We're quickly approaching our 2 year anniversary here at our humble abode, so to commemorate it all... we've decided to move!
Just kidding. We're planted here pretty well, and while the thought of running off to somewhere *cough* Portland *ahem* has honestly crossed our minds a few times in recent months, I (think) we'll be here for a while longer.
But recently, I threw out a poll on Instagram and got a (surprisingly!) large amount of positive feedback when I asked people whether they'd be interested in seeing how we designed and furnished our house... so? Let's do this! This will be a 2 part series: I'll focus on the design stages in this post, and the next post will focus on how we've furnished our home (although we've kind of been at an impasse with the furnishing - partly due to laziness combined with a lack of motivation... life gets in the way).
To be quite frank, if you've been through the motions yourself, it's nothing you'll find particularly amazing. But for those of you walking down the path of buying your first home or new construction it's totally like playing The Sims and it really was just as exciting (and nerve wracking on your wallet) as you've ever anticipated it to be.
A Little Background
We live in a 3-story townhome, and because we were able to get it as a new construction, were given the opportunity to pick and choose all of our home's options and design features through our builder. We currently have a total of 3 bedrooms, and 3.5 bathrooms.
The bad thing about having to go through the builder was you can only do so much and were sort of constrained to only the options they had predetermined for you. For instance, if I wanted steel stair railings, this wasn't something the builder could do for us. If I wanted a built-in keg at our empty kitchen counter space, this sure as hell wasn't something they could do. Meh. So I couldn't go too crazy with my design ideas, and I had to find a "realistic" limit. I guess the good thing was, their design studio did have a decent selection of design features, and being well equipped with ideas really makes the design meeting flow smoothly. I couldn't imagine what a mess it'd be if a couple went in there with completely different ideas that they'd never discussed previously. Divorces/break-ups would likely ensue I imagine.
As we go through some of the designs we chose, I'll try to point out which things we could/couldn't further customize. Keep in mind all builders are different and some may/may not offer more or less than ours did. This is simply a depiction of our own personal experience... in fact, our builder changed their name (through a merge or acquisition??) 2 times during the course of our purchase, and during the entire course of our community build-out until completion (they just recently sold out to 100%), they have had 3 total name changes. I technically can't even tell you who built my home because it's 3 different companies.
One of the biggest design features we really wanted was to convert the one and only bedroom on the first floor into a den. We understood that "some" people find this lowers the value of the home (by removing a bedroom), but having this feature was more valuable to us (as the people living and occupying the damn space for X amount of years to come) than thinking about some arbitrary value some other stranger would dictate. The value of having the den and us living in it was far greater than the value we'd find X years later when we sell it, so... meh.
Having this den was important to us because
- it allowed for an open floor plan when entering from the garage/front door, as opposed to walking into a long narrow hallway, and
- it allowed us to utilize the space as an easily accessible and naturally lit office/gathering space
The flow just made more sense to us and it just felt more like a home with the room as a den and not as a dark, closed off hallway + bedroom around the corner. Could you imagine how little natural light there'd be in that entryway if that wall was completely closed off (as a closet) and the bedroom door was on the other side by the cabinets? We were able to see real life model homes with both floor plans in person, so this was definitely not a hard decision to make. We were both on the same page when it came to this decision (and actually, nearly all other decisions). We didn't lose the full bathroom adjacent to it, so, this was the right choice for us. Even with this room converted to a den, we still have 2 bedrooms on our third floor, in addition to our master so there's plenty of space for... just the two of us!
This change was so important to us, that we actually had to pay a little more than the typical amount for them to re-do the framework for the den because they were just far along enough in the build when we bought our home that they had actually already put up framework for a bedroom! It took several visits to the construction site to ensure they were on track to framing out the *den* and not the bedroom still, but alas we got what we wanted... a happy ending for us all, but we were definitely stressin' over it at the time.
