Home Renovation Before + After Pictures (We Did ALL Of This For Under $4,000....)
Mmmmm, home sweet home. Almost 2 years in this lil cabin on the water and it is so stinkin’ fun to look back on this house before we owned it and our journey to where we are now. For those new around here, adam and i live in a tiny little cabin on a very big lake. We are tuckered away in the woods and i can TRULY say that my home is my absolute happy place! we got this place when we were 23 and 25 years old and we have gotten a lot of questions about it….. in order to afford being on a lake, we knew we would need somewhat of a fixer up. our budget was limited, but we made some HUGE changes and today i’m about to show you behind the scenes :) also, DISCLAIMER: i still feel like the “after” photos aren’t finished…. i have so many things i still want to do #Type7Probz but ya know what, i’ll probably have that feeling of being “unfinished” for the rest of forever— so i’m just gonna show you real-world what our house looks like right. now. no time like the present, right???? ;)
NOTE: this is definitely not a Fixer Upper, Chip + Jo, HGTV + granite countertops kind of transformation— this is just your average milllenial who only had a few thousand dollar budget and wanted to get the most bang for her buck. i wrote this for the girl that is ballin’ on a budget, but still wants her house/apartment to feel like HOME. ya ready???
deciding we wanted to buy….
To back it up- here is the Cliff Notes version of our home story because it definitely is not typical. It was actually VERY spur of the moment hahaha. We were living in Rochester, Minnesota working at The Mayo Clinic. We had JUST moved into our first apartment together in May. Rochester was fine. Our jobs were fine (Mayo Clinic was AMAZING, but neither of us felt fully at home on our units). Our lives were fine. Everything was fine. But…. it just felt blah- we had just lived in Minneapolis where we were surrounded by trails and rivers and delicious, quirky restaurants and fun concerts and young energy…. And after getting a taste of that, we knew that Rochester wasn’t filling our cup— But again, it was fine. (lol lol lol that i was pretending “good enough” was good enough. NOTE TO SELF: never ever settle)
That July, only 2 months after moving into our apartment rental we went to our happy place: the boundary waters to camp. we joke that we had our "second set of wedding vows" on a weirdly perfect canoe portage during that trip. it was just one of those nights-- the conversation was flowing and everything just felt vivid and clear. annnnnnnd kind of abruptly we decided that we wanted a lot more moments like this-- surrounded by nature, quiet, slow living. ...and finally admitted to ourselves that we were feeling a void in our current city + jobs. so we decided to move northbound. right then and there- we committed that we would get back, start looking at houses/new jobs, and move to the woods. we knew we wanted to live on a lake. we knew we wanted a slower, simpler pace of life. someday, we wanted to raise kids that knew how to camp + hike + respect the earth. we wanted to work less-- to live more. we wanted to be closer to family. we wanted a cozy house. nourishing dinners. quiet long runs. no cable, but more vinyls. big details + small, we covered it allllll on that one special canoe portage. although had discussed all these topics before, it was something about that day-- being on a quiet lake in BWCA that made it all feel real. while on that canoe, all of it felt attainable. we just had to choose the life we wanted — and go for it. it was our life to create, and we were in it together.
soooo that’s that. we were going to move to the north. The requirements? 1) we had to be on a lake and 2) we had to be under budget. (we may be spontaneous, but we are hella responsible with our money!) We were open to looking from Moose Lake alllllll the way to Grand Marais. We wrapped our camping trip and began our home search process. long story short of our “decision” to buy: it was kind of a rash, out of the blue decision, buuuuut i had been saving for a home already because ya girl is always thinking ahead (check out the “the millenial’s guide to saving up for a down payment” post for all the details on how you can save thousands of dollars in your twenties). not to mention, i am literally home OBSESSED and scroll realtor, zillow, and trulia like it’s my job. (don’t even get me started on how obsessed i am with my pinterest home board….). I have ALWAYS wanted to buy a house early in life because i hate the idea of paying rent and not owning anything. I knew we would be buying a house in our young-twenties, but we just didn’t know where (…until we had that magical canoe ride in the wilderness where it all just became clear). it was one small canoe paddle + one conversation with a biggggg impact.
