Our House is Becoming a Home and Our Yard is Almost Edible, but Can I Check into a Spa Now?

Our house when we first met, almost one year ago

Goal-setting really works. As you know, I’ve seen it work with my career, and now I am seeing it work with our house.

Back in January, I said we wanted to make our new house into a home and create an edible front yard.  The exciting part is that we’re really doing it. But I admit that it has been a huge challenge to take this on, do it well and on-budget, and take care of my family, myself, and my career.

I told some friends recently that owning a house was like having another child, and renovating a house was like adding twins. Even though our flesh-and-blood children are bathed and loved, urgent emails are answered (most of the time), and meals are cooked (albeit uninspired), I feel as if I’m barely holding it all together.

Some days it seems I can’t do anything right. On Saturday, for example, a welder came to our house to install some iron railing and alter a window guard. One problem after another came up, and what was supposed to take 25 minutes turned into over four hours. When it came time for the moment of truth — installing the railing on the difficult attic stairs — I had to pick up Sofia from a ballet conference. Not only was I the last mom to show up (an excruciating half-hour late), by the time we got back, the welder was gone and the job that we had been planning for months looked like dog doo-doo.

Despite those difficult moments, I keep getting up in the morning, and tackling one project after another. Enough goes right that I don’t get entirely discouraged, and at the heart, I am determined to make a fun and relaxing home.

A “Done” House, or a House “To Do”?

Beaded oval doorknobs on our 1911 doors

When we bought this house, it didn’t really dawn on me how much of it we would be changing. We fell in love with its quirky cottage look, and we could afford it. I laugh now when I realize that we didn’t discover some hidden gem. We could afford it, because it needed work!

Even if we could have bought a house that was “done,” is that what we really would have wanted? As overwhelming as renovating can be, creating something that we think is both beautiful and functional is rewarding. And despite the house’s problems, it has great bones, lots of personality, and a walkable neighborhood location.

Progress Report:  House-into-Home

So now that you know the bumpy backstory, let me tell you what we have managed to do since I wrote about our goal of starting a renovation project.  We have renovated our front room from a library to a foyer by removing the floor-to-ceiling built-in shelves, trimming the windows, revamping the powder room, and adding two coat closets.

BEFORE: The front room held all our books and toys, but we had no closets.

DURING: We removed all the shelving, the radiator cover, and the recessed can lights.

SEMI-FINISHED: The rug and window seat cushion are stand-ins, but at least we are construction-free.

DURING: We also moved the door to the powder room from the entry hall to the new foyer.

SEMI-FINISHED: We still need furniture and curtains, but — phew! — the hard part is over.

We also decided to finish our attic to make a guest room and an office. We installed heating and cooling, added electrical outlets, and fixed the scary hole-in-the-floor stairwell. We painted the floors (Elephant’s Breath, a light gray by Farrow & Ball), we moved furniture (some hoisted through the window), bought twin beds, and we built out the chimney wall to create a nook.

BEFORE: A home inspector checks out the bare attic before we bought the house.

SEMI-FINISHED: A little guest room on one side, an office on the other (not pictured).

Progress Report:  Edible Landscaping

Then we turned our attention outdoors. Instead of trying to work with the 1985 deck with no stairs, we decided to tear it down.

BEFORE: An outdoor dining room built onto our house in 1985 has no stairs to the small back yard.

DURING: The deck was old and rotting, and we needed more play space for the kids.

AFTER: Without the old deck, we have lots of possibilities.

Now we have double the yard space, plus the chance to do something really fun:  a long slide from the back door to the yard. While a neighborhood architect works on those plans, we are gearing up for our edible front yard. We cut down a dying mulberry tree to free up precious sunlight, and we transplanted some prairie grasses to make room for a mini-orchard and vegetable garden.

Cutting down a dying mulberry tree freed up sunlight for the fruit and vegetables we will grow up front.

BEFORE: With limited outdoor space, our front yard has to work harder for us than just looking pretty.

