A DASH of History: Our house and projects

Looking for a Home in Seattle

In 2015, my husband Aaryn and I had just tied the knot and were enjoying the rest of our summer after our wedding. At this same time, a handful of our friends started looking at either buying their first homes or upgrading. Buying a house became a frequent discussion.

The exterior when we bought the house in 2015.

Aaryn and I were still living in our 600 square foot condo outside of Seattle and were busting at the seams. How we ever managed to condense our lives into that small space is still a remarkable feat to me. For us, a home (even if it was only a little bigger than our condo) would be a huge improvement for us. Once we learned we could afford it, the hunt was on!

Being architects and both extremely passionate about historical details and designs, and also having incredible ambition, we were on the lookout for a fixer upper. Anything that had already been renovated or updated too thoroughly was off the table. However, our budget and the homes we really wanted to be looking at were severely misaligned. Finding the diamond in the rough we were after was the same goal as pretty much everyone else looking for a home. We also were going up against people with a lot more money than us. Some of the historic charm and detail that we really wanted were things we had to compromise on when we continued looking at houses. This was only driven home after being outbid on a house we really loved.

All the accessible windows in the house had security bars over them. All the windows and the slider were barely operable anyways.

Deflated, it took a lot of effort to pull ourselves together the following weekend to view the house we live in today. Considering the competition in the area and comparable properties, we decided to put an offer in later that evening after viewing the house. Hilariously, I think both of us felt a little cynically towards putting in the offer considering our recent experience. However, it was accepted and we became first time home owners of our beautiful home! Though, at the time it was definitely not beautiful.

Our Fixer-Upper

The floors really accentuated the sparkly orange laminate countertops…

Our house, which was built in 1964, is a late mid-century ranch style home with a daylight walk out basement. The floors were an interesting orange tint, that did not coordinate well with the faded orange-glitter countertops and backsplash in the kitchen. Most of the aluminum windows had failed. My husband and I were also quite confident that they had chosen the interior paint to hide some level of natural grime as it was a level of dark cream I don’t associate with a well maintained home.

The floors were in similar condition throughout the home. The lovely vinyl in the kitchen was also installed in both bathrooms. The previous owners were nice enough to leave a whole roll behind…

This all said, the house had some good bones. From what we could see, the issues were all cosmetic and easily fixable. The lot it was on was also fairly large and had some mature trees and shrubberies (yes, shrubberies, I said that). It did appear that the rest of the garden beds were gone and had been allowed to be reclaimed by the lawns. Still not something that presented a huge issue for us as I knew a bit about gardening and both of us had parents with green thumbs to guide us.

We closed on the house just before Thanksgiving and decided to spend the holiday weekend starting on a quick update of the house to give it some new life before we moved in. We were determined to show ourselves that we could do this work ourselves – we really were weekend warriors! To start with was refinishing the floors and removing many of the old finishes and millwork.

The dining room after our initial “quick flip” of the house. After we bought the house, one of the first things I had to update was the lighting. The vintage Lucite chandelier was an early find.
The living room after our initial “quick flip.” Most of the furniture and decor are either family heirlooms, found through many antique shopping trips, at thrift stores, local vintage stores, and salvage shops.

When Christmas came, we were about halfway done with all the kitchen effort. This had become more than just a weekend effort – this was an everyday effort. We hadn’t even moved in and were spending every day at this house we weren’t at our full time jobs sanding and painting and sweating. Tired, we were looking forward to the holiday with our family. However, with the snow in the mountains closing our route to our Christmas family holiday, we instead decided to formally move in to our new house. No, it wasn’t perfect, but it was a big first step forward for us.

Getting Started in the Yard & Garden

The landscaping around the home was next on our list as we approached spring. We got a little extra help initially from my mom who happened to be working for a landscaping company at the time and was able to get me some leftover plants from a couple different projects that were otherwise being tossed. Otherwise, we purchased plants from local nurseries or started them from seed. I also took advantage of the good plant sales at the hardware stores and even from the grocery store. These we planted in very early spring and easily settled into our surprisingly rich soil, especially with all the spring rain. The plants were small though and left our yard looking a little sparse still.

New mailbox and new mailbox plantings! Rosemary and Lavender work well for me here considering the more sandy soil in this area of my yard and the sun exposure. They are both fairly drought tolerant as well, which is good when you are forgetful about watering!

