Tips for decorating the cheap and architecturally lacking house?

cathleen_ni_houlihanJanuary 31, 2013

I am looking for a house in the country. What I have found is that many properties with the desired acreage are encumbered with dreary houses. They are small ranches with or without walkout basements, built on the cheap in the last 5-20 years. Low ceilings, no millwork, boxlike rooms, small and ugly windows. (The windows are the worst.) Only the very nicest have a fireplace. Am I painting a picture?

I love vintage and have never lived in a house less than 80 years old. I wonder if these houses are hopeless for me. Is there a way to turn these unattractive dwellings into cozy homes? Does anyone know of tricks that can add charm to houses with no architectural appeal?

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I wish I could remember the name of a blog I read a few years ago where a lady transformed a house similar to what you're describing into something beautiful.

Paint, flooring, the right furniture, and textiles were the trick.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 6:25AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

I don't know if they are still available, but on the 2nd to last season of Christopher Lowell...I believe it was still called Interior Motives...he took a plain, boring double-wide and turned it into a real show house, room by room. I mean over the top.

He did a lot of it with trim moldings and colors and finishes and rich fabrics and lighting. He also did a lot with built-ins to make use of the smaller spaces.

So, yes, it can be done...

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 7:27AM
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Chemocurl zn5b/6a Indiana

What I have found is that many properties with the desired acreage are encumbered with dreary houses.

Although I don't have plans to relocate anytime very soon, I have started to look at what is out there. Like you, acreage is what is important to me and really the most important thing. Secondly is that it not be too far from town and have a 'rather' private setting, in a quiet not on a busy highway. Don't want much, do I?

I've pretty well decided that whatever property I find, that I'll just have to either do a lot of remodeling to make it 'me', or else just tear something down and have a house built on the acreage in the right location.

You might also try posting at the link below.

Do you have a realtor looking for the 'right' property for you with acreage?

Here is a link that might be useful: Remodeling Forum

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 7:53AM
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Check out Sarah Susanka's "Not so Big" books and website. Lot of good info on design for houses that are not so big.

Here is a link that might be useful: Sarah Susanka

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 8:07AM
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Do you have a "feeling" or "gut idea" of what you want, or have you actually seen what you want?

I suggest combing open houses in similar square footages in your area to try and come up with some concrete, executable ideas for the type of home you are likely to be in. Both in scale, floor plan, ceiling height, and style.

We may move in a few years and the area we will likely go to has 30-40 year old homes. But we have some friends who just moved into a new build in a home about the same square footage. This has made it easy to see how hardwood floors, a new kitchen, and better lighting can update something with outdated decor, and also helped establish a realistic budget of these upgrades to help in the decision.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 8:11AM
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Windows would be a hard thing unless you are willing to put in new ones. However, you can "fool the eye" to some extent. You can also add molding. I've noticed alot of bloggers jumping on the board and batten band wagon. Same thing with bead board - could be added. I think windows (lack of light) will be the hardest.


    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 8:19AM
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Great question. To me the biggest obstacle would be the windows-- numbers and sizes. Reframing or adding windows is a big deal. There are tricks you can do with shutters and curtains to make them look bigger, but it is a bummer in terms of light. I don't think the low ceilings are as much of a problem-- think cozy, right? If the money's there, I'd be thinking adding taller baseboards, nice floors, fresh paint. I would want to use natural materials to counteract the fake that is in so much abundance in houses of that era. You could add built ins, windowseats, bookcases. So if you find acreage you love, and look for decent space layout and windows (the hard part), much can be done about the other stuff. Good luck, I may in that position in a few years, as I have always wanted to live in the country!

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 8:41AM
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Why not buy some acreage and build your own house? I am not familiar with where you are seeing ranch houses being built in the last 5 years...but if there is indeed a trend toward that in your part of the country, then just buy land and build what you want, isn't that the reason for locating out of the city and burbs, in order to do and have what you want without being encumbered by rules and covenants?

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 8:53AM
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Yes-- when a house lacks detail, be vigilant in making sure your furnishings do. As others said, it's possible to hide the fact that windows do not. Changing details in things like doors and doorknobs makes a big difference too. You can add layers, such as by adding historical wallpaper.Hardwoods and gorgeous rugs make a big impact.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 8:54AM
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We've added windows where there were none before. And we've replaced small windows with larger ones. It transformed our boxy, confined house into something we actually enjoy living in: more light in winter, a connection to the outdoors (the window views are the best thing about our house), less feeling of confinement. Replacing windows isn't the cheapest of decorating tricks, but if you choose to enlarge a few or even add one new window for cross lighting or to open up a confined space, it's doable and worth every penny. IMO, it can make all the difference in the world.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 9:05AM
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There are so many good ideas here! Still, part of my problem is that I have never seen this kind of project done, so I have a hard time envisioning it. These houses never make the magazines! I would love to see a blog, or Christopher Lowell's double wide. Unfortunately, I could not find Interior Motives online. He does have a small spaces book that features "two modular homes". It might be worth buying.