MIDDLE: Grasses were transplanted behind the house, and the earth is ready for fruits and veggies.

This weekend I bought two apple trees and a peach, plus eight blueberry bushes, as well as kale, arugula, and Italian herbs. The kids and I planted our first strawberry jar and bought a Meyer lemon tree for the sunroom.

Progress Report:  Future Nest Egg

The problem with renovating our house is no longer getting started. It’s being able to stop. Besides discovering problems with the chimney, the fence, and the kitchen skylight, we are now turning our focus to our shabby living-room furniture and rickety front porch. But because one of our other goals was to focus on retirement, we will have to take a rest mid-year and start thinking of our long-term future home. Since we are contributing the maximum possible to our work and personal retirement funds, we will need to talk to an adviser and start figuring other smart ways to beef up our old-age fund.

Once the intensity of the first phase of home renovations die down, and we take a much-needed rest, I want to focus my attention on my personal and family life:  finding a better system for storing, organizing, and sending digital photos; journaling more consistently about my kids and the cute things they say and do; and spending more downtime with my husband, kids, and friends. Because if you don’t set goals for these things too, they’ll get squeezed out by the ones you did set goals for.

On the topic of organizing, you might like this round-up I created for Parentables:  10 Must-Read Home Organizing Websites.

If you’re more just into browsing some pretty pictures, head over to Pinterest where you can see stuff on edible landscaping, building a backyard slide, and my favorites ideas for decorating.

How are you all doing with the goals you shared with me back in January? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Share this post:


  • Kristin November 20, 2014, 9:07 pm

    What color is the blue/gray paint you used in the room with the window seat?

    • Amy November 20, 2014, 9:13 pm

      Hi Kristin,

      It’s Skylight by Farrow & Ball.


  • Mary February 19, 2014, 12:33 pm

    Your house is lovely. What is that beautiful pink shrubbery out front? It’s absolutely gorgeous.

    • Amy February 20, 2014, 9:58 pm

      Hey Mary,

      That would be a huge azalea!


  • Rita Arens July 2, 2012, 10:19 am

    We have been remodeling Chateau Travolta (our 1977 bank foreclosure in a lake community) for five years. Every surface is being overhauled, from walls to floors to sinks. It’s so expensive and exhausting and it just seems like it’s never done. It’s a relief to see other people having to take breaks and wait for the money tree to grow back because it seems like all my friends just go in and rehab their kitchens or their basements in one fell swoop while my husband and I do 90% of the work ourselves verrrrrry sllooowwwwwly. I really want to pay off at least one credit card before we think about our hideous kitchen, but every time someone comes over and stares at the lack of baseboards or the actual hole between the cupboards and backsplash that I covered with packing tape, I want to crawl under my Kmart tile table that has functioned as our dining table since we moved because we don’t want to buy a dining table until we know what the kitchen will look like. :)

    • Amy July 3, 2012, 10:57 pm

      Hi Rita,

      I’m totally with you! I think it really is important to wait for the funds to collect, instead of going into debt or getting overwhelmed with the process. I too cringe when people see my ratty dirty old couch that needs reupholstering, and the cheap IKEA furniture, and on and on. But you know, these days restraint is something to be admired, since it’s not easy to come by.

      Brag about your ability to wait, if you need something to prop you up. You should feel pretty good about yourself for the sole fact that you and your husband do almost all the work. That’s amazing!

      And I think you are SO right to wait on the kitchen table. My friend Rayna’s mantra: Buy it once.

      p.s. I love the name of your place: Chateau Travolta!

      Thanks for writing in, Rita.


  • Erin June 7, 2012, 5:35 pm

    Hi Amy,

    I read this post after reading your recent profile in The Washington Post (congrats!) and noted that you recommended working with an interior decorator because in the end, it will save you money.

    My husband and I live in NW DC and have a few home projects we could really use an expert’s help with (i.e. renovating our attic and upstairs bathroom).

    Do you have any recommendations for great individuals and/or firms that don’t charge an arm and a leg but you really love?

