How I Brought This Teardown Back to Life on a Tiny Budget
Five things I learned in the process.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 7:00 AM
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Erica Gluck loves a good project—the East Nashville–based house flipper has made a living by turning the worst home on the block into the neighborhood’s hottest real-estate listing. So when one day a crumbling bungalow on her own street came up for sale, she jumped at the chance to fix it up.
“From the outside, the brick ranch was surrounded by overgrown bushes and trees,” Gluck recalls. “Ivy covered the front and sides of the house and an old roof that was caving in. The backyard was littered with piles of trash and old lumber hidden beneath tarps.” The inside wasn’t much better: a boxy maze of nicotine-stained walls, popcorn ceilings, and watermarked floors. In short, it was a mess.
Still, Gluck saw opportunity behind the rough exterior. “I had loved this house for years,” she remembers. “The old man who lived there was an avid gardener. The moment spring rolled around and the warm weather hit, flowers started blooming. And when one species of flower died, another one emerged. It’s like he planted this amazing symphony of perennials, moving from one section of the yard to another.”
We asked the seasoned renovator to share her top tips for how to turn a teardown into an inviting home.
Look for Good Bones
Good architectural details are hard to find, so don’t pass them up just because of a few layers of dirt and dust. “What immediately drew me to this house was its windows,” says Gluck. “They had original wood frames with glass stained by decades of neglect, and not a single window opened. But after sandpaper, window glaze, several coats of white paint, and new hardware, they were returned to their original working beauty.”
Save Cash by Restoring Original Features
Gluck preserved the rest of the property’s character-filled details, from the beat-up white oak floors to the beat-up hardwood doors in the same thoughtful manner. “I always try to restore as much as possible,” she says. “This usually also means saving money.” In the bathroom, for example, she reglazed the cast-iron tub and gray speckled tile in white rather than replace them. “It looks practically brand-new and I saved a few extra bucks,” notes Gluck.
Watch Out for Hidden Costs
“Demo and trash removal, the dirty part of the job, gets me every time,” says Gluck, who had to use a good chunk of her budget to dispose of the previous owner’s junk. “Behind the doors of this demure brick ranch, there was a lot to haul off. Old appliances caked in grease, lath and plaster walls, deteriorated roof shingles, layers of laminate tile, an attic filled to the brim with old newspapers—it all adds up. One dumpster turned into three, and before I knew it, I was hiring more guys to help with the demo process to stick to my timeline.”
Treat Paint as Your Friend
“Small houses require consistency and simple lines,” Gluck explains. “The original floor plan was boxy and disconnected. There was no flow from one room to another.” To open up the living room to the office without losing the charm and coziness of the original floor plan, she installed sliding glass pocket doors and painted everything white, which visually doubled the home’s size. “There’s something so pure and soothing about white,” she says. “It allows your eyes to rest and creates an amazing backdrop for whatever colors you decide to bring in.”
Trick the Eye With a High-Low Mix
“I’m a firm believer that good design doesn’t have to cost a lot of money,” says Gluck. She carefully considered the price of every item before bringing it into the house: “One of the pieces I spent the most on was the dining room table. I envisioned a simple, light wood farm table sitting center under a pendant light, but I could not find any I liked. So I asked my carpenter, Tim, to build me one.” But it’s all about balance—this splurge for the dining room was paired with a set of inexpensive white director’s chairs found on Wayfair. Now all that’s left to do is send out the invites for the housewarming party.
Brush up on more renovation tips we learned: We Renovated an 18th-Century House—Here’s What We Learned You Don’t Have to Spend a Fortune on a Stunning Concrete Fireplace—We Did It for $215 My Husband and I Quit Our Jobs to Fix Up Homes (With Zero Renovation Experience)