Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Let the demolition begin!

Our first order of business has been plumbing and foundation because, let's face it, everyone needs a toilet and no one wants their house to fall down (esp. in earthquake prone LA).  Here are some pics of what we thought would be a "little" demolition in the bathroom...

Russ and our very friendly helpers, Arturo and Pancho - - they rock!  This used to be two bathrooms (with walls) now, it's down to the studs...and foundation for that matter

Pile #1 (of like 20 truckloads) of some of the demolition

Friday, January 15, 2010

Part II - The Beginning of a Big Ol' Renovation - How We Got To Where We Are Today

We weren’t always so certain about our love for home renovations. In fact, it was quite accidental the way it all happened. We had been married about one year and made the decision to purchase our first home. To our surprise, we learned that we could make the monthly mortgage payments by renting it out and so we did!

Our first home (purchased in 2004)

We spent the next several months saving our money for another down payment and were able to purchase a little 700 square foot home in Madison Valley (Seattle, WA). Our intention was to fix it up and live in it for several years. But, with all things in life, nothing is certain.

Our first purchase and current rental property in Fremont (Seattle, WA)

One spring day we were walking our dog and saw a “for sale” sign being put up in front of major fixer with a ton of potential. We were like Pavlov’s salivating dogs! We knocked on the door, spoke to the agent and that same evening, we signed papers and became homeowners of a second home! If only buying a home were so easy in today’s economy, right? In hindsight, it was really a risky financial move for us to own both homes at the same time but we were young and optimistic (notice I didn’t say naive). Luckily, the real-estate market was still hot and we were able to sell the little house right before closing on the second home.

Our Renovated Home In Madrona (Seattle, WA)

The finished dining room: note the beautiful retro light fixture from Rejuvenation and we LOVED these site-finished Tiger Wood

The kitchen "before" (with the exception of the slide in oven/range and stainless side-by-side refrigerator

It's not a perfect picture but notice the bowling alley that we used for the countertop ($75 - we win!)

Again, we intended to stay for a few years and began extensive renovations. We landscaped, built a new deck, put up cedar shingles, installed new hardwood floors, skim coated and painted all of the walls, installed a new staircase, re-did two bathrooms, new kitchen/appliances, and re-plumbed the entire home. Just when we thought we could see the light at the end of the “renovation” tunnel, we decided to move to Los Angeles! It may sound crazy but we weren't feeling challenged and were thirsting for adventure.  We were fortunate to be able to sell our house right as the "bubble" was about to burst and headed to sunny L.A.

After three home renovations, two major career changes and a bold move from Seattle, Washington to the heart of Los Angeles, California we find ourselves again knee deep in the biggest renovation to date and it feels great.  After 18 months of intense conversations, and five long months of aggressive haggling with everyone from the bank, lender, seller, contractors, and appraisers, we FINALLY purchased our new home!

I feel like I sound like a TV show when I say this but this new home is truly the biggest, craziest, most extreme renovation we have taken on to date! It is 3800+ square foot structure, with three units, a garage and a huge driveway all situated on a 10,000 square foot lot! Sounds cool, yes? It's in the heart of a major historic preservation overlay zone (HPOZ) in the center of Los Angeles. And, while we love the character and charm of this historic area, this also means that we will need to get all major exterior renovations/landscaping approved by the very strict HPOZ board (color of paint, plantings, windows, driveway, roofing materials, etc…) I like to think positively about this but they can be sticklers and I feel like they should be thrilled that we bought the biggest piece of poop in the neighborhood but we'll have to wait and see...

Here's our "baby"  She's a real just wait - - with a little sweat and love she's gonna look gorgeous!

To make it even more challenging, we are on a very tight budget. Our motto is, “the best for the cheapest!" We are excited to take you on this journey with us. It’s not going to be easy, it’s not always going to be fun, and it may make us go mad but we hope you’ll stick with us. We’ll learn together and hopefully we’ll show you a thing or two. We don’t claim to be experts. Just ordinary people who believe you can do a renovation for less than some of those shows on TV (I mean, what are those $100k kitchen renovations about?) The best way to save money is to act as your own contractor, which is exactly what we are doing (oh….and your own landscaper, tile-layer, skim coater, hard-wood floor installer, demolition expert, foundation repairperson etc…)

Enjoy our journey and we’d love to hear any tips/advice/suggestions you might have. We also like hearing about things you like too! Thanks for following.

