We Bought a Farmhouse

stories of renovation, home decor inspiration & sprinkles of country life

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Three Year Houseiversary: What We've Learned, Our Favorite Projects & Must-Have Tools

Three years ago, we closed on this house, moved in a week later, and you pretty much know the rest. We had always known that we had interest in home renovations, but one of this magnitude, not so much. Neither of us had any experience or background in construction or home repair, but we jumped in feet first, and got soaking wet. There are times I look back and think that we must have been crazy. But mostly, I'm just so happy we took the risk. Not that three years is a long time, but these were the years we tackled our biggest projects, and learned so much. We get asked a lot of questions about our experience with the house, what we're doing to it, and what we've learned, and we decided to recap it for you today.

What made you want this house?
Sam: We looked at houses for six months, and probably saw at least 50. Having a house in the country with land was a goal, but also seemed like a pipe dream, and not something we ever thought we'd have. We looked mostly at suburban houses in neighborhoods before finding this one, and we could have been happy in any of the homes we looked at because, you know, the person I'm married to is my home. But since this was the most important purchase and biggest investment of our lives, we waited until we both got that feeling. When Josh first showed me the listing online for our house, I immediately dismissed it because it was an extra five minutes out of our agreed distance range. He told me to take a second look, and I started to get really excited about it. Driving down the long, dirt road to get here the day we first came to see it, I felt like I was going on vacation, and I've felt that way every time I pull into our driveway since then. It was the house that I would daydream about, but it was real. I could immediately see what every room would look like with some extra love, and I could just see us living our life here. My dream became a reality. I'm pretty sure that's a sign that you should buy it.

Josh: In all truthfulness, I loved the yard at first. I remember we came to see it in May and I just ran around the yard because it had been years since I had a big yard. I still love it. Mowing it isn't super fun, but I still love running around in it.

Sam: I remember Josh's reaction to the yard space so vividly. I knew before we even went inside that he wanted this house, too. Also, he runs around with Emma all the time.

We weren't exactly in the market for 25 acres or a Christmas tree farm, but we pretty much love it.
Thanks, Aunt CeCe, for taking this photo!

What made you tackle your renovations on your own?
Sam: It started off as a money-saving tactic, but then turned into something more than that. Our first big project was painting our kitchen cabinets, which I mostly did. I sanded them all down, cleaned them, primed and painted them, etc. Josh did help here and there, but in doing most of it myself, I felt such a sense of accomplishment that I hadn't felt before. I know this is what motivates Josh, too. And doing something so out of my comfort zone and having it turn out right is such a rush. I've helped Josh with most of our projects in some way or another, and I've come to find that when he breaks everything down for me, step by step, it's all very feasible for us to do on our own. Now, I never balk at anything Josh wants to take on himself because I know he can do it, and I know I'm excited to help (or, stand and watch, either way).

Josh: I'm the type of person who gets tremendous pride out of doing things myself. I had done minor stuff when we had apartments, but I thought I could tackle projects on a bigger scale, and I think I'm doing okay so far.

What's been your favorite project you've done?
Sam: Our master bathroom, hands down, even though it's not done yet. We both put so much thought into this room, and I really tried to make it, like everything we do, a reflection of our own personal style. It's the bathroom I never really thought we'd be lucky enough to have, and we're making it a reality as we speak. We're just about to start painting the walls, and it should be done in a couple of months, definitely by the end of summer. Josh did so much work on it himself and I was really proud of him for that. I'm also really proud of the design we came up with, too. It's a total reflection of us, and our love for all things old farmhouse, country cottage and seaside, which isn't something you see every day. When I decided I wanted to try to combine all these styles into one space I didn't think I could do it and have it still look cohesive and streamlined but we made it happen and it's probably the design I'm most proud of. It was also the hardest, most intricate, thought-provoking project Josh has taken on, and he's been doing an amazing job each step of the way. We're so close!

Current master bathroom status.
Josh: The hardwood floors in the guest room. I love that they are original to the house. Every time I go in there and see them, I get a huge smile on my face. They look amazing.

Sam: When we first finished this room, Josh would go sit on the rocking chair in there and literally smile. He's not exaggerating. 

Guest room floors.

