Two Years Later: A Before and After

Two years ago today, demo began on our house. You can read about it here. At the time, in my naïve, foolish, little head, I had visions of us speedily and efficiently transforming this house into a home in a little over six months. Just like you see on TV. Oh, sweet innocence of youth.

Three general contractors, mountains of debt, anxiety attacks on the regular, and about 600 martinis later, I’m still making my peace with our decision to buy and renovate this house. Our little guy is helping, though, and the more we fill this place with memories of him, the more peaceful I’m starting to feel about it all.

Other memories are helping too. As we’ve slowly wound up one project after another, we’ve been able to start using the house as we always dreamed of using it. Our attic guest rooms have been filled at least monthly (and sometimes weekly) with far away friends and their families. And, even with the baby, we’ve managed to cook up some pretty fantastic feasts for local friends. Next week, we’re hosting the annual Christmas luncheon for Chris’s Secretariat at the Diocese (because technically, if you’re Catholic, it is still the Season), and we’ll also be using the house to tape a new St. Paul Center formation program based on The Catholic Table (more details on that coming soon).

And that is what this house has always been about. We didn’t buy and renovate this old 1890 summer home turned bad 1970’s duplex to impress people or keep it all to ourselves. From the beginning, we wanted a big home that could welcome large families, serve the Church, and be a place of refuge for friends and family in need of a break. We also wanted a comfortable home, that made people feel welcomed, peaceful, and loved. The idea was to create a place to which people wanted to come back again and again, and that reflected, in some small way, the joy and beauty of our faith.

How well the house serves that purpose will be the real measure of this renovation. So, only time will tell if it’s been worth it or not. In the meantime, though, we’re celebrating how far we have come. As part of that celebration, I’ve decided to share with you some Before and After shots of the home. So many of you have walked through this crazy journey with us, that it seemed like a tour was in order.

Today, the plan is just to give an overview of each room. Over the next few weeks, though, I’ll go through the rooms individually, and talk about some of the decisions we made and problems we encountered. If house renovations aren’t your thing, please just ignore these posts. I promise to get back to our regularly scheduled program of recipes, hosting tips, and probably some new mom stuff soon. For the rest of you, hopefully this little series either provides helpful advice for your own renovation…or distraction from your laundry.

And remember, I’m not a fancy, sponsored house blogger…just a humble Catholic author, taking pictures with her iPhone, while trying to meet deadlines for the writing that does pay the bills and take care of her new baby, so please have mercy on the quality of the images.

Let’s begin on the outside…This was how the house looked when we moved in two years ago. I hated it. Hated it.


And this is how it looked last Spring, when I tried my best to get a decent image of the outside. The iPhone doesn’t do the paint job justice. What a difference a little paint (and a new roof) can make, huh? I am firmly in Camp “Paint All the Brick.”

This was the entryway, with a missing transom and a faux wall separating the hall from the downstairs duplex apartment.

This was the fancy stairwell, leading to the upstairs apartment. Note doorway to the downstairs apartment on the left.

This is the best shot I’ve got of the opened up room, the restored transom, and the newly constructed stairway. So, so, so much more light.

The stairway up close. Our contractor built the newel post, and we found the spindles at a local salvage shop. The railing came from Hope Depot.

This is the old living room in the downstairs apartment. Groovy fireplace, no? And who doesn’t love a bookshelf half way up the wall???

Here it is today. Salvaged fireplace and surround, hand cut marble tiles, and new bookcase that doesn’t float on the wall.

Here is the dining room when it was still a bedroom. The fireplace had been plastered over…

…and the doorway connecting the living room and dining room was blocked by a closet.

The restored fireplace and built-ins. The fireplace was from a salvage yard, the built ins from elsewhere in the house.

Pocket doors where the closet used to be, once more connecting the two rooms. Again, from salvage shop. There were no happy surprises for us inside the walls. Only sad, sad, expensive surprises.

The someday kitchen when it was a dining room for the downstairs duplex. Note the built-ins. They’re the ones that moved to the new dining room.

The kitchen, as now seen from the dining room. We took out an entire wall between the two.

The someday mudroom when it was the kitchen for the downstairs duplex…

The Mudroom Before…when it was the downstairs kitchen

The actual mudroom today. It may be my favorite room in the house. At the very least, it’s the most useful.

The old kitchen from the outside.

We replaced the window and vinyl with these doors.

The old back porch before we enclosed it. (There was an old slider here, that led out from the old kitchen.)

The old back porch after we enclosed it and turned it into a den.

The nursery before…

The nursery after

The future master bedroom before…when it was two separate rooms in the upstairs apartment—a bedroom and a former dining room turned bedroom.

The master bedroom after. We opened up the wall between the two rooms, and made the doorway to one go away.

When we bought this house from a flipper, he had pulled out the cabinets in this room, which was the upstairs kitchen, and called it a closet for the master bedroom…which was the old dining room and the smallest bedroom in the house before we combined it with the adjoining bedroom.

We turned it into the master bath.

There’s more, including two huge guest bedrooms on the third floor, but I’m sick today and don’t have the energy to make the beds up there (we had guests the weekend before Christmas) and take pictures. So, it will just have to wait. For now, though, I hope you enjoyed the quick little glance at our project, and come back as I talk, with the wisdom that only hindsight can give, about the rest of the renovation. In the meantime, Merry Christmas!

