Renovating our colourful, lived-in, never-finished, Arts and Crafts bungalow

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Married in the living roomThe offbeat occupants: Darlyngirl (Administrative Assistant), Ted (husband), a generally-hyper two-year-old boy, and Kennedy the dog.
Approximate square footage: 650-1000 sq. feet
How many bedrooms? Three
Location: Sarnia, Canada

Tell us a bit about your neighborhood: It’s like a total time-warp — an entire block of 1920s Arts and Crafts homes. Each house is unique and well-cared for — my neighbours bring us cookies and walk around caroling at Christmas time. I live on a small street close to the downtown of a small city (about 85,000). I can walk to bars, restaurants, an art gallery (but no grocery store or mall).

What makes your home offbeat?
This home was the fresh start I was dreaming of. I purchased this home as a single-mom with a toddler. I could paint whatever colours I wanted, decorate how I wanted and keep the house in whatever (child-safe) state I wanted. Then at the housewarming party, three months later, I married my boyfriend in the archway between the living and dining rooms.

When it came to updating our home, we tried to keep true to the character of the 85-year-old home, but wanted COLOUR, and function, and fun — lots of fun colours, interesting combinations of old and new. But I find myself too busy between my son, my full-time job, and all the renovations to do much else other than sleep. I think not being afraid to do it all ourselves has made our home unique. Also, we work outside of a lot of the stereotypical gender roles. My husband will watch the toddler and put him to bed, while I tile the kitchen backsplash, for example. We both know our strengths and help each other through new projects.

The kitchen cabinets were beyond salvage -- they were so dirty (think 40 year of caked-on goo) that we had to demo them.
The kitchen cabinets were beyond salvage — they were so dirty (think 40 year of caked-on goo) that we had to demo them.

This home renovation project is 100% DIY and on a very tight budget. Beyond plumbing and electrical supplies, nothing is new — everything is used — thrift-store finds, garbage-picked. This house will never be 100% finished and never be photo-perfect. It’s lived in and loved and there is always a project (or eight) on the go.

Steaming Wallpaper off the Dining Room Ceiling

What’s the most challenging about this space? How do you deal with the challenge? The most challenging thing was that this house was not designed for modern living. The bedrooms and kitchen are small, the wiring was all knob and tube (insurance demanded it get re-wired within 60 days), and there were only two three-prong outlets in the house. No ground fault interrupters (the king of plugs required now in kitchens and bathrooms near water), and no outlets at all in the bedrooms or bathroom. This made renovating difficult and involved a lot of extension cords. Everything is re-wired now so that problem is solved.

Before and after for our master bedroom. We took a door that opened off the living room and repurposed it as a headboard.
Before and after for our master bedroom. We took a door that opened off the living room and repurposed it as a headboard.

There was absolutely no insulation in the entire house. This would have been an expensive problem to solve or an expensive problem to leave as heating in the Canadian winters would have been brutally expensive. Luckily, I qualified for a free insulation program and got the whole house insulated for free.

bathroom before and after

There still is no shower-head in the bathtub and because of the vintage tub and tap, I have to purchase a replica faucet to make that possible — for now we just take baths. This is probably one of our next projects though. The “tile” (looks like ceramic but is actually thin pieces of plastic) in the bathroom needs to be repaired. The original honeycomb tile on the bathroom floor has a few bald spots near the doorway (I removed tiles from under the vanity to repair those but haven’t done it yet). I want to strip and refinish all the painted doors etc. I feel bad posting pictures of this work-in-progress but at the same time, I worry it will never reach a point where I can share it without judgement (most other home websites only feature “perfect” designer home).

One problem I have is that, because this house will probably never be “done,” I have a hard time celebrating how far it’s come — all I can see is how much more needs to be done.

Third Coat of Paint

What’s your favorite feature of your home? I LOVE the coral colour in the living room and dining room. It looks different from different angles and at different times of day. Sometimes it looks orange, other times pink but always bright and cheerful. I wanted to paint both rooms the same colour to make the two rooms feel like one large space and I think it worked. This is the only colour that is not a mis-tint and I had to fight to get my painting-volunteer to do it, as she thought it would be too dark (she also wouldn’t let me paint it myself as she is a much better painter). Almost every day I think about how much I love that colour and how glad I am I fought for it.

There was a house under there!

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from this home? Save money whenever you can. I bought this house for $10,000 below asking price. I bought used appliances, cabinets, mis-tinted paint, garbage picked, and bought things at second-hand stores whenever possible. When you are doing so many renovations at once (just to bring the home to a livable state) you need to do it cheaply. DIY when possible but don’t be afraid to ask for help from people who know what they are doing. I have had to borrow tools for some projects but saved a tonne of money versus renting or buying them. Don’t be afraid to take things from other people’s garbage (I usually stick to hard things like dressers or picture frames, not soft goods like couches due to bedbug epidemics in my area).

