You love browsing remodeling ideas on Pinterest, but you also live in the real world. So how do you figure out what project will ultimately be worth the cost and effort? It’s not a whole lot different than choosing a life partner — will you still love them once the passion’s worn off? Will you still love your remodel after you’ve had to clean and maintain it year after year?
These three homeowners are still in love with projects they finished years ago. We give you permission to steal their strategies.
1. Expanding Living Space — Outside
Florida’s called the Sunshine State for a reason, but what’s the point of all that vitamin D without a proper spot to enjoy it? When Jane Watkins purchased her Miami home 13 years ago, it offered a pool and plenty of yardage — but little outdoor living space.
Watkins is no stranger to DIY projects, so she decided to build an outdoor space herself. Armed with hammers, nails, and a few good friends, she framed and built a simple, low-to-the-ground deck.
The spacious outdoor room bridged the gap between the wild outdoors of her tropical backyard and livable space with cutouts for existing trees, providing enough square footage for a full set of patio furniture — and lots of play space for the kids.
With the decking installed, stained, and sealed, Watkins’ family became masters of outdoor entertainment. They release ladybugs, paint artwork, and, of course, host parties, including an outdoor Thanksgiving dinner, a Kentucky Derby party, and an epic birthday celebration, complete with a cardboard castle.
And it’s not just good for grand gestures and major events. It’s the “preferred sitting spot” for supervising swimming kids, Watkins says. “I sip my coffee out there, check out the yard, and hang.”
Lasting Love Lesson #1: Take on a project that physically expands the livable area of your home, even if it doesn’t require walls or a ceiling.
2. Creating a Family Fun Hub
Georgia Harris and her husband Tim purchased their Los Gatos, Calif., home for its view of the Santa Clara Valley — definitely not for its design. “It looked like a brown, tiny little house, like the ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ It was very basic,” says Harris.
The unassuming home became a blank canvas for the family’s dreams. Their biggest renovation success: turning the downstairs into an all-in-one entertainment center to complement their brand new pool.
The previous owner had abandoned a basement remodeling project, leaving the lower level in dire straits.
Adding an enormous bonus room downstairs provided room for games and hanging out — a much-needed addition with two growing kids — and a 400-bottle wine cellar provides plenty of entertainment for the adults. The renovated basement helps the family stay in shape, too. An exercise room and direct pool access mean a well-rounded workout is only a flight of stairs away.
They even added an arched hallway to highlight that amazing view. “You can look from one end to another and see out the back,” Harris says. “We made everything really open.”
With one big project 11 years ago, the new Harris home went from an OK house with a great view to a house that’s as fun as it is functional.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever gone through a renovation like this,” Harris says. “I’ve done small projects, like bathrooms, but because we were involved in picking out everything, it feels like we built our dream home.”
Lasting Love Lesson #2: Give underused space a function that addresses the needs of everyone in the family.
3. Upgrading Entertainment Capacity
When both halves of a couple come from enormous families, finding room for everyone at Thanksgiving can be quite the challenge. For Cindy Carey, she met the challenge with a remodel that combined her kitchen, dining, and living room into one ginormous great room — long before the Property Brothers made open floor plans de rigueur. (See the photo at the top of this article.)
And more than 20 years later, she’s still in love.
“I love the big open room,” she says. “Everyone loves it. We’re able to entertain a lot of people.”
Carey often plays host for the holidays, and keeping the dining room as-is would have meant stuffing 26 people into one small room — or assigning everyone to different tables in separate rooms. Now, they’ve got elbow room to spare.
“Everyone may not be seated in a straight row, but we can all sit down and eat dinner,” Carey says.
A consummate entertainer, Carey regularly hosts employee holiday parties for her construction company. For this year’s party, she fit about 40 guests and a strolling magician into the room, no squishing required.
Carey says visitors are often astounded by the room’s size, considering its location — a tract home in the Bay Area.
“People don’t know how big it is until we get inside,” Carey says. “We get a lot of people that never knew this room could be back here.”
Lasting Love Lesson #3: What’s your lifestyle? Pick a project that enhances it.