Without going into too much detail, we looked at 6 different properties— 3 in Duluth and 3 in Grand Marais. All of them were on lakes, all of them under our budget, all of them more or less a “fixer up”. Our biggest thing was were they structurally stable? Were they well built? How were they maintained? We knew we could customize cosmetically, but we wanted a house with good bones.
We had just looked at a house that we loved. It was the 5th property we looked at. The lot was GORGEOUS. It has a private little island right off of the shore. It came with a massive shed and garage. There were a lot very good things about it and we were smitten…. My dad gave his illusive stamp of approval. Everyone was excited. We had found “it”! …..But something just felt off for me. I can’t really put my finger on it, but i couldn’t say 100% yes even though it was a great option. I was like 88% there, but something inside wanted to keep looking.
There was one other house on that same lake that was in our budget. But it had been on sale for a few months (not a good sign on our lake where real estate typically flies off the market). it was a cabin; not a house. the listing photos didn’t look great-- The house was built on stilts meaning that it wasn’t insulated for winter. There were a lot of red flags. But, what the heck, we had just driven 4 hours from Rochester to look at houses so let’s just go peek.
the first time we toured our house
…. To our surprise this little cabin was GORGEOUS from a structure perspective. The structure that looked dark/run down in the photos was beautifully kept up. The foundation was solid. The water pump was new. The house had been majorly upgraded in the past 10 years. The cabin was being built as an eventual retirement home and you could tell there was major TLC in this property. But it was small. It wasn’t winter-ized (for non-minnesota people it means that it was not insulated to keep the water pipes from freezing during the winter cold). The walls were dark and the vibe was very “woodsy” and cabiny…. The floors were painted ply wood…. I didn’t feel very strong about it this first time seeing it. I was overwhelmed from seeing the previous property that we all thought was “it”. all in all, i was pretty numb when we toured…. But something about this property stuck with me.
We left that day talking and celebrating like we had found “it”. The 5th house— the logical choice. Wow! We did it! We were set to put an offer in! …. But we drove home, and i couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t shake the feeling that we weren’t supposed to buy the logical choice-- we were supposed to get the 6th property, the little cabin. We were staying at my parents house during this process and i woke up in the middle of the night and went to chat with my night owl mom. She had me do a classic “pros” and “cons” list and it gave me such clarity that i DID want the second property-- even though it maybe didn’t make complete sense.
In the AM adam and i had a long talk about which of the houses was right for us. He had also liked the little cabin property so we called our realtor to re-tour the 2nd property. And for some reason it alllllll came together during this 2nd tour. This was our home. I could picture it. I really do believe in the house hunting process you will know when it is right. We wrote a letter to the owners explaining who we were with a polaroid of our little family-- after a few rounds of back and forth, it was final! We had it!
Fast forward through all the logistic chaos: quitting our jobs, getting new jobs, finding subleasers for our apartment in Rochester, our mortgage/house loan falling through…. Let’s just say in LESS THAN 4 WEEKS we quit our jobs, got married, went to bali and thailand for 2 weeks, packed + moved across the state, started new jobs, and moved into our new home. Just about every single major life event into one month. Yup. it was a WHIRLWIND.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: We painted. We got the keys the house and within 2 hours my whole family assembled to paint. The house was painted very dark colors (greys and greens) in some areas and yellow in others. We went with white to brighten things up! We painted every. single. room. in two days. (My family is soooo stinkin’ incredible and selfless when it comes to helping out with projects! Shoutout to the shelerud clan!) The next week we put in flooring to cover up the plywood. my dad and Adam did this whole project themselves. Altogether for paint and flooring we paid 1600 and it completely transformed the house! If you don’t have a big budget, invest in PAINT.
