The Door That Damien Built ~ A Change in Housing Priorities

This post is the first in a series of home renovation posts. These are the follow-up posts in this series:

Weekends are busy. Friday and Saturday are dedicated "getting ready to move" days for our family. Easy meals (pre-washed salad mix, canned beans, tortilla chips, salsa, store bought dressing) and a big home renovation project are always in the works.

Sorting, organizing, decluttering, packing. Kids playing, crafting and participating in household tasks. 

the bathroom door that Damien built

Damien takes Friday off from his job to have an extra day to work on the house projects. On Sunday we hike.

Lather, rinse, repeat. The routine is getting old. And tiring.

Especially when you're doing all this work for a house you won't even be living in.  

A little history about our house

We bought this house six years ago. Before buying it we had paid off all our other debts and determined to remain consumer debt-free (not including a mortgage) for the remainder of our days. We also didn't want to be house poor - paying so much for our mortgage we couldn't afford to save money, eat good food and take modest vacations. 

kitchen appliances in "dining room"

We wanted to be in the city, close to shopping and remain a one car family. We didn't want a cookie cutter suburban house (not like we could have afforded one anyway and Maine has few of those to begin with). We wanted a yard and enough space for family of five and frequent guests. 

Having determined our priorities and our budget (much less than the bank was willing to loan us) we went looking for a house.

The prospects were dim. When we found our house we placed an offer that same day, this was when houses were snapped up off the market pretty quickly. Ah.. the good old days. 

dining room, looking into kitchen and bathroom

Our house had good bones. It was in an good urban neighborhood. All the major things - roof, foundation, and overall structure were solid .

The house had character. Gorgeous original wood trim and wood floors throughout the whole upstairs and the promise of wood underneath (newly laid?) living room carpet.

It had enough space and a decent yard for an urban lot. And we could afford it because it had a tenant apartment which would help pay the mortgage and utilities. 

And in timing that we can only credit to God, Damien got a job at the college three blocks from our house three months after we moved in. 

Because of all this we could look past the very dated decor. The fake wood paneling, carpet that covered the original 8.5 inch baseboards, '70s ballroom chandeliers, wallpaper. The works.

birthday morning, dining room, May 2006

The house had a lot of potential. It wasn't perfect but it was fairly charming once you got past its façade.

Plus, we planned on living here for many years and knew eventually we'd have the time and finances to fix it up to our liking.

dining room - first stage done, looking into living room, 2008

Over the years we have spent much of both - time and money - maintaining and renovating our house. We started in the apartment since we wanted to attract and keep good tenants. But there was always something preventing us from speedy progress on house renovations.

First it was having little children and little cash. And then when we'd have some savings we'd have to spend it elsewhere, like fixing the tenant's apartment or for an emergency. We did make progress, but slowly because we had other priorities. 

dining room (finished!) March 2011

A change in priorities

Realizing that you only get to raise kids once we decided to invest more in building family than renovating a house. Especially since carpentry is not Damien's trade nor my area of expertise.

original bathroom corner

Specifically, we made a decision to spend a significant amount of time outdoors together. Through the years we also discovered other interests, like writing and photography, that took time away from working on our house. So although we were always working on some house project or another the home renovations were a slow go.

bathroom corner in progress

We've grown as individuals and as a couple in the past six years and learned more about our passions and what excites us - and it isn't home renovations.

Coming to this conclusion was difficult for me. My father is a professional builder. Building is in his blood and it's his passion. I grew up in beautifully built and exquistely decorated homes. That was my father's business and it's what he loves. 

bathroom corner done! March 2011

Letting go of that expectation for my adult life - to live in a beautifully constructed and finished to perfection house - has been hard. I have shed many tears (yes tears, I am recovering perfectionist) but I'm learning to accept who I am and who we are. And what is realistic given our life goals and mission.

So what about the door that Damien built? 

Realizing we are not home renovators by passion but by necessity did not change our situation. We still lived in a house that needed upgrading. And once we decided to move we needed to fast track those renovations.

Projects we thought we'd have years to finish we now realized needed to be done in just a few months. So of course some ideas were scrapped altogether. There is only so much humanly possible (within a budget) in such a short time.

our galley kitchen

Those ideas that were actually doable have been consuming a large chunk of our time. Time we are sacrificing from other areas to meet the goal of moving in one month.

Damien's been working with such diligence and I'm so impressed with his committed and steady progress. I'm not a home renovator so my role is to balance the budget, manage the apartment, and be overall support crew.

window trim that Damien built

Over the years Damien has done some amazing work in our house and the photos you see throughout this post are a testament to that. All this beautiful woodwork around the windows - he built that (my Dad did the wall repair and painting).

The original wood around the kitchen and living room windows was removed and replaced with ugliness, you don't even want to know. So Damien painstakingly designed and built replacement trim to match the gorgeous wood upstairs that first wooed us to buy this house. 

And the bathroom door - he did that too. Including the glasswork. The trim he made from new wood to match an old door we found in another location in the house. Behind the corkboard is the original 1930's built-in ironing board.

That is just one example. There are touches of his talent and sheer hard work and determination throughout our whole house.

From now until we move I will be sharing before and after photos of all our home renovations and upgrades. 

I hope you'll enjoy this little diversion into "home renovation" blog. Enjoy it while it lasts because we don't plan on doing this again anytime in the near future.  

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  • Emily

    Emily on April 17, 2011, 2:24 p.m.