X's Toyroom

What’s your grandest plan for the space? Currently the third bedroom is my son’s toy room, but we would like to have another child someday. While two can share rooms for a while, I worry about a crying baby waking a sleeping toddler and would prefer to finish some unfinished space and make another bedroom. There is an unfinished half story the length of the whole house that would make an amazing master bedroom and bathroom and also an unfinished basement (currently full of cobwebs and a fruit cellar with 50-year-old preserves — yuck) that would make a wonderful rec room. This needs to wait though as we have pushed our budget to finish the parts of the home we currently live in.

My dog, Kennedy and X's paintchip dresserWhat advice do you have for other offbeat homies? While it’s great to take advice from people about how to tile, or edge your painting nicely, don’t let other people influence your style or scare you out of doing what you want. If you want a black bathroom then do it!

Any stuff or services you want to recommend?

  • Habitat for Humanity Re-Stores (Canada). If you like retro and eclectic, many people donate old light fixtures, furniture etc. when renovating. Big box store sometimes donate display or clearance items as well.
  • A few months before buying, check out the mis-tint section at different paint stores. I got two gallons of $75/gallon Benjamin Moore paint for $20/gallon.
  • My realtor was awesome — she refused to let me overpay and talked me down. It’s hard to be objective when you are so in love with a home, but she told me what was reasonable to pay and then when I was hesitating as the seller’s final offer was $2000 more than I wanted to pay, she reminded me how little that would be on a 25-year mortgage.

Show me the decor porn!

Comments on Renovating our colourful, lived-in, never-finished, Arts and Crafts bungalow

  1. LOVE all the colors! Especially the green in the bedroom and the dark half wall in the bathroom! And I love the side by sides of rooms. You have made amazing changes!

  2. Where did you get that shower curtain? I LOVE it.

    I’m surprised at how good the bold colors look in your house. Most of the time they look a little off to me, but I can’t get over how awesome the green in the bedroom, the coral living/dining room, and the dark blue in the child’s room. Were those all “mis-tints?”

  3. Fellow Canadian here: where did you find a program that would pay for insulating your house? That sounds awesome!What kind of insulation did you get done? It doesn’t look like you had to tear out your drywall or anything.

    • It was through my local gas company Union Gas- I’m not sure where you’re located but they do rentals (with landlord permission) too and I recommend it to anyone. They peeled up the siding from the outside and blew cellulose in, the filled the attic with cellulose and put up fiberglass with a vapor barrier in the basement. They were shocked when there truly was “no insullation” apparently they are often told that, but it is rarely true.

  4. No need to feel self-conscious about the work in progress. WIPs are awesome! In the old neighborhood where I used to live (Seminole Heights), the neighborhood groups held home tours of various neighborhood bungalows once a year. One of those tours specifically featured bungalows that were still under renovation, and it was fascinating.

    Good luck in your continued renovations!

    • Yes, your home is absolutely beautiful! It’s wonderful to see where someone has put a lot of hard work and love into a place and truly turned it into a home. You always have to remember all the progress you have made, even if you can think of dozens of other things you still need to/want to do. I’m a “I want to have it all done NOW” person, but I think if I didn’t have a bunch of little projects I wanted to do here (granted, it’s a rental, so I’m limited), I would probably feel a bit bored with living here. (Or maybe I would feel less stressed, I don’t know…)

    • There’s also lots of similar, yet local, version of those, too! Off the top of my head, there’s one outside of the DC area called Community Forklift that is supposed to be wonderful. I’ve also visited the Construction Junction here in Pittsburgh many times. It has everything from building materials, appliances, and even furniture (last time they had a whole load of dorm room furniture, office desks, and old school metal desks). I bought 4 school desks for $6/each and spray painted them teal. They’re now our patio furniture 😉

  5. Your house is cute! I can’t believe you had wallpaper on your dining room CEILING! That is crazy.

    We purchased & moved into our 1920s home (which the previous owner had thankfully done some renos on) when I was end of 2nd trimester pregnant with our munchkin.
    We haven’t done much other than fix the roof, fix the plumbing and paint the kitchen a nice sunny yellow, but I love how bold you have been with all your colours!

    Also, some of your 50 year old preserves may very well still be good. Especially if they are a pickle. It may be worth checking them out.

    • Dining room, living room, bedrooms, closets, hallway- there was wallpaper on almost every ceiling lol I am afraid of the preserves lol. Glad your house didn’t need a tonne of work.

    • Thanks Dootsie! It was really overwhelming at times but I knew that any home I could afford would have similar issues. My mortgage is only $180 biweekly! I had a lot of help from friends and family. Every time I see my son running around with a big smile, I remind myself how worth it all the work was.

  6. This is so timely, we are about to purchase a 1925 bungalow! It’s in fairly decent shape to begin with but we want to take it even further and restore it to its original fabulousness.

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