Journey of an Architect is a blog started by Tim Ung to share his architecture and design ideas through speculative projects. His posts focus on his design process, thoughts, struggles, and successes throughout his journey.

Architalks - A House is not a home

Architalks - A House is not a home

When I purchased my house about two years ago, I remember the constant search for a place full of opportunities. To help my search, I developed a mental list of several factors that would influence my decision to purchase a house; first, the house had to be located in a growing neighborhood and second, the house had to be in relatively decent shape so that I could learn some construction skills through renovations.

After a few months of searching, I found the perfect house in a fast growing neighborhood of Buffalo, NY, listed at a fair price, and containing a majority of my list of characteristics. Once the negotiations were over, I purchased the house, unlocked my house, walked inside, and realized that I had a lot of work to do before I could call this place… home.

Getting rid of the old

As soon as I entered the living/dining room space, I immediately noticed the smell of cigarettes and remembered that everyone in the family (except for the baby) were smokers. However, when I visited the house, they masked the scent with air fresheners and I was so excited that I totally missed this issue.

Anyhow, I bring up the cigarette smell because I took my time analyzing every detail of the space and noticed that all of the surfaces had a slight yellow/orange tint. Yes – this was from all of the indoor smoking and years of accumulation on the surfaces. So I quickly came up with a plan to clean and refinish a majority of the house.

After opening all of the windows, I came up with a quick plan of action for my first house flip ever! Keep in mind that I was born and raised in an apartment in New York City, so the only experience I’ve had with tools are from my time in architecture school. To keep this post as brief as I could, I’ll go over the two largest spaces that were renovated in the house.

Living/dining room renovation

In the living/dining room space, I decided to rip out the old carpet, throw away the fabric window blinds, remove the textured ceiling, close off the door by the window in the living room, throw away the old ceiling fan, and re-stain the old wood floors.

Existing condition in the living/dining space

So the first step was to carefully remove the old carpet and hopefully reveal hardwood floors in good condition. I carefully removed a small area of carpet at the corner of the room and saw that the original wood floors were in good condition. So I quickly peeled the rest away, rolled it up, and tied it up for the garbage truck.

Living/dining space - wood floors under carpet

Then, it was time to take on the nicotine coated textured ceiling. As an inexperienced carpenter, I was cautious with scraping off the textured ceiling in case it was painted with lead paint or contained asbestos. So as a safe architect, I geared up in my bunny suit!

Living/dining space - textured ceiling

Wearing my bunny suit to remove the textured ceiling

With the carpet gone, tack strips out, staples pulled, textured ceiling scraped off, awkward closet door removed, and old ceiling fan in my donation bin to my local habitat for humanity, it was time to fix some areas of the wood floor. After pulling out the carpet, there was an area infilled with a plywood panel that shows where the old wall for the previous bedroom was located. To match the adjacent hardwood floor, I pulled out the plywood panel, pulled some engineered wood floors out of the bedroom closet, and filled in the missing area of the living room floor.

Replacing some of the wood floors

Infilled wood floors

Then, I cut some 2x4’s to frame the area where the old closet door was located and covered it with drywall. I’ve never worked with drywall before so you bet this was quite the experience!

Framing and drywall at closet in the living room

Now, it was time for the fun part… priming and painting the entire room! I went with a primer that had very good reviews for coating over and sealing surfaces that were subject to lots of indoor smoking. So down went the plastic tarp, and on went three layers of white primer followed by a beautiful grey/blue paint on the walls and white paint on the window trim!

Prepping and priming the walls

Painting the walls

Once the paint was on the walls, I had a discussion with a good friend of mine who helped me paint the window trim and decided I should sand and stain the wood floor. Although it’s a little difficult to see in the photographs, the floor was discolored and scratched in a lot of areas. Ideally, I should’ve sanded the floors before painting the rooms, but off I went to sand the floors!

Sanding the floors

After the floors were wiped down with some damp towels, I decided to go with a darker stain and experimented with mixing 50/50 of two different stain colors. I opened all of the windows, stained the floors, went to my apartment to sleep, woke up, and added layers of polyurethane.

Sealing the floors with polyurethane

And of course, here's the before and after!