Tearing down or building from scratch would be budget busting, but some remodeling could be done. I can see how hardwood, built-ins, board and batten, bookcases, window seats, etc. could make a big difference.

The windows are really the sticking point. awm, what kind of a project is replacing a small window with a large one? Does the contractor just cut a bigger hole in the wall and put in a window? Are there structural obstacles? Do you have to re-side the house afterwards?

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 12:49PM
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I think that there are houses that can be rescued, and others that require such major surgery that they aren't worth the effort.

If I were you, I'd start by studying the basics of line, proportion, and circulation. Look carefully at the placement of windows and doors, and think about how you want to live in your country house. Some rooms are terribly hard to furnish because of where the traffic flow has to go. And some will always be dreary because the windows don't let in enough daylight, or the placement of the house keeps them in shadow most of the time.

Learn to recognize decent bones, good and bad construction details, and evidence of system problems or deferred maintenance, so that you can tell if a less than ideal house will be a frustrating money sink, or a fun and rewarding process toward what you really want.

Familiarize yourself with the typical costs of certain projects in your area - things like enlarging and gut renovating a kitchen, turning a room into a closet, adding a half bath, upgrading insulation and HVAC systems, adding hardwood floors, replacing windows, cleaning and finishing basements and attics at some level. Then you can put all the likely costs of working on any one place onto one sheet of paper.

And if you find something you want to consider, pay for the time of a really good contractor and/or an experienced renovation designer, and take him or her with you to look at it and give you their opinion, before you make a move.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 1:54PM
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We did this, our house wasn't "cheap" by any means, it's extremely well constructed, and we loved it but yes it needed help. Built ins, higher baseboards, solid wood doors, new windows, custom moulding (thank you DH!), new kitchen and bathrooms......

But it was already a lovely and well loved house (hardwood floors throughout, original owner had built gorgeous built ins), a rambler, not so much a classic ranch. But it can be done...

This is a great resource (as are the Susanka books) for includes several different "style" renovations for different types of ranch homes. I think it's a really valuable place to start.

Another fantastic resource is "Patterns of Home" by Max Jacobson. Cannot say enough good things about how this book guides you in improving the quality/architecture of a home.

Here is a link that might be useful: Updating Ranches

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 2:00PM
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Perhaps it's just your name inspired by Yeats, but I'm suspecting that you might be like me, and would never be happy in that style of house. I think you should look deeper into your feelings, and try to decide if the problem is the type of house it is, rather than the quality of the house.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 3:40PM
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Colleen, I am in the process of moving to a similar kind of house-- though mine was built in the 60s and is in a suburban residential area. Cloudy Christine may be right that you'd "never be happy in that style of house" but I am banking on the fact that I can be happy in any house I make my home. It will surely take some work but I think it always takes some work to make a house a home-- and that process is part of what makes it "home".

I'll say too that while the house I am moving to is smaller and has less character, it is actually valued very close to my current 2 story house that has more features and is mostly finished. When I update the new house-- and do some of the longer term projects, it will be worth much more.

I think there are a few key requirements. I don't care what size or style house you are looking at, you want one that has been maintained well and that has "good bones". Also, try to look past the window style and focus on the light. While the house I am moving into has typical ranch style windows, it gets a great deal of light in the main living areas. The high wide windows that are in the bedrooms aren't what I am used to but I plan to trim them out and work my room designs around them. As Tinam said, there are ways to trick them out with window treatments.

Another thing I've been looking at are ways to expand the living area/square footage. I will be completing the partially finished walkout basement into a full living space, adding a large deck for outdoor space and I have longer term plans to build a 4 season room/dining room in what is now the carport. These are things that will increase the value of the house and make it much more livable for me.

I am not going to sugar coat this-- it's been a challenge to get my head around decorating what is essentially a shoebox design. I've always lived in big houses with lots of character-- many of them over 100 yr old. But I see a lot of value in putting the effort into making this new house my home. Some reasons are personal (it was my grandparents' home and a place where they shared their love and pride) and some are practical (it's smaller, easier to maintain & heat). I've spent LOTS of time looking at blogs and photos of people who have transformed this style house into lovely living spaces.. it CAN be done. Neither you nor I will have a grand home like those we see in House Beautiful or even in this forum.. but we can have beautiful homes that meet our needs. I can be happy with that.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 4:58PM
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Sorry, I didnt share links.. here are a few that I found helpful. Young House Love is pretty well known in the blog world for their transformation of two ranch houses. Some of their looks are a bit young and contemporary for me but I've been able to take a lot of their ideas and twist them to fit my style. I have many other links but they tend to be specific to problems I want to solve in my house. I recommend doing some of your own searches to find what inspires YOU for your part of the country and your lifestyle.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 5:05PM
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Come see my 230 year old house on 5+ acres.
Tons of charm in New England.
Where are you looking?