Next up was winterizing— AKA taking our place from a seasonal cabin to a year-round home. To do this, we had to find a way to insulate the house/water pipes. We reached out to just about every construction company in town put they kept falling through. The project was quoted to be about 10,000 buckaroos but definitely worth it as it would allow us to live there year round and if we ever wanted to sell it would transform it from a cabin to a year-round house, therefore we could sell it for more. We were prepared to pay the money, but every contractor kept falling through! They would commit to the project and then not show up! Ultimately it got towards the end of October/early November and we KNEW we had to get our house winterized— and fast. The lake was already freezing. Adam and my dad planned the whole project and did the whole dang thing for $1400. They did SUCH a phenomenal job and we ended up saving nearly 9000 dollars. It was quite stressful to get everything set before winter approached! All in all, what we did in that first month was paint, install flooring, and winterize— and this is what it took to make our house a home. other than that, we haven’t done much to our house since then. just updated with our decor and are slowly but surely making it into our perfect place! Without further adou, here is the recap of our house— if you see any particular item you love, i linked to specific decor items at the bottom! (pssst: sorrry for the quality of the “before” pictures— i had no idea that 2 years later i would be blogging these quick snapshots!)
a tour of the house—
before and after photos
MAIN WALKWAY: There is one fatal flaw to this house. We only have ONE closet in the whole space so I got super creative with storage. Our main closet area had no way to hang out coats to I wanted to find a unique way to do that— enter these fun woodsy hangers. Living in this house was my first taste of truly living with a minimalist viewpoint because we do not have much storage— therefore simplifying what you truly need is very easy. If we don’t have room for it— we don’t need it. Here is our main entry— I love how the white walls have brightened the space. (the first photo was from our very first day in the house! you can see all the painting mayhem in the back!)
GUEST BEDROOM: This is one room that we just have kind of neglected. After painting and flooring, we haven’t hung anything on the walls or done anything too major, but we do have some fun plans :) I found this gorgeous bed frame at a thrift shop. Right when we moved in my best friend Haley stayed with us for a month while she was doing a rotation for PA school— it was SUCH a gift to have her there while we transitioned into our home. Adam and I still call it “haley’s room” :)
THE MASTER BEDROOM TURNED LIVING ROOM: This room has been changed the most! The previous owners had this as their main bedroom— we did that for about a month, but decided to switch things up and make this a living room area! We decided to go with these day beds instead of couches so that we could push them together to make a guest bed when we have a lot of people staying with us! We loooove this room. This is our TV, yoga, work out room. (I have all my dumbbells and resistance bands hidden under the day bed and in a side table :)
THE AWKWARD SPACE UPSTAIRS TURNED READING NOOK: What do I call this room? A sitting room? A den? The awkward space upstairs? That feels right. As awkward as this room is, it is one of my favorite spaces in the house! I have always loved quirky rooms and would never want a house that is “cookie cutter” (classic type 7 wanting to be unique, haha). The previous owners weren’t doing much with this space, but I could instantly picture it as a cozy reading nook. We painted the wood white for a shiplap feel and somehow finagled our couch up the stairs. This room is super cozy and I feel like it defines our style: minimalist, woodsy, Scandinavian.
THE “WHAT SHOULD WE CALL THIS?” ROOM TURNED BEDROOM: When we moved in we had no idea what to do with this room. TV room? Reading area? Office? Workout room? eventually we landed on making it into our bedroom even though it doesn’t have a closet. The shape was just too cozy and unique to pass up! We again, painted over some of the wood (we were really clear that we wanted our home to feel like a HOUSE and not a CABIN, therefore we wanted to tone down some of the woodsy factors). I would say this is my favorite room in the house— bright, airy, relaxing, boho. It really is a sleep sanctuary! we got *another* record player for upstairs— we are obsessed with having vinyl on all day, every day! for everyone that always asks me where i got our bedspread, i linked it at the wayyyy bottom of this post! ENJOY :)
BATHROOM: our little bathroom! We did small changes in here, that mainly just centered around brightening it up since it’s a small space without windows. Painted it white, updated the drawer pulls and mirror. we have a few items to hang up in here (shelving, towel rod, etc.). We have a few more things to do in here, but this is what its’ state is at the time of this post! I looooove this wooden mirror— i wanted something unique but timeless that still had a “woodsy” feel. Found it!
KITCHEN: Nothing done here aside from paint! I have so. many. ideas. for how we could change this kitchen in the future, but for right now, it gets the job done! So many delicious meals and dinner parties have happened here and I am smiling just writing about this room. i’ll be real— i was NOT in the mood to put the drying dishes away or clean the cupboards when i took this “after” photo hahahahhaa sooooo just squint your eyes and pretend it is sparkling clean, ok? #reallife
MAIN SITTING AREA: Ahhhhh, our everything room. This is where we sip our coffee, relax after work, read, study, cuddle…. We are in this room constantly! We brightened it up with the white walls and then just moved our own decor in. No major renovations done really at all!
