As we revealed on Friday, last month Alex and I took the plunge into second home ownership. Our "new" home, an early 1900s American foursquare, has great bones, an amazing water view, and enough projects to keep us both busy for the next decade or so. While the house is completely livable as is, we see a laundry list of items both big and small that we know want to tackle. But the looming question, "Where the heck do we start?"

We moved into this house "empty," meaning we had no substantial furniture to configure or items to deliver. That first weekend we were relying largely on duplicate items of our own from our house, and on the kindness of family for donating unwanted furniture. Nope, no moving trucks ready to bring our stuff, just single car loads of stuff we'd gathered up in our kitchen staging area.

My parents came into town the weekend we closed on the house, and not only were they a huge help in bringing no longer wanted items from their basement as well as from Alex's parents' basement, but they helped us tackle some of those critical first steps when you purchase a home. 

The biggest time suck of the weekend was cleaning. We cleaned, scoured, vacuumed, dusted, and polished until we were exhausted, starting with the kitchen. There's nothing I hate more than a dirty refrigerator (and this one was relatively clean compared to some that I see when showing houses), and I didn't want to put any of our food in the fridge until I had my way with the beast.

I scrubbed until the fridge was gleaming, and then moved on to each cabinet and drawer in the rest of the kitchen while my mom washed every dish, glass, and piece of silverware we were about to store. Throughout the weekend my dad started to fastidiously clean the water-facing windows. It's amazing what a clean window can do for a space. Having clean windows allows so much light to come in, and and the views looked better than we'd ever seen them. Meanwhile, Alex focused on sweeping and dusting everything in sight, including those hard to reach places like the tops of the kitchen cabinets or the arms of the chandeliers.

My mom, Lulu, and I all got our hands dirty in the garden. The beds hadn't been tended to in quite some time, so we got to work pulling weeds, trimming back bushes, and generally preparing the gardens for their winter slumber. 

As Alex alluded to in his last post, the first floor's full bath (one of three full baths in the home) was sporting some wallpaper and curtains that I knew I couldn't live with. While at some point we know we'll completely renovate all three bathrooms, I firmly announced that ridding this small room of its floral carcass would be our first "real" renovation project in this home. 

The first night we slept in the house we all tossed and turned. It seems sleeping on air mattresses doesn't make for a restful slumber, and my mom was up at the crack of dawn and was ready to go. Actually, I think she was up well before the crack of dawn, somewhere in the neighborhood of 4:30am to 5:00am, and when I ventured downstairs at 6:00am she had already begun attacking the floral garden.

She was making great progress, despite her tiny little putty knife as a tool. 

I was so excited by her progress, I couldn't help but wedge myself into the small space to join her. 

Most of the paper came off in minuscule bits, but we had the occasional breakthrough that had us screaming with joy. (It's the little things when you're stripping wallpaper.) 

As lunchtime neared, we had successfully removed the floral border, the floral paper, and even a second more subtle floral layer behind it.

It was tedious work, no doubt, and unfortunately some of the drywall paper came off along with the wall paper. That means Alex will be doing a full (but light) skim coat on the walls, which is a slow process as we'll try to apply a coat each time we're at the house. It's a bit torturous that we aren't able to move it along quickly because of drying time. 

At least the not-to-our-taste flowers (on the wall) are a things of the past. Now the only flowers in this room will be viewed through the window, where the charming white picket enclosed garden sits.

With respect to this bathroom, and many of the rooms in this house, we'll be taking a "make the most of what we have" approach to the space. At some very distant point in the future we'll gut the room, reconfigure the toilet so it doesn't "greet" you upon first glance into the space, rip up the worn and cracked tile (and install a proper subfloor and isolation membrane designed for the weight of tile), put in a frameless shower, etc., etc., etc., but for now we're focusing on a soft renovation which will involve:

  • removing the wallpaper
  • skim coating the walls and ceiling
  • painting the walls and trim
  • making a new window treatment
  • replacing the old and worn polished brass fixtures and vanity light
  • making over the brass seashell ceiling light
  • adding a new shower curtain, towels, art and bath mat
  • introducing a TP holder and mirror (two elements that were strangely absent on our closing day) 
  • stripping and rehabbing the original rim lock and old hardware on the door
  • possibly building a small vanity to replace the small, off center pedestal sink

Despite the weekend's hard work, we did have some down time to enjoy our new home. Friends brought a pizza dinner, we sipped prosecco on the porch, and best of all, I enjoyed a special reward of soaking in the home's original claw foot tub. It was truly everything I thought it would be, and more. 