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 5:12PM
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Have you ever lived in the country? A lot if people think that is what they want and don't like it later. We live on 20 acres, and it butts up to my MIL's 150 acres. I love it, but some people don't anticipate things like smoke from a neighbor's central wood burning system, or the smell of freshly spread manure on the farm fields! We actually like our country homes and many of them are simply beautiful on the inside. Our house is certainly not spectacular on the outside, but I have a beautiful kitchen that I designed, and we have a lot of charm and character throughout the house.

Be advised that many of the older homes can be renovated, but it can get costly as they often are poorly insulated and usually need a lot of work, unless you can afford a pricier home that has already had a lot done to it. Not trying to dissuade you, but really think about what you want and go in with eyes wide open.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 5:22PM
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One thing that I would encourage, though, is to not try and turn the house into something it's not. You can add or improve mouldings, and put in better quality hardware, but a ranch house will always have the essential proportions of a ranch house, and will never be a farmhouse, a craftsman, or a foursquare, no matter how many details of that sort or style that you add. Make it a nice ranch house, not an imitation of something else.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 5:31PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

pal that is true, but within the confines of the box, you do have choices....the PO of our old house was largely contemporary but I turned the rooms into more traditional ones...we added crown molding, and cherry vanities and changed out window treatments and furnishings and it was still a 50s ranch but had warmth and formality of a more traditional home.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 6:52PM
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Agree with Annie. We totally gutted the back of our house and created a beautiful kitchen, laundry room, and back deck. It still has some "country" feel, but more like "country chic" now.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 7:12PM
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I've seen those houses you speak's like someone without any imagination or taste built those. Some are quite sad looking and they are usually on the nicest acreage.

My list of improvements would include hardwood floors, solid wood doors and interesting knobs. Vintage or vintage looking light fixtures. Beadboard? Deeper molding around baseboards, windows, and doors.

You can always repurpose an old buffet or chest as a bathroom vanity. I saw several the other day when showing houses. The guy finds vintage, repurposes it and puts granite or marble on top. Adds a lot of character to a bathroom.

Add a few stained glass accents in places.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 7:51PM
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If you have someone else do the work, and you want to change the windows and walls, that can get expensive. But from what you've said, I think you would have to at least change the windows to be happy with any of the houses.

While we were building our house, we rented a house similar to the one shown by funkyart. The owner, who never lived in it, had bought it to fix up in many of the ways you are talking about to resell. He was a licensed electrician, HVAC, & plumber, and had all kinds of equipment and tools for his "day" job. He transformed it from very ordinary to very attractive while we were living there. So yes, it can be done, but how much time, thought, and money do you want to put into it?


    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 9:00PM
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I'm not going to recommend for or against the purchase of a house without much architectural interest. I do think there are some things you can augment to an architecturally challenged house: beautiful curtains, lighting, furniture, decor, maybe some great flooring and fixtures.

The windows in my home are so-so. Some are large, others fairly small. And the windows are old, metal, and ugly. I found adding some beautiful (to me at least) curtains to flank the windows really helped make the windows have more presence.

Replacing boring, insufficiently illuminating light fixtures with new lights that have more style and provide more light has also helped brighten and beautify some of my rooms.

Remodeling fairly ugly bathrooms with lovely tile, new pedestal sinks or vanities, and new faucets/fixtures has really helped spruce them up. They may not be as large as some here, but they've turned out very well.

Also, adding in some great furniture (much of mine used from local classifieds/CL) can really help a room. Great rugs and art can also help.

So many here have really beautiful old architecture. My home has a nice layout and some great features, but very little of the lovely architectural charm that is often showcased here. But I have found that over time, as I work on each room and add a something here or there, or remodel with better materials, my home is becoming more interesting and beautiful (at least to me). I still lust after gorgeous old mouldings and massive windows, but I do think a home can be beautiful without these things as well.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 9:24PM
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I have been to many open houses where the inside of the house had been updated but it did not go with the original quality or architecture of the house. The baths had been over-done and seemed very out of place or the kitchens has over the top appliances and granite counter tops but the rest of the house is very modest. This is what I think should be avoided when updating an architecturally challenged home - don't try to make it something it isn't.

I do think you can make it pleasing in many ways. Small bump-outs with bigger windows always adds appeal.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 10:18PM
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It's very expensive to hire someone to put in bigger windows. The cost depends on the exterior of the house- stucco, wood siding, shingles, etc. Sometimes there's electricity or pipes to re-route. On the other hand if the siding is cheap T 1-11 plywood and you have your own tools it's pretty inexpensive.

Glass doors are a reasonably priced way to help bring in more light.


    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 2:25AM
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If you really and truly appreciate the vintage in a house older than 80 yrs, the houses you are looking at are hopeless for you.

I'm that way.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 6:28AM
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IMHO, I would avoid the houses you are describing.

