...because home doesn't happen overnight.
04.29.11 / The Underdog

I dropped the “we found another house!” bomb yesterday.  And as R8chel so elegantly put it in the comments section, “What?! I don’t want to talk about estate sales when you just bought a new house!! :) Tell us more!“…I’m dying to tell you all about it.  That’s meant to be a warning.  THIS WILL BE LONG AND WORDY!  Stay with me.

As you know, we’ve been looking to downsize.  Truth be told, we’ve looked at over 20 houses in our search for a home that will lead us to financial freedom and, ultimately, a career change for me.  Most of them were foreclosures, HUD homes and short sales.  I even shared a few of the standouts here on H*T.  {In case you missed ‘em, click here, here, here and here.} You know, all House Hunters-like where they narrow down their choices to the main contenders.  On the day we found ‘the house,’ we had already seen 4 homes that day.  This home was the last on the list.  We didn’t know a thing about it except that it was an estate sale being sold as-is.  That meant no disclosures would be given and any necessary repairs would not be completed by the seller.  Sort of like a foreclosure but it was a privately-owned property, not a bank-owned property.  I had actually found the listing online myself and asked our realtor {who also happens to be my cousin} to schedule us a showing.  From the listing picture, all I could see were huge, overgrown trees and what looked to be a squatty ranch hidden behind them.  Before the showing, I tried using Google maps to see the street view of the house but it was a no go.  Not because the house hadn’t been photographed but because there were ginormous trees surrounding the property.  So many so that you couldn’t really see the house from the road.  I did pan out and noticed that the other homes in the neighborhood looked decent.  Even nice.  Which was a welcome surprise.  Up until that point, a main problem with most of the homes we liked had been the neighborhoods.  Either they were on busy four-lane roads, were next to rental apartment buildings, had unkempt homes or questionable neighbors.  We cringed at the idea of living in a home for 5 years just to pay it off and then want out because we were unhappy with our surroundings.  So discovering that this estate sale seemed to be located in a quaint little community piqued our interest…despite the fact that we had no idea what the home looked like inside or out.  And the listing price was within our budget so we thought, “Eh, why not?”

I still remember driving into the neighborhood that day thinking, “Oh my gosh.  What a beautiful, quiet, modest neighborhood hidden in the city!”  Honestly, I was expecting to drive through the area into a less desirable part of town to find the estate.  But that didn’t happen.  The estate was right in the middle of this mature neighborhood.  And it was surrounded by overgrown trees like the listing and street view had shown. Inside, the entire life contents of the previous owner were strewn about:  towels, knick-knacks, miniature dolls, dozens of paintings, dead houseplants, bed linens, etc.  It was pretty evident that an elderly person had lived there and passed away and that the estate holder had come in, grabbed what they wanted, then left.  We’re good at seeing past clutter, so although stuff was everywhere, we were able to get a good feel for the house and its layout.  The house and its fixtures looked to be original although many of the windows had been replaced.  Sagging, stained kitchen cabinets?  Check.  Matted shag green, gold and rust colored carpet?  Check.  Pink tiled bathroom?  Check.  Faded, peeling paint on the walls?  Check.  Original 1958 electrical box and service?  Check.  No central air?  Check.  In fact, other than several {but not all} windows having been replaced, it didn’t look like anything had been updated from the late 50’s.

During our showing, another realtor was bringing through a younger couple to look at the same house.  I giggled to myself watching them hold their breath and raise their eyebrows in complete silence.  Handy Hubby and I could tell they were having nothing to do with the house and smiled at each other.  Handy Hubby and I didn’t talk much about what we were seeing and thinking.  We like to take things in individually at first and then discuss pros and cons together afterwards.  Which is exactly what we did.  On the way home, we took a weaving detour through the neighborhood checking things over.  It really was a lovely little neighborhood.

Two days went by before we made the decision to put in an offer.  Even though the home was completely outdated, it looked to be structurally sound, had a good flow to it and was on a decent sized lot.  Had it been in any other neighborhood, we maybe would have passed.  It was obviously the black sheep of the ‘hood.  We put in an offer $14,000 below the asking price {which was already below the appraisal value and within our budget but we had nothing to lose} and waited.  We were told by the listing agent that the estate holders lived in North Carolina and it would take a few days to hear back.  Two days later, our offer was accepted.  Just like that.  The only stipulation was the closing date.  They needed more time to organize an estate sale and we obliged.  Besides we had another home to sell anyways.