This house is going to be a good balance of fun and challenging DIY endeavors as well as taking time to unwind and relax. We won't be moving at warp speed (but when have we ever moved quickly on a project?), but we're really excited about the projects we've already dreamed up.

Speaking of bathrooms, you may be wondering how our master bathroom renovation is going at home. We've made some MAJOR progress in the last few weeks. We're wrapping up the tail end of two big reveals, and can't wait to show you the results. Let's just say, I may soon have my choice of two claw foot tubs. Life just doesn't get any better than this. 

Comments 21


Tiffany Washington
11/18/2014 at 11:25 AM
11/18/2014 at 12:06 PM

Congratulations on your new purchase! It will be exciting to see what you do with it. I am sure that it is going to be gorgeous.

11/18/2014 at 12:21 PM

Ahh - the joys of moving - even if you don't have a lot of stuff.
I bet your bathroom will look completely transformed even with an off the shelf white paint - kudos for jumping right into making the house more youAlt smile

11/18/2014 at 3:27 PM

I applaud your getting right onto the wallpaper stripping - it's a nasty job! Investing in a $50 wallpaper steamer will make the next such effort so much easier, and might even save the drywall underneath from gouges. Good luck in your new home, may it be the source of contentment and happiness for years to come.


Thanks, Ann! Alex has been pushing for a steamer and we're getting close to pulling the trigger. Thanks for your advice.Alt smile

11/18/2014 at 6:34 PM

Simmering maple syrup down to maple sugar, will strip wallpaper from the walls of the room in question. I have this from a professional maple syruper (maple syrup farmer?) who took work home one day.


Wow! I've never heard of that as a wallpaper stripper. Thanks, Harry!

Franki Parde
11/18/2014 at 6:51 PM

Been there, done.....removing wallpaper is a BEAST!!! franki

Jean-Christian Pitre
11/18/2014 at 7:30 PM
maria laura
11/19/2014 at 9:44 AM

Congrats dear Wendy and Alex! God bless you and your new home too. I'm following you for a long time, but just now I take courage to write you ( I speak very little English ). But was irresistible to wish you good things about your gorgeous new home. Thanks for share your happiness with us!


Thank you so much for your comment, Maria Laura. We appreciate your kind words and are so glad to hear from you.Alt smile

11/19/2014 at 11:51 AM

LOL at the wallpaper - I think the 'cousin' of that pattern (in blue and tan) is in my dining room! It's on "the list"......

Congrats on the new house and getting moved in. (PS - real beds are a priority. Those air mattress beds are ok for a night or two, but get old FAST.)


Too funny on the wallpaper! I agree with you on the beds. I thought we'd be able to tough it out on an air mattress for a while, but have come to realize that's just not going to work.

11/19/2014 at 12:24 PM

Add me to the list of folks recommending the wallpaper steamer. Very handy! The wallpaper overload in the bathroom bothered me more than seeing the porcelain facility when you open the door--after all, that's what you're going to that room for, so it doesn't faze me. Of course, our bathrooms (and bank account Alt frowning )are small enough that moving things is out of the question anyhow. I love your little garden with its brick paths. Congrats again on a great house.


Thanks, Jan! And thanks for your vote on the steamer. I think it might just be time to add that one to our tool collection.Alt smile

Laura C
11/19/2014 at 12:48 PM

Amen to the cleaning. When we bought our house we hired someone to come through and scrub the whole thing top to bottom, and then we repeated the process oursevles before moving anything in. Of course, the house had been rented to three 20-something guys the last two months it was on the market so, you can imagine...


I can only imagine! In hindsight I wish we had made arrangements for cleaners to come through so we could have spent more time on projects, but there's plenty of time for that. I think come Spring we'll get someone out to do all the windows though. At our pace, we'll just be finishing by the time we need to start over again!

Little Red
11/19/2014 at 9:33 PM

Congratulations on the new old second home! I look forward to the posts on all that you do to it.

11/20/2014 at 7:27 AM

As a fellow Old Towner, happy to lend you my steamer for wallpaper removal.I bought one (barely used) through ebay to remove wall paper in my house and lend to folks in need. Great job, love the new house.


Thank you so much Tammara! It's so nice of you to offer, and had we not ordered one yesterday I would have absolutely taken you up on it. Thank you again.Alt smile

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