Episode 1: The one where I start blogging mid-renovation

In early August, Erin and I were thrilled to close on a condo in Midtown Detroit. We’d been looking for a two bedroom place for a while that was near to Children’s Hospital where she works and could fit our needs for the next few years.

One of our must-haves in our home was two bedrooms: in the short-term, we can use that second bedroom as a guest bedroom and office. In the long-term, we can turn it into a nursery for baby Andrews.

However, the home that we ultimately purchased was a spacious one bedroom, two floor loft. The reason for this is that the affordable options in the neighborhood were sparse and that I noticed in the walkthrough that this condo could be trivially converted into a two bedroom. Erin’s Uncle Mike, a lifelong carpenter, confirmed this in the second walkthrough and offered his help in the project. We now know that the reason for the easy conversion is that the condo was in fact originally a two bedroom before it was renovated by an architect into a hip loft. Well, we’re not hip, and what’s done be undone. Looking back, though, I do question my judgment in using the word “trivially” to describe any project as seemingly large as adding a second bedroom, even with the help of an experienced carpenter.

In addition to the structural changes, Erin and I wanted to make a number of updates that would make the condo better fit our style - somewhere between Erin’s traditional tastes and my contemporary ones. It’s plenty livable now, but we’re excited to have a home that we can make changes to, and many of these changes are a heck of a lot easier to make while we’re still living with her parents than after we move in.

So fast forward a month to now. I’ve done deep research on various topics - I know more about natural countertops than I frankly care to - and made some early decisions. We’ve also begun actual work on the condo in earnest, although that first hammer swing that took the condo from livable to “under construction” was admittedly gut-wrenching.

The short list of things we’ve actually accomplished:

  • Chosen and met with a decorator, who’s helped us form a list of what we’d like to update before moving in

  • Selected new trim (baseboards, crow mouldings, and door casings) to install

  • Purchased that new trim and schlepped it to the condo

  • Ripped out the old quarter-rounds and baseboards

  • Received a paint estimate and booked a painter for late October / early November

  • Chosen an electrician and received an estimate on how much the wiring will cost for the second bedroom change

  • Bought some tools, like a professional paint sprayer (which I’ll likely sell when I’m done), a random orbit sander, and a detail sander

  • Borrowed some other tools that I’ll need, like a miter saw, air compressor, and nail guns

  • Purchased the joists, 2x4s, plywood, drywall, etc. that’s required to convert the condo from a loft to a two bedroom

  • Schlepped those materials to the condo (thanks to the enormous help of my friends Andrew and Dan)

  • Built out a floor for the second bedroom (and by “built”, I mean “watched Uncle Mike build”). Ladder holding counts as work, folks.

  • Stripped the wall between the staircase and the upstairs down to its original studs, removing 4 inches or so of wall

  • Wrote a short post about what I accomplished so far

This list pales in comparison to what we still have to do, though. To list a few of the biggies:

  • Add studs for the wall and closet to the second bedroom

  • Install the drywall in the second bedroom (and the newly-created ceiling in the first floor)

  • Mud and sand that drywall

  • Refinish the stairs

  • Decide with our decorator on paint colors

  • Install all of the new trim

  • Paint all of the new trim

  • Order new, taller cabinet uppers

  • Paint all of the new and old cabinets

  • Paint all of the walls

  • Possibly move the washer/dryer from the walk-in closet of the master bedroom to the upstairs hallway, which will require moving a wall

  • Choose a new countertop for part of our kitchen

  • Rip out the old backsplash and install a new one

Suffice to say, we have a long way to go.

So why start blogging about the experience now, part-way through the process? Honestly, the reason is purely a selfish one: in the few past home improvement projects I’ve done, I have a tendency to move too fast or too slow after the initial novelty of the project wears off. However, when I write something down for a broader audience, I trick my brain and end up holding myself to a higher standard. I hope that by publishing what I learn, I’ll push myself to move as quickly as possible and as slowly as necessary to do the job right.

In a future post, I’ll probably post some pictures of the place as well as some progress photos of the work I’ve done. I’ll save that for episode two, though.

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