Look at what people are recommending these houses might need:

Built ins, higher baseboards, solid wood doors, new windows, custom moulding, new kitchen and bathrooms......

All of that is very expensive, especially if you are not DIY, and if you were you probably wouldn't be asking us. It kind of begs the question, if you can afford to do all of the above, you can afford a nicer house to begin with (especially since, often, all of the above are cash expenses and a nicer house you pay for over 30 years).

I understand your point and feel the same way. Then I see a MCM that someone redoes true to itself, and they can be quite nice. But if you don't like these home for what they are, IMHO, the transformation you are looking for is uneconomic at best.

Lastly, with rare exceptions, custom builds are more expensive then buying existing homes. IMHO people on a budget shouldn't go down that path.

In any event, good luck!

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 7:43AM
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Thinking about this some more, no matter what you do inside the house it will still be a dreary, small ranch on the outside.

I would put my money fixing up the exterior of a house first and worry about decorating later. I don't think you'd be happy pulling up in the driveway looking at a dreary house no matter how nice the decor is inside.

I'd keep looking. I think it's imperative you love the exterior of the house or can afford to fix it up or you'll never be content.

OTOH, curb appeal could just include flowerbeds, sidewalks, etc. They do wonders for any house.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 8:14AM
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Wow, it seems like many are trying to talk you out of this. Perhaps Pirula can share a few pix of her home - I have seen a few and it is beautiful. And check those links that Funky shared. Young House Love is a perfect example. I have visited the Beneath my Heart blog a few times but did not know they had renovated and plan to check out the link Funky shared.

I do think it can be done - but I think you would have to find the right property with a house that you can work with. As someone suggested, I would research, research, research and compare the options. There are times when renovating can be just as costly as building. That said, several here have shared what they have done with their own homes.


    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 8:59AM
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A dear friend lived near me in a small rural Maine village in an early 1800s woodframe house. Wide pine floors, plaster walls, nice woodwork, etc. She painted and added lovely furniture and her special touches and it was a gorgeous house (and spectacular gardens). It was however, poorly insulated and the original doors were drafty and a major source of heat loss -- heating costs were huge.

Sad and painful divorce happens, she finds a small split level ranch with unfinished basement she can afford in an expensive market -- not her style, but solid and near work with some land. Small windows, smaller rooms, etc. Visiting her one day, my DH suggests she remove a cabinet blocking the light in the kitchen. Next thing you know, all the uppers are down, replaced on one wall only with simple pine shelves painted creamy white. Old vinyl floor is pulled, and simple wide pine floors installed in Kitchen, LR/DR and hall. The open railing by the foyer stairwell is closed off and drywalled. Walls painted creamy white with pale yellow ceilings.

A big marble topped bureau is called into use as a baking center in the kitchen, remaining ugly lower cabinets are painted and doors removed and fabric curtains hung instead. Used light fixtures are sought from ReStore, painted and installed. The most complex job was the flooring. My DH and I are skilled DIYers and helped, but she did a lot herself.

It is still a ranch, but so cute and so her. She still misses her old home and the garden, but she is happy in the new place, and spends half as much on oil and is warm!

Long story, but it can be done, having skills and tools can help, but a willingness to learn and try can accomplish a lot.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 10:17AM
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What a lovely ending to an unfortunate story, Mabeldingeldine. There are lots of reasons for ending up in the houses we do. Location, proximity to work, change in circumstances/priorities.. but no matter where you end up, you want to make a comfortable home. Every house has it's quirks and challenges to work with-- Kevin's home is lovely but rooms and doorways are small. Others have 2-story great rooms with great wall expanses to decorate.

The challenges I have faced with the ranch home are scale, windows, lack of finishing details, outdated kitchen/bath, small closets, boring exterior.

The single best thing I've done to date is to pull the carpets. The place just livened up immediately. The morning and afternoon sun play in the space now. I also removed a fireplace insert that was dated and visually heavy (will replace with simple gas logs). Look around a home and try to see what is sucking the energy.. what's making it visually heavy.

Scale is a tricky thing. For me, it's going to mean replacing furniture--something I'll need to do overtime. MCM furniture is a natural fit for my home. Though it doesn't have a cool MCM exterior, it was certainly built around that time. MCM furniture features nice wood tones and textures but generally takes up a smaller footprint. They also tend to be lower which works well with the lower ceilings. This style isnt to everyone's liking but you can borrow from the principles and look for pieces with lower scales and smaller footprints. I also think the textures and wood grains are important to adding character and presence to a plain rectangular room.

Windows in ranch homes tend to be simple-- in my case, they are untrimmed and high and wide in the bedrooms. I'll be adding simple trim over the next few months. I am counting on the small detail making a big difference in "finishing" the space. It was true to the look at the time but the lack of trim screams at me. (My bf and I disagree on this btw). I have seen a lot of solutions to WT and furniture placement to minimize the odd placement-- I highly recommend looking at photos of how others have worked around and with these windows.