Once the sales contract was signed, we had a professional home inspector inspect the house.  As we guessed, there were issues with the home because of its age and condition:  termite damage {although nothing that compromised the stability of the structure}, a few small roof leaks, outdated electrical service, no bathroom fans, a dryer that vented into the attic, insufficient attic insulation, exterior tripping hazards, a cracking driveway, and large trees dangerously close to the structure.  We also had a radon test run which revealed higher than recommended levels of radon in the home.  One good thing we discovered…we had the entire house professionally tested for lead contamination {since it had been built in the 50’s} which came back completely negative.  This was great news as neither Handy Hubby or I wanted to expose our kids to toxic levels of lead.  We would have taken special precautions to keep them away from construction dust, but the findings of this lead test would make projects so much easier…and healthier.  Which is awesome because we have big plans for this little house.

Are you ready to see it?  Our next house?  Remember we weren’t looking for our dream house but rather the house in which to pursue our dreams.  Here she be…

{the house actually extends another 20 feet to the right but all those darn trees in the front yard make picture taking difficult!}

Is she everything you thought she’d be and more?!  Hehe.  Yes, those are wood shutters.  She’s an all brick, 3 bedroom, 2 full bath ranch with roughly 1,670 square feet of living space.  Never in my life did I think we’d ever end up in a ranch. {Handy Hubby prefers bedrooms on the second floor.} But there you go.  There’s also an attached 2-car garage. The lot is about 0.4 acres, so a little less than a half acre.  She needs a lot of work – which I’ll detail in a future post – but she’s got a lot of potential too.  She’s ‘The Underdog.’  She doesn’t have a lot of character or charming features, but we’re pretty sure she’ll shine up nicely.  Unlike many of the other older homes that we toured, this one hasn’t been touched.  While upgrades are nice to look at, we’re always a little leery of hidden, subpar home improvement projects.  We’d rather do it ourselves or pay someone we trust to do it so that we know for sure it was done correctly.  And we like the fact that we are free to put our mark on this gal and make her ours.  And did I mention that she’s well within our budget…even with the repairs and upgrades needed?  Fantastic.

There is one caveat.  We have yet to sell our current home.  We’ve had 5 open houses, over a dozen showings, tons of interest and even one offer.  The offer actually came to us within a week of listing, but it fell through when the potential buyer realized his quad-cab truck wouldn’t fit into the garage lengthwise.  Wanna know the part where my jaw dropped?  He admitted to only driving the big ol’ truck two times per year…on vacation and at Christmas.  To me, that seemed like an easy fix:  sell the gas hog and put the $$ towards the mortgage!  Or, at the least, just park it in the driveway.  But we all have our things.  Some of us like house stuff and some of us like to own big trucks that we drive twice a year and keep cozy in a custom garage the other 350+ days of the year.  Who am I to judge?  So, we’re diligently working at selling our current home…by owner.  We clean, we put up for sale signs, we distribute flyers, we put ads in local papers, we hold open houses every Sunday that we can, we re-put up signs every other day when storms blow them down, sometimes we fish said mossy signs out of ponds and creeks and restake them, we email local realtors and we sometimes work and sleep.  Fortunately, we are lucky enough to be able to afford our current house payment and new house payment {which is peanuts really} simultaneously if we have to.  The idea of living in our current home while some of the more major projects are completed in the ‘new’ home does appeal to us.  But if we are forced out of our current home before then, we have options:  living in a mess, my Dad’s basement, or renting.  I guess we’ll cross that bridge when and if we get to it.

Right now, we’re just really excited about taking over ownership of ‘The Underdog’ on Monday!  And having all of those ridiculously overgrown trees taken out.  Oh!  And taking pictures of the house empty inside for you all to see.  The idea of posting pictures of a deceased person’s belongings all over the internet seemed a tad disrespectful.  So stay tuned for shag carpet, pink bathrooms and peeling paint…

image:  Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

Just experienced my first estate sale ever.  And I’m hooked.  I don’t know why I haven’t attended an estate sale before.  The one I was at early this morning was a step above a yard sale and a step below a flea market. Look at the stash of goodies that came home with me…

Apparently, the estate had been owned by a local artist whose work had won several awards and been featured in the Cincinnati Art Museum back in the 60’s.  I grabbed two of her original paintings.  The white one is about 2′ x 3′ and the green one is larger than 3′ x 5’…pretty big!

I also snatched up this ceramic planter.  I could see it working well inside or outside.  I LOVE the black and white graphic floral motif.  Right up my alley.  Not sure what will end up in it yet.

