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Say Hello to the 2017 Curbly House

by on Jul 17, 2017

Y’know, it’s weird. For the better part of a decade, Alicia and I have made a living by (I hope) making spaces beautiful. But we’ve never really embraced that as our job. We’ve always viewed as “we run a blog, and we get to do room makeovers sometimes, too.” This year, we’re embarking on a totally different project: a complete home remodel of a property that we don’t plan on living in.

See, earlier this year I got to thinking, there are only so many spaces in our own home that we can work on. Why not put out skills and experience to work on a property someone else will own, and turn a profit in the process? 

You can call it house-flipping, if you want, but that word has some negative connotations. I prefer to think of his as problem solving. Let’s find a house that has some problems, and use our creativity to solve them, adding value for the next family that occupies the space.

So I’m super excited to officially announce The 2017 Curbly House. We’ve found a property to purchase, and we’re going to pour some love (and lots of design and DIY problem solving) into it, before we turn around and sell it later this year. You’re going to be hearing a lot more of it in the weeks and months to come, because for this one, we’re going to need your help!

You see, we’re buying an old house in need of repairs, and applying all our home improvement know-how to make it sparkle. Along the way, we’re going to ask Curbly readers to help decide how we do it: what repairs to make, where to put the cabinets … and of course, which paint colors and flooring to choose.

When we’re done, we’ll stage, style, list and sell the home, with all the goodies inside of it! That means the buyer will be able to move into a fully furnished and lovingly styled home, right off the bat.

So, what’s the plan?

To start off, you have to understand the real estate market here in Minneapolis/St. Paul. The Twin Cities is a great place to live, and has a pretty low cost of living relative to the quality of life. And while the housing market is really hot here, there are still good starter homes to be had in neighborhoods all over the cities.

We spent all spring hunting for just the right property, and although it took a little longer than we expected, we’re all set to close at the end of this month:

A little overboard with the hostas.


Upstairs bedrooms

Window architectural detail


 Living room fireplace detail


So why did we think this house was a good candidate? To start with, it’s in a great neighborhood, with great public schools. Secondly, it has four bedrooms (all on one level) and two bathrooms, something that’s not as common as you’d think in old houses in the inner city core. And last, it had a few problems that we think we can solve – that’s where we add value and make the house more appealing to buyers who aren’t interested in a fixer-upper themselves.

Your doing this all by yourself?
Nope! My friend, and real estate agent, Jon Peterson, will be partnering with us on this project. He’ll handle most of the day-to-day renovation management, and he’ll also be chiming in with some blog posts about the financials behind a home renovation project like this. 

What’s wrong with it?

Nothing! We love this house! Obviously I’m hesitant to say anything bad about a property we’re going to try to sell later this year. But, in the spirit of transparency: the kitchen, and the accessing the house (literally, getting from the outside in) are hurtles we’re all set to tackle.

Here’s the kitchen. It’s essentially trio of appliances stuffed into a closet. "Kitchen with glass window."

Renovated kitchen in an apartment.

If that looks like a photo of one corner of the kitchen, it’s not. It’s the whole kitchen. It is muy pequeña

Obviously, having such a tiny, cramped kitchen is going to be a drawback for any family looking to move into a 4-BR house, so we need to address that issue. And we’ll do it by knocking out a wall and creatively reclaiming some non-functional space from the rest of the living area downstairs. In the process, we’ll open up the first floor  and make it feel much more connected. 

The access. What does that even mean? Well, as you saw in the street-level photo, the house sits atop a hill, which means it has great views of downtown Minneapolis, but it also means that carrying your groceries up the steps in the middle of winter might be a little … annoying. And that would be fine if there were a way to park behind the house and come in the back door, like a normal house, except:

External look of a house surrounded by trees and meadow.

That’s the back yard. Notice a garage? How about a sidewalk? How about anywhere to put your car? No. It has none of those things. 

So there’s only one way into this house right now, and it’s up those front steps. And we think that’s a non-starter for a lot of families. I know carrying strollers and groceries up a hill is good for your health, but I wouldn’t want to do it on a below-zero January day in Minnesota. 

So! We’re going to fix that, too. We’ll add parking in the rear of the house, as well as a walkway to the back door. Depending on budget, we’ll throw a garage in too … but right now it’s looking like that’s a decision will be left to the next owner.

What else are we going to do?

Obviously, we need to do a ton of landscaping. It seems like the previous owners were gardeners, and really didn’t want to mow a lawn, but the lilies and hostas are just too overgrown. We’ll cut the overgrowth back a lot, add some functional lawn space (somewhere for kids to play), and fix some grading issues around the house.

Inside, apart from the kitchen? The two bathrooms are in good shape, and just need some cosmetic improvements. There’s a partially-finished basement rec room that we’ll polish up, adding some nice square footage down there. And we’ll re-paint throughout the interior to make all the beautiful white trim really pop:


An empty white room with three windows and a wooden floor.

An empty room has blue walls, a hardwood floor and a white brick fireplace.
Note: This is not a paint color we’re considering, but we wanted to give you a sense of how the trim and fireplace will pop with a different color on the wall. 


When looking at properties, I’m really tuned into my gut feelings. Does the house feel spacious? Was is originally built with a common-sense plan, a reasonable layout, or is it all chopped up and wacky inside? Does it have character? Trimwork, mouldings, hardware, architectural details. These aren’t always easy to find, but they’re important because adding that stuff in is really expensive. I think the 2017 Curbly House checks off all those boxes.

This is really happening?

Yup. (Don’t worry, I ask myself the same thing). Actually, at least half of the work in a project like this goes into locating the property and securing financing. Jon will be back next week to talk about that process, but I’m excited to say we’re through that phase and moving on to the fun stuff.

And since we’ve had the good fortune to develop great relationships with a lot of home improvement and design brands over the years, we’re excited to bring some of them into the mix as well. Stay tuned for more on that, but rest assured, I think the finished house is going to be filled with really great stuff and look amazing.

Know someone who’ll be looking for a four-bedroom home in St. Paul (St. Anthony Park, specifically) later this year? I think we’re going to have a really nice one for them, and can’t wait to welcome a new family into the neighborhood. Spread the word!


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  1. The best thing about too many hostas is they are a breeze to transplant and to share with friends & neighbors. Could score you some good will with the neighborhood.

  2. Omg what a cute house!! So much potential..can’t wait to see how you do this!!

  3. @becka – no kidding! We’ve already had a few requests for hostas! I have never met a hosta I could kill. They’re amazingly resilient. We transplanted a few at our house last year, and we were super lazy, so I practically just set them on the ground in their new spots, and … they’re fine.

  4. Oh my gosh – I love, love this home. I know you are going to pour your love with blood, sweat and tears, but it will bring you great joy.
    I wish I could pick up and move to the Twin Cities, but my family is here, so someone else will have to be the lucky buyer of this home.
    I am looking forward to the upgrades and changes.

  5. Thanks Lynn! That’s so nice to hear! We definitely will be working hard to make this a really special space for the next owner, so hopefully you can help us spread the word!

  6. What a great way to share the whole experience with everyone and showcase your talents and know-how! Look forward to seeing this project unfold Bruno and Jon!