Meet Wynn and James.

First Installment of Appreciation shares.

Wynn and James were my first clients after I started my own practice in 2009. They were friends and neighbors living on my street who initially approached me about designing a new single-family residence in north Atlanta. Then, I was hired to sketch concepts for a new front porch for the house they currently lived in and planned to sell.

I admired Wynn and James for their decisive decision making and a DIY (do it yourself) attitude. Unlike most clients, Wynn and James are comfortable sourcing less costly lumber with GC’s open to that process and at times, doing the renovation work themselves.

Wynn and James, what draws you to the DIY process?

Wynn: James is the big DIY guy; I was pulled into it only after James and I were engaged. I don’t actually enjoy the “process” per se … it’s dirty, messy, and can be (and usually is) painfully protracted when you’re doing your own renovation work. It’s also usually a huge time commitment – nights and weekends for months upon months upon months – and there’s always a moment in every project where I just lose it. With that said, the reason I keep doing these projects is the job satisfaction at the end. There is almost nothing like the thrill of watching your design come to life, seeing it all mesh together, watching the transformation occur, and being able to tell yourself: “I did that.” I get a lot of joy from transforming our homes and making them into beautiful places for the next owners to live and love.

In all seriousness, tho, you don’t need to be an extreme DIY’er to make a difference. I find that just updating the paint in a room can give you a fresh, new look and feel … and that’s a project you can complete in a weekend (and on the cheap)!

James: Having been a small business owner for most of my life, I was always having to count pennies. I was amazed at the cost of simple projects. From this point, I began doing simple fixes. Also, I like to buy toys (tools). From small successes, I would try bigger and different projects. I always had an escape hatch for each project. I used (relied) on many a friend who were more skilled at certain projects. It is fun and gives me a nice workout.

Any thoughts or recommendations to other couples planning to build?

Wynn: We have been married for 25 years, and we’re on our 5th house – we’ve renovated 4 (big and small renovations) and straight-up built one home on an empty lot. Building is far easier – you usually have an architect (like Allyson) and a builder to hold your hand, and things go much more smoothly because they can be project managers. Renovation is another beast entirely; I don’t care how small a renovation is, it’s going to involve an unpleasant surprise. No matter what you’re doing, however, the keys are: (1) plan ahead, (2) be flexible, (3) always budget about 30% more than you think you’ll need, and (4) know your limits and don’t be afraid to call in a professional. Make sure you know the time lag for ordering your materials (everything from drywall to cabinets to appliances), and get that done before you think you’ll need them. Also, when you encounter a curve-ball (and you will) be flexible enough to either change plans or find a work-around; this is where that extra money comes in handy, too. Finally, you should know your limits and, for the love of all that is holy, call a professional for critical items. We never (and I mean never!) try to do the key systems ourselves – major electrical, major plumbing, and structural framing are things we just won’t do because a mistake on those will kill the house (and maybe you). I find that if we just do those 4 things, we argue far less during renovations, and things are much smoother.

James: Never do a mission critical project on your own. Electrical circuits loads and proper wires, HVAC, waste plumbing (hate to see things mysteriously roll uphill). If it is a major project, make sure you have an expert in your corner. As for the timeline, always add a bit of cushion. Also, MAKE sure that you have the material already purchased and delivered. There is nothing as mean as a wife after you demo the kitchen cabinets only to find that the new ones are seriously delayed. Know your limits, I am terrible at drywall and getting that perfect invisible seam.

What has been your favorite project to tackle?

Wynn: Honestly, I’m not sure I would be willing to do it again, but the project that I ended up loving the most at the end was our renovation at our last house. It was a complete transformation. We stripped it down to the studs, completely replaced all of the electrical (yes, hired someone for that), reworked the HVAC and added another system (hired a company for that too), knocked out walls to create an open floor plan and reconfigured the living spaces (which involved structural framing work, so another crew there), replaced every window and door in the house, completely gutted the interior, and installed a new kitchen, new bathrooms … new everything. James acted as the GC, and he and I did a ton of work ourselves. We did all of the tiling (kitchen backsplash, bathrooms, and floors), refinished and stained wood floors, installed cabinets, added interior trim, painted the entire exterior and interior of the house, etc. etc. etc. Every room in the house got updated. As we opened up walls and worked on the house, we kept finding “surprises” that the last owners had left us (they had done some DIY work that was sub-standard, to say the least). We tackled everything in phases and tried to do one room at a time, but some of the projects were just too large and took over the whole house. It took us nearly 4 years from start to finish. The worst part was we lived in the house when we were doing all of that, so it was years of chaos – we were *those* neighbors that had piles of debris (and an appliance or 2) at the curb for garbage pick-up on a weekly basis; luckily, we had great neighbors who loved what we were doing so they put up with our messes. But when the house was done, it was incredible. That project tested all of our DIY skills and stretched us, but taking it on and accomplishing it has been our biggest achievement so far.

Here are some during and after shots:

For some perspective, the door in the center of the left photo is the same door in the right photo behind the kitchen island (the two pictures on the wall are in the same place and you can see the skylight, which we didn’t move). We closed off the old front door (which was one of 3 – yes, 3!), and pushed the exterior wall out 4 feet to put in a pantry and a kitchen built-in banquette (which James built, and I made the seat cushion for. It isn’t shown on the photo, unfortunately)

The opening in the picture in the left, below (where you can see the living room fireplace), became the wall where the ovens are located in the picture on the right, below. Again, James and I assembled and installed all of the cabinets ourselves, tiled the backsplash, sanded and stained all of the floors, and painted everything that didn’t move.

James: If Wynn says that’s the best, I agree. I do like my new patio with natural stone and a firepit at our current house. Maybe it’s that fact that I am writing this while I have a fire and a glass of wine on said patio. Or maybe it’s the next project, though I am not really looking forward to remodeling the laundry room.

Wynn and James – thank you for your trust long ago and participating in my blog this month!