One Room Challenge Spring 2018 Week Six REVEAL – Making a Grand Entrance

It’s here! Reveal day is here and I am… exhausted? Relieved? Proud! This was my first time participating in the One Room Challenge and I am beyond excited to show you how my stairwell project turned out. But first – let’s start at the beginning shall we?

Week One I introduced the stairwell and all of it’s bland nothingness, and shared some pretty inspiration for the project ahead.

Week Two I shared the mood board for the space, and put the paint color to a vote on Instagram where Le Luxe, a delicious deep green/blue, won. We started priming and preparing for paint.

Week Three was a really transformational week as the paint went on the walls and really shifted this project into high gear. I went into Week Four excited by the progress…

…. aaaaaand then Week Four promptly kicked my butt. This was the low point in the challenge – little happened in the stairwell that week and the Internet lied to me about the ease of installation of molding. But all was not lost!

Week Five we picked up the pace again and smashed out all the decorative and crown molding. I attempted to restore the handrail and newel post but was thwarted by Danish oil and had to abandon that part of the project (the other wood trim looks magnificent though!) I also foolishly added more to the project by taking the renovation outside to include the exterior of the entrance too.

Which brings us to Week Six – the Final Reveal. It has been non-stop work in the stairwell and she is finally ready for her close up! Well, don’t get too close as there are still a few final touches that need to be added, but you know what I mean!

So without further ado, the moment you’ve all been waiting for – the Before and Afters!

Starting outside, the exterior entrance got a little makeover of it’s own. It’s such a lovely little everyday luxury to have a pretty garden and updated accessories out here.

BEFORE:

AFTER:

Outdoor light | Mailbox | Doormat | Plants | Door paint color: Carbon Black by Behr

Stepping inside to the lowest landing you are greeted with the magnificent tile! My neighbor helped out with the tile install and we cut it very close – as in, it was all  finally laid yesterday. So this is the part where you have to imagine that the tile is grouted and the trim is all installed. But doesn’t it look so much better already?? I love this updated version of the Victorian clay entry tile and it’s going to be so much more durable in the winter months for this high traffic area.

BEFORE:

 

AFTER:

Tile | Light Fixture | Interior door color: Parador Stone by Behr

Heading up the stairs you can admire the new molding details. Manfriend’s math skills came in handy with all those tricky angles! Adhesive caulk inititally let us down (see: Week Four disaster) but super heavy duty adhesive saved the day. And lots of wine.

BEFORE:

AFTER:

Molding | Light paint color: Silky White by Behr. Dark paint color: Le Luxe by Behr

The middle landing is where you hit the pièce de résistance – the huge art project I’ve been hinting at over the past few weeks. Yes my friends, that is TWO STOREYS OF ANTIQUE DOG PORTRAITS. It is magnificent and really makes the space! This is a modern (and budget friendly!) update of one of the initial inspiration pictures. I think I might do a whole post on the Dog Wall and how we accomplished it – let me know if you’d like to know more!

BEFORE:

AFTER:

Frames | Rug 

The top landing is where the practical (but still pretty) happens. I found a great storage bench that fit the space exactly and gave some contained storage for shoes, gloves/hats and dog walking accoutrement. The bench was actually quite a nice light barnwood finish, but it didn’t work with the other wood in the space so it got a paint job. On the wall we built a coatrack which is an updated take on shaker style pegs but with pretty brass and lucite hooks. The white fluffy rug is entirely impractical – it’s a placeholder for now as I tried a few different rugs here and none were quite right. The size/asymmetrical shape is right, so I am on the lookout for something similar but more durable/less white.

BEFORE:

AFTER:

Hooks | Storage bench | Impractical placeholder rug | Storage bench paint color: Battleship Grey by Behr

 

So that’s my first One Room Challenge reveal! It was certainly a challenge to makeover the space in six weeks, but the outcome makes all the hard work worth it. What a big difference it has made now that I’m looking back at the Before images!

Thanks so much to the ORC organizers for creating such a cool, creative and constructive internet event, and a big *high five* to all the other Featured and Guest participants – we did it!

