Confessions of an Amateur Renovator

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted a tired old house of my very own to renovate and bring back to life.   See this example of a before and after renovation from Country  I drive by old houses like this and just ache to own and fix them.
Since you are reading this blog, you can probably relate.  I love that aspect of the blogging community-common ground.  Even when everyone you know in real life thinks you are a few crayons short of a full box, there are total strangers who read your words and understand your heart.
One year ago, we bought an old cottage style home near the beach and I was almost overcome with excitement because my dream was finally coming true! See this picture below?  Totally NOT our beach cottage, but from the very beginning that is what our cottage looked like in my heart.
By the time we bought our cottage, I had spent a good three years reading home decor blogs.  I believed in the possibilities of a good low-cost, high-impact transformation.  I wasn’t looking forward to the finished product nearly as much as I was looking forward to the creative process of transforming the space.  If you had offered me a suitcase full of money to hire a dozen contractors, I wouldn’t have even considered it!  I was so excited to do the work myself!  It was my project and I couldn’t wait.
But then, slowly over the past year, reality came up and reared its ugly head . . . either we have had a string of repeated bad luck or I am just really terrible at this renovation thing.  And I want so badly to be good at it!!!   Here is the truth  for me:  sometimes it takes more than creativity and elbow grease.  Sometimes it takes real hard-earned money and professional intervention.  Sometimes it can be very, very humbling:
  • Maybe you pull up the old carpet in your living room to expose the original hardwood floors (they are there-you pulled back a big corner of the carpet before writing an offer on the house). But wait!  Once the carpet is up you see that the floors are 70% original and fabulous but 30% is pieced ugly plywood.  Apparently part of your living room wasn’t original to the house-hence the plywood extension. I swear this never happens on the Lettered Cottage!
  •  Maybe you pull down ugly drop-ceiling while your husband is on a conference call and the ceiling underneath is uneven, crumbling, and even uglier than the drop ceiling.  No tongue and groove hiding here!  No old exposed beams.  Just one irritated husband and the need for a contractor.   Humble pie, friends.  Humble pie.
 {Definitely NOT my ceiling}
  • And maybe, just maybe, you paint your kitchen floor with porch and floor paint, because nothing says cottage character like a painted floor, but the paint never quite cures, but dries sticky and cotton throw rugs are nearly glued to the floor.
 {Not my floor}
Despite it all, I am counting down the final days until we are back in Michigan and I am back in our cottage.  It may not have been very kind to me but I still love her.  I am ready to forgive and forget and move on to the next project-or at the very least fix the sticky kitchen floor.  Which, by the way, looks absolutely nothing like this:

But I believe that this summer, our luck is going to change . . .


  1. Thank you for sharing! It is so easy to think that everything goes perfectly for everyone else. I love when a blogger keeps it real.

    We are looking for a fixer upper to buy too, and I winced when I read about your drop ceilings. The one we’re going to look at tomorrow has ugly and missing ceiling tiles, and of course I’m thinking, “No problem, I’ll rip those right out!” This may be the reality check I needed today.

  2. Oh, I can relate! Actually, I see all these gorgeous cottage renos. and wonder where people got the money! Renovating is EXPENSIVE!

    Even my husband was taken aback by this, when we purchased the 4 level, 50 year old, back split we are living in now, for the past 2 1/2 years.

    I thought it was ugly, and tried, oh, I tried, to convince him it was not the house for us. Even our real estate agent did. He tuned us out…and, since that time, he has really come to understand the time, and money that is required to update, and renovate.

    We have even gone open housing several times. Actually, that is as good as a date night for me. I love it!! And, finally, we sat down with a pen and paper and did the math, and figured we are financially better off staying in our home, and being creative, thrifty, and sensible with the renos. we do. Bit by bit, we’re getting there.

    For that matter, two real estate agents I have spoken to, within the last month, got out of the “flipping” project, because the price of buildng materials has just gone through the roof! But, then again, I’m in Canada. Maybe it’s not quite so bad in the States.

    So, we’re plugging away, and plugging away, hence the name House Pretty (Sue@housepretty, there’s another House Pretty, or, I should say, House-Pretty taken after I named my blog, grrr…), since I’m trying to make an ugly house into a pretty one, without busting our budget.

