I’m so excited to start this new Real-Life Renovations series on my blog today. Like so many women, I drool over the gorgeous homes on Pinterest and on blogs — filled with light, original hardwood floors, interesting architectural details, and furnishings and decor straight out of a magazine. But in real life, I don’t have any of those things. When we got married, I moved in to Ryan’s 1980’s tract home duplex. Not exactly the kind of home I see on Pinterest.
But I suspect that many of my readers live in something similar to our little home. I’m hoping this series will inspire my readers and show them that it is possible to make an uninteresting space both lovely and functional — on a budget that won’t break the bank.
In case you’re thinking, “Cori, this is nice and all, but my house is the worst,” let me break this down for you: the stunning (stunning, I tell you) architectural details of our home include a roller-painted MDF kitchen that is literally falling apart, 1″ molding with five layers of old paint, a leaky master shower that fits 1/2 a human, laminate flooring that is coming up because the foundation isn’t level, a lot of linoleum, and a whopping FIVE windows. FIVE. In the whole house.
I have also run across the issue that Ryan has an opinion, bless his heart. His opinion, however, is not really about the decor — it’s all function. Those cute desk chairs I like? Not comfortable enough. He wants TV speakers that will blow his face into oblivion when he watches action movies. Our dog must have his kennel right next to our bed. Our dog weighs 100 pounds. This is a big kennel. So when I tell you that I understand your home design difficulties, I really do. That’s why I’m calling this series Real-Life Renovations. Because we live in real life and not in Pinterest-land.
Home Office Makeover
Our home office was probably the room that needed the most work when Ryan moved into the house in 2011. There was a leak in the ceiling, which started a mold problem. He and a friend tore out the problem area, re-drywalled, and gave it a new coat of plaster. In the process, they also stripped the popcorn ceilings and re-mudded the ceilings. If this is where you’re at, I understand. It’s a ton of work, but it’s not impossible. Call a friend, a local handyman, or put on some work gloves and pull out the elbow grease. Did I mention it was bright pink and had a Pretty Pretty Princess border? Fabulous. I can’t believe a little girl lived in this mold-laden room at one point.
For most of the last three years, it was just a room for storing things. At some point, Ryan tore out the Pretty Pretty Princess paper and painted the room yellow and green, and stuck a futon in there for guests. I don’t have photos of this intervening stage, but with that one sentence, you can probably picture it in your mind.
Design and Functionality
If I had carte blanche to do whatever I wanted, this room would probably look different. But I have a husband who is a software engineer, and our home office is important to him and his work. I couldn’t just make it pretty — it had to be functional as well. Here are our top three functionality needs:
- Desk space for both of us, including a large enough space for Ryan to have a dual-monitor beast of a PC.
- Drawer space to hide away paperwork, supplies, and other office stuff that I didn’t want sitting out.
- Adequate bookshelf space for our large library.
Because I knew I could get lost if I didn’t have some guidance, I started a Pinterest Idea Board, so that I could at least have something to aim for.
Tada! I feel like it’s such an amazing transformation — both in function and in design. We started with a soft gray paint and re-painted all of the trim and doors a pretty white (the doors were brown laminate). We’d love to replace the trim at some point, but it’s not urgent, and a coat of paint did wonders. I also hung my text curtains — if you’d like to make a set of your own, I posted a tutorial here.
The only desk we had was Ryan’s old MDF desk from high school, which was about three seconds from falling apart. We had to get a desk solution for both of us to be able to work comfortably in the office and store all of our office stuff. We spent a lot of time looking at desks, but the room is only 10″ x 10″ so we didn’t have a lot of space with which to work. In the end, we built a long desk that stretches from wall to wall — so much easier than trying to fit two individual desks in the room. While we did spend a little more money on the desk than we wanted ($312), it was significantly less expensive than buying two new desks and less of a headache trying to find and refinish two old desks that worked together.
