Five years ago I got married. Big deal right? Well for most people, that alone is enough excitement for a year, but not me — I say go big or go home. In just under a year I got married, consolidated my husband’s 37 years of bachelorhood items (read as “got rid of the stuff I did not like”), sold two houses, bought another one, renovated the new house … oh, and got pregnant and had a baby (yes a real baby that I had to keep alive). There was also a death in the family and a promotion at work, but this is not an article on the depressing or the boring events in my life — but I would like some credit that I didn’t curl up in one of my un-renovated bathrooms and cry.
Let me be clear, I am not a millionaire, nor do I have any expertise in interior design. Here’s the thing — I can just tell you what I like and what I don’t like, and most importantly I can tell you exactly what makes me happy when I see it and/or feel it. I am also very lucky that I have found some very dear friends who do have exceptional taste, design skills and vision in terms of interiors and sometimes, more importantly, fashion. They literally help me and my house get dressed. (They also can mow down some guac/queso/chips/margaritas, which is a key skill to possess in my friendship posse.)
I can’t tell you why, but I have always wanted to live in a ranch-style house, which, in general, means a one-story house under 2,000 square feet. And the most important criteria? We could afford it! At the end of the day, I think it is silly to act like everything is done because of preference, because the reality is there are very few people I know who live without a budget, and everyone must make trade-offs. Of course, if I were Oprah-rich I likely would be speaking to you from my actual ranch versus ranch house … and Bradley Cooper would be there telling you how proud he is of his beautiful wife’s (and that would be me, but with perfect hair and skin and low BMI) most recent cover of Vogue.
We knew we couldn’t afford a renovation that included adding square footage, extensive architectural input or anything that would take longer than six months, so we prioritized what could be done. Here is what we did:
- Gutted and fully re-did the kitchen and created one large, open room combining kitchen, den and sun room
- Added windows across the back of the house to increase light
- Redid the hardwood floors throughout the entire house
- Painted and wallpapered the entire interior
- Replaced all window blinds and shutters
- Replaced all lighting fixtures
- Replaced all window and door hardware
I partnered with (and paid, as I am sure she would have killed me if she didn’t eventually get a check) my good friend Sheryl of Sheryl Vandermolen Interiors to choose paint, wallpaper, hardware, blinds and lighting fixtures — as well as create a plan for the furniture and art we already had and needed. (Side note, as I did not learn this until I was 40 — hiring an interior designer is important not only for their creative vision and skills, but because they also have access to stuff you can’t buy on your own, so you are paying for access, kind of like a backstage pass. So, whenever you see the footnote that says “only to trade” that means you can’t get your hands on it unless you have a tax ID number.)
One reason Sheryl and I work so well together is she will always bring me three options for everything we needed — the “if money were no option” option, the “middle of the road” option and the “least expensive” option. I also felt comfortable telling her what I think is heinous and she felt comfortable saying “You have no idea what you are talking about, let me do my job.” Basically we trust each other, which is extremely important when you’re working this closely.
Once I fall in love with something, I pursue it with a passion, and this is true for my dining room chandelier, my husband and all forms of cheese. This love is exemplified if there are bright colors involved. I have never longed for anything black or white.
There are three things in this house that exemplify my commitment to pursue things I love to the point of redonkulous trade-offs:
1.) My chandelier. The second I saw this sucker, I had to have it, and as luck would have it, this was the “if money were no option” option.
2.) The process of “vinyl-izing” this fabric on my kitchen stools. Not only was the fabric expensive, but the process to put a vinyl layer over it so you can wipe off ketchup and chocolate in a flash was outrageous, but never have I regretted my pursuit of this easy cleaning option when having kids.
3.) And last but not least, the Icemaker of the Gods — can you tell I take ice quality, type and shape VERY seriously? I nixed several bathroom improvements for the sake of my rabbit pellet ice maker. My husband said it was “embarrassingly” expensive, but I was eight months pregnant, so I won that argument. There is just nothing better than rabbit pellet or shaved ice — screw the cube, I say! So once a month when I break down and take a bath in the only bathtub in the house, which is in the kids’ Jack-n-Jill bathroom, and I’m joined by a member of the Paw Patrol and discover Lego stuck to my backside, I think of my chandelier, my stools and my ice maker, and I smile.
Do not live in denial in terms of what your life is really like. I knew going into this house that with a baby en route that there was a plastic circus in my future. Now, I would love it if my kids’ rooms could look like a Swedish nursery: Spartan, clean and nary a plastic toy in sight. Just the lone wooden pull toy, one lovely stuffed animal and a well-read classic leather-bound novel. Alas, there will be plastic stuff everywhere for a looooong time — just try telling a grandmother to only buy one present and no toys!
My take-away advice here is this: ensure that you budget for professional help with organizing (i.e. hiding your mess). I have great storage for a midsize, older home, but I still wasn’t using it very explicitly. I found Simplicity, and it changed my life and got my house and my head organized.
Remember this is not advice from an interior designer or even a lifestyle blogger — this is the truth from a far-from-perfect, 47-year-old, messy — literally and figuratively — full-time working mom of two, who lives within a budget. A few caveats to that budget thingy: pellet ice makers, coffee table books, things that smell good, pajamas and brightly colored objects.
Brooke Lowry lives in Charlotte, NC, with her husband and two children. When she is not a full-time working HR professional, she writes about her funny, dysfunctional life on her blog, truegrit.biz. Thank you to Avonne of Avonne Photography for the beautiful pictures of Brooke’s home.
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