37 thoughts on “Two Years Later: A Before and After

  1. Wendy Wilmowski says:

    We bought a fixer upper the week of our wedding (insane, I know) that due to a myriad of reasons we’ve only fixed up about 1/3 of it. So for 2 years now I’ve been living in an ugly house with good bones…telling my husband that this is the closest I will EVER get to camping! We have a brick rancher. Right now the brick is red but I’d like to paint it. Our hesitation is the ongoing cost of maintaining it and the pain in the neck it will be if it starts to chip and peel. You say you’re sold on painting the brick, and your house looks amazing. But what about the ongoing maintenance? How are you planning for that? Like you, we live in 4 seasons. You’ve done an amazing job and you should be proud! We, too, believe God has given us the gift of hospitality and I can’t wait until our project is complete!

    • Emily says:

      Thanks, Wendy. Regarding the brick we did a lot of research beforehand and talked to several families that had painted brick in our area. Based upon what we learned, brick needs to be repainted anywhere from every 8 to every 20 years. A lot depends on the paint job. At my old house, the wood siding needed repainting every 5-8 years, depending on what direction it faced. So, maintaining painted brick is easier than that. Plus, as Chris and I ultimately reasoned, we’d rather pay money to maintain something we love, than live with something we hate!

      • Wendy Wilmowski says:

        Thanks, Emily! That makes sense. I think you did an awesome job on the house. Simply gorgeous!

  2. Drusilla Barron says:

    Your renovations are beautiful and inspiring. (I may or may not be renovating a neat space in the near future.) And I adore your kitchen. Thanks for sharing these photos. May God bless you as you share your beautiful home.

    • Emily says:

      Thanks! I depended so much on other people’s pictures and advice as we planned this, so it’s great to be able to help others!

  3. Amy says:

    Emily, your home is gorgeous and I love seeing these before pictures as I toured your house on the Christmas home tour! Home renovations are very much “my thing” as I also live in your neighborhood and have been working on my own house for almost 7 years now. Thank you for sharing this! You guys did an unbelievable job. The pieces you added, restored and moved around look original to the house. Phenomenal!

    • Emily says:

      Thanks so much, Amy! We had a blast doing the tour…although I collapsed in a heap after it was all over. We love this neighborhood so much. It’s a hidden treasure in Pittsburgh!

  4. Sue Whittaker says:

    Congratulations! The two of you have achieved your goal. The ambiance is light-filled, restful, contemplative and classic. The decor does not intrude but embraces the space, communicating your love of God, and the peace to be found there and your hospitality. It has space for celebrations and intimate chats and curling up with a book in each room. The colors and textures are harmonious, comforting and subtle.The kitchen has a wonderful light timelessness – well done. Thanks be to God that a loving family can now thrive and love in this beautiful home.
    Sue in NZ

  5. mladinich333 says:

    Emily, you are amazing!
    As a Catholic life coach I find it so inspiring the way you and your husband used salvaged materials to take an ugly old house and make it truly beautiful—a place where your VISION for the life you intend to live for God’s greater glory is coming into being. I found it moving to read your humble and humorous comments, and to scroll through the images of the transformation. (One of my favorite images is the repaint of the outside of the house, highlighting the crosses in the brick pattern.)
    I enjoyed (and shared widely) both the vision and the implications so powerfully but subtly veiled in this brief and entertaining personal witness.

      • Amanda T says:

        Thank you for sharing! I have been looking for a paint color for our master bedroom for many, many months, but I think I just found it! I appreciate you responding to my comment. 🙂

  6. Theresa says:

    I love artists! What a beautiful labor of love!
    I don’t have the knack and live rather plainly and somewhat monastically (however, even I would have painted those bricks!), yet I love works of art … including houses turned into homes through love (sweat and tears too, I’m supposing!)
    Beautiful home.
    Cute Baby!
    Blessings and enjoy!

    TheresaDoyle-Nelson.blogspot.com
    (Sorry … I couldn’t get my URL to work in the space below)

  7. Claire says:

    Can.not.believe this is the same house!! Which leads to a question: maybe I lack the vision thing, but I would have found it hard to believe the down-on-its-luck house in the “before” pictures could ever become the glorious house in the “after” pictures. (It would be fun to frame a few of those “befores”!) What did you think when you first looked at it? Did you have a pretty firm idea of what you wanted do, or did things evolve as you went along?

    • Emily says:

      I pretty much saw it all from the very first time we walked in the house. I almost always do with houses. It’s like a party trick! 😂 in all seriousness, I’ve heard sculptors talk about how they can look at a rough slab of marble and “see” the finished sculpture inside it. It’s like that with me…except with houses. I’m lousy at anything that requires fine motor skills!

  8. vsm says:

    Stunning!!! Please keep posting on your blog, Emily — there are a lot of us non-Facebookers out here, and we’ve missed you! Blessings on you and Chris and your precious Toby in 2019!

  9. Didi says:

    It’s absolutely lovely. What a transformation! We have a Craftsman bungalow with most of the original trim, and thankfully many of the Craftsman-y details intact. It makes renovating tough because we want to stay true to the house, but we also need more room! I think you have done a fabulous job with this-it is authentic and also functional.

    We have had our eye on a Victorian-ish house (for YEARS) that backs up to our friary, and I will be honest-it’s tough not to see your back-breaking work and imagine we could survive a renovation if we could be steadfast and determined and disciplined. Then I remember that I am not often those things, and I sigh and pray for these traits because the house needs us 🙂 I also just can’t see past the ugly. I need that party trick!

  10. Kathy Smith says:

    There is nothing about this that I don’t LOVE!! The renovations and decor are fantastic, and the artwork…!! Where did you get the antique (?!) pictures of Jesus above the fireplace and of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts?? I would hang those in a heartbeat! Tobys room is previous, ad I’m sure he is! God bless you in your myriad of ministries!

  11. Bernadette Sauser says:

    Hi Emily, it’s Bernadette “the lovely woman” from Denver. Toby has gotten so big and very handsome. I just love his little smile! Also love your house and your decorating style! So glad you posted on your blog. Please keep posting more in 2019.

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