Real Talk: Living Through a Renovation of an 1895 Victorian Rowhome

We’re officially two weeks into living through a renovation. While work has been going on since sometime in August, we were able to comfortably keep our distance until September 29. But, with the lease starting on our condo on October 1, we inevitably had to move out — and into a construction zone.

And, y’all, this sucks.

We’ve been through a renovation before. Rosehill Cottage was a major (and still ongoing) project. We were there for much of it, and we were there again last year when we tackled the kitchen. But, in that case, we had a retreat from it. We didn’t have to be there. We could pack up a bag, go for a few days, then come back to DC, where, besides for a guest room that was literally packed to the ceiling with furniture, we had a fully functioning and clean home.

Living through a renovation with no escape? This is a whole different ball game. I wanted to write about this because it sometimes gets sugar coated on Instagram and TV. I wrote an Instagram post the other day about all the things that went wrong on one day this past week. The list was extensive. And someone messaged me to thank me for keeping it real, because they’ve lived through it, too.

It feels like all we see is the beautiful before and after. Sure, we might see the things that can go wrong when it makes for good TV, but, rarely, is someone actually living in the house. But the reality of renovating in real life is you probably are going to be living through it, at least for some part of the process.

And, as I’m trying to find the words to describe this process, I’m realizing an old fashioned listicle is the best way to illustrate it.

6 Truths of Living Through a Renovation

For some level setting, we don’t have lights that work in our bathrooms. We can’t use the toilet or shower on the third floor. We just regained use of the shower on the second floor this week (but still no light). And the first floor works, but it’s so grimy that I hate being in there. The kitchen is gross. It actually has nice cabinets and quartz countertops, but the appliances are held together with masking tape — and that’s not an exaggeration. It’s bad.

Then I’ll caveat this list with I am a total control freak who likes everything neat, minimal, and in its place. So living through a renovation is basically my worst nightmare. I am, however, fortunate that this is more of a restoration than a renovation, so it’s probably not as bad as it could be. No walls are moving, nothing is coming out. It’s just surface level. But it’s still going to be a 6-7 month process, possibly longer, where we essentially feel like we are camping in our home. Here’s how that’s going.

I have no idea where anything is

Our living room is packed with boxes and furniture. We can’t move into the rooms that are in process, and that’s basically the entire second and third floor. The first floor is only a staging area because it’s not going to be touched until next year. Coats? No idea. But I better figure it out soon. Blankets? Really wish I had one right now, but, again, can’t find them. I know there’s a salad dressing mixer, but it wasn’t in the kitchen boxes, and I’m not going to rip apart 5 more boxes trying to find it. Somehow, even with labels, it’s all a mystery.

And don’t even get me started on my clothes. They’re in a pile because I haven’t made my closet system yet. It’s the fall of wearing the same five items on repeat.

The house as-is will never feel clean

We essentially moved into a frat house. While the previous owner did live here intermittently, it was a rental for probably 95% of the time she owned it. The most recent group was your typical early twenty-something guys, and this place is disgusting. The kitchen floor will never feel clean. The bathrooms are taking me back to college. It’s awful. And it’s going to be a long few weeks or months until we move to those renovations.

My socks are constantly dirty

Renovations brings dust, and there’s not hope of cleaning it until we’re done. Our floors are covered in a consistent grime that’s just not going anywhere. I’m stepping on a mix of dirt, dust, cardboard, paper, nails, who knows what else.

We’re in a renovation waiting game

We’re working with a contractor we totally trust, but he’s a one man show. That means it’s a slow process, and I can’t order items for the bathroom until we’ve finished the bedroom, because we’ve run out of room to stage supplies. It’s just a constant feeling of okay, I am in complete disarray, yet I can’t do anything until this is finished. Then we can move onto the next project.

There are days when everything goes wrong

When I wrote that Instagram post last week, we kicked the day off with furniture that wouldn’t fit up the stairs. Then it was a stop work order on our electrical because we had one piece of the permit process that wasn’t filed correctly. Then I tried to hang our drapery in the living room just to get it out of boxes, and the drapery rods ripped right out of the wall (because, of course, they hung them without anchors). There’s also one specific contractor that I can’t share anything about yet, but it was bad — and he damaged pieces of our home that can’t be replaced.

You’ll never know if it’s going to be a good day or a bad day

There are days when I come downstairs in the morning, and I’m like, yes, I can totally see where this is going. And there are others where I will complain to anyone who will listen. Which one will I have today? Tomorrow? It’s anybody’s guess.

living through a renovation


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