    Thanks so much and congratulations again on the wonderful piece in the Post!


    • Amy June 7, 2012, 10:10 pm

      Hi Erin,

      Yes, I do believe that if you have the funds for a renovation, than a few extra dollars for a designer will totally pay off. Since we weren’t interested in building on, we used an interior designer instead of an architect to help us figure out how to modify our house to fit our family. We haven’t done a whole lot yet, but I can recommend Design in a Day in Bethesda, or the decorators at Monarch Paint.

      Good luck with your projects — they sound like fun!


  • Erin April 16, 2012, 4:40 pm

    Hi there, I just recently stumbled across your blog, and it is wonderful! Sorry to hijack your post, but I have a quick question about your twin-closet renovations–I actually found your blog because I was searching for images of twin closets w/ window seat, as we are planning to do something similar in our master bedroom. What are the dimensions of your closets (or even just the width of wall space you had on either side of your window?) I think our window is a bit wider than yours, but I think we may have just enough space to make it work. Finding a workable, affordable solution to our super-limited bedroom closet space is one of our goals for this year! Thanks so much!

    • Amy April 16, 2012, 9:31 pm

      Hi Erin,

      Sure, I’d be happy to help you out. It’s late now, but I’ll take measurements tomorrow and post them here.

      Talk soon,

    • Amy April 18, 2012, 2:39 pm

      Hi Erin,

      OK, so I measured the closets: one is 51 inches wide, and the other is 46 inches wide. I don’t think there is any standard width requirements for closets, so I bet they could work in your situation too. Good luck and let me know how it goes!


  • Gayle April 4, 2012, 1:49 pm

    Wow, Amy – everything looks great! Congrats on all the exciting changes!! I know that it’s hugely time-consuming, but so worth it.

    • Amy April 5, 2012, 11:12 am

      Hi Gayle,

      Thank you for your encouragement! Nothing is decorated yet, but we have made quite a bit of progress. I have to keep reminding myself to enjoy the process instead of rushing to get it “done.”

      Take care,

  • Jen @ Jen Spends March 28, 2012, 1:05 pm

    It’s so exciting to see all the progress you’ve made on your house! That foyer is stunning, and I absolutely love what you’ve done with the attic. The front garden will be wonderful too. My parents have blueberry bushes and they produce loads of berries with almost no maintenance.

    My to-do list for the year is decidedly less exciting, but I’ve been able to cross off a couple items so far, so I’m feeling pretty accomplished.

    • Amy March 29, 2012, 11:06 pm

      Hi Jen,

      Thank you — there is quite a lot more work to do, as you can see. Amazing that after all that money and effort, we have only really built the bones!

      I’m so happy for you in paying off your car, as I read about in your last blog post. That must have taken a lot of willpower and been extremely freeing.

      Congratulations again — that’s huge,

  • Daisy March 28, 2012, 6:58 am

    Hi Amy,

    Thanks for reminding me about my goals. I found the comment I left in January and it was mostly about how to improve on my previous Christmas, which had been way too busy and stressful. I will have to find some way to remind myself about these later in the year.

    My other goals were “streamlining, simplifying and organising” my life. I have a housework schedule that I haven’t stuck to lately, but I have been doing very well with staying on top of the laundry. I have been working through the whole house, cleaning it out. Our house is going on the market in about a month, so that is going to kick into high gear. I’m also part way through my paperwork problem and have made some improvements to our banking and retirement savings plan.

    Thanks for reminding me of my goals. I have made some progress, but still have a lot of room to improve. I’m also enjoying seeing the progress you have made on your house. We are about to start our own renovating adventure and I’m anxious about keeping everything under control.

    • Amy March 29, 2012, 11:03 pm

      Hi Daisy,

      It’s great to hear from you, and how things are going in your household! It sounds like streamlining and simplifying is going pretty well, although I know it’s easy for things to get complicated again. Renovating and putting your house on the market are big new projects that promise new adventures. I wish you the best — it sounds every exciting!

      Thank you for checking in,