Outdated kitchen/baths can be big expenses but in these ranch style homes, they tend to be smaller spaces. Yes, I long for a grand bathroom but since I've been living in much older homes, my experience with grand sized bathrooms comes from hotels. :) As others have mentioned, there are fun things you can do in bathrooms to update vanities. I can't speak much to remodeling kitchens/baths as mine will remain as is for a year or so-- but I have been saving photos and blogs etc and I know that keeping a simple, sleek look will be the best solution for the space-- and economical.

I am also not well versed on updating the exterior. I will say that creative landscaping can brighten up and personalize any house. I've also seen some grand transformations on homes here on this board with new paint schemes and some thoughtful addition of plants and trees. I have a great yard space so I'll be adding a large deck area. This is probably not the first thing many would do-- but it's pretty key for me as a useful outdoor space will increase the usable sq footage for 2.5 seasons-- at least on sunny days. Along with this, the walkout basement has a large window out into the yard so prettying up that space automatically improves the hominess of the basement living area.

I am not sure I am offering "tips".. I am still looking for tips myself. I do hope sharing some of my thinking and plans will help you to see how you can work with some of the limitations and exploit the advantages. You have a goal of moving to the country-- there's obviously a draw to that environment. How can you incorporate that into your home? Are you seeing homes with grand views? Do those with walkout basements offer opportunities to build patios or outdoor spaces to carry the living space out into the country views?

I am making my move because of my family history, a desire to downsize/simplify and because it will put me in a better position to start a business. These are things that are important to me-- at least AS important as making a comfortable home. I have motivation to make it work. But I also have an advantage: I am not locked into buying the place for the first 2 yr so I have the advantage of trying out the new lifestyle without the long-term commitment (though family commitments CAN be as heavy as mortgage commitments lol).

Again, I recommend checking out some of the remodels and blogs online. There are some great things being done with small homes of all types these days. Do they charm you? Do you see things others have done that get you excited? I did.. and if I hadnt, I'd have never been able to move forward with this project. I know there are many here who wouldn't be able to go on this path. Only YOU know if it will work for you.

Good luck with whatever you decide!

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 2:07PM
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"What I have found is that many properties with the desired acreage are encumbered with dreary houses."

Is that because you are restricting yourself to a certain price range with a certain size acreage? Perhaps if you looked at smaller acreages with newer or, at least, better houses you might find a house you will like better in the same price range. How much acreage do you think you want?

The reason I ask this is that decades ago when we decided we wanted the experience of living on an acreage we had no idea what 2, 5, 10, or 40 acres looked like or what would best suit us. The largest 'acreage' we had ever owned was .23 acre so had no reference for larger properties.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 4:08PM
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Thanks everyone for the concern and hard-headed advice. As a matter of fact, I have lived in the country -- eighteen glorious months on a dead-end gravel road near the Mississippi River. I am ready for a permanent venture.

There are nice old homes available, but they are more expensive. Those I have seen in my price range usually come with insufficient land, or with land that is severely degraded. I have been waiting for a nice piece of land with a reasonably nice older house to come on the market for about 10 months. Considering properties with newer houses is my plan B.

What I would really love to do is renovate an old house, but I think it would be cost-prohibitive. I imagine that the cost to restore a farmhouse that needs a new kitchen, bath, systems, insulation, window repair, septic upgrade, etc. could easily rise into the hundreds of thousands. If anyone knows where to find detailed cost breakdowns, please let me know. I have not been able to find this information. Unfortunately, I am not a DIYer.

There is not much risk of me mangling one of these little ranches while trying to turn it into a dream home. If I were to undertake a major renovation, I would focus on an older house. Window replacement is about the only structural renovation I would be likely to undertake here. Otherwise I would work on the floors, moldings, lighting, etc. On the bright side, woodwork and custom cabinetry can often be found more cheaply in rural areas. The houses I am thinking of would not merit a large investment. They seem impermanent, which is what I mean by "cheap". They resemble funkyart's house in size and boxlike shape, but funkyart's, with its bricked exterior and chimney, is much more solid. Modest, but built to last. These are not MCM ranches, but contemporary structures made with a lot of plywood.

This is a wonderful thread, and I have decided not to rule out these houses based on the thoughts and resources posted here. Thanks for the thoughts and the blog links. The exterior is not so important to me, and I'm now convinced that enough warmth could be added to make the interior pleasant.

(Cloudy Christine, you are on to something. But you know, it's not the house that I want. It's the land...)

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 4:22PM
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I live in a 1950s ranch with no acreage. Well, I have a fraction of an acre! ;) A ranch has never been my dream house, but we live in a fairly expensive city, and to get the next thing up from where we are now would be in the million dollar range, so we'll be here for a while. While it may not have all the bells and whistles of new construction or the vintage charm of something older, this house works really well for my family. I love where we live, and our neighbors are great. My neighborhood of ranches is desirable enough that it's is actually being featured in an upcoming, well respected tour of homes!

