Whadya wanna know? Renovation edition

So back to the Q&A. With the easy answers and travel related questions out of the way, the next big topic was about what else? The renovation. Or I should say the RENOVATION, b/c it was a big deal for us.

Anonymous said... Now that you've been cleaning your bathrooms for about 2 years, which bathroom grout do you prefer? The master bath tinted green, the hex cararra grout or the grout in the bathroom with the black and white floor.
Well I don't really have a preference really. Each bathroom got a different color to work with the tile and to suit its use so its hard to compare. I wouldn't put light grout in a bathroom on the first floor or one that gets used by kids because once it gets stained, its impossible to clean. The light green grout in our master bathroom doesn't see that much outside dirt b/c its off our master bedroom and we don't wear shoes in the house. So far, we've had no complaints about any of them.

Linda at Lime in the Coconut! said... Do you have a housekeeper...or do you beeswax and lavender your wood yourself?
Office Sanded
Ha! There is no beeswax or lavender in my house. Our floors are shiny thanks to the lung burning oil poly applied after the floors were sanded. The word housekeeper conjures up an image of a live-in domestic like Alice from the Brady Bunch. We do not have one of those. We do have someone who comes every 2 to 3 weeks for a few hours to scrub house. We do all the in between cleaning ourselves.

vanessa said... Don't your inlaws live in the basement, do you ever see them?

They live in the downstairs apartment. ( It is not the basement - its the first floor, completely above ground. ) And yes, we see them all the time.

PhillyLass said... How much experience with home maintenance did you have before buying the limestone? And how much have you done yourselves as opposed to delegated to contractors?Also, do you have any advice on how to choose contractors? And how to manage a major renovation?
Before this house, we lived in our last house for about 10 years. We did some renovation there including a new kitchen, new floors, new walls, finishing a basement, etc. So we were fairly schooled in home maintenance and a little knowledgeable about renovation. For that house we did everything slowly over the ten year period with some DIY. For the limestone, the house was in much worse shape (no heat, running water, holes in the roof, missing windows, etc) so we didn't have the luxury of doing it slowly over time. It all had to get done at once to make it livable so we hired a team of people to do all the work. (We did a few projects ourselves while we were waiting to get the big project started but 99% of the work was done by pros) Just supervising them and doing all the other things involved in doing a renovation of this size was a job in of itself. As for how to choose contractors and how to manage a renovation - its far too much to really share here. I don't have any secret tips - all the things you've heard before really. I think the most important thing you can do is to learn about the various trades so you know the terminology and can speak intelligently to your contractors. Otherwise, they are much more likely to screw you. And there is a certain amount of luck involved as well. Sometimes you do everything right and it goes wrong anyway. Thankfully we did our research, put in a lot of time and and we got lucky too.

Eliza said... You obviously tried to restore original pieces of the house as you renovated. But you also made some significant changes to the floor plan, and moved pieces like the mirror, and got rid of a lovely looking built in. How did you decide what you wanted to save? Do you regret changing/removing certain pieces? Conversely, did you devote lots of resources to restoring specific areas without much to show for the added effort in the end?
We bought an old house because we really appreciated the charms of it. That said, we knew right at the outset that we were not creating a museum. We had to live here and it if something was original but impractical, I didn't have much reservation about changing it. That's why we moved the mirror to the dining room, got rid of the built in in place of a door, etc. Anything else we liked, could practically save or restore or was original to the house and was cheaper to keep, we kept. Those decisions were very obvious and easy to us. We didn't devote a lot of resources to these things really - the bulk of the renovation costs went into things that had nothing to do with those kind of items. The little money we spent on keeping certain things or restoring them was usually offset by the savings of not having to buy new. No regrets at all about those changes - they just made sense.

Alicia said...Did you have challenges staying within budget in your renovation? How did you keep costs under control? Did you get everything done that you wanted to within budget? Do you have any big projects left? [Money is a rather taboo subject, but I resent all the shelter media that portray homeowners with limitless funds and no mention of the costs of such improvements.]
There are always challenges around budget. In our case, we knew renovating our house was going to cost a lot and we did our best to prepare for it. I think the best thing anyone can do is to set a realistic budget from the outset. If you expect to do $100 worth of work for $5, you are setting yourself up for major failure. Right at the beginning we sat down and wrote out a fairly detailed budget and allocated it out to various things. We factored in some extra money just in case some other unexpected things popped up. We had some optional projects we could have cut if things got too pricey. It helped to be very prepared but also a little flexible. Having some experience renovating helped us there but so did consulting with a few contractors. If didn't have enough money to complete the project in a way we thought made sense, we wouldn't have bought the house in the first place. While there are ways to economize, some things just cost a certain amount of money and there isn't much way around it. Most of the work we did was not optional or cosmetic so we had to be fully committed to completing the job if it was going to work.

