KELLY AND GARY Champagne married in June of 2016 and soon thereafter got thrown a curveball. Their landlord called to say he was terminating their lease. Rather than scramble to find a new rental, they decided to move in with Gary’s parents and start looking for a home of their own.
First, they boxed up all their belongings and left on a delayed autumn honeymoon. They returned and started hunting in earnest; unfortunately, the inventory of available housing was low that fall and even worse as winter came around.
But in the spring of 2017, a 1951 bungalow in East Corte Madera went up for sale. “It was in near-original condition,” Kelly says. “It had linoleum and floral wallpaper everywhere.” The only update — a garage conversion — was from around the Kennedy era. Still, something about the place clicked: “It was the neighborhood as much as the house,” she says. “We loved seeing all the families playing on their front lawns.”
The couple put together an offer and beat the competition.
They stayed with Gary’s family and started drawing up plans for an extensive kitchen remodel. Their budget wouldn’t cover a professional designer, so Kelly channeled HGTV’s Joanna Gaines — “she was definitely my inspiration” — and found that design on a dime is possible even without the backing of a network production crew. White Shaker cabinets from Home Depot, brass fixtures found on Amazon, and kitchen island light pendants from Cost Plus were some of her thrifty finds.
An outdoor living room is great for entertaining.
Then, right around the time the city approved permits, Gary and Kelly learned they were expecting. And, well, the nesting instincts went into overdrive. “We were still on a very tight budget, so our parents agreed to help out with the remodel,” Kelly adds. Her dad did some demo work in the main bathroom and in the converted garage, which needed updating as it had zero in the way of insulation, and her mom got on board to help design.
There was, however, a challenge: Following a bitter divorce, her parents weren’t exactly speaking. “I had to juggle to keep them from showing up at the same time,” Kelly says.
Fortunately, the shared excitement over the impending arrival of a first grandchild became a salve. Kelly’s parents found a way to put differences aside, eventually even collaborating.
The sweat equity from her parents, with manual assists from Gary’s side of the family, kept costs in check, as did Kelly’s dedication to bargain-hunting. The Fireclay tile in the bathroom is from Craigslist, and the chic bathroom vanity? That’s Ikea.
The take-home from most renovation stories is that the process is stressful but the results make it all worthwhile. This one has an even happier ending. By the time everything was complete, Kelly’s parents had reconciled. “I guess you could say our house brought them back together,” she says. And three months after move-in, this mended extended family welcomed baby Gus.
A budget-friendly kitchen remodel can still pack a punch.
Cozy living room.
Gary, Gus and Kelly.
A bright bathroom.
Dawn Margolis Denberg is a freelance writer and dog lover. She is also co-founder of ModMath, a free iPad app for kids who’s math success is impeded by dysgraphia—a condition that can co-occur with ADHD, Autism and Dyslexia.
Dawn Margolis Denberg has worked as a professional journalist for 20 years. Her work has appeared in top publications, including Wired, Shape and Parenting. She has also written several books for children including, The Men in Black Agent’s Manual The Official Godzilla Movie Fact Book. And, most recently, an episodic audio series for Tales Untold.