When given the opportunity, we declined to add upper cabinets next to our garage entrance and along an extra wall in our kitchen for whatever added cost they were priced at. The thing with the builder's upper cabinets was that the doors were glass. There wasn't an option for solid wood uppers. And if you know us at all, you know that we like our things out of sight. All of our TV and internet cables are completely hidden. Our tables and counters are clear. We like to keep it pretty minimal, and if I'm going to have cabinets, I want to use them to hide the clutter... I don't want all my junk on display! And if you look in my office cabinet, you'll actually find that even my cabinet is organized, but that's not the case with *all* of our cabinets, so my point is that glass uppers are totally not functional for me as an individual. Plus, we didn't need any extra storage, and ended up finding the open wall space nice to have. We'll show you precisely how we furnished/decorated them in the next post!
Cabinets and Pulls
From what I can recall, there were only 2 or 3 cabinet styles to choose from, and only 2 colors to choose from (unless you got in on your house wayyy early). You could choose from shaker-style cabinets or a more traditional beveled-edge cabinet, in either white or dark mahogany color. Because a lot of the homes were already being pre-plotted, however, the cabinet choices were already chosen before people were even putting deposits on the homes... which was the case for our home as well. Luckily for us, we were a-okay with the options they had already pre-plotted for our home. We wanted white cabinets which our home was already pre-plotted with, and they had chosen traditional beveled-edge cabinets for our home, and while my Pinterest-mind originally wanted shaker-style cabinets, Jason wasn't a fan of them much at the time so I was totally fine with the pre-plot.
The cabinet pulls were also pre-plotted in an oil-rubbed bronze color, which I was initially put off by due to the stainless steel color of our appliances and sink, and chrome faucets... The OCD in me just wanted everything to match, dammit! Mismatched metals is just so weird! I have to admit, it was really hard for me to get over it all... even the lady at the design center mentioned it and I had to throw an I told you so in there.
So here's the crazy thing. Even though the oil-rubbed bronze was pre-plotted, the design center lady actually changed them to silver (which took some $$$ off our total - woo!). But as time went by and our cabinets got installed, we got a call informing us that the pulls that were installed ended up being oil-rubbed bronze still, and to come by to take a look. If we liked them, they would just keep them there without charging us the extra fee, but if we wanted them changed to silver as it was designed, then they would fix it. We swung by, and to MY surprise, I actually really liked the oil-rubbed bronze pulls and how they popped against the clean white cabinets... and because all of the hardware in the house only came in oil-rubbed bronze, it only made sense that the pulls were also oil-rubbed bronze. Now I just need to change all of our stainless steel and chrome hardware to oil-rubbed bronze! 😂
A brief note on appliances - just as our cabinets and pulls were pre-plotted, so were the appliances that came with our home. Even if we wanted to, we couldn't have upgraded to whatever options they had in their selection because the order was already placed for our lot. We even tried to convince them to remove them from our contract and to reduce the price of our home, but to no avail. We even asked if they could just leave the fridge downstairs in the garage (I had plans of purchasing a fridge I really wanted, and giving the pre-plotted one to my parents), but they said no to that too. Jason convinced me to just use what they were giving us. For the meantime, the appliances are decent; they aren't the best out there, but they're also far from the worst and we're happy enough we didn't have to worry about scheduling delivery of our own appliances soo.. yay?
The most unfortunate thing about the pre-plot was I could not upgrade to a nice hood like I would have wanted right out the bat. I hate cooking smells with a vengeance (unless you're making cookies, then let that smell DISPERSE!), so a big ol' hood would've been freaking wonderful, but the builder wouldn't let me get one, ridiculously enough. Read onto the next part to see why that inconveniences us more, though technically we could get one ourselves in the future...
Tile and Backsplashes
Finally, something that WASN'T pre-plotted! We had full reign over our choices when it came to the backsplash and all of the tile, so I went full Pinterest HAM on the design lady. I brought my laptop in, pulled out presorted folders with images, and as I went through my ideas, she pulled out samples. We were being efficient, and we were pulling our ideas together, and she was not showing me the price of anything....
But that's not the point!
For our kitchen backsplash, we wanted to keep things clean and white, but to maintain interest/texture, we went with a beveled subway tile. She had precisely what we were looking for, so that part of the design went quickly. We chose the whitest grout she had for it, and the design for the backsplash was finito. We could only do a half wall backsplash since our microwave/hood combo goes halfway down the wall... if they'd let us get a full fancy hood, however, we would've been able to do a taller backsplash. If we ever do get a hood in the future, however, we're sort of SOL because we'd have to extend our backsplash up to the hood and, well, it's sort of hard to find the exact tile and that's an entire project on its own that we're not really invested in at this point, especially since we kind of stopped cooking as often as we used to.
