Cathy, and her husband Garrett, are just two design lovers living a "quiet, country life" (her words) in Washington state. Here are a few things that that quiet country life entails: rehabbing a 105-year-old farmhouse into their family home, flipping a 117-year-old house, and working on an HGTV pilot. Cathy also maintains her own blog, The Grit & Polish. So they're busy, but not too busy to sit down with us (virtually!) and share a few insights about what it takes to refurbish, and flip, old, down-on-their-luck houses. Cathy's experiences provide a unique look into the unexpected challenges of renovating older properties, but also a glimpse of the rewards that can be found along the way. Here's what you can expect.
Sometimes you'll wind up with a bit more than you bargained for
The walls of old houses can conceal surprises — and sometimes not in a good way. Years of neglect can wreak havoc on even the sturdiest of homes, often in ways that are not immediately apparent from the outside. Anyone working with older homes should prepare to expect the unexpected (and budget accordingly). Cathy has this to say about the "ever-expanding scope" of the Porch House, a 117-year-old house that the couple is flipping:
It's a classic problem with old houses. Once you open something up, you find something else to do and that fix leads to another and so on and so on. For example, once we removed a few boards of damaged siding, we found that the framing behind it needed to be replaced, which required the removal of more siding to replace the framing. And pretty soon we had spent a week making repairs to the framing, replacing all the siding on the back of the house, and painting it.
Flexibility is key
For evidence that older homes can sometimes throw you for a loop, look no further than the above paragraphs. Without knowing what's hiding in the walls, or what state the plumbing is in, or what that weird bump-out in the bathroom is for, it's hard to create a design plan that doesn't experience a few hiccups along the way. So being able to take things as they come is really important. And sometimes, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.
As much planning we do, old house renovations never turn out exactly as expected. And that's a good thing. The more we get into a project and the better we get to know a house, the more our plans morph. Sometimes we run into unexpected bad things like leaky plumbing and rot behind the kitchen cabinets I had planned to keep. And sometimes we run into unexpected good things like original pine shiplap behind wallpaper and hidden pocket doors. All of these things change the shape of a renovation and I think the finished house is better for it.
Juggling family and renovations is a challenge that requires committed partners
It may not be typical for stories about renovations, but I couldn't help but include this sweet (and very illuminating) account from Cathy, detailing a day spent working on several projects, but also attending to the needs of several small people. It really shows how she and her partner are a team. This is the story of a very busy but very rewarding day, but also, one where both parents have to pull through to make things work.
No two days are the same for us, but they always start out around 6 am when our three kids wake up. Today is a Wednesday, which means no preschool, so after breakfast Garrett and I have a chance to run through our to-do lists for the Porch House renovation and our rentals over a cup of coffee. We quickly came to the decision that we'll convert one of our Seattle rentals to an Airbnb and Garrett gets that listing up while I clean up breakfast and get the kids ready for the day.
Garrett heads into the Porch House to work on that renovation (with a 3-week-old baby, I'm not much help with that right now) and I take the kids outside to clip leaves for a DIY botanical art project I'm working on. We play outside for a while after that and then come in for snack and to press the leaves we collected. Daphne goes down for a nap so the boys and I do a puzzle and I pack up lunches, a diaper bag, and my camera equipment for a trip into town. Around 11, we load up in the truck and run a few errands and then stop by the Porch House so I can shoot the mudroom for an upcoming post.
Garrett also has a few design questions for me, so we run through those while Wilder plays in the yard, Brooks naps in his car seat, and Daphne hangs with me in a carrier. Next the kids and I head to the park for a picnic lunch before I drop the boys off with Nana for swimming at the pool. At this point in my life, it's a real treat to do anything with just one kid, so I take Daphne to the grocery store before heading back to our Farmhouse to spend a couple hours working. I answer emails, edit the mudroom progress photos, and work on a blog post in our home office while Daphne naps in a chair next to me. Garrett gets home at 4:30 and makes dinner. Once Nana drops the kids off from swimming, we all sit down together for dinner and then spend the next couple of hours playing and cleaning the kitchen.
Bath and bed time is one of the most hectic times of our days – getting our boys to settle down is a bit of an impossible task – but by 8:30 we have 2 sleeping boys. Garrett, Daphne, and I head downstairs to share a beer and get another hour of work done, ordering furnishings and supplies for our new Airbnb (we already got 2 bookings today, so it's on!) and running through a few pressing items for the Porch House renovation, while taking turns holding the baby. We're off to bed at 9:30.
If your heart is in it, the reward is more than worth it
Renovating an older house can be a lot more work than a new one, considering the quirks and unexpected pitfalls that come with an older property. But if you're truly passionate about resuscitating older properties, the reward can be more than worth it.
I think the saying, "they don't make them like they used to" is so true with old houses. The amount of craftsmanship, care, and quality materials used in building homes a hundred years ago is almost impossible to recreate today (at least not without a huge budget). I also like to think that restoring old homes is the ultimate recycling project; saving an old home means saving tons of material from the landfill. But the main reason I love old homes are the intangibles things like character and history. Detailed moldings, tall ceilings, original windows, old newspapers/notes hidden under floorboards, and all those nooks and crannies that kids love, those are the things that make my heart flutter and you just can't get in a new-build.
If you want to experience one of their designs in person, Cathy and Garrett have an AirBnB in Seattle, which you can book right here. To keep up with their many projects, you can follow their website over at The Grit & Polish.
Thanks so much, Cathy and Garrett!!!