What's your biggest mistake or regret in a project you've done?
Sam: I honestly don't have any regrets, but we've made mistakes, for sure. Thankfully, nothing costly because Josh does hours and hours of research before starting anything complicated. But I would say my biggest mistake was painting our downstairs spaces with a beige color that ended up looking pink, even after so much contemplation and swatches all over the walls in different light. I ended up re-painting three rooms total, less than a year later. We’ve never made any mistakes that cost us more than $100 (which isn't a lot on the grand scheme of things) and a few hours of our time to fix, though. I've also made some weird design choices that I've already remedied. In The Magnolia Story, Joanna Gaines recounts how many silly and strange decisions she made when starting out, so I try to just learn from them and move on to better myself.

Josh: In the guest bathroom, I didn't self-level the floor when we installed the radiant floor heating. I thought I could level it by hand. Nope! I could not. So now the tile has a bit of a wave to it. It doesn't bother me enough to rip it all out and redo it, but looking back I definitely would have done it differently.

Sam: It's barely noticeable, and you can only really tell if you're looking for it. But, lesson learned (the hard way).

What's your least favorite kind of project or renovation to work on?
Sam: Ugh, trim and molding! I hated it the first time we did it (I may have cried), and I still hate doing it now. In fact, when we're really close to finishing a room, and I know it's time to start working on the trim work, I dread it. It sounds like such a basic task, but you can actually mess it up very easily. Your measurements have to be so exact, and with an old house that's not level at all, we often have to rip out and re-install molding several times before it's right. Plus, we always start it when the room is 95% done, and we're just so over everything at that point, too. Although, I will say, I love it when it's done. A very close second is demo work. It looks so fun on TV shows, but it's actually only fun for about 10 seconds. And then, I'm bored and tired and everything hurts. It's really, really hard work to demo things and remove all the debris, and I don't enjoy it.

Us, while taking down the plaster and lathe in our living room. It sucked.

Josh: My least favorite is drywall taping. Seems like it should be easy, but it's not. Plus it takes multiple coats, it's boring and is super messy when you sand it. Removing plaster and lath could be included here as well. 

What's your favorite kind of project or renovation to work on?
Sam: For me, I love designing. That's my thing. I like trying to come up with ideas on my own as far as making a space visually appealing, and maximizing functionality, while having it reflect our personality, and not look so cookie-cutter. I love picking out details, like photos in frames, or fun eBay finds, and I love move-in day when a room is finally complete and I get to set up everything I've bought for it over the past several months, not really knowing if it will all actually come together or not. Beyond that, I really like the smaller, little projects. I loved working on the planters I made for our front porch, and I've been making my own flower boxes for our windows over the past month or so. There's something satisfying about building something on my own that has big results, and getting it done quickly, that I find oddly satisfying.

I'm always asking Josh to take pictures of me holding up stuff so I
can make sure the color is okay in all kinds of lighting.

Josh: My favorite was installing hardwood floors. It's a bit of work to refinish them and make them pretty, but it is so much fun to use the floor nailer to nail them in place.

Sam: Only my husband would say using a floor nailer is fun. 

Josh using the floor nailer. 

What's the most challenging part of renovating a home?
Sam: The amount of time it takes. I do wish that sometimes, we had a huge network of friends and family that loved to help out with drywalling and painting, but we don't. We literally do everything ourselves, and on the rare occasion, we hire a contractor. Everything we do just takes time because we work full time jobs in addition to all this. And I'll admit it, there are days I just want all the dust to go away and to be done. It can be frustrating in that sense, but thankfully, I find myself more happy with working on the house than being frustrated.

Josh: How long things take. 

Sam: Jinx! You owe me a Coke Zevia.

Josh: It's been 3 years and I feel like we are only 50% done or so. I think the last 50% will be faster since we aren't installing entire bathrooms anymore (we've done two, and they both averaged nine months each). 

We thought the subway tile would take a weekend. It took almost four. 

What have you learned about each other since renovating a home?
Sam: How freakin' handy Josh is. I can't say this surprised me because he's always been motivated to learn things on his own. His brain is also naturally inclined to figuring out how things work. But I've been so impressed and amazed with everything he does on the house. Especially our master bathroom renovation. I can't even explain how many little details and steps went into the planning and construction in this room, and he worked so hard on it. I think about everything he had to plan and measure and map out, and my head starts to spin (and I can handle a LOT of information at a time, but this room made my brain hurt). It seemed like every step we took, there were 10 things we weren't planning on that we had to deal with. And not only does he do all of this, he does it well. It's just, incredible. And he keeps getting better with each project we tackle.

Josh: When hanging ceiling drywall, once the drywall board is in the air, screw it into the ceiling asap. If you stop to ask your wife if she is okay while she is holding her half of the board over her head, she will want to kill you. Literally.

