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Proud pup mom, type A creative, lover of the outdoors, Top Chef fan girl, and wedding and portrait photographer. Welcome to the blog!
HI, I'M RACHEL!
Wow, this post has been a long time in the making! I’m beyond excited to share my Arlington condo tour with you today!
Going back through my archives I see that my last Fun Monday blog post is from September 2020! That’s almost two years ago! In that post I let you know I was moving to Virginia Beach, Virginia. Well, a lot has happened since then! I lived in VB for about nine months before moving back to Arlington, Virginia. I had planned to move my business to Virginia Beach, and although it was a lovely place to live, I realized my heart was still in D.C. I had a free place to stay while in D.C. (big thanks to my friends Rebecca and her sister Kelly), so I continued booking photo sessions here. I drove from VB to D.C. nearly every weekend for nine months to work. (Luckily that was during the pandemic when gas was super cheap!) I made the decision to move back, looked at condos in Arlington when I was in the area for work, and ended up purchasing my very own condo! (Thanks to Dawn Wilson with TTR Sothebys, Chris Clark with Intercostal Mortgage, and Tyler Jensen with Double Eagle Title for all the help!)
The condo I purchased was in the complex where I lived for three years before moving to VB (literally a few doors down!), and close to the neighborhood I lived in for seven years when I first moved to Arlington. I really wanted to be in that neighborhood, so I paid a little more than I was planning and decided it was OK if I had to do updates to the place after moving in. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 14 months. Working a lot and fixing up my new home.
My condo was built in 1939, so it’s an older, established community, and the place definitely needed some TLC. I knew when I purchased it that I would want to paint the entire place white, but the floors were in a shade I liked, so those could stay. I also wanted to paint the kitchen cabinets white (gutting the kitchen wasn’t in my budget, unfortunately), replace all the appliances, hardware, and light fixtures. But the granite counter tops were something I could live with. And the bathroom was the biggest transformation to come: everything but the bathtub, toilet, and tile would have to go!
I attempted to paint the place entirely on my own starting the day after closing. My goal was to have it all finished by the time the POD was delivered in two days. Feel free to laugh. I was so naive to think I could paint the entire condo in two days. I had just finished something like 30 photo sessions in 20 days, packed up the VB home, gotten my COVID vaccine in the midst of moving week (which knocked me out for like three days), had been gathering all the documents for my closing in the midst of all this, and had been living in a hotel for a month by the time I was trying to paint the condo. I was mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted and painting proved to be too much. I decided to spend a good chunk of my renovation budget on hiring professional painters. My friend, Rebecca of My Personal Assistant, referred me to someone she works with and they got the job done within two weeks from my move-in!
Luckily I still had enough in the budget to do the main big items on my list: replacing appliances, updating the bathroom, and purchasing a few pieces of furniture. I did all of that over the course of the summer 2021. Along with some unforeseen expenses, like the electrical work and contracting it took to put the microwave in over the stove, a bathtub that overflowed into my downstairs neighbor’s apartment (due to an old/rotted piece in my overflow tank), and kitchen sink and dishwasher plumbing issues. Home ownership is pricey, people!
I have to admit, I’ve had some pretty challenging times mentally handling all of the unforeseen issues and expenses. And at the same time, I really enjoy my home and love spending time here. I think I went into the process with the expectation that things would go easily and as planned. I’m finding out home ownership is not always like that – at least not in an older home. It’s frustrating that some of my redecoration budget that I would’ve wanted to spend on a new couch and hiring a decorator instead went to necessary fixes. But that’s how it goes, I guess!
I took a little break on the home improvement front in fall 2021 when my schedule was busy, and through winter 2021/2022 when my budget was low. I picked back up with decorating this summer and am feeling good about the status of things right now. That’s why I decided it was finally time to share what I’ve been up to! I still have some big projects I want to tackle once I replenish my budget and I’ll note those items when sharing the photos below.