After finally running the numbers, pulling off the same beveled subway tile in the showers would've been too costly, so we decided to keep the default shower wall tiles (they're huge square white square tiles - nothing hideous and still maintains the same general appearance), and went with upgrading the shower pans instead. For the master shower pan, I chose Carrara marble tiles in a herringbone pattern, and for the guest shower pan, I chose small hexagon Carrara marble tiles. To be honest, the grout in the master shower has been kind of a PITA to clean... I can't say that about the guest shower because we've used it maybe once just to rinse our feet off after working outside or something, but the sanded white grout they used honestly didn't even look that white to begin with when we first moved in and that's been a pet peeve of mine since day 1 (see image below - the shower seat wasn't even installed yet and it doesn't even look that *white*).
The next house I ever design will have less grout lines in the shower for sure. The intricate designs I chose for these shower pans just unfortunately involve way too much elbow grease. 😒 Oh, and if you wanted to install a fancy shower drain like we did... sorry, builder no can do.
For the floors that were tiled (full baths and laundry room), we choose a large rectangular slate tile. It's texture is somewhat reminiscent of a skateboard deck, and it has the tiniest bit of sparkle in it that can only be seen if you kneel down, place your eye an inch away from the ground, and angle your head (). It's a super pretty, durable, non-slip surface, and the dark gray just screamed at me next to the white cabinets and oil-rubbed bronze pulls. Ah, love. The grout color we chose was as similar in color as possible, since we didn't want the grout to stand out - it was all about the tile. We loved the look of the oversized tile, and now that I think of it, the color sort of matches the paint I chose for our accent walls in the living room and den!
Countertops and Shower Seat
Again, our kitchen was to be kept bright and white, and because we wanted low maintenance with the look of marble, we eventually went with Torquay quartz from Cambria. This part of the design process probably took the longest, because there were a few quartz/marble-alternatives we were deciding between. We didn't however, want to end up with super random veining that we wouldn't be happy with, or a really abstract pattern of veining that we weren't fond of, even if the sample piece was beautiful so we felt like the Torquay was the safest bet.
The design lady even told us a horror story about a couple who walked into their house with the other quartz we were deciding between and absolutely hated the veining on their countertop, so that really influenced our decision. It would've been a different story had we had more control/oversight over the slab selection/approval process for the quartz countertop (if they even do such a thing anywhere), but because we did not, we decided not to risk it and just go with an option we were fairly certain we'd be happy with, and well, we're more than happy with our quartz countertop! It's a real low maintenance trooper and it still looks beautiful and new as day, even 2 years later. No signs of wear or staining whatsoever, and I honestly wish we could've gone with quartz for our bathroom counters too.
Onto the potties! I chose polished Carrara marble for our bathroom countertops and our shower seat, which we actually did have the opportunity to select the actual slab for. The stone yard had pre-selected a handful of marble slabs and set them up for display. We then walked down along the warehouse, analyzing each slab and then we selected the one we liked most. We looked at their coloring, veining, and we looked for any demarcations/imperfections. I wanted a mostly white slab with a fairly even dispersion of veins and (obviously) as few specks of black/brown as possible. Ours had very few, but I had made a remark saying how they'd probably put the marks somewhere obvious and wouldn't you know... they put one of the only huge black spots right smack dab in the center of our master bathroom countertop. OKAY THANKS. Sigh.
These things are sort of high maintenance (as expected)... The one in our shower is fine but the ones on our bathroom countertops definitely show a few sign of water wear, even though we try to wipe up after ourselves. Nothing major, but there are a few spots where the marble has been etched by (probably) my skincare products. Jason's side looks pretty good so it's likely mostly my doing... 🙈I have to mention though, that the builders/countertop people didn't do the best job at polishing and taking care of the countertops to begin with. After our initial walkthrough, there were multiple areas I needed to mark to be polished (and there are still areas I feel are more dull and scratched up than others). I guess that's what you get when a company is quickly mass producing homes, though.