I don't have any specific tips for you, but I just felt I had to say a kind word about the lowly ranch!

Good luck in your search!

This post was edited by porkandham on Fri, Feb 1, 13 at 16:56

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 4:49PM
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Porkandham! I am there for you. I came from a lowly ranch too! I loved my house, but remarried and moved into my new husband's place - no room for tractors and such at my cute ranch home. Sigh....

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 5:22PM
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tinam61, thank you for the lovely compliment on our house! Here's a pic of it. As you can see, it's just a very simple little brick box. Nothing remotely MCM about it to make it architecturally interesting. We've just done what we love with it, made it sort of cottagey with a bit of formality. Happy to show some pics if it helps the OP. Sorry for all the Christmas, I don't generally take pictures of the house.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 1:53PM
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I was hoping you would post some more pictures after I saw your living room on the fireplace thread. Unbelievable warmth, charm, and inspiration! Thank you.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 3:03PM
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Pirula, you've done so much with your house to make it lovely and warm - and to open it up to a comfortable, modern way of living. It looks bigger on the inside than it does on the outside.

I'm crazy about your kitchen with no overhead cabinets along those two walls, and that great bank of windows. I wouldn't have overheads either, if I had my druthers.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 3:19PM
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Pirula, absolutely charming. Pinnable!

I ran into this series on Pinterest for the OP:

Here is a link that might be useful: Old house charm for newer houses

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 9:16AM
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Pirula, would love to hear about your pillow fabric in the LR and the counters in the kitchen.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 9:18AM
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Not sure about your area, but we have found that, while land is less costly in our rural area, the shortage of labor, lack of competition, and travel expenses made the actual building process more expensive than it would have been in the nearest cities and suburbs. Something to keep in mind if you will be engaging trades.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 9:56AM
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Is it Annie Selke you're thinking of? She's the owner of Pine Cone Hill and Dash & Albert Rugs. After she divorced she moved into a 1960's Ranch in the Berkshires and House Beautiful had her write monthly segments about the renovation. I loved reading through what she was doing each month and have linked it below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Annie Selke Ranch Makeover.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 11:52AM
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Thank you all! Very much.....

demeron, I'm afraid I can't tell you much about the pillows, most of them I've had since the late 90's. The two on the couch are from a previous couch, I just love the fabric. The needlepoint one is from a shop that is now defunct. The one you can clearly see I got on ebay a couple of years ago, but I don't remember anything about the vendor, other than she specializes in pillows and is in Australia!

The counters I can discuss ad nauseum. What would you like to know? They're American Cherry, treated with several coats of pure tung oil cut 50/50 with food safe citrus solvent, and they were a labor of DIY love by my husband (as indeed was 99% of the remodel).

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 5:46PM
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Pirula, you've done such wonderful things to your house, both inside & out. I love it.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 6:05PM
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WHAT and WHY would you want to change a thing???? Sometime we don't know what we have when it's right in front of our face.

IMO, you should reconsider wanting to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear when you already have the silk purse in your possession. ;o)

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 6:22PM
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pattycakes, is that meant for me? I'm not changing a thing I assure you!!! LOL! OMG never again after 15 months of remodeling. Of course there's the basement, but that's another story....

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 6:29PM
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patty cakes - pirula isn't the OP of this thread. She was sharing what she did with her ranch house.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 6:44PM
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Pirula, I am not surprised the cushion fabrics are ten plus years old-- I am 46 and I find myself yearning for stuff you can't easily find anymore :) Re the counters, are they practical in the kitchen? Any problems with scratching? My DH has a well-equipped woodshop and if I can drag him away from his lathe, I could talk him into wood counters. I have a maple butcher block island-- was worried that cherry or walnut would scratch too easily. How have yours held up?

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 9:28AM
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I was in the same exact boat and I did exactly what you are wondering about.... I wish I had before pictures, but here is the after (see link.)
We added hard wood floors throughout, changed the spindles etc. on the staircase, created a built in bench off the staircase, changed all the baseboards and mouldings and casings around the windows. Added french doors wherever possible, and updated the bathrooms with subway tile, beadboard, pedestal sinks.... All the lighting was replaced with school-house lights etc. The house LOOKS like it was built in the 1920's but was really a 1968 colonial.

Here is a link that might be useful: DIY remodel 2011

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 10:05AM
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Here is a link to the Master Bedroom and Bath that we just finished last month. We did everything ourselves except for the sanding/staining of the hardwood floors.

Here is a link that might be useful: DIY remodel master bedroom 2012

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 10:07AM
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joannemb, it's beautiful! I really love the bench built into the stair woodwork.