Overall it feels wonderful to own a home I purchased with capitol earned doing something I love. When I quit my job just over four and a half years ago, my financial situation was shaky at best. Throughout that time I have built my business into a successful, prosperous career, paid down debt, saved a down payment, live credit-card free, and continue to work with wonderful people, doing what I love to support myself and home. I get to live in a space I love, surrounded my an environment I enjoy, and share it all with my fav little lady, Milli. And that is all thanks to my wonderful, supportive clients who have trusted me to capture their most precious memories. This all feels like a big, big win.
And now I get to share my Arlington condo tour with you! This is going to be a three part series. Today I’m sharing the kitchen/dining spaces. Next week I’ll share the living area, and in two weeks, the bathroom and bedroom. I took the cell phone ‘before’ photos in May 2021 and the new photos in August 2022. And I’ll share updates in future blog posts as I complete new projects. You can also follow me on Instagram where I share updates in real time in my stories.
I’ll share the ‘before’ of each area first, followed by the current photos. I’ll also list what was updated/renovated and links to items I decorated with at the bottom or within the text.
These are the original cabinets, I believe, so they’re pretty sturdy. Just super old fashioned. And they were painted in this streaky way with grey paint. Almost like a shabby chic look, but not that cute! As you can see the microwave is free standing on the counter – taking up counter space, not installed above the stove. The faucet was stationary – it didn’t swivel, nor did it have a pull out nozzle. If you have a faucet like that – treat yourself to a new one – it is life changing!
What I liked about this kitchen – it is open; I like the shape, the window looking out to the balcony, the floors, and the granite counters. The counter colors are not my exact cup of tea, but at least they were light and would go with my overall design plan well enough. There were decent bones to work with and all the things I really hated were easily changeable.
This is what it looks like today!
I had the entire kitchen – including the cabinets – painted in Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace, which is a crisp white with minimal undertones. After living with it for over a year I do notice it’s a little warm, but that could be because I get lots of natural light (which is typically yellowish). I actually think it’s fine though because I decorated with a lot of white too, so the warmth helps it not seem super stark. I mean, it’s a little stark (I prefer ‘serene’), but it could be more so if I had a cooler white paint.
Unfortunately it would’ve taken more advanced planning to replace the cabinet hinges so that they were interior instead of exterior; planning I just didn’t do. So, I don’t love that they’re exposed. But oh well! I replaced all the appliances, the faucet, and cabinet drawer pulls and handles (the handles aren’t my fav but they were the closest I could find to match the knob finish, which I love. So the handles may get updated at some point). Added my own decor and the rug. And voila!
Still to be done: tile backsplash, new light fixture. and touching up the paint on the cabinets from where the old drawer pulls and door handles were. I’ve considered getting a roman shade for the window but I just love the natural light and don’t want to block it at all.
To add the microwave above the stove was expensive and time consuming. I first purchased a standard sized microwave, which was reasonably priced and attractive. But then found out that the code is there has to be I think 18 inches between the bottom of the microwave and the stovetop. Well, the standard size was too tall. So I returned that and had to get this special sized Whirlpool microwave that is shorter – and two times the price of the other one! Then, I had to have a contractor take out the old vent hood and install a wood plank that the new microwave would be bolted to. Then I got estimates from electricians to add an outlet because there wasn’t one. Once that was installed, the microwave could be installed. All in all this project cost $1000!
Originally I didn’t plan to replace the dishwasher because the one that came with the house was Bosch, which is a higher-end brand. Plus I kind of liked the white so that it broke up the stainless steel and blended in with the white cabinets. It worked really well even though it was older. I had it repaired once when I moved in, but then it broke again this spring. Because of the way it as installed, the floor would have to be removed in order to get it out to repair it. The dishwasher repair guy suggested I just buy a new one that had less chance of breaking multiple times. If I kept the old one, I risked needing future repairs where the floor would have to be torn up multiple times. Getting a new one meant the floor would be torn up and replaced only once. So I took his advice and bought a new dishwasher, which was available the following week. I had a plumber come to take up the floor and remove the old dishwasher – but luckily the guy was able to do it with minimal damage to the baseboards and not having to pull up the floor at all. So now I have a new dishwasher and that completed the replacement of all the kitchen appliances.