 

One Room Challenge Guest Participant

 

One Room Challenge Spring 2018 Week Five – Scrambling Towards the Finish Line

You know how in eighties movies there’s always that scene where the ‘ugly duckling’ becomes the pretty, popular girl by taking off her glasses, doing her hair differently and trying on cool outfits to a boppy tune? That’s what this week has been in the stairwell. We’ve been bopping along, shaking my head to some outfits that didn’t work, nodding emphatically to ones that did, and generally getting prettier. It wasn’t progress in leaps and strides this week like I’d hoped but we are slowly s l o w l y getting there.

I had a short setback last Friday when I spent my entire day off from work sanding and scraping and sanding some more to get the handrail and newel post to their pretty moment. I sanded for hours until I had what I thought it was nice, clean, raw wood and then triumphantly wiped on some Danish oil. Well, let’s just say I had NOT sanded and scraped and sanded quite enough, and the Danish oil was all “Imma gonna show you EVERY TINY THING YOU MISSED.” Not cool, Danish oil, not cool. It’s kind of a hot mess so I’m going to have to go back and redo the handrail and newel post but re-doing things is low on my priority list right now. I will admit defeat here and let you know that it might not be recitifed by the end of the challenge, and my Type A personality will just have to deal with it. Deep breaths.

After the debarkle with trying to install the molding last week, Manfriend and I refocused and worked through getting the rest of the decorative molding cut and installed this week. The acute angles of the staircase molding details nearly got the better of us, but we soon realised that most tricky cutting situations can be solved with one simple hack(saw). So we designed, measured, hacksawed, cut and glued those babies into submission and can now proudly cross ‘install decorative molding’ off the list.

I also had a moment of insanity realization this week when I decided that since we were making the stairwell entry so beautiful, and since we were already painting the front door… well, we may as well make the outside entry prettier too  BECAUSE I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH ON MY PLATE ALREADY. So I ordered a new outdoor light and mailbox, and the garden beds beside the front door are getting a tszujing. Brace yourself for a brutally boring before:

Dead plants. Tiny gross little light. Plastic mailbox. One flowerbed inexplicably full of a strange and prolific type of grass. Next week it will be fresh and cute I promise!

So let’s recap what’s still on the To Do list:

  • Install crown molding
  • Finish the giant art installation for the main wall (gulp – that’s a lot of work on it’s own!)
  • Paint the front door and both interior doors – still deciding if I want to paint the door to my apartment or leave it wood
  • Install coat rack
  • Build storage seating
  • Lots and lots of caulking and paint touchups
  • Install new lights
  • Tile the lowest landing (!!)

I’ve got the weekend off and I’m trying not to panic. Never fear, I will get it done… or won’t I? (No really – I might not!!) Stay tuned for the big reveal next week!

 

One Room Challenge Guest Participant

Make sure to follow along everyone’s progress – the featured designers are killing it in this challenge! Ashley took her renovation outdoors as well, and Joanna’s backyard makeover is beyond stunning (that black fence is phenomenal!) The guest participants are all working hard too – anyone else out there panicking like me?? Everyone seems cool as a cucumber!

One Room Challenge Spring 2018 Week Four – A Series of Unfortunate Events

Sooooo… Week 4 of the One Room Challenge is no joke. We were warned this would be a challenging week and they weren’t kidding. Last week I naively declared that come this week I would have trim/molding installed and the wood restored. Ha! Ha ha! Last Week Me was so optimistic, high on paint fumes, and forgetting she had six long hard days straight of adulting at work to do. So I had all of one day to devote to the ORC this week, and let’s just say I did not achieve what I had set out to do. Let me paint the picture for you:

Tuesday is the one day I have to work on the stairwell. No probs, my manfriend also has Tuesday off and we are determined to knock out all the molding and trim.

Tuesday is also the day I have a standing midmorning appointment with my personal trainer. No worries – we’ll go to the gym, hit up Home Depot, and still have plenty of time to do all the molding and trim.

Prepare a list of what we need at Home Depot over breakfast. Get to the gym and leave pumped (endorphins make you happy!) and ready to get down and complete the molding and trim.

We stop by Habitat for Humanity on the way to Home Depot and happen to find a box of grout for the tiles for $3. Winning at life.

Grab everything on the list at Home Depot and proclaim how brilliant and efficient we are for making the list and quickly finding everything we need.

Decide to stop by the grocery store and grab lunch and dinner so that all we have to worry about for the rest of the day is getting the trim and molding done. Treat ourselves to lobster rolls because we’re going to be so productive all afternoon.

