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My husband and I purchased our northside Chicago home during the fall of 2021, and our house updates began about 30 seconds after we signed our closing documents. After vacating my own condo a month prior and splitting those grueling four weeks between my partner’s apartment and my parents’ house two hours away, I was more than ready to get our starter home up and running. While there are certainly some things I wish we had done differently, my husband and I were strategic about our upgrades.
Though we definitely plan to be in this home for a few more years (a fact punctuated by my many delirious assertions that “I am never moving AGAIN” and “Drag my cold, dead body out of this house, my eternal crypt” during our unpacking phase), this just isn’t our forever home. We plan to have children eventually, and inevitably those kiddos will price us out of the Chicago metro area (bummer!). More importantly, I want to add two to three additional corgis to our current brood of one corgi, and those little worms need ample space to wiggle.
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It was challenging to commit to renovations knowing that while this isn’t our forever home, we’re going to be staying in our starter home for the foreseeable future. After all, home upgrades are rarely cheap unless you’re extremely handy and honey, we’re not. Thankfully, with the help of professionals, we were able to make some headway. These are the three upgrades we chose for our “for now home” to make the most of our time here without spending “forever home” funds.
Aesthetic Bathroom Upgrades
For the first time in our lives, my husband and I both work from home, which means we’re spending more time in our own bathrooms than we ever have before (what a statistic!). My feelings about creating a comforting bathroom are documented to a painfully embarrassing degree, so it’s no wonder that upgrading our three dated bathrooms was at the top of my list.
For our main floor and downstairs bathrooms, which are used most frequently by guests, we replaced the flooring, the tile surrounding the shower, the sinks, and the light fixtures, giving priority to increasing storage and space, given the modest square footage of these rooms. When embarking on these initial renovations, I was far less concerned with added resale value than I was with the sheer enjoyment of these high-traffic spaces. Now, instead of featuring the same neutral tones (these bathrooms were nearly identical down to the fixtures, making them difficult to distinguish even on the home’s Zillow listing), we have pops of color and patterns that are true to my husband’s and my aesthetic.
For our primary bathroom, the renovation price we were quoted was, understandably, astronomical. As eager as I was to take a sledgehammer to our ’90s whirpool tub, we focused instead on replacing our lighting and bathroom fixtures for a reasonable update. For an added pop of interest, my husband and I added a temporary upgrade of DIY peel-and-stick wallpaper which was a disaster to apply but looks fabulous from across the room (and deeply flawed up close). It’s okay, it’s not forever, and this room is rarely seen by guests!
Keeping our fully functional bathtubs, showerheads, and toilets saved us unnecessary costs and let us prioritize design for the sake of our own joy. Is that the wisest financial investment? Honestly, I don’t know, and I’m guessing my dad, Apartment Therapy superfan Stewart Magnuson, is reading this and thinking, “No, it isn’t, sweet dumb child.” But these rooms definitely make a strong statement now, which will make the next few years here much happier.
Carpet Replacement and Vinyl Flooring Installation
My husband’s must-have for our home was a finished basement. We were able to snag a duplex down condo, which sparked my “Retro Midwestern Grandma” dreams — that’s the only way I describe our basement’s vibe. Upon move-in, our stairwell and lower level were fully carpeted with a gray-ish beige (greige?) carpet that stood no chance against our puppy, nor the basement bar we installed. Plus, anyone growing up in the Chicago area knows that basements just love to flood. They absolutely love it.
To spare my household countless stains from tracked mud, puppy accidents, weather incidents, and spilled cocktails, we invested in vinyl plank flooring and this was easily our best move. The entire look of our lower level is elevated and is, unlike our bathrooms (which feature black paint and buffalo plaid tile), extremely versatile. Our home’s next owners will be delighted by this floor, whereas some of our other more personal touches will probably lead them to wonder what oddballs live in this home (me, an aspiring Midwestern grandma).
Which brings me to the stairwell carpet. I knew as soon as I spotted the tartan wool plaid sample that this was the choice for us. Our stairwell is now just straight-up plaid, with a couple of basement area rugs to match.
Switching Out Light Fixtures
One huge disappointment about our home upon move-in was that our sellers took basically every light fixture with them. This was massively annoying for the first couple of months, as we had minimal lighting (and some of our streaky painted walls remain as proof). Now, I have a twisted respect for those sellers, and you better believe when we sell this place, my fixtures are coming with me. I will pack up our Sazerac Stitches sconces before I buckle my own children into the darn moving van. My sconces are, and always will be, my firstborn.
By necessity, we purchased almost one dozen light fixtures and had them professionally installed. Initially I was shocked (not electrically, thankfully) by how quickly and effectively a striking fixture can tie a room together. Now, everywhere I go, I’m peeping the statement lights.
As my husband and I keep evolving within our starter home, I’m sure we’ll question some of our choices (black paint! Buffalo plaid tile!) or discover new woulda coulda shouldas. And that’s okay! I’ll add them to our growing list of must-haves for our future home, right next to a walk-in pantry, a Costco door, and a sprawling garden.