    I really love what you've done with your home. I love the warm of the wood and I love the personal touches. That bathroom door is lovely. I know what it's like to work hard on your house and then when it's finally "done", having to leave it all behind. This is our experience, too.

    (The package came yesterday!! Thanks again. xo)


  • Melanie

    Melanie on April 17, 2011, 3:20 p.m.

    Absolutely beautiful work. Damien has great talent, more than he thinks, as do you Renee, as I am sure you had input into what was done to update and change colors. It seems so much more bright and peaceful, too bad you have to move. I am impressed.


    • renee

      renee on April 18, 2011, 1:07 a.m.

      Damien is very skilled and can do most anything he puts his mind to in terms of house work. The thing is we just don't want to spend this next stage of our lives working on a house. We'd rather be hiking, backpacking etc... We've learned that just because you can do something or have the ability to do something doesn't mean you want to spend a lot of time doing that thing. 

      Thank you though. It is sad to leave. But a house is just a house (or so I'm telling myself to help say goodbye).


  • Naomi

    Naomi on April 17, 2011, 11:20 p.m.

    I remember laughing with you guys over the shag carpet-covered baseboard - what a hit! Anyway, I love what you've done with the place. All the light colors in the diningroom really lighten the place up. Great job with the door Damien! I didn't know you did that yourself!

    Unfortunately, we won't be finishing our home renovation project. Once we realized it wouldn't be financially possible to keep the house we weren't willing to add more time and money to something we couldn't sell, and so, half-finished it sits. And yet there are so many parts about our house that we personalized and love. All the scrap materials Glen made into something beautiful (Glen's ex-boss came to visit and got quite a kick out of the fact that boards from his old wooden fence were being used as trim in our kids bedroom!) Before we leave this place I plan to make a video tour of the house and talk about all the details that I don't want to forget.

    Great job guys! And here's to a fresh start of building a beautiful home were you can dig your roots deep and enjoy the rest of your lives together!


    • renee

      renee on April 18, 2011, 1:03 a.m.

      It's interesting Naomi - We don't feel our next home will be a "dig our roots deep" kind of place. We have a bit of wanderlust and a desire to travel and adventure with our children before they are grown and gone. That's where I see us investing time and money during the next stage of family life.

      I don't see us settling anywhere for the long term in the near future. 


  • Spalva

    Spalva on April 18, 2011, 7:07 a.m.

    He did a very nice job. Good taste.

    I can seriously relate to everything you wrote. We are also working with cash -- and a very old house. The walls are wonky (seriously...wavy), the previous owner did all sorts of bad restoration work, etc. You can add in that we are only there for two weeks at a time (except in summer). Over Christmas we had the project of painting the main fence and wall. Well, despite the fact that it rarely freezes in Brittany, the temps went below the recommended temperatures for painting outside. So we hauled the gate and fence inside the house and did it there, but the wall never got painted. So now, for the past six months, the gate and fence has been powder blue, while the wall remains half-stripped, half-beige and the house remains beige and marroon. Yuck for the poor neighbors, huh?

    In the year and a half we've owned the house, we still haven't painted a bedroom because of all the stripping work needed (so when certain bloggers paint their entire new house in a month -- and call that slow! -- it's a little bit frustrating!).

    Anywa, YAY for wanderlust!


  • Francesca

    Francesca on April 18, 2011, 7:16 p.m.

    You did a wonderful job with the house. I know that house renovations are always more money and time consuming than one anticipates, but - having never owned a house and only dreaming of one - I think that making a house your home must be worth it. I hope you can let go of this house easily, as your path takes your family to exciting new beginnings.


  • Earth Mama

    Earth Mama on April 19, 2011, 3:57 a.m.

    I think similar thoughts. When I look around our house, especially since we are knee deep into the upstairs bath renovation, I just see every square inch of what we (ahem-my husband) created. This house was made by us...and now we are ready to go. I feel like holding on, but then I think, why? What will these things provide for us? It's a mixed bag of emotions that I'm guessing you may know very well.



  • Anonymous

    Anonymous on April 20, 2011, 1:56 p.m.

    We also did a load of work on our last house just before we sold it. We lived with a 2x4 railing at the stairs for 4 years and then built a nice new fancy one after we were already moved out of the house! We painted every room. In the bathroom, we re-did the tub and tiles with new enamel, put in a new toilet, sink and faucet. Painted the kitchen cabinets, got a new countertop, tiled the backsplash, and another new faucet. We painted the basement concrete floor, and the laundry room that had been pink for 4 years was changed to beige.
    It was quite a makeover! I only wish we had found the money and time to do the work BEFORE we listed it for sale. It was disappointing to know that the house could have looked that good while we were living in it!
    I guess when living in the house we saw the renovations as an expense that we weren't going to get back. When looking at selling the house, the renovations were going to add value to the house and raise the asking price... From that point of view it seemed more worthwhile.
    Your house looks fantastic! One more month until you're back to Canada! Yahoo!


    • renee

      renee on April 20, 2011, 2:36 p.m.

      For us the investment is that we will hopefully attract and keep better tenants until such time as we can sell the house. Also, hopefully our renos will make the house more attractive to potential buyers.

      30 days and counting....


  • Kyce

    Kyce on April 21, 2011, 2:16 a.m.

    Very impressive work--I think you can claim your titles as ace-renovators, no matter how little pleasure it brings. Years of hard work have paid off. I love the pictures of little baby legs and arms in the corners of some of the shots.


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