 

Now: here’s where things went awry. The molding and trim I found is a super cool recycled lightweight polysterene. This stuff is quite brilliant really – much easier to work with than wood and super budget friendly (all the crown and decorative molding for the staircase ended up being about $85 and that’s including spare pieces). I watched a video online of it being installed and I thought, “Man that’s so easy! You got this!”

Here’s the thing: *spoiler alert* not everything you see on the Internet is true. So when a friendly-looking older handygentleman on the internet tells you to use adhesive caulk on your polysterene trim, stick it up, wipe away the excess and voila! you’re done – WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT BELIEVE HIM. That man is a liar my friend. You do NOT save yourself an extra step of caulking, and adhesive caulk is not great at either adhesion or caulking.

So we (and when I say we I mean entirely me as manfriend is eternally patient) struggled and swore and made a mess trying to stick a bendy piece of trim to a wobbly old wall with adhesive caulk that neither adheres nor caulks well. It was sliding down the wall, sticking at one end and not the other, oozing out all over the place – I’m talking full on DIY disaster. By 4.30pm I had to walk away, eat some chocolate and rethink my life how to go about this.

I went back to Home Depot and got some heavy duty adhesive with zero second dry time. I also went to the wine store and bought 3 bottles of wine because WINE ALWAYS HELPS. I swear Home Depot should just add a D.I.Wine aisle over by the paint department to save everyone the trip to the bottle shop.

So by that point it’s 6pm. We managed to sucessfully stick up 5 pieces of the approx. 60 that needed to go up and cannot for the life of us get our heads around the angles for the staircase run of molding. Forget about carefully restoring the wood in the stairwell – my patience was gone at that point.

“But,” I thought to myself, “You need some cool progress pics to show off on the ORC link up! The trim and molding may have been a bust but surely there’s something quick and satisfying you can do to move this project along?” Lightbulb moment: remove all the blue painter’s tape. Painting had been successful the week before and removing the tape would be quick and painless and big impact, right? You would think that but NO. It peeled off in tiny strips. It took off the carefully painted edges. In some areas it took off two layers (!!) of the paint underneath. Deep breath. Keep calm Danielle, and carry on. Take one carefully cropped photo showing the single corner of trim that is finished and carry on.

So, in summary: let’s forget Week 4 ever happened. By next week I’ll have all the molding and trim up and the woodwork restored! And if that fails – SEND WINE.

 

One Room Challenge Guest Participant

 

FOOTNOTE: on the plus side I did order some great lighting, found a good storage bench option, received some cool budget-friendly coat hooks, and started on the big art project for the main wall. Plus the tiles for the lowest landing are stunning and will be the absolute bomb when I get them installed. So all is not lost in ORC Week 4 but man am I looking forward to making lots of visible progress in Week 5!

Have you been following along the One Room Challange featured designers and guest participants? Seems Deuce Cities Henhouse was also struggling with a tough/boring week this week, and I’m super excited to see how the Blake Hill House porch vestibule turns out after a slow start – her attention to detail is amazing!

 

One Room Challenge Spring 2018 Week Three – The Power of Paint

Ohmigosh we’re halfway through this challenge! The stairwell has moved forward in leaps and bounds this week with a healthy dose of paint… and yet I feel like I have a million more weeks of work and only three actual weeks until the Big Reveal! It will all be ok in the end, right? Right?! That’s the fun of it though – and the challenge!

I took the paint color to a vote on Instagram last week and Le Luxe won by a landslide (also Bradley Cooper was the crowd favourite hot guy – no surprise there!) So Le Luxe it was and let me just say – great choice everyone *applause* *high fives* It’s my favourite kind of color: a chameleon that’s bright and interesting in the day time and dark and dramatic at night. Depending on the light it’s green or grey or blue or an almost inky black. Beautiful!

Below the Le Luxe is what I think is by far the best warmish white out there, my darling Behr Silky White. Trust me on this one – I have tried every white and this is The One. Silky White is a true white but slightly warm, without a hint of an undertone (so many whites tend blue or pink or green or purple!) It’s white but not too white and really looks lovely and crisp against dark colors. It’s really thrilling to see the space changing through the color and contrast of the paint.