~Sincerely – Russ and Ang

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Part I - The Beginning of a Big Ol' Renovation - About "Us"

I once read an excerpt from Real Simple Magazine about home renovations and how, to the home renovation lover, a house is never truly finished. And, when it is finally finished, then it is time to move on. This poem describes our lives and our approach to home renovations perfectly. 

Our Christmas Card Photo from 2008 - -during this time, we were living the life of renters, which was fun for a while but we were already itching to get our hands on a house.

Russ and I are a "real" couple in our early 30's who have big dreams and a very small budget.  We believe that every homeowner has the ability to add significant value to their home while simultaneously enhancing your marriage through home renovations.  Whether it be a simple project like changing out the hardware on your cabinets or a more complex project like installing your own floors - - there is something about working on your home together.  We think that home projects have the ability to draw you closer together as a couple while also creating a home that you love spending time in AND at the same time adding significant value to your most significant purchase of your life - - your home.

Russ and I love ourselves a good house project.  To be honest though, Russ really really really loves projects.  He could eat, breath and sleep everything and anything "house" related.  Frankly, he could live in a  a hovel if it was "his".  Russ is a very intuitive person with an incredible ability to find solutions to complex problems.  He pays attention to detail and takes his time making decisions, leaving no stone unturned.  These qualities may also explain why he has chose engineering, specifically project controls/cost scheduling as his career choice.  Russ works for an international global engineering firm in downtown LA.  When he's not working, or working on the house, he loves nothing more than a bike ride or painting.

Russ, building the forms for a modern cement pathway

I, on the other hand, love a good project as well but, I can't lie - - I love to partake in some of the luxuries life has to offer such as hot water and a working toilet.  Sometimes, (gasp) I actually like to take a weekend off and do absolutley nothing.   My love of "luxury" and zest for life (as well as my desire to share our lives with the world) may also explain why I chose "acting" as my career choice.  Actually, I am a struggling actor who is on the verge of success and who also likes photography and long walks with my husband and our little dog - Beba.

This is Beba - she's our assistant

We are very opposite from one another, which makes major projects that involve many decisions very interesting.  We have similar visions to what we want the end product to look like but very different ways of getting there.  Russ is an introvert, a thinker and is very slow to act; whereas, I am extroverted and act quickly.  Together, we make a great team.  For what one of us lacks, the other certainly makes up for it.

Me climbing Half-Dome at Yosemite National Park

On the other hand, we both get restless with monotony and feel useless when we don't have a hammer or paintbrush in hand.  I've come to the conslusion that we avoid certainty because it doesn't present enough challenges for our liking.  We revel in uncertainty (sometimes to my consternation) and we like that the "unknown" pushes us and helps us to grow stronger.  We especially like the "real" tangible changes that we can make to a structure. 

Our "pre-trip" before we made the big decision to move to Cali

With the growing DIY (do it yourself) population of people out there, we think many others feel this way too. In particular, we believe many homeowners/handy people are not interested in paying gazillions of dollars on renovations that we all know we can do (if given a little direction), at a fraction of the price that a fancy contractor may quote.

Some people train for marathons, some opt for competitive golf or tennis, but our challenge of choice is a home renovation. We love the possibilities that a “fixer” presents. Also, there is nothing quite as invigorating as a conversation about which type of faucet to use in the bathroom, the grain of wood to use on our floors, or the good deal one of us found on craigslist for a glass shower door or refrigerator. We love the hunt, we love Home Depot and we love the concept that we will reap what we sow!

When we aren't renovating we love hanging out with friends and enjoying good wine (and looking very "Hollywood" with our sunglasses)

We hope you enjoy this blog and we want to hear from you.  In our next post, I'll get ya'll updated on how we got to where we are today...owners of the most ambitious "project" to date.

~ Ang and Russ (and Beba too)