeds about double this height. These pictures were taken 2 or 3 weeks before we closed, so it has now managed to reproduce and get even more out of control, plus the grass is half-dead from not being watered for weeks, so it’s patchy and yellow and prickly. And those leafy weeds right in the foreground of the picture? Now almost my height. For realsies. But on the bright side, we were excited to discover that two of those trees over on the side of the house are fruit trees! One is possibly a cherry tree (or a killer poisonous berry tree, I guess I’ll just make a pie with it and figure it out from there), and one might just be a crabapple tree, but either way, they look awfully cute all blooming and growing, and I’m beyond thrilled to have a spacious fenced yard for Forrest to play in. He looooves being outside, but right now in our apartment, him ‘playing outside’ translates to him' ‘racing for the street every two seconds’, me freaking out and dragging him back into the unfenced-dang-it yard, and spending the rest of ‘playtime’ walking along a foot behind him so I can keep him out of danger while he explores. Fun for everyone, really.

I’ve spent all week painting (pictures to come!), every single inch of icky nasty carpet has been removed (made even ickier nastier now that it’s been torn out and we saw the horrifying stains on the underside and carpet pad . . . the stuff of nightmares, I tell you), and this weekend will be spent knocking down a few family room walls and laying new wood laminate flooring all through the downstairs (front room, kitchen, dining, family room, stairs). It’s coming along!


  1. Your house is beautiful! I can't wait to see what it becomes with some TLC.

    This is an awful thing to even mention, but you have noted the "pee" smell several times. Have you made sure your house was never used to produce meth? You can check here:
    Meth labs reek of pee... and while I'm sure yours is just a pet/poor aim problem, it never hurts to be sure!

    1. Thanks, Melissa! We actually did talk to the inspector about that (we inadvertently looked at quite a few meth houses in our search!), and he wasn't concerned and didn't see any evidence of meth production, plus we talked to neighbors and the police and it seems the previous occupants were just kind of messy, not drug users. We've pulled the carpets up now and decided it was DEFINITELY a pet issue--they were urine-stained beyond belief and now that they are out, the smell is 100% gone. We were worried about it, but it seems to just be a case of not cleaning up well after pets, thank goodness! (And our place is not on the list, either--phew! Thanks for including that link, I hadn't known about that site before!)

  2. The kitchen looks very similar to mine! (minus the baby blue counters, green instead which is also equally hideous.) I have that same bay window in my kitchen. The previous owners put knobs into the walls next to the windows and draped some fabric across them, which I didn't like at all and took away from the beautiful light. I say no to window treatments there! Enjoy your sunlight!

  3. I agree with Jen! I LOVE LOVE LOVE bay windows! Maybe get cuter blinds? I dunno, might be a question for your interior design mom! :)

  4. Love the house tour--love your commentary especially. You know how to put things into hilarious words that make me enjoy the reading more than the pictures (true of so few blogs). The natural light in your home is awesome. I have learned a lot by living in our first home for 6 years (6 years?!) and one of the things I discovered too late is the importance of natural light. When/if we buy again, this is priority #1 on my list--so,yeah, I'm jealous of your light. Also, a good entry is waaay important. I like that you have a "receiving area"--it's a nice feature. Again, live and learn--at my house, you walk in from the front door to a wall that directs traffic either through a skinny dimly-lit hall or into a living/dining area with nowhere for people to drop their purses and other crap. You really picked a winner. Okay, so I'm a little jealous of your homes great bones and blankish slate. Minus the whole urine smell thing. ; )

    ; ) And yes, how cute of your husband to think he will be getting a man-cave. Adorable in fact. I think my husband thinks my kitchen is the female equivalent. Umm, not so, my friend.

  5. Oh, and about pulling up carpet and such--yes, it is SO gross to see what others have done to your carpet--but do you know what I'm even more nervous about? We replaced all of the carpet in our home and I am SO scared to be the one to see what damage we will create by the end of the carpet's life--because our family will have been the only ones responsible for any nastiness. I think we'll have to move out before the carpet is ever replaced for fear of learning too much. I don't know that I can handle such truth.

  6. Ahh, natural light. I want some of that! I'm renting a condo that has huge south facing front windows but the rest of the place is like a dungeon, a nice dungeon. I can't wait to see your improvements, everything will be done for Monday, right? :o)

  7. I'm a little jealous of those gorgeous bay windows ;) Roman shades maybe? The fun of color or pattern plus letting in the light & privacy when wanted. But that advice is coming from someone who still has completely blank windows in the hallway upstairs & never used office.

  8. As odd as it may sound on this post, I'M JEALOUS! I would love to renovate a house & totally make it my own! This little dream of mine wont come true for another 10 years it feels like lol I can't wait to see how you made that mess of a house your own!

  9. It's a beautiful little home. Not bad at all. I would love to own a home. My husband and I have moved to four rental places in the year and a half we've been married. Why are you going to paint the cabinets white though? It seems everything in the whole house would be white if you did that.