While I did paint some of the wood trim, I deliberately left some of it too, to provide the warmth that only wood can. The floors are beautiful and the wood trim that I kept wood (the newel posts, handrails and window trim) complement the floors while giving them space to shine. I’ve been slowly removing all the old finishes/varnish on it with denatured alcohol and steel wool – a tedious, messy, but ultimately very satisfying endeavour. I’ve been inspired by Restoring Ross’ recent efforts in his niche. My woodwork doesn’t have anywhere near the detail and beauty that his has, but his slow-but-steady progress has been pushing me to bring my own battered wood back to life.

 

In other news: the trim and molding is ordered and should arrive this week. It will add so much dimension to the space, I’m very excited about it! I’m also excited and nervous to be trying something new with the trim – I found a budget alternative which I’m going to experiment with, fingers crossed it all works out. And because I saved some cash on the trim I bit the bullet, used my Christmas gift cards (what, your family doesn’t give you Home Depot cards for Christmas?), and ordered the tiles for the lowest landing. They will be beautiful – I’m just hoping I get them down in time for the Big Reveal date!

My biggest struggle this week has been locking down all the little details. I know what I want but actually finding it is proving a little tricky. I had a cute little pillow top bench on my mood board last week…but it doesn’t really offer much storage for the whole shoe situtation that happens at the top of the stairs. Having said that there is a serious lack of attractive, affordable storage furniture out there. I’m on the hunt though and determined to find something just right.

Next update I hope to have the trim started and the wood parts of the trim mostly restored! Plus I have a big project for the main wall which will be amazing when it’s done…I’ve just got to get going on it! Time’s a tickin’!

Time to explore what else is happening in ORC land – the featured designers are working on some quite brilliant spaces (loving this one, and this one!), and the guest participants are forging ahead with their lovely projects too! Also have you seen the One Room Challenge series on Home Love Network? I dig Andy and Candis (and their Modern Victorian vibe!) so much, and this series is such an interesting insight into everyone’s design process. Go check it out!

 

One Room Challenge Guest Participant

 

One Room Challenge Spring 2018 Week Two – The Great Paint Debate

I painted some of my wood trim.
There, I said it. My name is Danielle, I’m an old house enthusiast, and I *gasp* painted some of my wood trim.

Painting wood trim is one of those hugely polarising design decisions. And I totally get it – my househunt once yielded a stunning Queen Anne Victorian which had every inch of it’s magnificent wood trimmed foyer painted a horrifying metallic gold. I almost cried at the thought of what that space once was and how much effort it would take to restore it back to it’s former wood trim glory.

So why did I tempt controversy and paint my trim? Well, though my house is supes cute from the outside, the inside (especially the staircase) is another story. Sure there’s a little detail here and there, a sprinkling of charm, but it is not one of those exquisite Queen Annes and it’s woodwork is sadly lacking. What is there is mostly non-original and covered in years of drips and specks from messy wall paint jobs. In short: my trim was a total Monet.

So I took a deep breath, put my painting pants on* and got down to painting my trim (well, I got as far as priming it this week). And let me tell you: it was terrifying. I could almost hear the old house purists scolding me for not restoring what was there. I braced myself for the internet haters telling me they “liked the before better”. There were many, many moments where I doubted myself. But I’m glad to say that once that first coat went on I knew I’d made the right decision. Giant sigh of relief.

 

Now the next big decision is what color to paint the walls. The plan is to add some decorative molding and paint the bottom part white, to lighten the space and add some interest to the Nothingness. Above the molding will be where the DRAMA comes in – I’m talking a deep, sexy wall color rising up to the ceiling. Now which deep, sexy wall color exactly I’m not sure. I’ve narrowed it down to a custom concoction I’m calling Salt and Peppery (a brighter, lighter version of my favorite Behr color Peppery) and a delightful blue/green/grey called Le Luxe. Aaaaaand of course they both look awesome. It’s like being presented with Bradley Cooper and Joe Manganiello – they’re both so dang handsome which do you choose?? How can you possibly decide?!? I’m going to put it to a vote in my Stories on the Gram and see what the crowd thinks, so feel free to head on over there and add your two cents.

 

Left: Salt and Peppery aka Bradley Cooper. Right: Le Luxe aka Joe Manganiello

I will leave you this week with a work-in-progress mood board of the direction I’m heading in. There’s still some things up in the air but I’m starting to really narrow in on the final look. I love the tiles but they are not inexpensive and I’m having trouble pulling the trigger on them – it’s sure going to be tough to balance the budget whilst still making a big impact!