I couldn’t pass up these woven baskets with lids and wood bead necklace.  I think the baskets would make great key holders, desktop storage containers {for things like post-its, push pins, paper clips, etc} or jewelry boxes.

The bead necklace reminds me of this Kayce Hughes version that I’ve been eyeing for a while now but haven’t been able talk myself into buying.  Glad I waited it out.  I snatched this cheaper version for $2!  In fact, before I left for the estate sale I gave myself a $200 budget.  That’s usually high for me but I had seen the estate sale listed online along with images of items for sale beforehand. After talking with Handy Hubby, we decided we were ready to invest in some original artwork…something we’ve always wanted to do.  So, I set a spending limit of $200 thinking I could probably get two pretty decent pieces for that.  After all was said and done, I came in well under budget at $164 total.  Sweet!

The larger painting was $95 and the smaller one was $50.  The planter was $15.  The baskets were $1 each and like I mentioned before the necklace was $2.

And here’s the kicker…

…wait for it…

…wait for it…

the estate from which these items came will be our next home!!! Yep, you heard me right.  We’re actually set to be the next owners of the estate…which I’ll tell you all about a little later.  So, that’s how we knew about the sale today.  In fact, when we toured the home and discovered that the paintings inside were the original homeowner’s work and were going to be sold, Handy Hubby and I each picked out our favorite: mine the green one above and Handy Hubby’s the black and white one.  {Coincidentally, today is Handy Hubby’s birthday.  Guess what my gift to him is…} Once we put in an offer on the house and it was accepted, we knew we wanted to keep these paintings with the home to celebrate the artist’s life and to become great storytelling pieces as the house evolves.  What a great story, right?

So, now you know.  Yes, we’ve found our next house.  The price, neighborhood, public schools and potential for making it ‘us’ sold us.  I can’t wait to share more about it soon!

Until then let’s talk estate sales.  Do you frequent them?  Are you an estate sale virgin…like I was until today?  Ever find a really great piece at an estate sale?  ‘Fess up.

images:  all Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

Erin’s dining area and media room are adjacent to her long, narrow living room.  The living room is visually separated from the rest of the open space by small half walls accented with columns.

BEFORE

On the living room side of the half walls, there are built-ins.  At the opposite {far} end of the living room is a small bump out encased in windows.  And in case you missed it, the focal point of the room is a large fireplace with a high mantel flanked on either side by built-ins.  The living room is already painted Benjamin Moore’s Puritan Gray and Erin likes it as-is.  Here is the mid-modern mood board I created for Erin’s living room…

Erin's Mid-Modern Living Room

1 – With the walls a medium gray, I’d add a light neutral sofa placed along the wall opposite the large mantel and fireplace.  Flanking the sofa with 2 of these rolling walnut modern cube-like end tables will balance out the sofa.  I love these somewhat dressy steel table lamps to top off each end table.  Placing this woven coffee table in front of the sofa would add texture and curves.  The one shown in the mood board is pricey, but IKEA sells woven ottomans that could easily be diy’d into tables just by adding some furniture legs to the bottom…for waaaaay cheaper.  OR just stack 2 of them on top of each other to get a ‘table!’ On the wall behind the sofa, I like the idea of an eclectic photo/art collage similar to this.  This round seagrass mirror would be a great centerpiece for the collage.  Toss a few Etsy pillows on the sofa to keep the color scheme flowing into the living room: hereherehere and here.

2 – In the small bump out where 2 red side chairs now reside, I think a pair of these modern eames-like chairs would look darling.  {They’re sold as a pair!}  They mimic the shape, style and color of the curvy white chairs in the dining area.  Angled in towards each other with a yellow garden stool in between, these retro-classic chairs would provide extra seating for entertaining. Also, I would remove the paper pendant light hanging in that area.  Instead, I’d open the bamboo shades so that they only cover 1/3 of the height of the windows and add more of these printed West Elm curtain panels…hung high and wide to let in as much natural light as possible.

3 – Erin mentioned she’d like a place to read, so I chose this chaise in medium gray to place in front of the window to the right of the mantel/built-ins.  I’d suggest angling it slightly out towards the coffee table.  It shouldn’t be parallel to the mantel wall, but it shouldn’t stick so far out into the room that it impedes traffic either.  Pair it with a simple floor light to invite reading.  Once again, to keep things cohesive, I’d add the same curtains to the window in this reading corner.  Erin already owns a light gray area rug that I think would work well to define the sofa seating area.

