I Kept Only This Feature (and the Hardwoods) When I Gutted My House, and Here’s Why
When I first toured my 1950 ranch home back in 2011, it was a fixer-upper with a dated brick facade, avocado kitchen cabinets, and floor-to-ceiling mirrors in the dining room. None of those design details mattered though, because all I saw was potential.
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Thanks to a shoestring budget and the desire to settle down near family in a high-priced New York City suburb, potential was what my husband and I needed if we were ever going to sign on the 30-year-fixed-rate-mortgage line. I knew we’d be living in our new house as-is for a while, so we needed more than good bones and good flow. We needed a house we could make work on a budget. We needed something old — but awesome!
We looked at dozens if not hundreds of houses, and each new property tour kickstarted the same mental scavenger hunt. I opened every door and turned every corner hoping to find one-of-a-kind quirks and architectural anomalies that would justify the inevitably long list of home improvement projects. Sadly, most of the houses were cramped, cookie-cutter, or a stretch. We were just about to take a house-hunting hiatus when we found our home. It didn’t seem particularly awesome in the listing photos, but when we walked through the front door, I immediately got that ahhhh feeling — and that, friends, is the feeling of potential.
What did I find on my final scavenger hunt? First, I took inventory of the beautiful hardwood floors running throughout the house. They were bare naked and thirsty, but they shined even without overhead lighting. Next, I noticed a simple but special trim detail on the hallway closet door that would be easy and affordable to replicate through the house. Further down the hall I got a surprise stare down from a set of swans on the sliding shower doors in the guest bathroom. Nothing an Anthropologie shower curtain couldn’t fix! When I just about finished my first lap, I finally found what I had long been looking for.
Ironically juxtaposed with the retro dance studio-esque, floor-to-ceiling mirrors in the dining room (which you can see in its original state when we bought the house above) hung the most gorgeous vintage chandelier. Made of solid brass with intricate details and faceted, heavy-weight crystals, this fixture was stunning and no doubt original to the house. The chandelier stays, right? I asked our realtor as I felt myself falling in love. If it’s attached it stays, he said. That’s exactly how I felt in that moment, too.
We moved in a few months later and got right to work on refreshing. A little paint here, some new pipes there… we made the place our own, biding time until we could gut the main floor and tackle the 1970s kitchen. I tried all the trendy paint colors, experimented with wall art and furniture makeovers, and had more flings with $20 throw pillows than I care to admit, but if something didn’t vibe with the chandelier, it didn’t last long.
Over the years, that chandelier with potential taught me about my own design style. I learned the art of mixing old and new, the beauty of hand-me-down furniture, and that I love color — just in small doses. It should come as no surprise that when we finally did the big reno earlier this year, I not only rewired and rehung our chandelier in our new dining room, I used it as the project’s decorating north star. Now, our whole house is built around the feature that made it feel like home from the beginning.