 

*actual pants, which I wear exclusively for painting

It’s getting exciting in ORC land – the featured designers and other guest participants have some great projects going on!

 

One Room Challenge Guest Participant

One Room Challenge Spring 2018 Week One – The Stairwell

Ok, so I’m WAY outside of my comfort zone right now. I’ve signed myself up to the most gruelling of online interior makeover challenges: the One Room Challenge. This is the equivalent of starting out as an amateur powerwalker and then immediately signing myself up for the Iron Man Ultramarathon. I’m not even exaggerating. I’ll likely end up wheezing on the sidelines for even daring to compete with the best of the best in the interior blog world, but dang it, I’m gonna try!

So hi! Hello! Are you new here? Me too! I’m Danielle, and I’m a jack of all design trades. I’ve worked in graphic design, web design, branding, marketing, packaging, video games, merchandising, staging, interior design – all the things! I’m a visual person and I enjoy surrounding myself and others with beautiful design of all kinds. You’ve probably found me via the One Room Challenge, but if not go and check it out. It’s brilliant and inspiring every time it happens.

 

So let’s dive into this: The basic premise of the One Room Challenge is to pick a space and make it over in 6 weeks. Well, five really, because the sixth week is the Big Reveal. It’s my first time participating and I’ve chosen an interesting space to tackle: my stairwell.

First of all let me hit you with some inspiration:


Bam. Brilliant, engaging, interesting staircase.
Credit: Brooke Astor’s Holly Hill Estate

 


Boom. Simple, modern yet period sensitive, interesting. Bring it on.
Credit: The McQuades via Design*Sponge

 

Now that I’ve dazzled you with the inspo (so pretty!) let me totally underwhelm you with the Before pictures. Just imagine a sad trombone sound here:

 

 

 

 

 

Womp womp. It’s woeful. Let me count the ways:

  • The Lowest Landing. Aptly named. Basically you enter at the Lowest Landing, go up a flight, turn on the Middle Landing and go up another flight to arrive at the Top Landing and my apartment. The Lowest Landing also leads straight into my tenant’s downstairs apartment. It is frequented by people and doggos and snow and mud and it needs some serious help. I always planned to tile it, and after a full winter of torment it is READY for said tiles.
  • Stair treads and the middle/top landings were refinished when I first bought the house and had the floors redone in my upstairs apartment. However: the Lowest Landing and the stair risers have basically been ignored since that time. They are in a very sad state indeed.
  • Speaking of the stairs: in the past someone took to those antique spindles with let’s just say, an aggressive sanding technique. They are bruised and battered but (I hope!) not beyond repair. On my Instagram @macrokilla described them as being “sanded with a rasp…anything can be fixed #100hourslater“. Looks like I’ve got about 100 hours of gentle sanding ahead of me in these next 6 weeks…
  • The vast Nothingness of the Main Wall. You enter, you walk up a flight of stairs, you encounter a window and then… the Nothingness… until the ceiling waaaaaaaaay up there. You know how in The Neverending Story Fantasia was being devoured by the Nothing? Yeah, that’s happening – in my stairwell. Also it’s yellow. Noone likes a yellow Nothingness.
  • The shoe situation on the Top Landing (outside my apartment door). Carrie Bradshaw ain’t got nothing on me. This is actually a small collection of just the most recently worn shoes, piled high and generally causing mischief.
  • The coats. Oh my god the coats. To be fair, I live in the north east: it’s still snowing in April. I need the coats but also I hate the coats. Soooo many coats and scarves and cold weather accoutrement weighing down that poor coat rack. Gotta sort that shiz out.

 

Here is my plan of attack for the next 6 weeks (in no particular order):

  • Tile the Lower Landing
  • Paint the entrance door, downstairs apartment door and upstairs apartment door
  • Add decorative molding to the main staircase area and carry it around the stairwell space
  • Gently sand and restore the staircase… for #100hours
  • Paint all the trim, spindles and stair risers
  • Stain the handrails and newel posts
  • Change out the lighting and lightswitches
  • Paint all the walls above the trim and molding
  • Finally overcome the Nothing and make a Something out of the main wall
  • Switch out the sad roller blind on the Top Landing for something better (or nothing at all!)
  • Add (built in?) seating and shoe storage to the Top Landing
  • Add better coat organization of some sort
  • Decorate and generally prettify the whole space

It sounds relatively easy but also I’m quaking in my boots at the thought of getting this all done in 6 weeks whilst also maintaining my demanding full time job and general adulting. I’m either going to succeed spectacularly or fail miserably – but either way it should be entertaining! Stay tuned!

