This Old House: Should We Renovate, Build or Be Content?

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Here’s the deal: We live in an old house.  We love our old house; in fact, we bought it on purpose.

The good news: It’s in really great shape considering it was built in 1955.

The bad news: It has a few quirks.  Like no bathtub.  And faux marble kitchen counters (think: laminate).  And a chopped-up layout.  And strange walls that exist solely to conceal added AC duct work.  (Just think: maybe there’s a hidden room in there somewhere!)

Here’s our quandary:
Should we…

1.  Spend money to renovate our current house?

It would require quite a bit to do all the things on our list, such as:

Add a bathtub.

Where?  We love the tiled, walk-in shower upstairs and don’t want to replace it.  Adding a separate tub to that bathroom would require major work.  We’d be happy to say good-bye to the downstairs walk-in shower, but a tub for that space would have to be custom-ordered, due to the out-of-date size.  That automatically ups the price.  Plus that’s the guest bathroom.  We’d rather have a tub upstairs, where it would be more useful.  But we love the tiled, walk-in shower upstairs…and, well, you see where this is going.

Upstairs Walk-In Shower
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This is the walk-in shower upstairs, in a photo taken before we owned the home. We still love this shower, and would hate to take it out just to gain a bathtub.

Speaking of bathtubs, we’d love to add a master bathroom.

Currently, we all share one bathroom upstairs.  It is not connected to anyone’s room, which leads to occasional streaking.  As I live in a house of all boys, you can see how this might be a problem.  And again, there’s the bathtub problem.

Reconfigure the layout to include a school room.  

We’re currently using only about half of our living space.  The rest of the space–the basement, which includes finished and unfinished parts; and the living room–could be put to much better use.  Especially when you consider that our school supplies (and books!  Oh, the books…) are quickly outgrowing their allotted space, leading to their distribution across several rooms and levels of the house.  Which is not at all handy.

Reconfigure the layout to be more conducive to entertaining.  

We LOVE to entertain.  In the almost-four years we’ve lived here, I can’t even begin to count the number of dinners, brunches, playdates and overnight guests we’ve hosted.

The problems are several:

1. Limited dining room space

Our table seats six somewhat comfortably, and eight somewhat uncomfortably.  If you’re 5’11” or taller, there is no real comfort involved.  So far, we’ve been able to eek by because our own children and those of many of our friends are still quite small.  We often utilize one or two of our rustic, wooden benches and line up as many bottoms as possible.  There’s also the small, kids’ table in the corner which can seat two or three small children.  We’d love to find a longer (or extendable) table, but the dining room just can’t accommodate anything bigger.

Dining room tables
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This is our beloved farm table, which is perfect for our family but makes a tight squeeze when we have guests. Especially the guests of the over-5’11” variety. It makes for a “cozy” atmosphere, with lots of elbow-bumping and knee-knocking.

2. Small seating areas

The living room is far away from all the action.  On top of that, the traffic flow and fixtures like doors and a fireplace severely limit the furniture arrangement.  Our main hang out spot is the playroom, where we went to great pains to create a comfortable, inviting seating spot.  We love the coziness, but it really only works well for about six adults.  Which is fine for every day and for hosting one family or several moms, etc.  For parties and events, we have to get really creative.

Playroom Sitting Area
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This is the cozy sitting area at one end of our long, narrow playroom. It’s perfect for small groups of people, but not ideal for entertaining larger groups.

3. Zero seating in the kitchen

I’d love for guests to have a place to sit while I’m working in the kitchen.  It seems like we always wind up in there, with me working at the counter and a guest or two leaning awkwardly against the pantry door.  I always want to offer them a place to sit, but there’s really no room!

On the same note, I’d love for the boys to have a spot to sit and do school work under my supervision while I’m working in the kitchen.  Currently, they work at a table in the playroom and run into the kitchen to show me their progress. 

Math time at the drop leaf table
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Math time at the drop leaf table (which is separated from the kitchen by a load-bearing, cinder block wall).

Ditch the southwestern vibe.

Terracotta stucco might be more palatable if we happened to live in Sante Fe or Tuscon or some such location in the southwest.  It does come in handy for giving directions to our home, as I’m pretty sure it’s the only home of its color in the entire county.  We’d love to repaint the entire exterior, and cover the existing stucco in the front of the house and garage with stones to match the chimney.

Front Shot of the Yankee Homestead
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That’s alotta Terracotta! I especially disdain the long, concrete wall along the driveway (in terracotta, of course) and am continually attempting to disguise it with landscaping and hardscaping… [This picture also was taken before we owned the home.  That’s Mr. Native Texan on the front porch with Older Brother (who was Only Brother at the time).]

