June 21, 2013

Before and After Envy: 5 Tips for Home Renovation

The Classy Man Cave...

Welcome back for the next entry in the Before & After Envy series, where I stare admiringly at the amazing renovations my friends have pulled off in their homes. Last week, Shannon talked about how to update a half bath from the 80's look to a very modern style.

This week, April will be joining us to share 5 tips she has learned while updating her basement into a lovely, casual family room and Penn-State-themed man cave with her husband. April reminds us that on home projects, your mindset and expectations can be just as important as the hammers and nails.


Thanks to Sara for the guest spot!

This January, my husband and I celebrated five years of home ownership.  Our home, built in 1925, has been a source of great pride and lots of unexpected frustration.

It seems every time we are feeling comfortable and peaceful and complete in our home, something decides to surprise us!  

The terrors of home ownership

There was the time the main sewer line clogged. The time I realized the “flying ants” I kept seeing in the living room were actually termite swarmers (I kind of had a meltdown over that). The time we found a foreclosure notice on our front door just days after buying the house (apparently paperwork hadn’t caught up to the appropriate people to let them know of the ownership change). The time we were given 24-hours’ notice to remove all the trash the previous owner had left sitting at the curb (including a pooped-in, rained-in cat liter box). The time a local utility insisted the previous owner’s outstanding bill was our responsibility because we are the current property owners. Are you noticing a trend with the previous owners?! 

The time our kitchen sink clogged again despite our best efforts to keep the drain clean. And the time there was literally a hole in our house, caused by a combination of termite damage and water damage.  I remember writing a very dramatic Facebook status saying, “There’s a hole in my house and my heart.”  It was such a sinking feeling to find that the house we had put so much pride and money into was crumbling beneath itself.  

It really wasn’t as bad as we thought but was disheartening nonetheless. Thankfully two days of DIY repairs left our house whole again.

The beauty of home renovation
Despite these hiccups, home ownership has been a joy. We are so blessed to have a place of our very own to call home, and we are proud of all the ways we’ve been able to personalize our home throughout the past five years. The biggest change was undoubtedly our basement renovation, which transformed our dark, scary cave of a basement into my husband’s dream man cave!

When we first bought our house, I put pictures on Facebook and detailed our plans for each room in the comments. Things like “hang crown molding,” “paint sage green,” and “lay laminate hardwood” never happened, but we pretty much stuck to the plan for our basement (pictured below during our initial walk through).  

I wrote, “We're going to put up dry wall to get rid of the nasty wood paneling in the basement rec room. We want to build a small bar and buy a bar table and stools for our parties! We picked out a futon for the basement, which will double as a sofa and a place for drunk friends to pass out. Matt wants a Penn State theme in the basement.”

Now our basement is a cozy space—half family room, half bar room, and 100% man cave.  My talented husband, a carpenter by trade, did all the work.  We replaced the old carpet with ceramic tiles, replaced the wall paneling with natural pine panels, covered exposed ductwork with drywall, painted, hung lighting fixtures, and furnished and decorated the space with my husband’s favorite things: beer, Penn State, Orioles, and horse racing. The bar area boasts a built-in bar cabinet, two pub tables, and several barstools. The TV can be viewed comfortably from either half of the room.  It’s a very fun, happy place to be.

Since my husband did all the labor, I can’t comment too much about the work involved with our project, but I can share some advice I gained from the experience:

1.  Start small.

We knew we didn't want carpet in the basement in case of flooding or a washing machine mishap (and we have experienced both), so ceramic tile was our flooring of choice.  My husband, though a handyman, had no experience installing tile floors.  Before setting out to tile the entire basement, he first tiled our teeny tiny laundry room to see if it was something he felt confident doing.  Since that mini project was a success, he set out to tile the rest of the basement himself.

2.  Be patient.

I didn't want our basement project to be a source of tension between my husband and I, so I started our basement renovation with no real expectations. The renovation took two years to complete, spanning from November 2008 through December 2010, and that is being forgiving since some finishing touches took even longer and since, really, we still aren't done.

The wood paneling needs varnished, the grout needs sealed...oh, and did I mention that the laundry room and the potential office/bathroom/playroom space have yet to be renovated?!
Baby steps...  It was by no means a two-year project, but since my husband was working solo and often not motivated to come home and do the same thing he did all day at his job, the project was very slow moving.  I looked forward to seeing the finished product but was respectful of letting him work at his own pace without pressure or nagging.