To remedy this, our main focus over the course of the year was to buy perennials and bushes that had florals and interesting foliage and really work on planting the front yard first. We felt that though the backyard also needed some improvement, the front had more impact from a curb appeal perspective. While shopping, we looked for plants that I was familiar and had also seen growing around the neighborhood successfully.

Our plants survived! Though in need of pruning our ferns and hellebore made it through the first year! Our fall planted bulbs came up too!

Keeping the new plants alive through the summer was the hardest part – they need a lot more water than we expected! Regular and deep watering is what is really required to get new plants through the summer, even when rain has been recent. We unfortunately learned this the hard way and lost several plants over the course of the year. It is still hard to keep on top of, especially when summers extend into October now in the Pacific Northwest.

Updating a Vintage Basement in an Older Home

Since then, we’ve made many other improvements to the home and around the garden. We’re currently in the middle of what I would call a significant finishes upgrade to the previously wood-paneled basement. It was just as glorious as what you are thinking. Keep scrolling.

My amazing wood-paneled, shag carpeted basement. We did save the sconces. Those are fun, we’ll figure out how to repurpose those somehow.

Didn’t I tell you it was awesome? Funny enough, the shag carpet was new when we bought. Although, by the time we ripped it out the dogs had stained it so badly you would have thought it was an original finish. There were other interesting vintage artifacts in the basement. Such as a very old copy of the book Little Women, which we still have. Or a mysterious jar of jam, that was secured so strongly to the utility room shelf by another mysterious goo that it remains there, pending our update’s migration to that room.

We also discovered that our waste piping after over 50 years, was failing and had to emergently replace it one weekend when a mysterious puddle appeared on the basement floor while I was home sick. There has been an entire section of wall that we had to get help repairing from water damage due to a poorly poured exterior concrete walkway. My husband also found that many of our heating ducts were not connected properly, which meant we were wasting energy attempting to heat the house.

Yes that is a hole in the side of my house where it basically disintegrated from rot and insect damage.

All these things plus work, social obligations, changing jobs, stress, holidays, and life in general (let’s be real) have made this project take an especially long time. Not to mention my health issues which have left most of the heavy lifting on the home renovation front up to my husband. Soon though we will be moving onto finish work and some of that is more within my capability to contribute more support.

Upcoming Projects on our Home & Garden Horizon

Looking back over the last 5 years, I know my husband feels that we should have been able to accomplish a lot more. However, from my perspective and all the life events and issues we’ve had to work through, this is a lot to have accomplished considering how our home looked when we started. When we purchased this house, we had no idea that I was going to get diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis the following year. We had no idea that we were each going to change jobs 3 times during the last 5 years. Or that the pandemic was going to hit this year (like who thought they were going to be living through a pandemic in their lifetime…seriously). It’s a brave new world right?

As we start to look towards starting finish work soon in the basement, we are beginning to think about additional updates we can plan for upstairs. Both the upstairs and garden are due for another round of polish. Now that we’ve been through some of the difficulties we faced during the first round of updates, we have reset some of our own goals and expectations for the future.

And because we must have some sort of DIY-deathwish (just kidding), we’re taking on a new project adventure of even bigger scale! This last month we went in on a cabin and property on the Olympic Peninsula with Aaryn’s dad, Dale. It’s completely off grid and on 5 acres of isolated paradise. We’re ecstatic to be starting this new adventure with Dale and preserving and maintaining such a special piece of land. I’m also hoping this means there are baby ducks in my future that I can snuggle. (Comment if you think baby ducks should be in my future!)

Looking forward to sharing my adventures with you!

Looking at the cabin from one of the ponds! See? There could totally be ducks here.

There is no shortage of things for us to do and for me to show everyone! Look for upcoming posts on:

  • Flooring Installations
  • Retrofit Lighting Projects
  • Vintage Fixture Rewiring
  • Tile installations
  • Bathroom fixture installations
  • Wood Finishing
  • Accent Walls
  • Hearth and Fireplace Repairs
  • Brick Painting
  • Property Site Assessments
  • Cabinet Organizers and inserts
  • Gutter Replacements
  • Exterior Trim Repairs
  • Cabin related projects (TBD!)

If you have any suggestions or post requests for home projects (or any specifics of a project you would like touched on) I’d love to hear from you! Submit an idea through my contact page.

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