It started with setting up a home office, then progressed to cleaning out the closets. Pretty soon, we were repainting that spare bedroom and planting a garden. By midsummer, we were adding a deck or renovating the kitchen. Lumber became as precious as alcohol wipes. This has been a year for home improvements.
Last winter, we launched our Yearbook to salute new shops and products. In 2020, we’re dedicating it to readers’ renovation plans. We asked you to tell us what projects—large or small, cheap fixes or major investments—gave you joy in the midst of this chaotic year. Here are some of our favorite stories. Submissions have been condensed and edited for space and clarity.
My husband is a very crafty person, as our cluttered garage proves. Since I’d like to start parking in there again, I told him that I’d help build a shed. I wasn’t the greatest helper because of the summer heat, not to mention I absolutely hate mosquitoes and any kind of bugs. One day, I was holding the ladder steady, but I was so busy fanning off bugs and wiping the burning sweat from my eyes that I let go. Lord, my husband lost his balance and fell off the ladder. I honestly thought he had broken his back the way he just lay there without moving. Thank God, he was just shocked and had no broken bones. Needless to say, I haven’t been on ladder duty since that incident. We (as in my husband) are in the final stages of building the shed, and I’m counting down the days until I have my garage back!
—Patrice McQueen, Pittman Park [$$]
The Family Garden
This past winter, after breaking a contract on a house with a big yard in Druid Hills, we decided to commit to our current home and create a yard that could work for our family, even though our house is on a small, nonconforming lot in Reynoldstown. We had interviewed five landscape architects, but nobody seemed to “get it.” So, we decided to go it alone—though my uncle, who has worked with distinguished landscape designers like [Dutch garden designer] Piet Oudolf, agreed to consult remotely from Chicago. We created a birch-and-boulder grove inspired by a Swedish forest (we are citizens of that country) but using native plants and a meadow inspired by Lurie Gardens in Chicago.
We planted more than 1,000 native trees, grasses, and wildflowers to attract wildlife; built a pergola and a masonry fireplace; and erected a playhouse for our kids. We installed boulders for the kids to climb on and tried to integrate the “play” features seamlessly into the garden. Since we both work from home, and our small children had no childcare, we spent an hour or two each night after they went to sleep digging, sawing, and nailing our little vision together. Although stressful and extremely difficult at times, our project proved to be the perfect distraction from the increasingly dire news we saw each day. Out in the backyard, with a shovel or a hammer in our hands and nothing but the song of cicadas and tree frogs, we were able to completely forget about the world outside, if only for a few hours. We now have the perfect place for our kids to play, and the new plantings have already attracted wildlife in droves. I had never seen a monarch butterfly in my 12 years in Reynoldstown, and this year, we watched more than two dozen caterpillars become butterflies. We have new species of birds visiting (including hummingbirds!) and clouds of butterflies hovering over the Joe Pye weed.
—Paul Vranicar, Reynoldstown [$$$]
We had a treehouse built for our kids’ 7th and 10th birthdays this summer. We have a small backyard that is mostly concrete, because it’s where my husband and I park our cars. We didn’t have room for a swing set or trampoline, but we did have a gigantic magnolia tree. I’d been thinking about a treehouse for a couple of years, since it’s the only thing that would really fit, and with the kids spending so much time at home during the pandemic, we decided to go for it. We were intimidated by the planning/design process, so we hired a local handyman (a furloughed neighborhood dad who had started a small-jobs mini-empire during the pandemic) and had it built over a couple of days in August. My kids would go out every day after (virtual) school to check out the progress and chat up or cheer on the workers. Now, they finally have their own little hideout, and they love it.
—Jennifer Marquez, Ormewood Park [$$]
The Cottage Revamp
In summer 2018, I really wanted a wall planter from Ikea that was out of stock, and my husband, Jeff, told me he could build it. This was news to me because he had never built anything in his life, we have no work space, and our only tools were hand-me-downs from my dad. But a few (well, many) trips to Home Depot later, I had the wall planter of my dreams, and we were hooked. Last winter, we built a faux fireplace to hide a TV in the living room, “leveling up” our game (tiling was involved). So, when the pandemic hit, we knew we needed to get to Home Depot and get ourselves a long project to keep us busy. We love our 1921 house in the O4W, and we try to honor its age and origin with every change we make. In March and April we replaced every bit of baseboard, door trim, and crown molding with traditional, federalist-style woodwork. Then came the big project: the bar. As in all O4W homes, the front of our house used to be a porch. During one quarantine day, Jeff said, “I’ll bet there’s brick under the drywall in the front of the house.” Off came the drywall and, to our surprise, we discovered a window! The window became the heart of the bar design. I started sketching an L-shaped bar with built-in shelving (the old window). We’re still a couple weeks out from finishing but then, it’s on to the next project! We’re having so much fun teaching ourselves woodworking and improving our old home along the way. We can’t wait until it’s safe to have people over again and serve them drinks at our new bar and sit in our living room around the fireplace!