We don't have any big projects left. Certain things we cut from the list because we wanted to stay within the budget. Things like stripping more of the woodwork was just too expensive and not worth it in my opinion. My husband wanted to have speakers installed in some of the rooms but we cut that because it was too pricey. But now that we're done with the work, I don't think we'll ever bother going back to those projects because they weren't that important to begin with.

littlealexa said... What color are your window frames exterior and interior (black or brown)? Are they new? If so what material (wood or vinyl)?
The windows themselves are dark brown (they look almost black) vinyl. I would have preferred pure black but they were way more expensive so not worth it. The frames are made of wood and original to the house. We could have replaced the frames with vinyl but I thought the wood looked nicer. It means we'll have to paint them every few years so who knows if I made the right decision but I like how it looks now.

Lovely Little Nest said... Why was your home in such bad shape when you bought it? Was it formerly a bad neighborhood?

Our neighborhood was never bad. It was always a safe, middle class kind of area - a wonderful place to live. As with everyplace in NYC, the prices have gone up a lot in my lifetime and there are lot more hipsters in the area then there were. But while we are very close to a very trendy area, we actually live in a tiny quiet off shoot that is much less posh but a very nice place to live. The house was in terrible shape because the guy that lived here before was obviously a little bit disturbed. He owned the house for decades and just let it fall apart over time. He left the house to the next door neighbor and we purchased it from her.

Megan said... I believe the top floor was being used as a rental, and the bottom two floors were used as the main house? So how do/did all those floors connect? Did the renter have to go through the main house to get upstairs? And do your in-laws have a way of getting upstairs without having to go outside?
When we bough the house, no one was living here. The guy that owned the house for ages before didn't have any tenants. But yes, it was set up that way. The way it was set up had the parlor floor hallways as common space - the tenant would enter through the main door up the stairs and then walk up another flight to their apartment. The owners had the garden floor and the parlor floor. But yea, the set up is very weird if you ask me.

Yes, my in laws can come up my stairs anytime they want and vice versa. Their hallway is common area and we don't lock the doors between our apartments. But that is not an issue as they pretty much keep to themselves and only come up when invited.

Mrs. D said... Here's my question: Do you and Mr. Limestone ever bump heads over renovations or decor choices? What's the best design compromise you've made together?
Did we ever? We did all the time. If I said red, he said black. We just have that kind of relationship where we often don't agree. Normally its fine but during the renovation when we were making so many decisions and we were stressed about money - it really took its toll on our relationship. I won't lie in that we had a rough time of it but we made it through in one piece.

We pretty much compromised on everything since he usually has a different idea than I do. I can't think of any one great thing. Maybe he wants to chime in on this one?

AlysonO said... Was there ever a point where you just felt like, "THAT'S IT, I GIVE UP!" and what happened/what did you do to keep on keepin' on??
Parlor Living Room sconce
Pretty much everyday. It just wasn't an option. We had sold our other house and had most of our money invested in this house. We couldn't just chuck it all without being homeless and poor. So no matter how bad it was, we knew we had to get through it. Not having an alternative certainly helped keep us focused.

Ok, I think those are all the house questions. If you have any others, feel free to give a shout.


  1. This was my favorite post so far. I love hearing about your remodeling and your limestone. We have talked about your old house and living in NY and I enjoyed hearing about the process of the remodel.

  2. Well, it turned out beautifully!


  3. I really enjoyed reading this. I adore your home and one want to do a renovation too, one day. Maybe not the degree that you went through, but I would love to have an older home with some charm.


  4. I'm so relieved to hear that your renovation was one big compromise! It gives me lots of hope for updating my house with an incredibly stubborn husband. Loved this post!

  5. i'm channeling all of your positive energy. we start our renovation this summer. i hope we don't kill each other.

  6. I love this Q&A series, but especially this one on your renovations. My husband and I will be embarking on 2 of the biggest challenges of our lives soon - renovating an old Charleston Single while I am 7 months pregnant! Luckily, we are leaving it up to the experts this time. Your home with be a constant source of inspiration.

  7. So interesting! Thank you for answering these- especially about how stressful renovating can be. No one tells you up front that your house renovations will be fun, yes, but that there will be crappy times in there too!

  8. Anonymous6:58 PM

    You are so generous to answer so many questions.

    I have one more: Do you ever feel like you've overdone looking at shelter media? For example, there are so many renovation blogs that I love [i.e., yours (!!!), The Brick House, desire to inspire, Apartment Therapy, Decor8, Black.White.Yellow], but if I overdo it then (1) my house looks like a hovel, (2) I feel like I need to vignette my possessions, and (3) I know I'm going to scream if I see one more Keep Calm and Carry On poster/Eames recliner/Danish modern credenza/cowhide rug/Duralit toaster.

    I get over it when I take a little break from the Internet, but I wondered if you have a similar experience.


