My Old Kentucky Home Renovations: Foyer and a Plea for Help

You may remember the December bucket list I put together about a month ago. I'm happy to report that I completed everything except creating a piece of artwork to hang in my home. Time just got away from me, and this goal fell by the wayside. When I wrote that to-do item down, I envisioned making a large statement piece to hang in our foyer because it is lacking in organization, inspiration, cohesion... You get the picture. Anyways, over the next couple of months, I'd like to whip our foyer into shape. Unfortunately, it has become the "catch all" spot, and you can see the mess from almost every other room in our house. It has a lot of square feet and really great lighting, so it has the potential to be a great entrance to our house.

I'm hoping that I can share some "after" pictures with you by the end of February. Here are the "before" pictures in its current state.

As you can see, we're doing a little work on the plaster above the fireplace, so it is a little more messy than normal. It is a relatively blank canvas, and I painted it in Sherwin-Williams Drift of Mist this past winter.

Here are some challenges to the space:

  1. Budget - I'd like to keep everything under $300.
  2. Attachment to existing items - Jay has a sentimental attachment to some of the furniture, so we'll have to come of with a creative way to create a cohesive look. Did you see that little orange school room desk? Yikes!
  3. Little wall space - While the space is large, there are 4 doors or hallway entrances, 2 windows, and a fireplace.
  4. Visibility - Besides being the first room you encounter, it is visible from everywhere on the first floor except the kitchen, so it needs to match the rest of the house.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and suggestions on how to improve this space!



My Old Kentucky Home Renovations: Survival Tips

Last night, I was walking through our house enjoying our Christmas decorations and appreciating that we were able to decorate the entire house this year. Last year during this season, we were in the thick of home renovations, and I didn’t want to put up too many decorations because it meant extra stuff to dust daily. Anyways, those who know me well know that I have slight anxiety issues when I’m in messy and unorganized spaces, so the months of living in the house during renovations were really difficult and stressful. Since it was a dark time, I didn’t take too many pictures, but I found a few in the annals of my iPhone. I could literally feel my breathing shallow and my blood pressure spike when I pulled them out to share with you.

I put together a list of survival tips. I geared them towards OCD folks, like myself. Here they are...

How to Survive a Renovation If You Don't Like Messes

  • Create renovation-free zones and keep them organized.

I can’t tell you how many times I escaped to our upstairs guest bedroom for a couple hours or closed the doors in our living room, so I wouldn’t have to look at the mess. Having a mini-haven that I could keep neat and clean inside the house was necessary to my survival.

Bedroom mess
Bedroom mess
  • Buy Swiffer Dry Cloths in bulk.

If you’re like Danny Tanner (or me) and can’t stand dirt, these are a lifesaver. I typically like to use microfiber dusting cloths and washable dusting mop pads, but it was worth it for my sanity to use disposable dusting sheets. I used the dry cloths to dust the floors and multiple other surfaces most evenings. Sorry not sorry, Mother Nature.

  • Multiply the estimated project timeline by four.

Getting into a renovation project, I knew that it wouldn’t be finished on time. Have you ever heard of a construction project finishing on time or ahead of schedule? No. However, I thought it would only be a couple of extra weeks. One of the most stressful things was not knowing when the project would be done and when workmen would come. I had my hopes up pretty much every week, and our project ended up taking four full months instead of the four weeks we were told. If you’re starting a project, multiply the completion time by four because then you might be pleasantly surprised if it gets finished sooner.

  • Realize that you’ll likely go over budget.

Along the same lines, every project that we’ve done has pretty much gone over budget. In our case, the investment in higher quality items was worth it since we were already making a large investment, but we definitely considered where to save and where to splurge. For example, we used higher-end tile in our shower, but we purchased our towel racks from the hardware store (with a coupon) instead of the fancy bathroom showroom. My advice is to know what you can realistically spend and lowball your budget when talking to contractors. You’ll likely end up spending your entire budget, but maybe you won’t go over it.

