Fast, Fun & Focused: Inside the Mind of a Happy Fixer Upper

We were in and out of Home Depot in 23 minutes. “It’s not my first rodeo,” I joked as I pushed the stroller out the exit. My husband and subcontractor were pushing my tile, backsplash and grout selections through the checkout isle. Trips like these with one-or sometimes all three-kids in tow are actually pretty fun, though they weren’t always. Kicking off our sixth fixer upper in eight years of marriage, here are a few things I keep in mind.

Visualize where you want to be. Our current project is a rustic, wood
-paneled, 1940s home. Just say the word “rustic” and think about what pops into your head. I can’t tell you how many times (I think) I’m describing something perfectly to a sub or my own husband only to find out the hard way we are not on the same page. Houzz is biblical to me. I reference it daily for ideas and products. I also take pictures of my space and upload them to the app, so everything is in one space. When at the store picking out kitchen decor, there’s no second guessing the cabinet colors or how high the backsplash should be above the stove.

Go slow but set limits. When we gutted our ski condo in western New York, I thoughtfully created an ideaboard of what I wanted (this was pre-Houzz). Then I bought samples-too many to count. While it’s important to take your time and pick what you like, I limit myself to four. Four tile samples, four backsplashes, four different grays for the wall. I’ve watched friends become paralyzed over their selections, forcing their contractor to stop dead in his/her tracks.

Pick a focal point. This will actually save you some money. For
our current reno, my granite guy had a high level stone that a customer ordered and never used. It’s killer, and will also be the first thing people notice when they walk into the kitchen. The floor tile, backsplash and grout all complement the granite. I don’t need to spend a pretty penny on everything that’s going into the same room.grid

Respect your roots. This is not a first-time build, so we have to work within certain parameters. The farmhouse has an iron staircase, dark wood floors and mahogany walls. While I love balancing modern with rustic, this home has more of a warm, cabin feel. Since we are starting with the kitchen, I chose light, textured tile as a nod to the worn-in theme. The backsplash is masculine but reflective to bring in more light.


Learn some new tricks. Nick youtube-taught himself how to install sinks, toilets and even a skylight several projects ago. My friend Jessica rented a sander and refinished her floors while her husband was serving overseas. While not a trick, ripping out your own countertops or flooring can save you hundreds. Bonus: all the smashing, pulling and ripping will actually relieve some stress.

Leave it to the experts. My husband shocked himself once installing a light in a century home, so he always brings in an electrician. Since this home is old and will eventually become a rental, Jack (we’ve been on a first-name basis since reno three) will ensure all fixtures are safe. Matt, our floor subcontractor, helped me pick out a quality, cost-effective porcelain tile. These guys have mastered their trade over the years, so despite how much I love a fixture or sample I always trust their judgement.

We aren’t Chip and Joanna Gaines just yet, but we’ve leaned enough to tackle these projects with gusto. Nick is a financial guy and I’m in the creative field which balances quite well when we divide and conquer the to-do list. Though building that trust took a great deal of fine-tuning (and beer). Fingers crossed this helps some other renovators breathe a little easier and share what’s kept them sane along the way.

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(Non) Stay-at-home mama raising my three screaming cubs while restoring our 35-acres of wilderness just outside of Cleveland. Copywriter, sheep herder and fixer upper. I live in muck boots, jeans and wear dangling toddlers as accessories.

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