Your Home Improvement Guide
Fixer upper houses have a way of charming us into buying them, don’t they? There’s something romantic about taking an old house with good bones and loads of personality, and lovingly restoring it inch by inch.
But BOY it takes work.
And it really is an inch by inch ordeal. Over half a decade into my home improvement mission, I have now touched and restored almost every square inch of my 1960s ranch, from the floors to the walls to the ceiling.
I’ve been afflicted with Mary Bailey syndrome, the viral phenomenon that convinces us that taking on a fixer upper will be a dream. The truth is, home improvement usually takes a lot more time, work and money than you might expect. But for the right house, it’s totally worth it.
This is your labor of love. You are making the world a more beautiful place and restoring a piece of history. Keep working on it a little bit each week, and you will create a home you love.
This home improvement guide will help you along the way. Like your house, this guide will never really be done. I’ll keep adding new information and tips here to help you fix up your house.
Send me a message if you have any questions (or just want to commiserate over never-ending remodeling projects…I’ve been there!).
Get the Floor Plan Right
Depending on how much you’re planning to change your house, you might want to tear down some walls and rearrange your floor plan.
These kinds of big changes can be scary, but they make a huge impact by adding light, space or improved functionality.
Della at MidMod Midwest explains how to fix a bad floor plan. She has sketched out different layouts, and you can see how moving a few walls can help you take advantage of your home’s best features (in her client’s case, beautiful park views).
At my house, Eric and I really liked the layout and didn’t remove any walls until recently. The one thing we wanted to do was tear down one of the kitchen walls.
I’ll share details when we finish our kitchen remodel. But I can already tell you that just taking out one small wall to let in more sunlight has been a big improvement.
I can’t wait to share the after pics soon! In the meantime, you can see the smaller kitchen improvements I made right away.
Install and Restore Floors
I recommend fixing up your floors as soon as possible. This makes it so much easier to move in and not have to keep shuffling furniture between rooms while you work on the floors.
We removed all of our carpet and restored our hardwood floors immediately. It felt so good to wave goodbye to decades-old carpet. That was an instant facelift to the house.
I can say one nice thing about the carpet: it did a great job of protecting the hardwoods underneath. Check out how we restored our hardwoods with a little bit of floor polish and elbow grease. Good as new.
However, our living room didn’t have hardwoods but just sub-floor under the carpet. If you’re in a similar situation, here are 5 things to do before you install hardwoods.
From tile to slate to bamboo, there are so many flooring options available. Even modern carpet can be cozy and luxurious. Check out the options explained in Atomic Ranch for ideas.
And one of my favorite tricks to plan out your flooring and remodeling projects? Start a Pinterest board for each room.
You can add different flooring options, colors and furniture pieces to Pinterest and see how it will all work together.
Update Your Interior Walls
After the flooring, then come walls.
Paint is your basic go-to solution. You can freshen up all of your walls fairly cheaply and easily with a few coats of paint, so this is a good place to start. I gave my master bathroom a quick upgrade with taupe and pink paint.
To add flair with a fun pattern, you might want to try wallpaper. You can get pre-pasted or even peel-and-stick options to make it easier.
I love to use wallpaper in small areas like my entryway. Check out the retro Sputnik pattern in my wallpaper hanging tutorial.
And for kitchens and bathrooms, you might find yourself needing to install tile. This can be challenging, but it makes a beautiful permanent improvement for your home. Here’s how we tiled a shower from the studs.
If you’re not up for the DIY, you can also start gathering ideas and hire a pro to help you out.
Update Your Home’s Exterior
The outside of your house needs some love, too.
Actually, the outside of my house needed A LOT of love. The sun had blasted the southern and western sides of my house and tore up many of the cedar boards.
Are you in the same boat? Here’s how to replace damaged tongue and groove siding boards. We selectively swapped out the bad boards and saved money by restoring the decent boards.
With the fresh coat of opaque stain, you can’t tell which boards are old or new.
Maybe your siding is in good shape but you need exterior house paint. Check out these 8 things to do before having your house painted.
One thing we learned was that you need to book your house painters as soon as possible.
This is especially true in rainy areas where the painting season is short. We missed out the first summer and had to wait until the following summer.
Add Personality to Your Home
Some home improvement projects are very practical, like restoring cedar siding so your house doesn’t fall apart. Other projects are more about fun than function.
For example, there were some spots where we already had lighting, but we swapped out those basic fixtures for mid-century modern beauties.
You have so many lighting options, from pendants to globes to Sputniks! Here are a few of my favorite MCM lighting fixtures we added.
If you’ve never replaced a light fixture before, check out this tutorial from Better Homes & Gardens. They offer step-by-step instructions with photos.
One of the best ways to add personality is by installing built-ins. We created this DIY mid-century style wall unit that I LOVE.
Apartment Therapy has more fun built-in ideas here.
Maintain Your Home
I dream about the day when Eric and I transition from the remodeling phase to the just-maintaining-it-all phase.
Of course, while you’re remodeling you still have to keep up with home maintenance.
That means doing things like cleaning out the gutters, servicing the boiler, testing the smoke alarms, cleaning the dryer lint filter, dusting behind the refrigerator. It’s a lot.
Check off these home and garden winterizing tasks each fall to prepare your home for winter.
You might also want to follow this maintenance checklist with seasonal and monthly tasks to keep you on track throughout the year.
I wish you luck and sanity on your home improvement journey.