The good, the bad, and the ugly—unless you’re buying a million-dollar home, you’re likely to find all of these elements in your new home purchase. This 1914 Craftsman is my first and only home purchase to date, and I couldn’t help but capture my first impressions as I turned the key and walked through my front door for the first time.
Sure, I toured the home with my realtor when I was house hunting, but there’s a big difference between looking at a fully furnished home and an emptied out shell. All of the skeletons start coming out of the closet—every scuff hidden by furniture and (sadly) pee stain left by pets. And, if you’re like me, you’ll also find all of the old things left behind by the old owners (and also the owners before them). It’s a rollercoaster! But it’s also exciting to see all of the raw potential and dream about what’s to come.
To watch the walkthrough video instead, check out my Move-In Day highlight at @reneerenovates.
The entry doors
Pros: I love all of the transom windows surrounding front doors and above the side door. They’re original to the house and beautiful.
Cons: The paint colors. Red, white, and blue are definitely classic Americana, but more for a Cape Cod home — not a Craftsman. Craftsman homes are typically earthier colors like olive, rust, rich cream, and yellow to blend into nature. I won’t be going for that much historical accuracy, but my paint colors will be grounded in that tradition with a modern twist. Which is my design direction for the whole house, pretty much!
One of my first projects was to paint the front screen door a rich green (Benjamin Moore Backwoods) and rescreen both that one and the side door. You can see from the side door photo that the screen was crumbling away to the touch and leaving little rusty metal bits all over the porch.
The side door also didn’t have a functional lock — just a hook that went in a little loop from the inside. I had to learn how to drill and chisel in all of the mechanisms for a dead bolt for this guy. Not an easy task!
Leading up to the front porch, you can see that there was also a gap between the front steps and the porch, meaning the last step was a real doozy. Thankfully, the guys who came and leveled the foundation also jacked the stairs up back into position as a freebie.
Pros: The big chunky Craftsman-style staircase. I think it was added whenever they did the attic conversion in the 80s or so, and they used pine, but I believe they reclaimed the mahogany front railing and newel post from another old house. I found the remaining scrap of the front railing up in the attic! This authentic piece of craftsmanship makes the stairs come to life and look far more original than they are.
Cons: There was a spindle missing from the staircase, which I was able to find a good match for at Home Depot and wedged in place with wood glue and a piece of cut wooden dowel. Of course, about a week after I did this and patted myself on the back, I found several spare spindles in the garage.
Boob light alert! I’m very much not a fan of these dated ’80s/’90s lights. I’ve since taken it down because 1) it was extremely dusty anyway and 2) I hated looking at it. I haven’t even replaced it yet, but I’d rather have no entry light than keep looking at it.
The living & dining rooms
Pros: These two rooms are connected by massive original pocket doors that still work perfectly (albeit a bit squeakily)! When open, it appears like a perfect cased opening. When closed, you have two separate spaces. The best of both worlds, in my opinion.
The dining room has exposed shiplap and an original built-in with gorgeous old wavy glass. If you like old things, too, I hope you share my appreciation for nice wavy glass.
Cons: This is kind of a Pro, too, but there’s a chimney boarded up by one of the dining shiplap walls. You can see it peeking over the top of the shiplap. After months of speculation, cutting off sections of board to peek behind, and buying a scope to stick in the wall and see what’s behind it, I think I figured out the mystery! In the last photo, you can see the damage to the hardwoods left behind by the old hearth. But it’s a weird shape, right? That’s because I’m pretty sure it’s mirror-imaged on the other side in the kitchen and that section of wall is 1) an add-on to hide the fireplace and 2) a clever way to give space for a little pantry. At some point, I’m pretty sure there was termite damage, perhaps that came down the chimney itself. My plan when I get to remodeling the dining room and kitchen is to tear that wall and pantry out, expose the fireplace and rebuild the hearth to cover up the floor damage. It will also open up the dining room and kitchen and be more authentic to the original layout.
There was also the exposed shiplap on the ceiling! While a nice idea, shiplap is structural, and in this case, it backed up to the attic, which was full at the time of rodent-smelling insulation (since fixed). Because the shiplap isn’t airtight, it meant the dining room smelled like a mouse party, and it was super hot from the attic heat. Plus, there was clearly old termite damage present in those boards. Not a cute look. One of the first things I hired out was to get the ceiling covered in drywall.
The kitchen, mud room & guest bath
Pros: Even though the kitchen is closed off from the other living spaces, it’s very spacious! It can easily fit an eat-in island.
I also love the window seat in the mud room. Can’t wait to make that a super cozy nook in the future. Currently it’s housing my plant collection.