    Sorry, I don’t mean to discourage you! From what I’v seen, you and your husband have done a really, really, lovely job so far! It’s just not as cheap as people make it out to seem. And, if you’re not careful, it can become far more costly than just purchasing a new, or next to new house, from the onset.

    Make wise choices, my friend, and God will reward you for it. God is GOOD!

    Sorry I wrote a novel here, lol!

  3. My heart goes out to you! My husband and I have learned very quickly that we are NOT DIY people and our skill-set maxes out around painting 🙂 It may take a bit more time, but you’ll get there!

  4. I can’t even begin to tell you how many levels of understanding I had for this post!!!

    We are dreamers, this is true!!!

  5. thank you for sharing your setbacks and lovely photos of what your house DOESN’T look like!

    on our honeymoon, we plotted out our plans for renovating our house. we had a neat little plan for moving through the house and it seemed like if we really buckled down we could get through it in a year. oh how we laugh about that now. 4 years later and we’re about half done.

    I don’t mind being half done anymore, but there were times when things got so chaotic and I didn’t know how we would ever get out of this mess. Of course I except projects on tv to look too easy to be true, but lots of home blogs with “real people” seem that way as well. I don’t know why those people don’t seem to run into snags, don’t seem to be too tired to get into projects after work, don’t seem to have any issues finding the most stylish fixtures and materials (at a deep discount no less)… Well, I don’t know how they do it, but I just know that our projects tend to take a long time and our old house throws us curve balls. I didn’t get the exposed beam ceiling when we tore out the ceiling in our bedroom either. But, I will say that we have absolutely loved everything that we’ve completed and now that our expectations are more realistic for us, I think we are enjoying the journey together.

    best of luck!

  6. Aw Good luck Erin! I know you can do it. If you need any advise or product recomendation let me know, i have a lot at my disposal. And since I used to share a bathroom with you 😉 it’s free advise 🙂

  7. I love this post. Not because I am happy about the struggles you have had renovating your cottage, but because I am there too. I pull up, tear out, and knock down things in hope that I will find a gem behind all the less than glamourous cover-up….Every once in a while I am pleasantly surprised, but there is that occasion where it just doesn’t seem to turn out quite as it did for the person who inspired me to try it in the first place. Example I just saw an unfinished laundry room turned magnificent with floor epoxy and cinderblock paint. Not a fully finished laundry space, just a modestly updated, bright and fresh basement one. fast inspiration for this girl who dreads going down into her dark and dreary laundry room to do a less than fun chore. Right to home depot the hubby and I went to talk to a gentlemen about the paint we would need. It was super affordable, and seemed almost too easy. Now, a week later, the floor epoxy just will not properly cure, my mats want to stick to it. The cinderblock is not tolerating the paint that claims to be specifically designed for it, perhaps due to the years of water damage our old house endured before we moved in and had it properly water proofed? I am not giving up….I am determined and inspired to make the space bearable at an affordable price. So happy you are doing the same!!!! xoxo-Jolie

  8. Oh Erin, This post made me laugh out loud – not because I think it is funny at all that you are having these problems but because it is so good to not be the only one – and we might as well laugh rather than cry (I may have done some crying too). What really got me laughing was the “Humble pie friends, humble pie”. I learned the hard way too that humidity is the enemy of paint that is trying to cure – at least mine wasn’t a floor though! A big struggle with our old house seems to be vermin of all kinds. We’ve had/have: racoons, carpenter ants, moths, mice and currently squirrels. Ugh. In fact, of that list the only ones that I think are definitely no longer an issue are the raccoons, the others come and go. Oh well. God is good – vermin and all.

  9. We moved into our house almost 19 years ago. It was (is?) a fixer-upper. 5 different carpets in varying shades of gold, orange, brown and green. A bathroom tiled in what can best be described as Southwestern pinky-salmony-I hate this color. A kitchen with turquoise laminate and appliances. (Turquoise was NOT cool in 1993!) 2 weeks after we moved, we found out we were expecting Baby #1! It was all I could do not to throw up every time I walked in the door of our house, because it smelled like 30 years of cigarette smoke. Fast forward 19 years. The house has been painted (most rooms more than once), we have wood floors in most of the house and nice berber in the bedrooms, the kitchen has maple counters that my hubby made and black appliances (you can buy a $2 can of black appliance paint and cover the turquoise oven, thereby saving the price of a new wall oven). And the bathroom? Still the same color! Many years of debate and 4 children later, we finally have the majority of plan for that eyesore, which is set to happen in August!!!!!!! It’s not as easy as it looks on TV or on blogs! And I think I might need to schedule Humble pie into the meal planning every now and then. Thanks for keeping it real, and may your projects this summer go smoothly and non-stickily!

