Frugal Remodel with a French Twist

We are multi-tasking at a whippet’s rate. Super fast decision making on packing and moving out of one house, while super fast decision making on remodeling choices for the house we’re moving into. Whoosh. Feels like a race. Good for the heart.

The remodel project is going extremely well so far, both when measured against the original schedule and budget, and when measured on the fun-o-meter. We’ve had a few design inspirations that should make for a more pleasurable, enjoyable experience for all of our friends and family. And you, if you come visit.

Our hope is to create a French Farmhouse Feel = f3. Why French? Did you know that the French (and many Europeans) would leave their city homes each April and go live in shabby country homes for the season? In their travel gear they brought decor elements from their city homes. They’d live and entertain in a clashing mixture of rugged and romantic accouterments. Goodwill meets Bon Marche.  A great match for our working class and artistic lives.  So, we’re creating a house that reflects our devotion to eating from the garden, raising a few farm animals, and being stewards of our land at the base of Galbraith mountain woods. We’re creating a house that reflects rustic warmth and earthy elements–and meets Laurel’s love of heirlooms, antiquity, and coziness.

Enough of history.

I’ll have lots more interesting photos soon. The work completed so far :

Removing some cabinets and replacing with old weathered wood beams;

Adding wainscoting to the ends of cabinets and to the inside of cabinet shelves:










Pulling a cabinet from the mudroom into the kitchen, and removing cabinet doors and hardware to create a 3-chamber open farmhouse cabinet;

Adding a bit of French elegance to the tops of square cabinets:










Covering melamine shelving with wood;

Sanding acrylic finish off of cabinets;

Painting with Abbey White chalk paint–to be antiqued with wax coating soon;

Dismantling a skinny island with no food prep space, and designing a hefty 4′ x 7′ island, with drawers, cup pulls, french flourishes and a beefy 2″ butcher block top for food prep;

Closing up a large, unusable closet space on one side–and opening it up on the other side–into our newly enlarged mudroom;

Projects coming up in June-July:

Bumping out 2 exterior walls by 5 feet and adding french doors;

Adding a wood burning fireplace;

Building a new dormer for a space-efficient European-style bathroom;

Creating a brand new entry way with wood and metal clad french doors;

Tearing down stairwell walls to create a more open feeling between the new entry way and living room.
I’ve got a few  DIY articles in the works to document how some of these things were done, but I figured I should tell the renovation tale in chronological order, which starts with shopping for the materials needed to rebuild this house with charm and warmth.


When you do a home renovation project, the materials are a huge part of the cost – both to your wallet and to the Earth. A project like this requires windows, doors, plywood, studs, tiles, concrete, lighting and plumbing fixtures, and many other things.

The interesting thing about renovations, at least in Bellingham area where I live, is that people are always doing them. Middle-income couples buy 100-year-old fixer-upper homes and update them into comfortable and energy-efficient places to live.  These days with the house market booming around here–the commercial buildings are always being bought, torn down, and remodeled by larger companies.

The result of all of this activity is a huge surplus of building materials. Extra tiles left over from someone who bought too much for his bathroom. Entire kitchen cabinet sets and windows and doors from older homes. Schools being remodeled. (A neighbor replaced his house flooring with the maple from a school gymnasium floor). Even unused beams and industrial-grade components from office construction projects. And of course various fixtures and parts of every type.

These things end up either on Craigslist in the “materials” section, on OfferUp, Facebook Marketplace, or in the recycled building materials store. There is one of these stores in Bellingham where I live, named the ReStore, who’s aisles look a little like this:








Howard and I, through virtual and real shopping, are out daily seeing what we can salvage for our project. Its been quite a score, since in just 10 days we’ve acquired:

Much weathered wood and hard wood for adding elegant flourishes to the kitchen cabinets- 20 cents a foot;

2 massive turned legs covered in fading orange paint for our kitchen island-$5/each (compared with $52 each at Lowes);

4  beautiful heavy-duty solid wood doors of various sizes for $30-60 (roughly comparable to a $150 each at at Home Depot)

A lovely, refinished french buffet from OfferUp, to create one side of our kitchen island- $185;

A barn door, that with some work will be a sliding door for our pantry- $5 (and some serious elbow grease getting off the building it was attached to);

2 miniature barnwood gable “sculptures” from the rafters of a 1900’s cabin- $5 (probably $100 each at an antique store);

The total spending on used supplies thus far about $340, for materials we need, that would have otherwise cost approx $2000. A savings of over $1640 bucks, just for embracing the idea of used rather than new materials, and knowing where to shop!

The limitation when buying your materials second-hand, is that you have to adapt your project to fit the materials, rather than custom-ordering the materials to fit your project. But that is where the joy of creativity comes in to play, so it is good practice for life in general.

For example, our skinny island with a raised bar and no surface area for food prep, needed to be doubled in size. This worked out well, after removing the raised bar and finding the buffet of our dreams to add to that “side” of the island.  Unfortunately, the old island and the new buffet are 6 inches different in length. So today, one of our beloved remodelers and I designed the island to begin matching in length by adding turned legs, bumping out one end with wainscoting, and then adding shelves. There’ll be a big gap running down the middle which will be hidden by a thick butcherblock surface. Photos to come. Exciting! Innovative! Deeply satisfying.

Since the recycled building materials store runs on donated items, not everything there is suitable for use in a quality renovation. The windows and doors are surprisingly good, as are the tiles and toilets and some of the kitchen cabinets. But the appliances, lighting, and plumbing fixtures are usually things like green or almond-colored fridges and stoves or gaudy brass faucets. For these things, you simply move on to antique stores, OfferUp, FB Marketplace, or trusty CL.

But by getting some of the most expensive things from these alternative sources, you are really investing in fabulous frugality, and shaving thousands off your renovation project budget.

More to report soon!

Wheatstone farmhouse~

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