2.  Save, and build a new “old” house?

Believe it or not, this would probably be cheaper (in the long run) than Option #1.  It would require more investment up front, but we could design the home to meet our needs (bathtub, a school space, better layout for entertaining, etc.).

Because of all the issues involved with renovating an older home that’s been added onto over the years (think: original exterior load-bearing walls made of cinder block and now located inside the house; all kinds of duct work from the non-original AC unit; funky electrical work; and more), we’d wind up spending big bucks and probably still not get exactly what we want.  Plus, those kinds of renovations are messy!  And time-consuming.

3.  Just be content with this house forever?

This is the option we’re choosing for now, until another option becomes more clear, or until we’re overrun by our ever-growing Personal Library… 🙂

Seriously, though…we do realize that even living in a home is a great blessing, and we’re truly thankful to call this one ours.  And while many families live in larger, more beautiful homes, it’s true that ours would seem like a mansion to a significant portion of the world’s population.

Therein lies the struggle.  Could I live the rest of my life without a bathtub?  (Or master bathroom, school room, more entertaining space, etc.?)  Yes.  Many do.  Do I want to live without a bathtub?  No.  So, from a Biblical perspective, is it acceptable for us to better our situation, or should we just be content with what we have?  And is it possible to be content and better our situation at the same time?

It’s difficult to think objectively about questions like these, here in 21st century America.  And so, we wait.  (And pray for wisdom.)  And bloom where we’re planted, gratefully…in This Old House. 

What would YOU do?


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Kathleen Henderson

Let's get real! I’m Kathleen Henderson, your Natural Living Mentor. I’m on a mission to help families see the joy in real food, while finding natural remedies and creating a nontoxic home. Learn more about my story >>


  1. Diana on 05/09/2013 at 11:32 am

    Persoanlly, I’d consider moving. Just stay in the area, being already familiar with what’s around you and what you especially love about the county. The interest rates are down, the prices have come back to reasonable and you could spend whatever time you needed just browsing until you fell in love. LOTS of really charming OLD places in this county! But that’s just me. Your home is lovely. But there is a ton of advantage to having a couple kids already to seeing how a house works and what you’d really like to have changed for the next sixteen or twenty years of them being in it. I’ve always said I’m not cut out for reno’s OR building and I’m pretty sure that’s a quirk I’ll never let go of. You referenced 21 Century… Reminds me of Rod Appleton…..:-)

  2. Renee on 05/09/2013 at 1:23 pm

    We have EXACTLY the same issues! Funny, huh? We haven’t come up w/ any solutions either.

  3. Nikki on 05/09/2013 at 3:03 pm

    I loved reading this! I have been yearning to move further out and get out of the suburbs! I think I need land and an old house( also maybe a homeschool friendly area)It’s cool to get your perspective on actually living in the older house and making it work. I still think the grass is greener….. Even without the bathtub;).
    When we moved to our neighborhood we did so because it was so very close to my husbands office. We found this new neighborhood with a super cool townhouse and built it! Then we needed a bigger yard…. So we moved just down the street. But that was before we knew what we really wanted! Now we know and we feel a little stuck( bought the house before the bubble popped). But, for now, we are here in the burbs, and I must pray that God gives me contentment( so I stop wasting time looking at Trulia!) hahaha!!!!
    I should count 3 blessings( like Ann Voskamp) about this house everyday to remind myself everyday how blessed I am. Hmmm…. I need to put that on my fridge and really do it!!! Off to embrace my house!!! Thanks!!!!

    • Kathleen on 05/11/2013 at 2:52 pm

      I’ll start:
      1. My “faux granite” laminate counter tops are easy to clean, hide spots well and do not require sealing of any kind.
      2. Sharing an upstairs bathroom teaches my children about living with girls. What’s that? Make-up. What’s that? Hairspray. What’s that thing in the trash? Nevermind.
      3. We really do love our house: hardwood floors, vintage door bell, beautiful windows and an amazing view, not to mention that we’re out in the country where we can run and jump and yell.
      So much to be thankful for! 🙂

    • Kathleen on 05/11/2013 at 2:52 pm

      Let me know when you figure it out… 🙂

    • Kathleen on 05/11/2013 at 2:53 pm

      Diana, I don’t know the Rod Appleton story…you’ll have to enlighten me. 🙂

  4. Rachel on 01/30/2015 at 7:22 pm

    we’ve gone through the same dilemma…..recently, we realized even if things aren’t perfect,when you have some land and peace you can’t put a price on it…it’s a great place to raise our kids!

    • Kathleen on 01/30/2015 at 7:54 pm

      Love that, Rachel–“when you have some land and peace you can’t put a price on it”. Totally agree! 🙂

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