I've never liked my stair newels & bannister. I'm saving the picture of yours for future reference. Imitation, sincere flattery & all that : )

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 11:01AM
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I've been skimming quickly, and have a few comments based on my quick read. First, everyone's work on their ranches - fabulous! However, and apologies if I've misread or misinterpreted, but cathleen has or will have a relatively limited budget and is not a DIYer. pirula's gorgeous reno looks like one that had a nice-sized budget, and joanneemb, you've said you and your DH did all the work yourselves.

mtnr is 100% correct IMO that if cathleen has the budget to do all that kind of thing herself, she also the budget to get a nicer house from the start.

"Built ins, higher baseboards, solid wood doors, new windows, custom moulding, new kitchen and bathrooms......

All of that is very expensive, especially if you are not DIY, and if you were you probably wouldn't be asking us. It kind of begs the question, if you can afford to do all of the above, you can afford a nicer house to begin with (especially since, often, all of the above are cash expenses and a nicer house you pay for over 30 years)."

That list above - baseboards, wood doors, and so on - those are just the things you can see. Sometimes (not always, of course, but it could happen), there is basic work you have to do first, or you may have to do it in order to make the changes you envision. We had to have lots of electrical work done before we even got to the good stuff. Our electrician is great, a true artist if you will, and reasonable, compulsively careful and concientious. He told us that for what he had to charge to do the work on our house, he could have rewired an entire new house. We did everything we had to for safety plus some things we wanted to do - and there is still work we decided not to do because of the cost.

We were so lucky to have found an excellent, very reasonable contractor. By our calculations, had we gone with anyone else, our total reno costs would easily be two-thirds higher than they've been. We would not have been able to do this work; it simply would have broken the budget, so badly damaged as it is anyway.

That leads to: if you are not a DIYer but will want to make many changes to a house to transform its look and style, you will need to be confident of your ability to hire the right people. Our contractor has great taste and an aesthetic sense, as well as technical skills, and he has worked on many old houses. The guy before him, let's just say the work was perfectly competent, but he would have done only and exactly what we told him to do. That means we would have had to have been thoroughly informed and completely educated before starting anything. Through word of mouth, including our contractor's own recommendations, we now have competent, trustworthy people to work on every conceivable part of our house if necessary. The last find - finally - a great plumber.

We just paid him ~$400 to fix a kludged-together mess with the kitchen plumbing....

That leads to another thing: cathleen, even after you've bought what you hope will be your perfect house and have budgeted for molding, wood doors and all the rest, you will still need to have plenty of funds available for fixes and problems that could pop up over time, things you might have failed to account for in the beginning.

"If anyone knows where to find detailed cost breakdowns, please let me know. I have not been able to find this information."

Can anyone steer cathleen to some websites or other places where this info is available?

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 11:21AM
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Joannemb, your remodel is fantastic!

Demeron, the counters are very practical. Sure they scratch, but mrs. Meyer's soap I use to clean it makes them disappear. You need to re-oil occasionally. In six years, I've re-oiled twice, and they're about due again, but still gorgeous.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 12:19PM
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Yes, the renovations are expensive, and of course it's prudent to weigh the cost of renovations vs. buying a nicer house to begin with. Still, there is something to be said for spreading out the renovations over time, doing the work as you can afford to.

We couldn't afford a nicer house than the one we bought in 1996. It was a bland-but-sound 60s tract home in a beautiful area with an excellent school system and close to work. All the other homes in our price range had issues that we couldn't afford to address at the time. So we bought the move-in ready, big enough, boring box in the great location.

The house was practical, but frankly it was depressing for me because it was so ugly. Paint & curtains didn't hide the cheap, dated materials & dim, boxy interior. Bit by bit, though, we've changed things over the years, and the house is now quite pleasant to live in. We did a major renovation 5 years ago when the original materials started to fail. After adding larger windows & prettier interior trim, doors & hardware, DH & I were surprised that we actually liked the house. We both had been unwilling to admit how much we disliked it before.

There are still things left to do -- landscaping, closets, the master bath -- but we see the end of the tunnel now & can put up with some shortcomings because we enjoy the good features so much.

Perhaps we could have moved up to a nicer home at some point, but the finances probably wouldn't have been any better: the interest we'd have to pay on a bigger mortgage spread over 30 years for a nicer home probably works out to what we've spent to improve the boring box with affordable 15 year mortgages.

So for us, the tack we took was worth it. We've always loved our location & neighborhood: that was a good emotional, educational, & social investment. And now we like the house too.

If Cathleen finds land that she loves or is a good investment, then maybe it would be worth it to her to live in a plain box that she can upgrade as she can. She'll understand that the house is never going to be a showplace, but it might be something she eventually enjoys living in on the land of her dreams.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 12:41PM
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Thank you awm03 and pirula! :) I see your point lynxe, and without a doubt, we would not have been able to afford our renovation if we had not done all the work ourselves.