Attic conversion to a studio

Upstairs, the existing attic was used as a bedroom with a walk-in closet to the right of the staircase and a secondary room where the stair is located. I decided to completely open this space up and build a half-height wall in place of the guardrail. In the following pictures, you’ll see that they made the bedroom using thin MDF boards. Since I was so excited to begin my renovations, I immediately smashed a hole in the wall to see what was behind!

For the renovation of this space, I decided to throw out the carpet, remove all of the MDF boards in the bedroom, remove the tile ceiling, remove the old ceiling fan, and cut a portion of the wall to make it a half height wall. So off I went to carefully remove the wall panel, door, and a part of the wall that bisects the attic.

Removing wall panels and door

Then, it was time to pull out the old carpet, cut the wall in half, and throw out all of the trash that began accumulating in the attic. You can see how much brighter the space has become with that simple change. You can also see my simple set of tools that I used for most of the renovation. I was definitely working on a very tight budget.

Once the other part of the half height wall was framed and anchored to the floor joists, I called over some friends to help me bring drywall to the attic (which I’ll get delivered on future projects…) and another group of friends to help me hold the drywall in place while I anchored them to the studs. When they were all in place, I looked up tutorials on mudding drywall and attempted it the next morning!

The next day, I looked over my work and was impressed at how it all came out – except for the area where two pieces of drywall were off by about half an inch. Anyhow, it was time to sand the drywall, prime, and paint!

With the walls painted, the room finally started nearing completion and I was excited to see this much progress! The natural light entering the space and reflecting off of the new color of the painted walls was filling the attic space. The only thing left to do was to paint the floor boards a dark brown to match the living/dining room space.

So off I went to clean up my mess, get all of the mud and dust off of the floor boards, and start painting! Once the dark brown paint dried, I cut and installed wood bases and a wood sill on the new half-height wall. I painted them white, capped off the outlets, and the studio space was complete!

And of course, here's the before and after!

Bonus renovation

To complete the home renovation project, I pulled the old carpet off of the stairs, painted the runners the same dark brown as the attic floors and painted the risers white. That visually tied the first floor finishes to the attic and made the house feel like a whole.

Making the house a home

Finally, it was time to move my things in and with the help of my girlfriend, who I met after the house was renovated, we slowly organized the house with our belongings. As she moved in, we began filling the house with furniture, pictures, books, and other personal belongings. Memories began to fill the house and we started creating more memories of our own.

A house is a type of architecture waiting to be filled with the presence of its inhabitants. This combination of a house and the people who live within its walls are what make it a home.

I hope you enjoyed this quick overview of my home renovation from the past! Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!

ArchiTalks #24

This post is part of the ArchiTalks blog series hosted by Architect Bob Borson owner of the blog, Life of an Architect  where a topic is chosen for fellow bloggers to interpret and write about. This month's topic was "House or Home?". Check out some of the other posts from this series by clicking on their title below!

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson)

Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
ArchiTalks: House or Home?

Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
House or Home? The Answer to Everything

Mark R. LePage - EntreArchitect (@EntreArchitect)
Emotional Marketing for Architects: House or Home?

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
House or Home? It's in the story.

Collier Ward - One More Story (@BuildingContent)
House or Home? A Choice of Terms

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
house or home: #architalks

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
House or Home -- Discover the Difference

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
"house" or "home"?

Meghana Joshi - IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Architalks #24 : House or Home

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
House or Home? - Depends

Michael LaValley - Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
House or Home? Train for One, Design for Another

Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept)
A Rose by Any Other Name...

Greg Croft - Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)
House or Home

Jeffrey Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Designing a House into a Home

Kyu Young Kim - J&K Atelier (@sokokyu)
Making a House a Home

Nisha Kandiah - ArchiDragon (@ArchiDragon)
Dwelling on a Macro scale

Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
House or Home: One's a Place, the Other a Feeling.

Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
#ArchiTalks #24 House or Home? #RefugeeCrisis @GrainneHassett mentioned

Next Project - Affordable Housing in Hong Kong

Next Project - Affordable Housing in Hong Kong

Why Working with Multiple Generations Matter

Why Working with Multiple Generations Matter