Using three IKEA drawer units and two tabletop pieces, we were able to use the entire length of the wall, giving us the functionality to work at our desks at the same time, plus a lot of storage space. As much as I would love Ryan to have a sleek little Mac Book, he has his big workhorse PC — a non-negotiable. So we hid some of the components under the desk, and the rest sits out — because this is real life, people.
As for the desk chairs, these are still a work in progress. These chairs are from our dining room table. We’re on the hunt for a pair of desk chairs that are both comfortable and pretty. It’s not an easy task (especially on a budget), so our dining chairs work for now.
I have a lot of books. Even after my huge book purge, I was left with a large number of books. I owned all of the bookshelves in this room beforehand, except the one above the desk.
At first I just had the books organized by author (fiction and nonfiction), but I decided I didn’t mind splitting them up. So we have some of our books on the main bookshelves, some coordinating books on the shelf above the desk, and other sprinkled throughout the house (my books revolving around food, for instance, are stacked in our wine cabinet — and they look amazing there!) I then styled the bookshelves so they wouldn’t just be a wall of books, but offer depth and interest to the overall design.
We do have more books than fit in our house — there are two bookshelves in our guest room, and a pile of books that still needs a place to live. We’ll work on finding good storage solutions when we renovate those rooms.
My favorite piece in the entire room is the teal velvet chair, which I picked up for $50 at an estate sale a month ago. It’s in great shape and helps to offset the IKEA-ness of the room. It’s actually comfortable, so I find myself sitting there and reading or chatting with Ryan when he’s on his computer. Next to it sits a tiny table I already had (originally oak, but I repainted it a metallic bronze a year ago), perfect for a cup of tea.
Most of the decor was things we already owned (like the artwork and the old typewriter), but I bought a few new things to tie it all together. I think every design should have a little bling, so I added the gold tray, the mercury glass owl, and the silver candleholder. And I didn’t spend much money on these things — the tray came from TJ Maxx and was $3.99. The glass owl was on clearance at Target and the silver candleholder was $2.99 at Home Goods. Just spend some time looking around and I guarantee you’ll find things you love at a price that won’t break the bank.
I also added some succulents to give the room a little life (that I would have a hard time killing). I planted them in interesting containers, like this teacup, instead of flowerpots. Much more fun.
Here’s my take on art: buy weird things. I truly hate reproductions (there’s nothing sadder than a fake Monet) — support your local artists or people on Etsy. Pick up art when you travel. Buy interesting things. The art in this room includes my dad’s Cuddle Up photo, a signed copy of a poem we had read our wedding, a map of Middle Earth, a image of a woman and her words from an Etsy artist, a map I cut out of an old daily planner, a bird painting from another Etsy artist, an enormous block print from New Zealand, and a photograph called Descending Angel by a friend of my dad’s, among other things. It’s all interesting and creates a truly unique look in our space.
For years I’ve framed my artwork in the same inexpensive black frames from Aaron brothers (wait for their Penny Sale and stock up!). I makes it so I can have a lot of different kinds and styles of art, but they are all unified by the matching frames.
Costs + Budgeting
Here is what we spent turning the Pretty Pretty Princess room into a functional home office:
- Paint + Supplies: $40
- Teal chair: $50
- Desk (three “Alex” drawer units and two 5′ “Linnmon” tabletops): $312
- Long shelf (two “Ekby Amund” shelves + brackets): $55
- Curtain fabric + supplies: $35
- Miscellaneous decor items: $40
- TOTAL: $532
Tada! $532 is not the cheapest renovation ever (but did you see what we started with?). I actually sold a bunch of things that we didn’t need when we first moved in together — so more than 3/4 of it was paid for by that money. Not only did I get rid of things we didn’t need, I was able to extend my budget further than expected, and we could build our great desk. What do you have hanging about? I can almost guarantee you, one of your Facebook friends will want to buy it if the price is right. I’m currently working on our bedroom and living room — posts about those renovations are coming soon!