Cons: The kitchen is very dated. The cabinets are musty, and the uppers take up so much wall space because they extended the drywall from their top front all the way up to the ceiling, rather than leaving them floating. They look more built in, but they take away so much airiness from the room. It feels very clunky.
The mud room is a closed-in porch that also houses a lot of the HVAC equipment up near its ceiling, which will need to be hidden away. It’s an unconditioned space, which means I’ll need to weather strip all of the interior doors connected to it, and because it’s an old porch, the floors are sloped. It’s going to require a lot of creativity to make the space feel intentional and usable.
The guest bath. What a nightmare. I knew from the inspection report that it was leaking below the house. But when you walk inside the room, you can instantly smell the mold and rot. My sister helped me gut this, and we exposed so much nastiness. Part of the subfloor had completely rotted away but fortunately left the joists healthy and intact. There was also a termite infestation at one point. This room has been one of my biggest headaches so far, but I think it’s also going to have one of the nicest before & after results.
The master suite & study
Pros: The master closet is huge for a house of this age. That’s because it’s part of the old enclosed porch. Unfortunately, that means it’s not well insulated, but it is what it is.
The master bath fixtures like the pedestal sink and clawfoot tub are high quality and in great condition. I only needed to get a new toilet for this space and a shower adapter kit for the tub. This saved me so much money!
The master bedroom and study were both in good condition, minus some drywall repairs needed. But they both get so much natural light.
Cons: The water heater didn’t work!! At all. The electrical line that ran to it was dead, somehow, and the tank was super old. My options were to 1) get a new tank and pay to run a new wire to it or 2) go with my future plan of getting a tankless water heater outside to free up space in this closet. I went with the latter to save myself future headaches. I didn’t love this unexpected expense, but I do love my new water heater. But when they removed this old tank, there was a big puddle of lead-based paint underneath that I guess someone had laid to protect the hardwoods a long time ago. So that was a fun hazmat cleanup adventure.
The upstairs bedrooms
Pros: There are three of them! And the middle bedroom has three nice windows with a custom built-in surrounding it. This whole upstairs was added in the 80s or 90s and has newer electrical, smoke detectors, and other modern conveniences.
Cons: The carpet. It smelled so musty. At first, I convinced myself that I could just rent and use a carpet cleaner. But no matter how many passes I did with that thing, it kept dredging up gray/black nastiness. It turns out the upstairs had a huge mold problem INSIDE the ductwork. So every time it turned on, it spewed mold spores everywhere. If you look at the ceiling photo, you can see mold creeping out of the vents. Somehow, my inspector did not find this. But I had to pay professionals to come out, clean, and treat the HVAC system upstairs. I ultimately ended up replacing the ductwork upstairs because it was in such poor shape anyway, and my sister blew me away by ripping up all of the upstairs carpet and tack strips singlehandedly. What a badass. I’m happy to say that the upstairs is now mold-free.
The wall texture. Again, this was an 80s or 90s addition, and it shows in all of the fixtures and finishes. The walls are a particularly aggressive orange peel, and there are cracks and exposed drywall tape lines throughout — either from poor installation, the previous foundation problems, or both. I’ve had to cut my teeth on skim coating the walls of the middle bedroom to get it ready for paint. It is no quick task and a bit of a mess. I may hire out the remaining walls upstairs.
The back porch & backyard
Pros: Both the porch and backyard are big and spacious! Lots of room for outdoor dining, a fire pit, and who knows what else.
The well! This is the original well that the first homeowners used for water. It was capped a while back but they left the structure in place. I just love the character and history it brings! I do need to cover it with something, though—this spring I had to climb in and rescue a baby bird that fell down the well.
Cons: At some point, the old owners removed half of the back porch roofing. I’m not sure if they wanted to create a makeshift pergola or what the issue was, but unfortunately it’s caused a lot of wood warping and mildew over time. I hired a handyman to remove the remaining rusty metal roofing and cover the entire roof in a new polycarbonate corrugated material that looks metal-like but won’t rust over time.
The garage is a bit of a hot mess. Some rotten siding boards, peeling paint, and it had a bit of a swayback. The rafters have now been reinforced to fix the swayback, and I’ve given it a new paint job (which, sadly, is now peeling again), but it definitely looks better than it did before. It has quite a few more structural issues and fixes before I’ll worry about giving it a better, more permanent paint job. But for now, it’s passable.
You may be thinking: You’re crazy. This house so many problems. Or, if you’re like me, you’re thinking: This house has SO much potential. The bones are solid and it has so much original character. A lot has been lost to time or renovations, but I’m excited to bring this beautiful old home back to life and make it perhaps even better than it’s ever been.
You with me? Hope so. Come follow along.