When we were looking at houses, the older charming ones (in the neighborhoods we liked) needed work that was structural, or crucial right away rather than cosmetic. They had beautiful bones, but the bones needed major help after 80 years! While on the other hand, the boring homes just needed the cosmetic stuff added. We waited about 8 years before being able to add the character to our house, and since it was just the "pretty" stuff, it could wait. $$ wise we probably spent close of what we would have spent on an older home (definitely not as much, but I would say almost.. 3/4 or so) but the clincher for us was being able to wait a few years until we had the money. Something always comes up when you buy a home, and we had a few surprises that made us put off our renovations. If the renovations were not just cosmetic (as they would have been in an older home) and we didn't have the luxury of waiting, we would have been in trouble.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 1:24PM
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One more thing to consider.... We wanted a big yard, and a quiet street. Where we live charming homes with big yards on quiet streets are way over our price range. By ADDING the character to our house, we were able to have everything we wanted... The big yard, quiet street, and in the end, the "look" that I wanted inside--even if that part took a few years.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 1:30PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

For another thread, I happened to post Christopher Lowells 7 layers of design and noticed he did show some stills from the double wide redo he did as well as might want to take a look.

Here is a link that might be useful: 7 layers of design

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 1:57PM
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To me the #1 defect of so many of those homes is the windows--usually the lack of them, but also what's there is often so mean and small, wrong shapes, misplaced.

Too, so often the relationship to the outdoors is also badly flawed by lack of or badly placed doors, or ones that put a utility room or garage between house and garden. Then there are all those attached garages blocking views and breezes... Things that works on a fifth acre for people who want as little outside maintenance as possible and have major privacy issues can be major dysfunctions and charm killers in the country, or even on a bit larger lot.

Even with the dooding up of houses these past couple of decades, with more attempt to add charm, I'm always driving by newer rural homes built from subdivision plans, ones that could easily be townhouses when built with shared walls--mostly straight walls on the sides, no rooms sticking out, and virtually no windows, no matter how lovely the views. Half of them at least have high-maintenance/low function shallow porches cutting sunlight into the house on the two sides that do have windows. Wrong for the country, but just maybe fixable?

In your place, and I could so easily be, I'd also look first for land I loved, and then a house without major defects or problems other than majorly in need of charm or de-townhousing. I'd sit down with pencil and graph paper and think about what some basic fixes to the windows, doors, and more often than not floor plan would do.

I often see subdivision/townhouse plans and imagine opening them up a little hallway, or just door, to a wasted sunny side where a sunroom or porch could be added--eventually. (Truthfully, for me that's often the best use I can think of for those miniature butler's pantries and worth a lot more to me in tradeoff than, say, walk-in grocery storage or an old long narrow laundry room that tends to collect junk.) If an attached garage blocked the best view, maybe it could become a living room instead.

Also, Southern California is full of expensive/once-modest neighborhoods with code restrictions that encourage people to do their best with the cheap little houses built a few decades ago, and a vast number of remodelings open the ceiling to give height and architectural interest. You'd have to look at the construction to see if it's framed in a way that will allow this without too much fuss, but where it can be done it can be a tremendous improvement, one of those changes that "pays" for itself many times over. You can probably find old copies of Sunset books on the web; they're full of "ranch" remodelings.

In any case, I'm pretty sure you'll find something you can tweak and love on a budget. Hopefully, we'll get to see what you come up with here, but enjoy the journey home. :)

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 4:06PM
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This thread got better and better. The links from Demeron, Chris, Joanne and Annie are amazing illustrations of the great advice posted above. I can SEE it now!

For those who wonder why I don't just spend more for a nicer house, I should add that the rural real estate market is tricky. In a city, it is easy to find a nicer home with historic charm or more amenities by adjusting one's price range upward. In this area, stick-built ranches make up a huge percentage of the available housing stock. The nicer ones may have higher ceilings, better windows, or fireplaces, but still not much charming detail.

The old homes are almost always farmhouses. I've looked at several defunct farms, including a couple with lovely houses, but these properties tend to include a great deal of decaying farm infrastructure. There's generally a huge, collapsing barn, plus a complex of assorted buildings; silo, chicken house, milking parlor, pole barns, sheds...all in varying states of decay. I actually did find detailed cost breakdowns for barn restoration, thanks to a state agency that promotes the preservation of old barns. I calculated that one can easily spend $100k or more to restore a large barn in moderately bad condition.

I have not been able to find the right combination of nice, older home + sufficient, quality acreage + property free of collapsing buildings! I am greatly encouraged to think that I may be able to move forward anyway. If the land is right, the house can be improved. My budget is not impossibly tight. Changing the roof line would not be practical, but changing trim, floors, and maybe even a couple of windows should be. Thanks everyone for the stellar advice and resources.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2013 at 12:21AM
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Don't let the collapsing buildings deter you. You don't have to restore or keep all of them. I know my DH's family sold a barn that was falling down just for people wanting the wood. All they had to do after that was remove some concrete footers. These things can be done over time.

You might also be able to check with the local fire department if they'd like to burn one for training purposes.

Demo can be costly, but not as much as restoring anything. That is unless you need these buildings.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2013 at 11:47AM
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