—Anna Cullen, Old Fourth Ward [$$]
The $400 Bathroom Renovation
At age 26, I bought my first house (exciting!), but it was and still is an older home/fixer upper. I absolutely love my house, but it’s no secret that it will take a little work in order to reach its full potential. While I know it will take time and money to get some things fixed and updated, one thing I am not willing to wait on is a decent bathroom. After walking past my ugly and outdated bathroom every day, I finally decided enough was enough. I took matters into my own hands and did a DIY bathroom renovation with a $400 budget. Luckily, I was able to find tile on sale at Lowe’s, so I tiled my own bathroom floor with a simple, yet pretty, white honeycomb tile. I resurfaced the rusted bathtub with a Rust-oleum resurfacing kit and repainted the tile walls. There is a liquidation store in my neighborhood that sells deeply discounted furniture and home appliances, where I was able to find a beautiful new vanity sink and vanity light for under $150. After a little hard work and help from my dad, I now have a somewhat new bathroom! I actually had a lot of fun tiling my own bathroom floor. (All my friends want me to show them how to do it now.) Every time I walk past, it brings me instant joy to see how bright and clean it looks compared to how it was when I first bought my home.
—Bianca White, East Point [$]
The Stenciled Porch
We painted and stenciled a star tile pattern on our porch, then covered the porch in plants to create a tropical oasis. It was a project I’d always wanted to do, and, with so many free weekends, we finally were able to do it. Now, we sit out there every night.
—Courtney Dubus, East Lake [$]
The New Staircase
I’ve never liked the staircase in this 17-year-old house. It’s distracting and seems out of place. Having the time at home is why we decided to give it a facelift. We painted the stained wood handrails and newell posts black to match existing iron balusters, added wainscoting to the supporting wall, then painted both the paneling and stair risers white. Finally, we put a dark stain on the existing wooden stair treads. It was a dramatic and easy update!
—Meg Reggie, Sandy Springs [$]
The Closet Office
I turned the closet in my second guest room into an office space so that I could stop working at my dining table. The closet is seven feet wide, so it provided plenty of space for a butcher block desktop and two shelves. I added a bold wallpaper for a pop of color. If I leave it messy—no problem! I just shut the doors. The best part of my new office is that my pug, Emmy Lou, loves to snuggle under the desk next to my feet while I work.
—Laura Moody, East Atlanta [$$]
I moved to Edgewood from Beaufort, South Carolina, in April. I sold 99 percent of the furniture along with my home and bought a loft about half the size of my house. Since I bought and sold in the midst of a pandemic, the move was quite challenging. I moved to Atlanta because my son and his family live in Decatur, and I have always wanted to experience the urban lifestyle again. (I grew up in NYC.) Finding a loft in an old warehouse building in Edgewood really inspired me to furnish my new digs with an eclectic industrial, modern style. I wasn’t able to visit stores like I had hoped, but shopping online turned out to be a lot of fun. My three cats and dog and I are very happy in our new place and are patiently hoping we will be able to go to restaurants and outdoor events very soon. What gives me the most joy about my new loft are the large windows that bring in so much light and my very small, intimate patio.
—Sharon Reilly, Edgewood [$$$]
The Lion Room
I love cats and saw this lion sign on the side of a local antique store and knew that I wanted to turn it into art for our house. It was much bigger than I realized, so it sat in the garage for months while I worked on a game plan for how to hang it and where. In 2019, we moved to Roswell from Milwaukee. The house we bought was painted beige throughout, so many quarantine weekends have been used to paint the walls. The “Lion Room” brings me joy every time that I pass it because it’s one of the first spaces in our Georgia house that felt like home.
—Natasha Tomasik, Roswell [$]
We purchased the adjacent “in need of love” 1951 bungalow from its original owners. After giving up hope they would ever let it go, we pounced when we found out their son and his growing family no longer wanted to call it home. Their only request was that we promise not to tear it down. Needless to say, we were thrilled to preserve a little part of Peachtree Heights East history. Our hope is that my parents will relocate from Southern California to Atlanta in the next few years. Until that day arrives, however, we plan to rent out the house and allow others to enjoy the beautiful Duck Pond neighborhood we proudly call home. We “popped the top” and are adding a staircase, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a sitting room, and a laundry closet, all while honoring the original owners’ request to keep the character of the home intact. Patrick Davey of Davey Construction, who also completed construction on our current home, is overseeing the project. COVID-19 has managed to throw a few monkey wrenches into the project. Sourcing and acquiring materials have been challenging due to manufacturing slowdowns, and because so many people have decided to undertake home-improvement projects. Craftspeople, painters, masons, and other talented professionals are being snapped up quicker than a bottle of hand sanitizer. This has caused our project timeline to extend beyond our original projection. All in all, however, we are enjoying the process and are very excited to see our adorable little bungalow come to life.
—Melissa Lowry, Peachtree Heights East [$$$$]
The Feature Wall
We’ve done so many home-improvement projects. First was our feature wall. We only noticed how bare the wall was after taking a picture of the family playing a board game. I frantically searched for ideas on Pinterest. My husband and I bought all the wood, did all the cutting and installation, and then had it professionally painted by Gary from Blessed Transformations, who lives in our neighborhood. Installing the wood only took one weekend.
—Renee Straker, Acworth [$]