  • Have patience, and if you don’t, just leave the house.

I consider myself a fairly patient person, but that went out the window during renovations. The time, the mess, the workmen leaving trash throughout the house (even in places they weren’t working), etc. definitely shortened my fuse. I really tried to have patience, but like I mentioned, my anxiety took over, and it wasn’t pretty. My biggest advice is to leave the house. I went for a lot of runs and walks to get out of the house, and I actually looked forward to business trips. If you can plan a vacation during a particularly rough renovation, by all means, leave that mess and enjoy yourself.

can of Dr. Pepper = Construction worker was here (Can see no other visible progress)

can of Dr. Pepper = Construction worker was here (Can see no other visible progress)


If all else fails, just pour yourself a big glass of wine. Cheers!


My Old Kentucky Home Renovations: Master Bathroom and Closet

The most dramatic change to happen to our house over the past year was the addition of a master bathroom and closet. We eliminated an existing bathroom in a different part of the house to build an office nook, so we were down to one bathroom with an antique clawfoot tub and no counter space or storage under the sink. It was pretty tight, and I can’t tell you how many times someone almost electrocuted himself because a hairdryer or curling iron in the sink since there wasn’t room for it on the counter. Additionally, we didn’t have a real closet in the house, so we desperately needed one of those as well. We eliminated a bedroom that was adjacent to our master bedroom and serving as an office to put in the master bath and closet. The space was rectangular, which helped make the design easier. Most of our rooms have catty corners, so we were fortunate that this one did not. However, it had a fireplace and two large windows that we had to work around since we didn’t want to eliminate them.


Ezra, our architect who also happens to be a friend, did a great job with the design, and he was really patient as we worked to find the best design. He put together several options for us, and I can’t tell you how long it took us to pick one and then how many times we kept coming back to him with changes and minor tweaks. I originally wanted a separate bathroom and closet, but he convinced us to go with a combined bathroom and closet. It was definitely the best use of space, and when I’m getting ready, I don’t feel like I’m putting makeup in my closet. If you are looking for an architect for a large or small project, I highly recommend Ezra Sword Designs.

Our tile came from The Tile Shop, and I really love how the shower came out. I think the marble fits well with the age of the house, but it still looks fresh and clean.

We went with a Carrara marble for our vanity counter, and again, I love it! I was really picky about the vanity color and countertop, so I drove to Stone Gallery in Nicholasville to pick out the exact slab that they used to make the counter. We had a minor (what seemed like major at the time) renovation nightmare with the stain of the vanity, and the Amish carpenters who built the vanity and other storage pieces had to keep coming back to install, uninstall, reinstall, etc., which was a hassle considering they lived over an hour away and had to hire a driver each time they made a trip to the house.

Since the space doubles as a bathroom and closet, we wanted the toilet to be in a separate room. We struggled with space and structural issues, but we finally settled on a barn door for the water closet. I didn’t want the barn door to look too rustic, so we finally settled on this hardware and had the door custom built.

Before the room became a master bath/closet, the room had a built-in bookcase with an antique ladder from a pharmacy in downtown Lexington. We kept the ladder to access the tall shelves in our closet, and we use it almost everyday.

The biggest lesson I learned from this project is to avoid cutting corners in a renovation project, which we were considering when we were in the thick of the renovation and progress was happening at snail's pace. We use this space all the time, so I’m really happy we focused on each tiny detail.



My Old Kentucky Home Renovations: Dining Room

Room Overview Our dining room is probably my favorite room in our house. We typically host a few parties as well as several family holiday meals each year, so its larger size is great for our needs. It required relatively little work to update it since it had great bones to start with. I love the white fireplace flanked by two extra-long windows. You may remember this picture from the ultimate before post last week, and while Jay changed some of the aesthetic details, I didn’t really care for his changes. Luckily, we didn’t have to do much more than paint the walls and change out the furniture and accessories.