I’ll be pinning the ORC over here and ‘gramming over here. Go check out the other guest participants, featured designers or just click the logo below for all the ORC goodness!

 

One Room Challenge Guest Participant

Finding #GrandDanbury

It took almost a year of searching to find my house. My brief was Vaguely Specific:

  • Pre-1930s, preferably Victorian, but really just anything old
  • Something that could make money (rentable cottage/apartment, bed and breakfast potential, ability to renovate and resell at a profit – that kind of thing)
  • Some land around it. Maybe an acre, maybe more?
  • Commutable to my work
  • A project. No new build, recently flipped for me – no, I wanted spider webs and original details and the ability to add value with a restoration

So began the search…

The Perfect One that Got Away

I started looking before my house in Sydney had sold, and immediately found the perfect property. It was a short sale, a beautiful Greek Revivial home in need of renovations with 2 accessory cottages and the most perfect dilapidated red barn. The walk-out basement featured a moldy-yet-awesome 70’s bar. There was a lake and a stream and acres of land which was surrounded by vineyards and horse properties. If I had been quicker, and had I had any experience with full renovations at all, it would have been perfect. Hindsight has 20/20 vision though and looking back on it now, although it was everything I wanted, that property would have been far too much work for a novice like me… and likely would have sent me broke. I viewed some other properties on both sides of the Hudson but nothing was quite clicking for me like that one had.

 

A promotion at work prompted a move from Manhattan to Connecticut, and my search then shifted from Hudson-centric to within-an-hour-or-so-of-Danbury-Connecticut. I hadn’t completely discounted New York state, but Connecticut was proving to be absolutely charming… and the property taxes far more affordable! The move happened quite quickly and I came across my wonderful broker Robert Morey whilst looking for a Connecticut rental. The rental he was representing did not allow pets, but he followed up and was extremely helpful/pleasant… so I gave him my Vaguely Specific Brief.

We drove up and down western Connecticut, scouring the countryside for possible purchases (just imagine the Benny Hill theme song here)
We looked at a 1930s cottage that was charming but I’m certain was haunted.
We looked at a Christmas tree farm just outside of Litchfield (a brilliant interpretation of the ‘must be able to make money’ part of the Vageuly Specific Brief, but the house itself, unfortunately, was a bit of a let down)
We looked at older homes that had fallen into disrepair and were just too much work.
We looked at older homes that had been carefully restored and were not the project I was after.
We looked at many, many basements – and one former hospital (!!) – that could have doubled as sets for horror films.

That man has the patience of a saint.

The Not-So-Old Farmhouse

The first Connecticut property that really piqued my interest was on 3 acres on top of a hill. It was perfectly set up for a small bed and breakfast – large bedrooms, each with a bathroom, and lovely gathering spaces with big fireplaces. To the rear, off the kitchen, was a little apartment that could have served as the innkeepers residence or been rented out on its own. I visited many times, and in my visits I began to realize more and more how much had been altered. The stair was no longer in it’s original location (nor could I determine where it might have been) and now blocked a window. The beams I thought added character were actually added after the fact. I found a dilapidated pool in a pile of unruly bushes – a nice idea in theory, but another expense to remove and replace. I concluded with a heavy heart it just wasn’t the right one for me.

The Overpriced Victorian

The next property that grabbed my attention was a darling Victorian. I had scouted it out before requesting a showing, and as I drove up the hill towards it my heart skipped beat. It was delightful. A turret, fabulous details, standing proudly on a generous corner lot. Now granted, it was about 45mins away and was not in the best town (I heard many locals refer to it as ‘The Armpit of Connecticut’…not a very promising review), but it was on the edge of a State Park and two doors down from a well-visited historic home – so it was a possible bed and breakfast. I attended a town hall meeting discussing the reinvigoration of the town’s main street. I daydreamed about how I would renovate the kitchen. I made an offer.