  10. Hi Erin – Thanks for stopping by Cottage and Creek. I LOVED your post and send you my heart-felt best wishes on your floor project. My stair project was a total bummer for me, but now, the better-quality vinyl flooring from Mannington has proven to be a good decision. The flat part is stuck tight, but there are two stair riser pieces that keep coming up. I need to just squirt some Gorilla Glue or some other adhesive behind them to affix them better, just haven’t done it yet. But otherwise, I’m very pleased with the quality of the tiles. This weekend’s project for me? Cleaning and staining my large deck with fresh redwood stain. Yuck. I’m procrastinating and even considering returning the stain to HD and pushing this off till next year! Finding myself suddenly-single has been both challenging and rewarding. And I know my sweet hubby is looking down and cheering me on when I attempt all the home-improvement projects around my humble cottage. God is good and we can learn so much, even from the “oops” projects. Best wishes and I’m delighted I found your blog. Love it!!

  11. Oh my heart goes out to you. Renovation is hard work, takes way longer than it should and costs more than you think. But, perseverance has it’s good reward and I know you will be happy with how your cottage turns out. Thanks for being so honest about it all, it is so comforting.

  12. This is like my favorite blog post ever. Thank you SO MUCH for keeping it real…real frustrated, which often, I am too. Working full-time and caring for 2 young boys has made the home improvement really tough over the past 3.5 years. I hate it when people come into my house now and say, “wow, this looks good…wasn’t it worth it?” I can honestly say, NO! We spent so much time on random crap when we should have been doing family stuff, etc. We’ve been a slave to this house for a while. Luckily we’ve moved past some big projects, but renovation is not for everyone. Even though my husband is super handy…he just doesn’t have the time to do everything that needs to get done! {vent over} 😉

    Aimee @

  13. I am with you on all you said about the blogger community. I want a piece of land out in the middle of nowhere, with a old house that needs creative love and touches and renovation. Hubby just thinks I am nuts. Great blog post! Hugs, Bobbi Jo

  14. Oh my goodness … my desire for a fixer-upper has been undone living in a rental that needs to be fixed up! So much time and money, though if your purchase price is low enough to begin with, it could be well worth it. The problem is that in my area, that purchase price makes it totally not worth it.

    I think The Lettered Cottage had some unmatched flooring too. 😉

  15. I just LOVE your posts! They always leave me crying & encouraged if that makes sense! lol I love the way you are so honest, real, encouraging, & inspiring. It really makes me feel not alone & to march on past rough or dry seasons, or even days. I think you need to write a devotional! 😀 I will be praying that God will abundantly bless every paint brush, ceiling beam, molding, wood floors, etc. this summer & you will be wowed with what God has done with your cottage! It will exceed your expectations & longings! (:

  16. This is such a comforting, REAL post. Thank you, Lady. We’re getting ready to move into our own fixer-upper and face our own unmatched flooring 🙂 It will be worth the work…and the money. Thank you.

  17. I know EXACTLY what you mean. I was just talking about this last night, I love old houses too and not everyone gets it. It’s a long..LONG..road. But it’s so worth it when you finish a room and can say “SEE!! I told you it would be cool!” We are working on re-finishing our 2nd floor now…can’t wait to be done so I can start decorating!

    P.S. Found your blog through The Lettered Cottage. <3

  18. LOL! Loved the comment about pulling down the ceiling while your hubby was on a conference call…. Everytime my hubby goes out of town on a business trip, he never knows what to expect when he comes home. Whether I repainted the house, swapped out the dining room & living room, put a pond in the back yard…. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s always an adventure. Can’t wait to finally buy a small beach side cottage that needs renovating. Until then, I’ll follow along as you beautify your cottage. Enjoy the journey!

  19. So totally needed this post! Hubby and I have just relocated from Los Angeles to a little farmhouse in Kentucky. I, too, have always wanted to breathe new life into an old home….8 months later (with a few successes and a few scary moments) I still wouldn’t have it any other way. This old house was made for me – even though it’s 100 years old – it was made for me! Thanks for your encouragement in the trenches!

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