The nitty-gritty design phase is the funnest part of it all, isn’t it? I love nothing more than combing the internet for inspiring images, choosing layout, tone, finishes, and fixtures. I could probably live in this phase forever, which is more a curse than a blessing. I suffer severely from the fear of making the wrong decision. We’re not experienced designers, and this is only the third home we’ve owned. The last two were both bungalow style with a VERY limited budget. We’ve never ripped everything down to the studs and started anew.

For better or for worse, Chris forces an answer out of me and relays it to our contractor. That’s really how decisions get made. Otherwise, I’d hem and haw endlessly. Now that we’re entering into the finishes phase, I’m growing more confident that we made solid choices and the home will be beautiful. There are always things we could have changed, design directions we could have pursued, what-if’s, but we worked hard to respect the budget and make compromises.

Given my indecisive nature with design, how did we end up choosing between literally billions of options? I kept coming back to my mantra, you can always add more later. If you go with a clean, simple design, you can choose high-end finishes because there aren’t that many of them, you let the bones of a well-designed home shine, and you’re not left ripping things out two years later because your tastes have changed. You can ALWAYS add that wall tile, paint a room, switch out a fixture, upgrade to a fancier appliance, vanity, what-have-you. Focus on layout, usability, and transmutability.

The very first thing we narrowed in on was a feeling. How did we want to feel in the house? And to help develop that feeling, how did we intend to use the home? We call it ‘our little cabin in the woods’ because we wanted it to feel like we were being transported to a remote location while living in a relatively large city. We crave tranquility, but not loneliness. We like being near other people and appreciate the luxury of amenities. We really DON’T want a house on a mountain in the middle of nowhere. I struggle with anxiety, so I shy away from ‘stuff’ and flair. Minimalist, warm, functional, masculine, neutral, open. I wrote those words down and kept them near by.

Right away, a whole host of options are eliminated by considering the above. No color. Lots of wood to warm it up. Black accents. Restrained design. Chris and I pinned, and pinned, and pinned, and pinned, (and, honestly, continue to pin) until we could develop a mood board that we both agreed on. I am not nearly as material budget savvy as Chris is, so he nixed a number of options that weren’t feasible.

We started to prioritize: Kitchen. We cook a TON, so it made sense to invest in the kitchen. Go with countertops that could take a beating, save on cabinet bodies. Eliminate upper cabinets to keep the space open since we didn’t have ample room to work with, splurge on counter-depth appliances in matte black.

Next: Living area. We don’t have an area in our current home where we can spend time in each other’s company. Our sofas have always been tiny and cheap. We knew we wanted a lounge space that would help us feel close more often. We decided to invest in a plush sofa, perfect for working, watching a movie, and generally hanging out comfortably together. We’re only two people and have no desire to flood the living room with furniture. We would invest in a sofa  that would last and keep storage to a minimum.

The other big investment upstairs was flooring. We knew white oak floors would fit the home really well and allow for a variety of furniture finishes and styles, but white oak doesn’t come cheap. We chose a cost-effective option by going with a mid-width plank instead of a wider 6+”. We also saved money by opting not to replace the majority of the windows upstairs, and going mid-grade with douglas fir, painted exterior doors instead of stained wood.

Third: Bathrooms. The master bathroom set-up was a mess and needed a lot of help. If you aren’t aware, relocating plumbing is an enormous expense, especially if a home sits on a slab. The other problem was that there was a foundation wall that couldn’t be moved. After much deliberation, we opted to leave a powder room where the current master bath is and add a shower and double vanity on the opposite end of the bedroom. It certainly isn’t traditional, and some people may find it unappealing, but we actually liked the idea of the separate spaces and it fit our taste.

To save some money for the master reconfiguration, we went with affordable tile ($10/sq. ft.) and minimal wall tile. We chose Ikea vanities again with custom fronts and mid-range fixtures. The bathrooms would be quite simple, but we didn’t care for them to be anything more than attractively functional.

We were able to control expense by refinishing the concrete floors downstairs instead of covering them with wood. We also chose mini-splits for their cost-effectiveness, efficiency, and to eliminate HVAC needing to run through the ceiling, thereby increasing the ceiling height by nearly 2′. We did splurge on creating an entry into the home from the garage, replacing all of the windows on the lower level, and we added a little electric fireplace in the master to warm it up. The interior doors are builder-grade, and we’re using Pax wardrobes in the master.

A couple of mishaps resulted in some minor additional, unforeseen expenses, including installing a french drain in the basement, replacing the guest bath tub, and replacing all of the bathroom tile that we had hoped we could salvage. We had initially intended to add more paneling upstairs, but held off as a result of these new expenditures. There are always unforeseen costs and delays in construction projects, so it’s a good idea to have some back-up options in mind to meet budget requirements.

I won’t cover exterior upgrades until the end of our interior renovation. We’ve decided to break it up into two phases to control cash flow. I hope to have some progress photos of the house to show you next week!

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