And for months I heard…nothing. The occasional small counteroffer, but no proper negotiations and rarely any contact from the seller’s broker. It was frustrating to say the least. To be fair, I had made a lowball offer – not to be a jerk, but because the house needed extensive renovations/repairs and it really wasn’t in the greatest area. I wanted that house, but I did not want to be the sucker from the city that set the price record for the street. In the end the seller accepted another offer and I walked away, disappointed but relieved to have not overpaid.

 

After the overpriced Victorian I did some rethinking. It had cemented for me that I wanted a Victorian home, so my Vaguely Specific Brief got slightly more specific and honed in on homes built in the 1800s. My bravado had also worn off and I was looking for a more, ahem, realistic project for my first foray into home renovation. I started the search again.

 

The One: Grand Danbury


Almost immediately after my rethink I found the listing for Grand Danbury. It was in a great area of town – just two streets over from my rental and minutes from work – but it despite it’s city location it had 1.5 acres of land. It was a multifamily with rental income. It was frigging adorable. We set up an appointment to see it and another nearby home on the same day.

Wouldn’t you know it – both were fantastic. I instructed my broker to make offers on both.

The other property I viewed that day was a sharply priced little home, in need of a rehab but with no major issues. It had just been listed but went so fast we couldn’t even get an offer in on it! It has since had a really quite well done flip and is back on the market for $100k more than it was purchased for last year. Note to self: get faster Danielle!

Grand Danbury had multiple offers on the table – some at full asking price, most with smaller deposits. The sale of my Sydney home afforded me the luxury of being able to give a larger deposit with a lower offer on the price. I expressed to the seller my desire to have a home to cherish and restore. He himself had lovingly restored the exterior and downstairs apartment (with the upstairs apartment being rented to the same tenant for 20+ years) and thankfully chose me as the next custodian of the house.

The upstairs tenants moved out, leaving an unrenovated apartment as my home and project. The downstairs tenants had purchased their own home, but recommended their cousins as new tenants – boom, uninterrupted rental income.

 

It’s not my forever home, and lacks some of the mystery and magic of a completely unrenovated house, but it is an absolutely perfect way to start my Connecticut real estate adventure.

 

My Top Tips When Searching for an Older Home

  • Write down what’s most important to you (aka a Vaguely Specific – or even an Actually Specific – Brief) Schools and new kitchens and pools were not important to me. Age, character, and money making potential were. Think about what you need, what’s unimportant, and what you might be willing to compromise on.
  • Find a good broker. I luckily stumbled upon mine, but if I had to start again I would do research and ask for recommendations. Pay attention to how they follow up when you enquire about available properties. Listen to see if they’re giving you spin to get a sale or actually looking out for your best interests (Robert, for example, would NOT let me offer more than I should have on The Overpriced Victorian)
  • Take your time, and be prepared to reassess along the way. After losing out on The Overpriced Victorian, I was able to adjust my focus and find the right property for me. I also rented instead of rushing into a purchase, which took the pressure off the search.
  • Don’t start too early. It’s a good idea to research the market and see what is available at certain price points, but don’t get your heart set on a property before you are prepared to move forward. Have your financing preapproved and deposit ready before really getting into your search.
  • Use what you have to make a strong offer – and I’m not just talking about money. If you can offer a larger deposit, that’s a great way to negotiate on the asking price. But there are also other factors that influence a seller’s decision on which offer to accept – let them know why you want that property, that you’ll cherish it like they did.
  • Get a good inspection. I cannot emphasise this enough. My inspector gave so many great insights into things to keep an eye on, potential problems down the line, how my house was built. Go into your purchase with eyes wide open.

Modern Victorian – what is it?

This whole blog stemmed from a couple of articles that introduced the idea of Modern Victorian style…but what exactly is it? Emily Henderson did an overview of key components of the look, Apartment Therapy caught the essence of it last year, and it’s been popping up in shelter mags more and more frequently. To me there’s a couple of aspects to this style:

Modern Victorian: An Aesthetic Approach

This is the idea of borrowing antique styles (or actual antiques!) and using them in new ways in contemporary spaces. This style seems to be a bit of a reaction to the Scandanavian Minimalism and Mid Century Modern styles that have been en vogue of late, and a more refined style than the popular ‘Fixer Upper’ farmhouse trend. It’s a rich, embellished, elegant look. Think statement lighting, luxe detailing, and showstopper antiques on a background of a simpler contemporary interior. There are some traditional aspects, but it’s not quite as maximalist as a New Trad interior.