    1. Ah, yes, you're right. But we're painting all the walls, so once the cabinets are painted, they (plus the doors and trimwork) will be the only things left white. The kitchen walls are being painted a light, silvery-gray, and I'm thinking of a blue or green backsplash, so white cabinets will (hopefully) look really crisp and sharp against all that instead of just blending in.

    2. And good luck buying a home! You have done a TON of moving in a year and a half . . . wow. Hopefully you can find a place to settle down in someday soon!

  10. Looks awesome, well from the blogoworld anyway, better to have a few fixable issues, than a place that doesnt work. Congrats on the house. I am sure in a year, we will be reading about how epic it now is.

  11. For those big bright windows I'd hang some light and airy voiles either side so you get the frame effect without the heaviness. :)

  12. For those big bright windows I'd hang some light and airy voiles either side so you get the frame effect without the heaviness. :)

  13. For those big bright windows I'd hang some light and airy voiles either side so you get the frame effect without the heaviness. :)

  14. Newbie's 2 cents, for what it's worth :) I think you should stick to blinds/custom shades for the windows, drapes would detract from it. Maybe paint that area in a slightly different shade or colour to give it further depth, and get a custom bench made to fit in there for extra seating when you're entertaining? It could also be a storage bench for putting in any miscellaneous kiddie toys or random kitchen gadgets.

    1. Oooh, I hadn't thought about giving it a slightly darker shade of paint than everything around it . . . smart girl! I like that idea! And I LOVE the custom window bench idea. That's going on Jeff's to-do list, I'm sure he'll be so grateful to you for suggesting it ;-)

    2. Glad you like the ideas. And ha! Jeff can blame it on HGTV, not me. I live vicariously through it ... our houses are all made of concrete so we can't just knock down walls as we feel like ;)

      Can't wait for the after pics of yours.

    3. Inspiration:

  15. I think it's a great house. I don't know what condition they are in, but I especially like the wood floors. If you can, you might want to wait a little while before recarpeting. The per smell might come back. My sister dealt with that once and ended up painting the slab floors with Kilz primer. Worked like a charm.

  16. What? You're supposed to clean up dog pee in your house?? Man, I'm glad I read blogs.

    I can't wait to see your progress photos! It really is a darling house.

    Now get to painting...slacker...

  17. I think it's adorable and I know you'll make it fabulous!

  18. Try some 409 on the fireplace and a rough brush. 409 has been a LIFESAVER in my dirty dirty house. We used it to scrub years of disgusting oils and dirt from the handrails all over the house. Also, if I were you I'd leave the big window in the kitchen bare. A little paint goes a long way to making that area not look so naked. :) Good luck, I need to post pictures of our progress :)

  19. One word- Kilz. It's a paint to put on the floor after you take up the carpet to block the pee smells. We used it in our house with the same problem and didn't want the smell to come back and seep into the new carpets and pads. Works great so far! Congrats on the house! And good luck with the fix-ups!

  20. She looks pretty good for a cracked out smoked bacon hooker ;)
    I know it's a lot of work for you guys, but I'm still jealous. It just seems like so much fun to make it just the way you like, and how awesome is it that your Mom can help you get what you see in you head out into the actual room! I'll have to hire someone if I don't want to make a complete mess of things.
    Oh, and my Dad built a window like your's for our kitchen at home. We always just had a straight little valance, but you'll probably want to keep the blinds too though because it can sure get hot in the summer. Plus dinner can be a total pain when the sun is coming in right into your eyes!

  21. OH, bay windows, I dream of them.

    That basement room is a trip, plumbing + two types of flooring? WEIRD. It seems like the house has great potential, and the backyard will be gorgeous once you trim back that jungle - watch out for lions hiding amongst the weeds! ;D

  22. This house has so much potential! I love that you see it! And I cannot wait to see what you do with it!

  23. Congratulations on the new house! Fun, fun!
    Can't wait for all the updated pictures, and the light fixture in the dining room is awesome! (Hee hee) Bet you can't wait to shine it up!
    Maybe you can paint the bay window walls to set it off instead of curtains?
    Enjoy home ownership, thanks for sharing!

  24. LOVE the layout! I'm excited to see what you do with it. And we are total creepers and took a little drive past it the other day. You guys weren't there or we would have stopped to say hi... and freak you out a little. :) Clint was really impressed with the neighborhood. I like how close to the freeway it is but it's still quiet. You've got be so excited to house shop!

  25. Please don't be royally creeped out by this but I basically started reading your blog after pinning your face to a haircut ideas board on pinterest (you're totally shocked, I can tell) and I've kept reading because your wit and style of blogging is what I sound like, to myself, in my head.

    And now I'm trying to figure out if I think you're really cool or if I love myself just that much - both are possible but the former makes me sound like less of a tool.

    Basically what I'm trying to say is your house is going to be awesome (probably is by now), your hair is awesome, we have lots in common, my name is Jen and we should be friends, HIIIIIIII!


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