Because the room is so large and bright, I went with a darker greige wall color. I think it makes the room feel more intimate, and since it is in the middle of the house, the color serves as a neutral base for the surrounding rooms.


We changed out the dining room table and chairs for a larger option. The scale of the table and chairs fits the space better, and it can be expanded to comfortably seat 8-10 guests, which is perfect for family meals or Jay’s poker games.

Jay has an extensive bourbon and Kentucky Derby glass collection, so they are displayed on an antique washstand that was obtained from an estate sale in Lexington. I collected his rogue bottles of bourbon that were scattered around the house and put them in a side cupboard with his extra derby glasses because we couldn’t come close to fitting everything on top of our makeshift bar. As a quirky twist, we added the Kentucky for Kentucky “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” print modeled after Hunter S. Thompson’s iconic short story, which was a gift from Jay’s brother.


Additionally, we recently inherited a couple of pieces of furniture that we’ve added to the space. One is an antique sideboard that matches the dining room table surprisingly well and provides much needed storage for some of our serving dishes. We also inherited Jay’s grandmother’s recipe box, which is a special touch. Whenever Jay says, “That tastes just like my grandmother’s (insert food here),” I know I’ve done something right.

Our second inherited item is a beaten biscuit brake. Beaten biscuits are little hard biscuits usually enjoyed with country ham that used to be popular in Kentucky and across the South. As in, your grandma’s grandma probably ate them. I’ve never made them, but I hear you have to crank that sucker for AT LEAST AN HOUR to get the biscuits just right. However, Jay is insistent that we make them for Christmas, so you may get to read a post on that later this season. Anyways, I’m not really sure how to style the table because the cranking mechanism gets in the way. I tried a vase, but it didn’t seem quite right. Currently, it serves as real estate for an iHome.

Beaten biscuit

I consider this room “in progress.” It really just needs some more accessories to complete it, but I’m waiting to find the perfect ones. The dining room opens into our living room, which has shades of olive, teal, and coral red, so I carried the red and teal into the dining room with the fabric on the chairs and the area rug. I’m currently on the hunt for some larger scale artwork with those colors as well as window treatments and a few accessories to polish off the room.



My Old Kentucky Home Renovations: Before

This is the exterior of our home when Jay purchased it in 2009. The past year and a half brought a lot of changes to my corner of world - engagement and marriage, a new job, the loss of a family member, adopting a dog, moving into a new (old) house, and renovating said house. I find disorderly spaces extremely stressful, so while they are definitely the most trivial things on the list, moving and home renovations were the most unnerving.

So here’s the backstory… Jay and I live in an 1880’s Victorian cottage near downtown Lexington, and we’re I’m trying to make it livable for a 21st century couple. My husband purchased the house several years before we met, and since I was renting during the time we were dating, it was the obvious choice to live in his house after we got married. Jay lived in the house for 5 years before before I moved in, which gave him 5 years to turn it into the ultimate bachelor pad i.e. fancy bottles of bourbon displayed in every room, newspaper cutouts of UK basketball players taped various places, a general lack of cohesiveness...You get the picture.

To give you an idea of what we’re working with, here are some great things about our house:

  • Great location 
  • Charm out the wazoo
  • Large foyer, family room, and dining room
  • Expansive brick patio in the fenced-in backyard

Here’s what it is lacking:

  • Large (or even medium-sized) updated kitchen
  • Storage
  • Garage

Warning: What you are about to view is downright scary. These are the pictures of the house when Jay purchased it in 2009. It is the ultimate before.

Each week, I plan to share a different piece of the renovation story. In the past 12 months, we’ve eliminated a bedroom to add a master bathroom and closet, demolished a bathroom to create an office nook, enclosed our laundry/pantry/utility room, rebuilt our front porch, added a new roof, painted several rooms, and re-landscaped 75% of the yard. While I don’t plan to knock down more walls anytime soon, I do have a lot of home improvement and decorating projects that I’m planning to tackle. Stay tuned for some "after" pictures and in-progress updates.