Home Tour: Couple’s Modern DIY Reno

Just when Sarah and Chad had reached the limits of their house-hunting patience, they found the one: a 1950s semi-detached house in Montreal that hadn’t been updated in decades. What other prospective buyers may have seen as a daunting gut job, Sarah and Chad saw as opportunity. The couple worked as a team to give their new house some much-needed love: Sarah came up with the designs (and provided post-reno decor), while Chad braved the handiwork. Here Sarah and Chad reflect on their six-month reno, and offer survival tips for other couples undergoing similar projects.

What drew you to this particular house?
Chad: I was sick to death of the real-estate searching process. We saw so many shoddily-flipped houses or houses with layouts that just wouldn’t work. The unique layout of this house and the fact that it was a “blank canvas,” renovation-wise, are what really interested me. I wouldn’t have to feel too badly about ripping out an existing renovation that was perfectly serviceable, but horrifyingly done.
Sarah: I agree with Chad; I was starting to get discouraged with the search. We had lost another house we’d put an offer on and we were wading through a sea of other homes that either required way more work than we thought we could do or ones that had already been questionably reno’d. I saw this listing and had a good feeling just looking at the pictures. It had an interesting layout with a second floor hallway that overlooked the living room, a brick feature wall (which turned out to be wallpaper, but is still something I love) and would allow us to make any changes we wanted within our budget.


What inspires your taste in decor?
Chad: Sarah, mostly. Although, to be honest, I definitely have likes and deep-seated hatreds. Like, I hate overly ornate, frilly, fussy things. I guess I like the modern look. This really is Sarah’s department.
Sarah: Oh Chad! Seriously Chad has good taste, with the exception of his like of what I call “bad 90s rugs”–those weird, plasticy ones with circle patterns all over them. I’m inspired by all kinds of sources: art, blogs, magazines, travel, fashion. I think you can find inspiration in all kinds of ways, and there is no shortage of inspiration online nowadays–Pinterest can help inspire all kinds of decor ideas.


What area of the house were you most excited to tackle, and why?
Chad: I’m always excited at the beginning of the large projects that result in dramatic changes, like the complete kitchen gut job we did. About halfway through, I get frustrated and tired and wish I had never begun–and then I get excited again near the end. So asking now, I was most excited about the kitchen. If you’d have asked me during the kitchen reno, I would’ve answered differently.
Sarah: The kitchen was the area I was most excited about tackling because the room was completely unusable, and I knew taking down the wall between the dining room and kitchen would make a big difference to the whole first floor. I also had no idea when we began what was actually involved in doing this, or how long it would take, so it seemed more exciting.


What did you find most daunting about undertaking such a major reno?
Chad: Ugh. Nearly everything. I’m naturally kinda handy but I’d never attempted anything of this scale, so it was all learning on the job with books and Google. Some projects seemed simple at the outset and then took some nasty turns when demolition was complete–once you’re already committed. Luckily everything turned out.
Sarah: The unknown factors when working with an older home. You never know what’s hiding underneath. It was also daunting for me to trust that Chad wouldn’t completely destroy the house, and that he actually had the ability to do the renovations. Surprise… he did!


What was the most challenging part of living through a reno together?
Chad: Not killing each other. Seriously. When everything’s a permanent disaster zone and you’re on your second month with no kitchen, except for a hot plate laid on top of the washing machine, any and every little thing can set you off. This is when liquor comes in handy.
Sarah: Yes, agreed. It’s hard not to get frustrated when things are not going according to plan and everything in the house is covered in dust. That’s why you have one “safe” room in which to enjoy the liquor Chad mentioned.


What are some of the lessons you took away from the experience, in terms of your relationship?
Chad: I am amazing and can fix anything, and Sarah is crazy unreasonable.
Sarah: I am incredibly reasonable and level headed in any situation, and it is always better to stay out of the way when Chad gets frustrated in the middle of a project gone wrong, as tools are often launched. Also that if we can make it through a reno, everything else seems easy.


What do you love most about your new space?
Chad: Living in a nice, clean, modern space, and the satisfaction of knowing we did it ourselves.
Sarah: Having a brand new kitchen with brand new appliances and my quartz countertops. I seriously love them, as Chad will tell you. The living room is a close second. There is nothing better than relaxing in there and listening to music with the aforementioned liquor.


Any tips for couples who are going through (or plan to begin) a major reno?
Chad: Don’t do it! Just kidding. Be flexible and ready to change direction based on the new reality of the situation. Plans change, but main plumbing stacks are forever. Don’t burn out by working 24/7. You need to take some weekends off to go out and do stuff outside the house.
Sarah: You are not going to be the first person in history to complete a reno on time and on budget. All those reno cliches are true. Also be sure to have at least one space in your house that is clean and comfortable as an escape from the chaos.

Visit Sarah’s blog to see more of her and Chad’s awesome home reno.

Image(s): Courtesy of Sarah Brown

filed under: ,