A few words on the mantel and built-ins:  Erin mentioned her fiance’s aunt is an artist, so I purposefully left the space above the fireplace blank where said aunt’s artwork will go.  I can also picture a wood or metal monogram letter hanging on the tiled surround of the fireplace just above the firebox.  To avoid damage to the tile, the monogram could be hung with an adhesive 3M hook. As for all the built-in shelves, I recommend that Erin edit, edit, edit.  Less is more.  Incorporating objects that tie into the gray, white, yellow, and teal color scheme will keep it feeling cohesive.  I’d encourage Erin to find images of inspiring, arranged shelves and to mimic them.  Layering {for instance, overlapping a stack of books with a propped picture frame}, repetition, varying object height/texture, and empty space are all good characteristics of a well arranged bookcase.

So, that concludes the mood boards for Erin’s vintage condo.  Are you able to see how the open space could work as separate zones and/or one larger multifunctional space?  A cohesive color scheme, sensible layout, area rugs, and lots of light help to make an open space feel inviting. Many people are drawn to open floor plans nowadays but find them challenging to decorate.  For more tips on how to approach wide open spaces click here.  Thanks to Erin for allowing me to virtually tweak her place!  And for allowing me to share her before images which, she would like everyone to know, were taken shortly after she and her fiance moved in.  Can’t wait to see the afters!

Just in case you missed the rest of Erin’s mood boards, here are all three…

Erin's Mid-Modern Dining Area

Erin's Mid-Modern Media Room


Erin's Mid-Modern Living Room

images:  1 & 2) courtesy of Erin  3-6) Polyvore collages created by Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

 

You’ve already seen the mid-modern mood board I created for Erin’s open dining area, so let’s move on to the adjacent media room.  Erin’s fiance specifically requested for me not to mess with the current TV, ceiling surround sound speaker, and subwoofer system setup.  I obliged while trying to soften the hard TV lines and disguise the boxy subwoofer.  Here’s the media room before…

BEFORE

The media room is located just off the open dining area and is visually separated from the living room by architectural columns.  Like the adjacent dining room, it’s painted in Benjamin Moore’s Quiet Moments which Erin likes as-is.  In keeping with Erin’s desire for something more midcentury modern, I came up with this mood board…

Erin's Mid-Modern Media Room

1 – For the TV wall, more of the Moorish printed West Elm curtain panels around the window above the subwoofer {in the corner to the left of the window shown above} will help to soften the straight lines and ‘black hole’ effect of the flatscreen.  I suggest scooting the console out away from the wall a few inches to let those curtains {hung high and wide!} fall behind the TV for a nice layering effect…almost movie theater-ish.  {The right side panel will be from the dining area.}  The curtains are also an easy way to disguise the floor subwoofer.  {That’s how I have Handy Hubby’s subwoofer disguised!}  Just let a panel drape in front of the subwoofer and it won’t interfere with the function of the subwoofer.  For the TV console, I’d like to see this long, narrow West Elm piece in white.  It will fill the space between the two windows {media room and dining area windows} perfectly.

2 – For TV viewing, I’d like to see this 80″ Barton sofa in charcoal placed opposite the console.  I would also suggest removing the mission-style console behind the current sofa and pushing the new sofa a little further back.  This will give the space a little more breathing room and allow for a round glass-topped coffee table.  {Remember, the dining bench will add extra seating when placed perpendicular to the new sofa.} Add pops of pattern and color with these fun Etsy pillow covers herehere and here.  Top the coffee table with a woven bowl for texture and function…it can hold remotes!

3 – I like the look of this warm leather arm chair to keep the media room feeling comfy and slightly masculine.  I suggest placing it in the corner to the left of the TV, out from the wall and angled in toward the coffee table.  Yet another easy way to hide the subwoofer!  Add reading light with this nickel arc lamp.  Placing the lamp base to the left of the leather chair and angling the light up and over the middle of the room will solve the problem of inadequate room for side tables/table lamps.  Delineate the entire media room from the open dining area with this colorful, geometric rug. Place it so that the longest side is parallel with the tv console and the front legs of the sofa and leather armchair should rest on it as well.

There it is.  A comfy, modern media room for all your TV viewing pleasure.  What’s your favorite part?  I think mine is the leather chair.  Forget the TV!  I could spend hours curled up in it that armchair with a book.

images:  1) courtesy of Erin  2) Polyvore collage created by Dana Miller for House*Tweaking