Sam: True story.

Josh, just doin' his thing - building walls and stuff.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned since starting the renovation process?
Sam: Patience! Oh my god, the patience you need while renovating is insane. That was a huge slap in the face when I started the kitchen cabinet paint job. I've always been the most impatient person in the world. I thought it would take a week to finish our kitchen cabinets, and it took two months of working nonstop before and after  work. I'm very much a let's get this done now kind of person, and I've just learned that's not possible while renovating. There will always be unexpected things you can’t plan for, even if you think you've accounted for every possible scenario. I can't think of a single project we've done that didn't have some sort of unexpected delay. Now, when we finally admit a project won't be done for another four weeks, or a few months, I just shrug it off and accept it. And drink wine.

Josh: 98% of renovations can be fixed so don't be intimidated, thinking that you will screw them up. If you make a mistake, just take a minute, remove the issue and start over (this does not apply to water lines. If you have a water leak and turn you water back on, you could flood your house. That's bad).

What tools would you recommend a newbie invest in?
Sam: A 6ft ladder - every homeowner should have one regardless of renovations. When you need it, you really need it. And a wet-dry vac. I totally glazed over when Josh told me he was buying this, and now it's my favorite thing of all time. Our Christmas tree fell over one year, and spilled water, pine needles and broken ornaments all over the floor, and guess what? The wet-dry vac sucked it all up super fast, water and all. It's also great at cleaning up demo debris.

Josh: There are so many things that are helpful. It also depends on how much renovating you are going to do. So I will pick one for an average homeowner and one for the more advanced homeowner. For the average homeowner, a cordless drill or impact driver. Both are great for hanging pictures or shelves, and basic furniture assembly, etc.
For the advanced homeowner, a reciprocating saw. It's a must have for cutting anything you can imagine (drywall, cement board, studs), and you do a lot of that with any renovation.

What projects are you most looking forward to tackling in the future?
Sam: Our dining room. We've done a few updates to this room over the past few years, but we plan to install built-in cabinets along the back wall to add some storage and functionality, which this room is completely lacking right now.

Josh demo-ing out some walls in our dining room.

Josh: Building our outdoor patio/fire pit and our new kitchen pantry. Our pantry is currently in our half bath downstairs. I don't like having food in the bathroom.

When do you think you'll be completely done with the house?
Sam: Never. But realistically, never. I'm only half kidding. I would say give us another five years, and we'll be pretty much done with all the major stuff. We still need to convert plaster to drywall in two more bedrooms and our downstairs front room, refinish all the original hardwoods, finish our kitchen pantry, half bath and dining room. We've still got plenty on our plate. But these projects, in comparison to the bathrooms we've done, are far less complicated. Just time-consuming.

Josh: 100% done? Never, probably. All the major rooms and projects we want to tackle? I would guess 2021 or 2022.

Sam: Never.

And the question everyone always asks us, What will you do with your free time once your major projects are done? How do you think the other would answer the question?
Sam: I would want to start a decent-sized flower garden and raise farm animals. I'm pretty sure Josh would laugh and say, "You're in charge of the goats, then." I plan to start with a small flower bed and see what happens, but we do want to start a pretty substantial vegetable garden. And with the rest of our free time? I want to do absolutely nothing. Josh is a busy body and will always find something to work on. Getting him to sit still is a project all on its own.

We already have bowl-fulls of blueberries growing on our land, but there's potential for so much more.

Josh: I think Sam will want to take day trips to go hiking again. I know she misses that a lot because we haven't been able to hike unless we're on vacation because we spend every free day we have renovating. I also think she would spend her mornings gardening and planting more things, and take the afternoons to sit and enjoy our deck. I actually kind of miss going for runs on Saturday mornings. I would like to get back to doing that. I also miss going out on weekends to the movies and not feel like we're rushed to get home and finish a project. We don't do that hardly ever anymore for the same reason.

Sam: I told you he can't sit still.


  1. What a fun post. I am amazed at how much you all have done. Sam, it might be time for us to take another tour of your house on You Tube.

  2. This was so fun seeing it all again.

  3. Yay! I’m was so happy to see your blog update. So interesting and informative. I love the Q&A format. It reminds me of reading magazines :). I agree with Arlene, it’d be great to get another house tour. Miss those!


  4. I would love to know how you finished your floors, they're beautiful. I'm about to start sanding my pine plank floors, and I'd love to end up with a similar look. Thank you! Sandra
    swhite828 at netscape dot net