Our House: What We Looked For and What We’re Doing

Ahh, Sunday afternoons. Is there anything quite like the blend of relaxation and melancholy as another weekend comes to a close and we prepare to thrust ourselves through the week all over again? Well, my “Sunday blues” is a bit of “same game, new ballpark” this weekend as I am writing this blog post from the front porch of our new house – we officially moved in this weekend and spent our first night here! We still have a little work to do on the apartment but we are finally home in our home!

Now that this marathon of a month is entering the home stretch, so to speak, I thought I’d take a moment to write about our house; specifically, what we were looking for in a house and the big things we have been keeping busy doing to our house to start making it into a home.

What we looked for

There were no House Hunters-esque demands going on here – we were pretty low-maintenance and not very picky, but there were a few things we felt we needed.

  1. Small size
    Big houses are a big no-no for both of us. As a two-person household, we don’t need a ton of space nor do we even want it. Growing up I always thought I wanted a huge house but now I hate the thought of it. I much prefer the efficiency and practicality of smaller homes. Having a bunch of space I don’t need or use just makes me anxious, not to mention how wasteful it is. We wanted something modest, which works out perfectly since that’s all our budget would allow for. And we got it: our little charmer is 750 square feet (not including a partially-finished basement). That said…
  2. A second story or basement
    Despite our preference for a smaller space, living on only one floor is challenging for us. It’s nice to have another floor option, via a 2nd floor or an habitable basement area, so that Kevin can go somewhere else if he wants to stay up and watch TV while I go to bed or read/write quietly. It’s also nice for when we have guests so that we’re not all on top of each other and we can all have a little privacy. Our house has a partially-finished basement to satisfy this requirement, which was a dealbreaker for us. As much as I love our house, I don’t think we would have been able to buy it without the basement available.
  3. Staying in the city of Milwaukee – and, if possible, our current neighborhood
    We love the Milwaukee neighborhood we’ve lived in the past 4 years. It’s an up-and-coming area that boasts both culture and charm and is, in general, just a nice area. We really wanted to stay here because we love it, but we also know that this neighborhood is incredibly in-demand right now and real estate is at a huge premium. Areas all over the country are experiencing an unprecedented seller’s market right now, and our neighborhood is one of two in Milwaukee where this is exceptionally prevalent. So, while we wanted to stay here, we also kept an open mind about other nearby areas. One requirement, however, is that we wanted to remain in the city of Milwaukee. Again, we got lucky. While our new address is a little farther away from the neighborhood hot spots and isn’t walkable to as many places, we’re still in a great location. I actually like our new street better – while not as centrally located, it’s a little nicer and quieter than our old street. Plus, the running routes are better here :-).
  4. A modest yard
    Again, we didn’t want anything huge because we don’t need it or want to maintain it. But we did want some green space so that I could have a garden and we could entertain friends and family in the summer time. Once again we hit the jackpot: both our front and back yards are very modest, but the back yard has two perfectly-sized garden beds and a rather large deck and will be great for having friends over for grill-outs in the summer. And I am in love with our front porch!


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  5. Age and character
    This was much more of a wish than a need, but it was certainly on our minds. Milwaukee has so much history and there are so many older homes with great bones and character. If not now, then one day we really wanted to be owners of an older home with more historic charm from a time when people really took pride in the things they built. Well, our house was built in 1923 and has quite a bit of character and some lovely historic features. It’s not without flaws, but it’s a treasure.

We definitely did not expect to find a “turn-key” house, and while we don’t have the capacity for the extensive renovations required of a fixer-upper, we were willing and able to do some bit of work on whatever home we purchased. As any homeowner knows, the work and projects will still continue for quite a while, but these are the major things we set out to do after we closed on our house to make it ours.

What We’re Doing

  1. Paint
    After we first looked at this house, one of my biggest complaints, if you could call it that, was the lack of natural light, particularly in the living room. The front windows open onto a shaded porch, which blocks a lot of sunlight from coming in, and the side windows are small stained glass. So I started to research how to use paint colors to add or capture more light in rooms. I was expecting everyone to recommend light pastel hues, but I was surprised to find the opposite: this article from Apartment Therapy recommends using rich saturated color that will shine in the light and retain its warmth and radiance in shadow. I decided to change the living room from the khaki-ish hue we inherited to a rich, coppery burnt orange (Sherwin Williams “Copper Mountain”). The new color is much more radiant while also giving the room a warm, cozy feel.

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    I also chose to paint the dining room a light, rich brown (Sherwin Williams’ “Cocoa” – it’s literally the color of a cup of hot chocolate). I wanted something a little more neutral for our middle room, but also richer and cozier than the bland cream-colored walls we inherited. We are also painting the kitchen, but I’m leaving that color a surprise until I can show off the finished product – we allowed ourselves a splurge for new counter tops, which are not only desperately needed but will really complete the room.

  2. Tearing out the carpets
    All of the rooms in our house are carpeted and for so many reasons, we wanted it out ASAP. It was old and old carpet is gross, plus the previous owners had cats and dogs and we didn’t want their smell lingering in the apartment for our cats. We also knew there were maple hardwood floors underneath, which we would much prefer over carpet anyway. It was definitely a gamble that we wouldn’t pull up all the carpet to find the wood floors in horrible condition underneath, but we couldn’t keep that carpet anyway.