Modern Victorian: A Real Life Approach

I think there’s also a second component to the Modern Victorian style, something a little less trendy and a little more interesting. Actually owning an antique home, having existing Victorian detailing and architectural embellishments in your home demands a different approach to decorating a space. How do you create a modern home when you have a grand antique stair, or detailed stained glass, or miles of wood moulding and panelling? How do you restore an antique house and create an actual modern home, not a museum? To me this is the really fascinating aspect of this style. How do actual Victorian decorating styles influence or translate into a contemporary interior?

It’s something that I’ve been researching and pondering quite a lot lately as I recently purchased a lovely Victorian home in Connecticut. But my cool NYC midcentury influenced pieces didn’t quite translate from the city into this new space…and I didn’t feel like all of them really should. This grand old dame demands a more thoughtful approach to decorating and I’m slowly learning and sharing as I go.

 

Let’s do this together shall we? I’d love to share as I delve more into the history of Victorian decorating, actually living within a Victorian space, and discuss how to navigate that in your own decorating. Ask me anything in the comments below!

 

Main image: Paul Massey via House and Garden UK

Let’s do this

The time I thought I was an internet troll… so I finally started a blog.

Earlier today I thought I had been blocked. I had posted a comment responding to an article by Emily Henderson on the topic of ‘Modern Victorian’ style, and while I wasn’t mean spirited at all, my contribution was more of a ‘constructive criticism’ comment than a high five moment.

And my comment appeared briefly, then was gone.

I thought to myself, “Huh. That’s weird. Maybe they just filter their comments before posting.” (spoiler alert: they do)

Then I thought, “Oh. Maybe my post was too negative and they removed it.” My heart sunk. For you see, Emily has a happy comment policy for her blog. It’s aimed at making her part of the internet a constructive, respectful, positive community and to keep the internet trolls at bay by simply removing their negative bullshit. When I read her original post about it I was all, “You go girl, haters gonna hate and you don’t have to listen to them!”

But.
Then.
Today my comment was gone.

It dawned on me, the heart sinking thought… if my comment was removed, then… was I one of those people? Those ones that throw shade at the sunniest of personalities just for kicks?

Oh my god. I’m an inadvertent internet troll.

I pondered on this for a moment. I thought I had been constructive, I certainly didn’t say anything hateful or rude. In fact I’m one of Emily’s biggest fangirls – I follow the blog and Instagram diligently, comb through (and often buy from) every one of her round ups and recommendations, delight in new room reveals. Secretly I feel like if we ever met we’d be best buds – two quirky blondes who both once worked for Jonathan Adler and just want to make everyone’s home a beautiful place to be.

Then something else bubbled up: I felt feisty. I felt fired up. I had something to say – enough to take the time to comment – and it was gone. And I thought I was making an interesting contribution and that others might be interested in it as well. My comment was about *actual* Victorian decorating and how that informs this ‘Modern Victorian’ style the article was about. The history and context behind this ‘new’ look. I find it fascinating.

At that moment I realized, “Even if I am a troll and my imaginary best friend Emily Henderson now hates me, this is interesting and others will be interested too. Time to start that blog.” Lightbulb moment.

Later that day I went back to the article and saw that not only was my comment there in all its constructively critical glory, but that someone had responded to it thanking me for my insight. You’re welcome ‘Katie at 8.56am’, and thank YOU for confirming that this might be an interesting topic to share more about.

 

I had a blog back in the olden days of 2009, but it fizzled out as I didn’t have a clear direction. No compass directing the vision, no ‘niche’ if you will. And today I finally found it, and I hope it’s something you will enjoy.

I own a delightful Victorian house. I have a lot to share about how I came to find it, what work it needs, it’s history, and more broadly the fascinating history of Victorian architecture and decorating. ‘Modern Victorian’ or ‘New Victorian’ is exactly what I’m immersed in right now.

In fact my baby sister pointed it out to me months ago via text after I had tried to explain the look I was going for in this new/old house:

“New Victorian,” she said. “NOW I GET IT.”

Me too. Let’s do this.