Introducing The Curbly House: Our Family's Dream Home Makeover [VIDEO]

The Curbly House introduction

We walked into the house at 4:30 p.m. on a cold, dark December afternoon. 

The real estate agent fiddled with the lock box for a moment, then cracked open the front door. We kicked off our shoes and stepped in. The floors were cold like a skating rink. We left our overcoats on. The place smelled empty.

“One sec,” the agent said. “Let me get the lights.”

Click. Nothing. Click. Footsteps. A different switch. Click. Nothing. A pause. More footsteps. “Maybe it’s this one.” Nothing.

And so began our first experience with the house that was to become our new home. No heat. No lights. 

The funny thing is, we weren’t even looking for a house. We were getting along just fine in our three-bedroom, one-bath; the one we’ve put so much work into fixing up over the last 10 years. But Alicia is pregnant (expecting in July), and we were thinking about trading up to larger house with more space for our growing family. Plus, for a while it had become a bit of a hobby to keep an eye on the neighborhood listings.

Our new house had caught my eye several times before (on our frequent neighborhood walks, houses are a common conversation topic). With a bright red door and an unusual curved front roof, I remember saying — years ago — that it could be great if someone would take the time to make it so.

And it had been on the market for months! Everyone who walked through it had hated it. It was a dump. Trashed. 

Updated: Not so! My awesome realtor (she dual represented me and the buyer) called me up to correct me on this point. She said LOTS of people had shown interest in the house, requested second showings, etc. But no one could get past all the problems/work that would be needed to make the house shine. So, it's not fair to say everyone thought it was trashed. 

But finally, in December, on impulse, I called up the listing agent and asked if we could check it out. Alicia humored me, no doubt taking note of the inconvenience in her little book of “Things Bruno Owes Me For.”

Despite the cold floors and the near-darkness (we actually used cell phone lights until we finally found the one fixture that worked) and the obvious years of neglect, I noticed my heart beating fast, as though I’d just jogged around the block. So when I had that feeling in my chest, I knew we were on to something. 

All signs pointed to no; it was too much work. It had no garage. The electrical system was flawed (to say the least). The furnace was shot. It smelled of cat, and old people, and possibly mice. How could we handle a total house remodel, a toddler, and a new baby all at once?

Ceiling tiles

Window sash

We left the house and drove the few blocks home without saying much. I looked at my wife and said, “So, what do you think?”

“I like it,” she said.

My heart thumped again. All married people eventually realize there are occasional moments of magic that impress on you how much you love your partner. This was one of them.

“Me too,” I said, grateful I’d chosen to marry someone who’s always up for a big adventure and sees the potential in things, even when most people don’t.

Two months, and hundreds of details later, we had the keys in hand. It was February then; an unseasonably warm, bright afternoon. We walked over to the house and let ourselves in. No need for lights this time; the place was filled with beautiful, long, afternoon sunshine.

Sunny room

Sunny fireplace

Now you could see the elegant beamed ceilings, the matching original hardware on every door, the sharp, straight, untouched woodwork throughout the house.


Light fixture

 We let Ayla go explore the upstairs, listening to her little exclamations and discoveries from the bottom of the stairwell. 

And right then, we knew we had made the right choice. We’re in for a world of work, but that doesn’t bother us. 

Because in houses, as in life, there are times when the lights won’t turn on, and things don’t look that great. But you have to stop, take a minute, and imagine what they’ll look like when they do.

Because they will.

This is the very first post in the Curbly House series! Follow along as we document every step of our complete home makeover, from gutting the walls to putting up the finishing touches. And don't forget to let us know what you think in the comments! 

This post originally published at HouseLogic.com

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Susan Purdy on Jun 12, 2012:

SO excited to follow your progress! My husband and I have recently joined the search for a fixer (just put in a bid on a house built in 1914!). My husband is a general contractor, so there are very few "unpleasant fixes" we're not willing to deal with if the location and bones of the house are good. But we're also working on starting a family, so I'd love to hear more about your experience dealing with the emotional challenges of being pregnant and in a house with unusable spaces during the remodel. (Did I mention the house we're bidding on only has one full bathroom located downstairs, at least 30 steps from the master bedroom?!)

DesigningMom on Jun 01, 2012:

That's not fair Bruno. If you paint and I look it'll hurt me through and through. I may never recover. :^{

bruno on May 31, 2012:

@DesigningMom - you're not the first to say that! All I can say is, you'll have to wait and see!

@Jen - sounds cool. Please post some pics when you can!

Jen on May 31, 2012:

Excited to follow your progress. We have been working on a house we bought in Novemeber that was origionally built in 1895.  


Michelle Glauser on May 30, 2012:

Cool! I long for the day when I can make a place my own.

DesigningMom on May 29, 2012:

Oh be still my heart! Look at all that amazing woodwork! Too bad they painted over some of it in the bedrooms though.

Please tell me now if you'll keep the wood as is, other than needed repairs ofcourse, or will paint it. If you paint it I'll not watch. If you restore it I'll be a super big fan.

Eika on May 28, 2012:

Can't wait to watch this! When we bought our house there was a bathroom with the same thing - a floor a few inches above the surrounding floors. Turns out previous owner had rehabbed it and put plumbing under the floor. Not sure if that's what you found. In any case, I would have loved to level it, but at that point it was a few thousand we didn't have, so we kept it!

Ellen on May 28, 2012:

Ha! thanks. And "old" isn't the same as "old people."  Old is mold, mildew, dust, etc. There's a big difference. At least I hope so.

To make you feel a little better, when my son smelled mothballs for the first time, he said, "Mom! That's just like Grandma's perfume." And that "perfume" came from the closet where she stored their coats and winter clothes. 

bruno on May 28, 2012:

@ellen - fair point. I guess I shouldn't generalize. But you know, it smelled ... old.

Ellen on May 28, 2012:

Everyone knows that old people rank right up there with cats and mice, but what DO they smell like?

Andrea on May 28, 2012:

I am so excited to see what you do! I love all of the woodwork, so much potential there!

Brooke on May 28, 2012:

It looks fantastic! So much potential there. I love it when people are willing to take risk on an adventure. Looking forward to the rest of the house series!

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