    These two things – painting and carpet removal – had to be done before we could move in. We did the painting first so that we didn’t have to worry about the floor and then tore out the carpet. Luckily, crossing our fingers worked, and the wood floors in the living and dining rooms were in great condition. The wood floors also make the newly-painted walls look even better!

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    The maple floors agains the burnt orange walls and wood trim – don’t mind our unpacked junk 🙂

     

Our only other big projects for the time being are to get our counter tops in to finish the kitchen (they are ordered but won’t be ready until early June, so we’re making do with our ugly ones until then), and to complete our basement. It is mostly finished down there, but the floors are just concrete so we want to add some carpet to make it a little warmer and cozier, and build a bathroom down there, to make it into a den and a guest suite. This is a longer-term project that we hope to have done by late fall when we want to host family for the holidays. I’m anxious for this because one thing I really want is to move the TV down there and not have one in our living room. My dream is to have a house that is not TV-centric; perhaps it would force us out of the habit of plopping down to watch it just because it’s there, and we could fill that space with better habits and more productivity.

So, other than the inevitable odds and ends small things to fix/touch up/re-do, etc, that’s about it. That’s what we’ve been busy doing for three weeks and now we are finally done – it’s time to start LIVING here!

Once the rooms are furnished – or at least mostly furnished – I’d love to share some pictures as well as my thoughts and vision for the aesthetic and set-up of our home. But for now I should probably just focus on unpacking 😉

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11 thoughts on “Our House: What We Looked For and What We’re Doing

  1. Yay, I hope you enjoyed your first night in the new home. After spending so much time over there painting and stuff, wasn’t it so nice to actually be able to just *stay* when the work was over? When we were going back and forth between the apartment and our townhouse I felt like we were going to our second job whenever we went to the house, but once we moved in it felt more like working on fun side projects.

    That’s so nice that you had wood floors under the carpet that are in good condition. We have wood floors as well. While I didn’t notice it before we moved in, I’m now noticing that on the first floor there are areas where it needs fixing/replacing in high traffic areas (front door, kitchen, backdoors to patio). I hope it’s not too expensive to replace, but I have a feeling it won’t be cheap either. I’m jealous that your floors had been protected by carpet!

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  2. I love the color you chose! And how quickly you chose it! I went through about 10 paint samples splotched all over my walls for WEEKS before deciding. (Drove Dave nuts, looked lovely too…).
    I also really like the doors/woodwork in the house. Growing up in New England I have been accustomed to “colonial style” houses. Last year we moved into a mid-century modern house; I wasn’t sure I could get used to it! One of the things I miss is the “colonial farmhouse doors”; there is just something about holding the old hardware etc. I will probably swap out a door in our bedroom just for me! I am loving the house though. I love surrounding myself with antiques and old things, and it is a little different in this house, making it “work”.
    We did TONS of yard work this weekend, and we are only half through cleaning up from winter!
    Love the floors too!!

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  3. The house looks great and I love the color of the walls! I think your list of what you were looking for is very similar to what Frank and I would look for if we were to buy. Currently we are renters and want to stay that way for a while. Living in too big of a space means too much cleaning and that is just no fun at all! I’m glad you guys are happy there and I can’t wait to see more pics!

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  4. 750 square feet! That is small! I think that’s about the size of my first apartment, which certainly was not large! But with just the two of you, a smaller house will be so much easier to maintain, I’m sure. I love that your house is nearly 100 years old! I know old houses require a lot more work than something brand new, but I would love to have one one day. I lived in an old mansion for a semester in college, and I spent so much time daydreaming about the history and what it must’ve been like to live there as a family in the early 1900s. My college owned the house, though, so obviously I couldn’t do anything in terms of restoration – but I’d love to be able to on a house of my own! Your hardwood floors are gorgeous. I can’t believe someone covered them with carpet! I’d choose hardwood over carpet any day, especially if the hardwood was that pretty! I imagine the lightness of the wood will also help brighten up your living space, too. My current apartment is definitely lacking in the window department, and the INSANELY dark wood on the floors doesn’t do anything to help make it feel any lighter in there!

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  5. Congrats on being in your new house! This reminds me of my own house hunting 15 years ago! We also had to move out of our neighborhood because it had become too expensive but are happy with where we are now. I love small houses, but they’re really hard to find in the city here. The small ones tend to be total crap. So we ended up with a house way bigger than we need. Our next home will definitely be smaller! Enjoy your new home!

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  6. Congrats! I think that we were looking for similar things – our house is smaller, still in the city and built in the 1940s. But oh my god home projects take so long! Our unfinished basement is probably going to stay that way for another while. Love the beautiful floors under the carpet!

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  7. Yes, yes, yes! As much as our house feels TINY sometimes (mostly because it is) – I love that we don’t have room to bring in random shit. We have to KNOW where it will go, and perhaps even get RID of something else to make room. We have good outdoor space, but only one level, and the basement is not habitable, so I would love a second floor of some sort, for exactly the reasons you said. It can be hard to get space from each other sometimes.

    And the thought of someone elses grimy old carpet makes me cringe. So I am so glad you ripped it out, and so glad the hardwood underneath was in good condition!

    I’m excited to see more, because I am a house nerd & love this stuff.

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  8. Yay! Congrats on moving in 🙂 I absolutely love the hardwood floors that were beneath the carpets. Good luck on finishing the basement!!

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