In fact, I'm actually about to get some polish to remove the etching now, just before our annual round of marble sealing is due... we seal the marble yearly to keep it as water and stain resistant as can be, and I think 2 years is a good time to polish out these etch marks I've made (and also the few we have on our coffee table from our housewarming party!).
Flooring and Carpet
Probably our house's standout feature - our hardwood floors. And oh, how we do adore them! I can chock this one up to Jason for taking the risk and immediately choosing this rugged looking floor. I knew I wanted a dark floor, but was initially looking at something with a more traditional and smoother texture. The design lady pulled out a few samples but as we wandered the design studio, Jason began pulling a few samples, and we came across this super funky one with some texture and knots in it - it had a rustic vibe, yet the dark gray tones and hint of brown still fit with the overall color palette I had going on. I wasn't 100% sold, to be honest, and was a little scared about how it would turn out. How much variation would all of the planks have? How many knots would there be all over the floor? How dark would the dark veins in the wood be? How brown could some of the brown planks be?
SO MANY QUESTIONS.
But we went for it. He urged us onwards, and it was the best decision (next to our den) we made for our home. Our floors are engineered hardwood from Provenza. I believe they are the Cimino color from their Pompeii collection. You bet I googled these floors up until the day we got to see them installed. They looked different in everyone's photos - including the manufacturer's! Because they are oil finished, however, cleaning can be a little finicky. You aren't supposed to use water or steam clean them, and we have a special cleaner designed specifically for oil finished hardwood floors. We've also become super anal about cleaning our floors whenever we have people over (could you imagine our crazy hawk eyes during our housewarming party?! haha). The great thing about these floors, though, is that they'll only get better with age, and the rustic features of them can handle a little wear so we're not too concerned about growing old and wrinkly with them.
Now carpet was something I honestly hadn't put any thought into. I didn't do any research in this area whatsoever. My whole life up until owning our home revolved around basic ass carpet. A brief part of it involved some shag carpet in the late 80's when I would reside at my god mother's house, but aside from that, all I could remember was the fibrous peach carpet in my parents house and that was that - what else was there?! So when the design lady threw out some upgraded carpet options, I was really out of my element. We chose a cool toned neutral that went best with the wood flooring, and went with a loopy style (I think it's called berber?! .. hehe bur burrr) the design lady recommended - I didn't really look at anything else?! It looked good to me, tbh, and that's all that really mattered in that moment. We made sure to hold it at different angles to simulate shadows and different lighting since it'd be installed on the stairs to make sure we liked the color under all conditions too.
The non-basic carpet included "upgraded carpet padding" which I didn't think twice about, but AFTER our walkthrough, this was everything. This carpet feels like memory foam on your feet, but without the weird squish of the basic peach carpet I've lived with my whole life! In the past, the peach carpet would only feel good after being freshly vacuumed. This fancy carpet felt good all the time. Guests even commented on it! Like wow, who the heck notices carpet? Weirdo.
Anywho, this upgrade was great. I had no idea what the pro's + con's of having berber was/are, but 2 years into it, I do notice that some loops have un-looped themselves. It's an easy fix with a pair of scissors... whether that's the correct way of handling such an issue is beyond me. I've also noticed that if there are small snags in the carpet, that these will eventually get worse with time *quickly* if I don't take care of them right away and I allow the Roomba to do its thing (and I only run it on the carpeted areas every 1-2 weeks). We only have carpet on our 2 stairwells and on our 3rd floor where the bedrooms are, so it's not much vacuuming but you'd be surprised how much dust 2 people could create.
Aaaaand as far as the design goes, I think that's it! The rest of the house was left up to us to furnish and decorate as we saw fit. In the next house-related post, I'll go through what painting we did, furniture we bought, art we've put up, and a quick re-cap of whatever other decor we've got going on.
If you have any specific questions about the process thus far or if I've left anything out, feel free to comment below or on any other platform and I'll try to be as helpful as possible!
Hopefully this was an interesting "behind the scenes" look at what went on the few months before the keys were turned over to us. It was a truly exciting time in our lives, and I can't say I'd do things too differently... except if we did win the lotto then that'd probably change quite a few things pretty drastically. Cheers!