HOW WE DECORATED
here are the items that i purchased to make it HOME
SOOOOOO that’s a wrap on the transformation side— how we transformed our house with essential only paint + floors! just a few thousand dollars of investment and this little cabin turned into our HOUSE :) i get a lot of questions about decor, so i’ll try to do a lil round up here:
i thrift A LOT if not all of our home stuff/furniture. i loooove cruising around thrift shops and garage sales for a piece i love— especially furniture! our couches, rocking chair, guest bedroom bed frame, kitchen table….. ALL thrifted. way more affordable and you can find some unique pieces! but you gotta be patient, friend!
nearly every piece of wall art i have either made/printed myself or found on etsy! i loooove pursuing wall art and could spend all day doing it :)
there are a few pieces that i did invest in that i feel like MAKE. THE. SPACE. for me, it is alllllll about thrifting 85% of things and then INVESTING in the final 10-15% that can have a big impact: fun pieces, beautiful art, quality rugs, cozy bedding…. ya feel me? below are my must-have, game changing pieces (for a description of each piece and why i bought it scroll down below the images!)
these are a few of my favorite things
click on each image to shop!
below is a recap on why i love these^^ items so dang much:
our hammock swing! actually super affordable and SO quality. we sit in this sucker every day and it is still in beautiful shape! i got this to be a STATEMENT piece. it is the first thing you notice in our living room— not only is it noticeable, it is LIVABLE. it is the place that soooo many of my girlfriends curl up in during wine nights and where I will read/study. it is impactful AND practical. love love love.
holy moly i can’t recommend our day beds any more highly. AMAZING. i bought one when i had first gotten my big girl job— i loved that it was easy to move if needed (new college graduate that was still moving around yearly and did NOT want to move a couch every time so i got this! soooo timeless yet trendy.) we were so impressed with my first one that we got another one so we could make a sectional-like shape :) we use them as a couch and then we company comes, we push them together to have a large bed-like sleeping arrangement. the wood is GORG and assembly was super easy. one of the pieces we get most compliments on! love it! highly highly recommend! get it here: day bed structure / cushions
beautiful bedding: i love anthropologie blankets and pillows. i am a firm believer that quality bedding and pillows can elevate a space— they are a final detail that ties everything else together. i particularly love anthro’s because they are SO textured and unique and truly make the space. i always get them when they’re on sale! they are actually WORTH the price if you can swing it— so soft + beautiful texture to add a unique flair to your space.
our comforter— i get asked for a link to this at least 5 times per week! here’s a link to it. FYI: they no longer have the cream color in stock so here’s a cream colored one that’s similar! we bought this when we first moved in together — 2 years with it and it is holding up PERFECTLY :)
RUGS. i fricken love rugs and think they set the foundation of a room. boho? traditional? modern? a rug is what sets that tone. here’s where i get all of mine— superrrr well priced and the quality has held up in our 2+ years here!
our coat hangers/unique hooks in the entryway! this is probably the decor in the house i get most complimented on. i love that they are right by our front door, but also think they’d be so cute in a bathroom for towels :) they discontinued most of the ones i got, but here are the current options!
our bathroom mirror— the circular wood one :) i was looking for a mirror that was bold but timeless— GOT IT.
also, would i even be kate without rambling about how you NEED A RECORD PLAYER?!?!? hahahaha. i honestly don’t know how we ever lived without our vinyl— this is our cookin-dinner, relaxin, studying, date night sound track. couldn’t recommend more! here’s where adam got ours— tons of choices!
Mmmm, this post is making me so reflective on how much this little place has become home. it is quirky, bright, and soooo relaxing! everything i’ve ever wanted in a HOME. last night, we ate our dinner out on the dock on the lake— we are so stinkin’ lucky and i hope this little behind the scenes was fun for you! let me know what you thought in the comments below— to be honest, coming up with “home” content is the hardest for me, so let me know any questions/topics you’d want me to cover in the future!