  9. I appreciate all your answers. The story behind the limestone is just as interesting as the limestone itself.

  10. This post is one of my favorites. I love hearing & seeing all the renovation stuff. Shows me that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

  11. Very interesting history behind the house, I'm impressed with your vision and courage to take such a project on! Janell

  12. I loved this post - and I'll definitely be keeping a lot of your tips in mind as we prepare to do some bigger renovation projects in our house!

  13. I don't know how you do it with living so close to the in laws. haha...

  14. Hey Stef! I posted my interview with you about your travels today on my blog. Stop by and read all of the sweet comments you are getting! Have a great weekend.

  15. Great post. I REALLY enjoy your renovation posts. Your design style is an absolute inspiration to me.

  16. brilliant post... and i so applaud you for all of your hard work. it is truly amazing... have a great weekend... xx pam

  17. thanks for answering all the questions. i have one more. i'm looking at a bridge faucet for my kitchen without a side sprayer. i was wondering if you miss having one and would've made the same decision?

  18. I found your blog through your guest post at Great Full Day and I'm so glad I did! Your style is gorgeous and very inspiring.

  19. I love this post too! I love how honest and real you are with your readers! You go girl~


  20. really enjoy your blog!

  21. Anonymous12:42 PM

    I came across your blog through the House Tour that was posted on Apartment Therapy and have been reading it and looking through your flicker pictures since! The results of the renovation are absolutely amazing. I love how you saw the potential, even in the condition that the house was in before. Your taste is very similar to mine so I pretty much love everything. You are definitely much more creative and proactive with projects than I am, but I will definitely be following your blog from now on for some inspiration. Thanks for sharing your ideas and results.
    Sorry if this was answered elsewhere as I haven’t been able to read all your archives yet, but where did you live during the renovation? I believe you said you sold your old place and I know this was inhabitable for much of the reno.

  22. Lovely combination of colors and furniture...
    Toronto Basement Renovations

  23. Great post! We've done a lot of renovations, too, so I'm really enjoying this post, and this blog. off to look around more.

  24. M. H.9:25 PM

    Hey! I really love your blog and the way you renovated your limestone! It's a big inspiration to me as I also begin with a major renovation soon. My project is just an apartment but there is a lot to do (there was no real bathroom in it.. some people live really strange lives in strange places) and there are also some of the difficulties you have with old buildings as the house was built in the 17th century.

    I already commented on one of your flickr photos, but I'll just ask my questions now here:

    1. What kind of heating system do you use? I'm totally unsure. I guess a lot of people use underfloor heating, but that is a bit of a problem with all the parquet floors, isn't it? I plan to use oiled oak parquet floors laid floating and I was told that isn't possible with an underfloor heating system. :/ There is the possibility of a ceiling heating/cooling system (but my rooms are 11 ft 1.86 in or 3,4 m high) or a wall heating/cooling system (which means that you can't really use wall space anymore or you would quite likely hit the water tubes while installing shelves or pictures), but I'm really unsure about that.

    2. I want to use gypsum plaster boards like you to make some smaller rooms (bathroom, kitchen, etc.) and with a wood-framed construction. My professionist told my that I should use a steel-framed construction instead (which I don't want btw - too much metal to live in for my taste) as wood tends to warp as time goes by and the gypsum plaster board can get cracks and fissures. I saw that you used a kind of combined construction frame - have you experienced any bad side effects from the wood? Any cracks in walls/paint? Or did you use any special spackle/paint to prevent wood warping?

    I hope you can answer my questions and I love to see more of your good taste! :)


  25. MrsLimestone10:37 AM


    For heating we have a hot water boiler, forced air using the same duct
    work that we use for the air con. Most of our vents are in the ceiling
    but the ones that are in the wall are quite high up so they wouldn't
    interfere with any hangings or shelves. We don't have underfloor
    heating - its not a practical option with wood - but its not something
    you see a lot of in NY anyway.

    I'm not sure what you mean by steel construction walls. Most of our
    walls are plaster and we left them that way. Where we made new walls,
    we used sheetrock. Ive never heard of steel walls but Im hardly an
    expert. No issues with cracking on the sheetrock (plaster definitely
    cracks but I wasn't about to rip out the whole house to replace it with
    sheetrock to avoid a few cracks)

    Hope that helps and good luck with your reno! Feel free to email me if
    you have more questions.

  26. I love your soapstone counters in the kiitchen.  I live in Brooklyn as well, and I was wondering if you could share your source, and any identifying name of the stone.

  27. Guesty9:07 AM

    FYI, vinyl windows don't last very long.  with a house this age and style, i'd suggest replacing with real wood, since that's what they were originally.  they'll last a lot longer, *and* you can do part-and-parcel replacement if necessary.  i work in historic preservation in the city, and we'd never propose vinyl.  vinyl is for records :)

  28. agree, wood windows are prettier and more keeping with the original style. they also require a lot more upkeep in that you have to repaint them often enough to be one more expense to consider. so i did a cross way - i kept the wood frames in the front exterior with vinyl windows. not the absolute best option but part of any renovation is compromise (unless you have unlimited budget, which we did not)


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