When we laid out design direction last week, a token mention was given to the reality of any design project. Design is for users, and end users always have a budget. We intend to live in the finished home for some time, but we’re honest enough with ourselves to know that nothing is absolutely certain. A budget for a renovation project of this scale needs to respect the resale value of the home, respect our spending power, and end up with a result that we’ll enjoy as long as we choose to stay. The final design direction plays right into the budget, with stark contrast and affordable but thoughtful materials taking center stage. This is classical modern architecture: how do we do a lot with the smallest amount of money possible.

With that being said, this is still not a cheap project. The house was in terrible shape when we purchased, and several hidden problems best addressed early on cropped up throughout the design and early build phases.



  • Purchase Price – $170,000 ($60.7/sf)
  • Structural, Framing, Drainage, and Insulation – $21,000  ($7.5/sf)
    • We removed columns and reinforced the upstairs beam for a better floor plan.
    • Downstairs walls were added, removed, and made plumb.
    • House now has insulation!
    • An interior French drain system was added for dealing with water from the hill side.
  • Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing – $33,000 ($11.8/sf)
    • The house had no functional HVAC, an electrical system that would catch fire if turned on, and no functional plumbing.
    • We used mini split HVAC units to avoid having a low drop ceiling in the basement. When we bought the house, the basement ceiling was 6’4″.
  • Fixtures – $5000 ($1.8/sf)
    • Most of our lighting is can lighting and included in the MEP budget line. A few special fixtures are part of this budget.
    • All metal in the house is matte black, from faucets to door knobs.
    • Most of the plumbing fixtures are Delta, with a few in the master from Brizo (which is made be Delta.) They’re affordable, available, and repairable.
  • Drywall and Paint – $9000 ($3.2/sf)
    • Not much drywall in the house!
  • Trim and Tile – $17,500 ($6.3/sf)
    • Trim carpentry in the kitchen and baths make up the majority of this.
    • Material cost was kept low through a reclamation of existing mahogany to be used in the interior.
    • Our use of tile is restrained and pretty inexpensive.
  • Flooring – $17,000 ($6.1/sf)
    • Upstairs is white oak finished with Rubio Monocoat 5% Mist. We love it!
    • Downstairs is all polished concrete.
  • Windows and Doors – $19,500 ($7/sf)
    • Exterior doors and passage doors are black painted with glass windows.
    • Bypass doors for closets are white oak.
    • We replaced all the windows on the lower level, the small windows on the uphill side of the upper level, and the kitchen windows. We left all of the large, picture windows alone.
    • One damaged picture window will be reglazed.
  • Kitchen, Vanities, and Wardrobes – $23,500 ($8.4/sf)
    • We went with affordable IKEA cabinets and premium fronts from Reform.
    • Our countertop is a bit of a splurge, but you can see here that the total kitchen, vanity, and wardrobe budget is minimal for a house of this size.
    • Vanities and Wardrobes for the master are IKEA with Reform fronts as well.
  • Siding – $15,000 ($5.35/sf)
    • We were hoping to avoid this, but a closer inspection of the home showed us we were fooling ourselves. The siding definitely needs replaced.
    • We originally discussed Shou Sugi Ban, a traditional Japanese method of waterproofing wood by burning sugar out of it. The resulting color is attractive and low maintenance, but the initial outlay is very large.
    • We’ve reconsidered cypress coated with pine tar. It is similarly low maintenance, very water repellent, and much more affordable. It turns into a nice black as well.
    • A lower cost option would be pine tar over pine. We’re considering it, but the cypress is not a big enough splurge to set off alarm bells for us.

  • Landscaping – $22,000 ($7.9/sf)
    • Level portions of the lot and straighten driveway.
    • Repave or replace driveway.
    • Install a driveway gate.
    • Retaining wall for driveway and hill.
  • Total – $352,500 ($125.9/sf)
    • There’s a lot to be happy about with that number.
      • First, it falls in the median range for custom homebuilding in Cincinnati despite the fact that we’re generally getting a superior end result than the median custom home.
      • Better yet, that median range doesn’t account for land value, which is nearly a third of the total cost here.
      • Perhaps most importantly, we were able to design a home that appeals to us but keeps broad market appeal at a cost that would allow us a profitable sale.

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