Basement Remodeling in Process | Tried & Twisted
 At left is our basement after my husband removed the old carpet and wall paneling. At right, he began framing in new walls to hide exposed ductwork.

3.  Be supportive in any way you can.

I can't take credit for our basement renovation, but I did lend a hand in any way that I could, including sanding drywall, painting, and bringing buckets of fresh water throughout the grouting process. Supplying drinks, snacks, and some good tunes went a long way too. 

4.  Trust your better half!

I'll admit it: my husband was right, and I was wrong. I would have been completely satisfied installing the tile floors in the basement and then painting over the old, 70s-style wall paneling just to brighten the basement. That alone would have been a huge improvement (and much friendlier to our bank account).  

My husband had more extravagant plans though, and the result was far better than I could have imagined.  I had also argued that we should just keep the old blue carpet on the basement steps since it would match our Penn State decorations, but my husband insisted on an update--one I'm very thankful for.

It was a relief when I finally saw the red floor getting covered.

5.  Make the most of it!

Home renovations can be messy. For two years we dealt with sawdust, drywall dust, and a messy, messy red floor.  You see, when my husband removed the old carpet from the basement, we discovered that the concrete floor underneath was coated in a red paint or seal. Unfortunately, it was kind of powdery and flaky, so the red rubbed off on everything, including the bottoms of our shoes. This might not have been a problem except that we used our basement to entertain throughout the renovations, and our guests unknowingly trekked red throughout our house, leaving me scrubbing red footprints from the carpet upstairs.

Still, it was undeniable to me that our basement, finished or not, was a special space to share with our friends and family. 

Throughout the renovations, our basement was not what I'd consider "guest-ready." It was an embarrassment. It wasn't a place where I wanted to entertain, but we needed the space and I knew our friends would understand its potential despite its grim look at the time. And to my heart's delight, there amid the red floor and exposed ductwork, we made memories with our loved ones. I vividly remember sitting on the basement steps during a party, taking it all in as I watched our friends laugh and smile and drink. It felt like home even if it didn't look like home yet.  

All the fine details my husband planned exceeded my expectations for the basement.

I will keep all these things in mind when, someday, we decide to finish the remainder of the basement and hopefully remodel our outdated kitchen. Until then, I hope these tips will prove helpful for you!

April is a wife, mother to two-year-old son, and lover of her adopted yellow lab!  She earned her BA in Professional Writing and is currently a technical editor for a Department of Defense subcontractor.  She enjoys quality family time, entertaining, baking, and vacationing.  

Linking at:
Weekend Wrap Up Party, Flaunt it Friday, Anything Blue Friday, Frugal Friday, Keep Calm and Link Up, No Rules Weekend Party, Whatever Goes Wednesday, Give Me the Goods Monday, Frugal Crafty Home Blog Hop, Nifty Thrifty Sunday, Home Stories AtoZ, Whimsy Wednesdays, Natasha in Oz,


  1. Wow, April, your hubby rocked it! I know you put what you could in. What a blessing that he knows how to do all those amazing things! I admit, I would have wanted to do the same kinds of quick fixes, but you're right - this is the perfect family room and man cave. Thanks for sharing it!

  2. Thanks, it's a really special space for us now!

  3. We've Made Lots Of Great Memories In The "Man Cave". It's Even Better In Person!

  4. Thanks, Jen and Shannon!

  5. Beautiful! Come do mine next! Question: what's the little door to in the last picture? (I'm the type that always has to peek...!)

  6. I have to commend April's husband for his impressive job with the basement. It looks as good as you wrote it, and that is 100% man cave. It looks like a great space for him to enjoy and to entertain friends and family as well. -William

  7. Thank you for the glowing feedback, William. I appreciate it! Andrea, the little door is where the man cave elves live. They clean the glasses and restock the alcohol while we sleep, hehe. Actually it is the access door to the sewer line. Not as fun or as cute as elves, unfortunately. If you like to peek though, please come peek in our attic crawlspace. We've lived here five years and have yet to take a look for fear of what we might find. If I'm lucky, it will be some much-needed extra storage space!

  8. Our basement had dark paneling. I was so glad to get rid of it. Saying G'day from the hop. Have a great weekend.


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