Simply considering a redesign of one room of a home feels like a huge undertaking, so when we heard Sarah Gibson of Room For Tuesday flipped an entire foreclosure—we were impressed. And when we say she flipped a foreclosure, we literally mean Gibson and her husband did it all themselves. (Okay, they had some help from family and friends, but more on that later.) In the spirit of a true DIY home remodel, we asked Gibson to share all of her ups, downs, and valuable advice on how to take on a project similar to her own.
[updated May 11, 2017]
How and when did you and your husband decide you were going to purchase and flip a foreclosure? Did you have any previous home improvement experience?
It’s funny, this was the only foreclosure we looked at when touring houses during the buying process! It was never our intention to purchase a fixer upper. We sort of fell in love with the charm, character, and price (!)… It just felt right. We didn’t have any previous home improvement experience, but we had a lot of readily available guidance, enthusiasm, and tools.
How long did the entire remodel project take you? From purchase to completion?
I’m pretty sure as long as you’re a homeowner, the process will never be complete. I’m always ideating and dreaming of new projects or ways to improve my home. It took one year before the entire home was livable and ready for us to move in. My husband and I both had full-time jobs during the renovation and spent most evenings and weekends working on our house. From purchase to completion, it’s been about four years renovating and living in our home. The kitchen was finished in about six months—demo to completion.
How did you settle on a budget? Were you able to stick to that budget, or did it increase as the project evolved?
Going into the project, we didn’t really have a budget. We had an entire home to renovate and the kitchen had to be completed. We knew we wanted to spend the majority of our money on that particular space. Obviously, this is our first home and we only have so much money to invest in it, so our plan was to make it look sophisticated while spending the least amount of money possible. We have around $20,000 in the kitchen. To give you a little breakdown: $8,000 in cabinetry, $3,600 in countertops, $1,200 in the sink and faucet, $500 in lighting, $5,000 in appliances, and the rest is made up by plumbing, flooring, tile, electrical, drywall, hardware, paint, etc. We certainly had features that were more important to us than others. For instance, we splurged on the sink, faucet, and hardware, but saved money on lighting. The pendant is vintage and the recessed lighting we found on sale.
How were you able to envision the finished project? Did you create mood boards or pull inspirational photos?
I did create a few mood boards, but I also think it’s important to see the materials in person—especially during a kitchen renovation. I had samples of tile, countertops, cabinetry, paint swatches, hardware, and finishes taped up during the renovation. With a small home, the kitchen space was limited. I knew I wanted it to be bright, so I landed on an all-white monochromatic color palette. I did pull some inspiration images of white kitchens along the way.
How was knocking the wall down? It really opened up the space!
Knocking down the wall was miserable. At first it was really exciting to take a sledge hammer and begin demo, but it became old quickly. It was one of many walls we removed in our home. Being built in the early 1900s, the wall was plaster, complete with the mesh wiring on the interior of the wall. People used to build things really well—maybe too well. It took three 50 feet dumpsters to demo the entire kitchen, including that wall. We carried the wall outside to the dumpster bucket by bucket. It was really labor intensive, but the end result was well worth it!
I know you said you had help with the cabinets from a friend who is a contractor— they look so professional! Do you have any tips for hanging your own cabinets?
My husband can probably answer this better than I am able, but I know for certain measuring twice and reinforcing the cabinetry is key. I have a fear of things falling that bear weight. It’s sort of a weird phobia, but I’m always nervous that cabinetry won’t be able to support heavy jars of spaghetti sauce or whatever! Ha! I know that sounds crazy, but I wanted to make sure I could stand on the countertop and hang from the cabinetry, knowing that it wouldn’t come crashing down. I made them add supports and reinforce things really well. I also hate the way cabinetry looks with negative space above it (with standard ceilings). I sketched a design and had the guys build a bulkhead above the cabinetry. This is an expensive way to make cabinetry appear custom and extend to ceiling height. I’d rather see wasted space that is closed in and trimmed out, rather than seeing open negative space above cabinetry.
You also said you did all of the electrical and plumbing. Was that an intimidating undertaking? Would you recommend someone who has no previous experience or knowledge seek help from a contractor (or friend who is a contractor!) as opposed to going it on their own?
Kalyn, my husband, was a rock star at learning electrical and plumbing. It saved us a ton of money! He got started with guidance from my step father, who used to do those sort of things for a living. After one room of learning, he put together the pieces with help from YouTube and books. I’m lucky he’s handy and everything turned out to code. I tried to stay out of the way during that portion of the process, but I do think having help is much easier and more fun than solely reading or watching online how-to videos. Electrical work can be dangerous, but it’s definitely feasible! Kalyn actually enjoys these types of projects now. In fact, he just volunteered to help our friends during their kitchen renovation.
What were the biggest lessons you learned renovating your kitchen?
Kitchen renovations are not a small undertaking. I expected to see instant progress, like redecorating a room. It takes a good amount of time, especially if you’re starting from scratch. Therefore, I think my biggest lesson was patience. Kalyn’s biggest lesson was measuring twice! We selected our appliances in advance and specified our cabinetry according to the appliances. I wanted the refrigerator to look as recessed as possible. Unfortunately, he measured wrong and when the appliances arrived, it was too large and wouldn’t fit in the designated space. He had to alter the cabinetry above the fridge and order a custom door to make it work- which wasn’t an expense we had planned.
Is there anything you would change? Or go back and do a different way?
Honestly, I love my kitchen so much! It fits the style and size of our home very well. I really don’t think I’d change anything given our budget, circumstances, and timeline.
What was the most challenging issue you encountered while remodeling the kitchen?
Old homes have their ups and downs. They’re built very well, but with time they settle and things aren’t as level as they once were. Shimming the walls to make them square so the cabinetry would hang level and accurate was super challenging and time consuming.
And then on the flip side, what was the most fun part of this remodel?
I remember being giddy with excitement the day I turned the water on. I also recall Kalyn yelling from the basement, “Ok, try it now!”… I turned the faucet and like magic, out came the water! His favorite part was wiring the electrical and turning on the lights. Every light is on a dimmer and I’m pretty sure he played with the lighting for at least an hour… I feel like that’s a guy thing.
Do you have any advice for someone (or a couple!) who wants to flip a house? What about general advice for people looking to remodel their kitchen (or any room in their home)?
Plan, plan, plan! Make sure you have a detailed plan, timeline, and budget. Expect the unexpected. I know people say that, but I thought I had everything completely figured out. Sure enough, unexpected things occur and you just have to deal with it. Even though I like sticking to a list and a schedule, I had to learn to be more flexible. Add extra days into your timeline and probably overestimate your budget… just in case.
Finally, any advice you think would be beneficial for our readers to know about?
A kitchen renovation of this size is intimidating, but you have to start somewhere. It was a little scary at first, but with each step it gets easier. You learn many new skills and at the end of the process, you can look back and say, “I did this. I made this happen”. It’s a really rewarding process! If you’re on the fence, do your research and start with a positive attitude. If we can do it, I’m pretty sure you guys can too!