LG Fridge (no water dispenser; comes with ice maker but I don’t have that hooked up b/c I didn’t have a water line in the area to connect it to) I really love this fridge! It’s spacious and stylish and easy to clean, inside and out. I got the kind with the door opening to the right because of the way my kitchen is oriented. All of the counters and cooking space is to the left of the fridge. I like the look of the French door fridges, but I didn’t want one of the doors opening and blocking access to the cooking and prep area. The only thing I don’t love is that it has a door alarm that dings incessantly and the only way to stop it is to unplug the electrical panel that displays the temperature inside the fridge. But I did it anyway and it is worth it to avoid the dinging! I rate it a 4.5/5.
LG Stove – I freaking love this stove! (I would prefer a gas range, but that wasn’t option since I don’t have a gas line.) I love how it looks (the inside is cobalt blue!), I love the large knobs on the front, the drawer pulls out easily. The burners work well and have a variety of settings and sizes. It even has a pizza setting for the oven! It works really well and I enjoy using it. I rate it a 5/5.
LG Dishwasher – I’m not really a fan of this dishwasher, unfortunately. I chose to get the flat front with the recessed handle and I wish I got the other option with a handle that matches the fridge and stove. I thought it would look better to switch it up and not have everything be matchy-matchy, but I was wrong! It’s also a slightly different finish of stainless steel than the fridge and stove, which is confusing. Why wouldn’t they have a standard look across the brand?! I also don’t like how it functions. The inside is not intuitive as far as the setup of the trays and the dividers easily fall down. And it doesn’t work as well as the Bosch as far as cleaning. The positives? I do like the little top drawer for utensils and it is very quiet when running. I rate it a 2.5/5.
Whirlpool Low Profile Microwave – I like this one OK. It works really well and looks nice. The only thing I don’t like is the giant logo right in the center at the top of the door. That is tacky and unnecessary, I feel. It’s also taken some getting used to that the buttons are on the inside of the door. It’s fairly easy to clean (I use a soapy paper towel to clean the inside and stainless steel spray to clean the outside). I rate this a 4/5.
Glacier Bay Faucet – I love this faucet! It even broke once (which I don’t think was the fault of the faucet; the plumber said sometimes debris will get caught in the line and cause a faucet to break), and I still ordered it again. It swivels so you can move it around to hit different parts of the sink. The nozzle is removable so you can pull it out and use it to rinse your dishes very easily. And it switches between a stream and a spray, which I love. Plus it’s stylish and very sleek. It does show water spots, but they’re not super obvious. I rate this a 5/5.
(All appliances and faucet are from Home Depot. HD also delivered all and installed the fridge, stove, and DW.)
I lost track of where I got the Door handles
Similar (and cheaper!) white marble serving tray
Rug – I carefully cut off the outer ring so it would fit better in the space
Cutting boards are all from Home Goods
White pot is from the dollar section at Target
The plant from Nature Composed in Middleburg, VA, in the white pot is supposed to be Greek Oregano, but I’ve since searched it and it doesn’t look the same.
The tray the flowers are sitting on is from a thrift shop in Old Town Alexandria.
The wooden beads and tea kettle are from Home Goods.
This area was a little tough to figure out because it sits right at the top of the stairs and is basically a walkway from the living area to the kitchen and out to the balcony. The balcony door also swings open into it, which limits what you can have in the space.
Here’s what it looks like now!
I used to have a large rectangular wooden dining table with four chairs, so I knew that wouldn’t fit. I also rarely ever used the dining table. I would have people over for dinner just a few times a year and I never ate at it alone. I figured, why have a big table when I rarely use it? I got rid of it and replaced it with this pedestal table and just two acrylic chairs. I thought the acrylic/see-through chairs would help this small space look less crowded. I replaced the light fixture recently but still need the height adjusted and a technical issue fixed by an electrician.
Another challenging design aspect with this room is that there are four walls connected in a small area. To me that meant I would have to find a variety of things to hang on the walls. I didn’t want to have every wall include a painting or a framed print, or to even have two walls with the same thing. It took me about a year to finally decide what I would add to each wall. I knew I wanted a mirror on the wall above the table, and happened upon these adorable wicker framed mirrors at Target. The wall at the top of the stairs was perfect for a painting (or two) (Threshold brand, no longer available). The far wall, by the balcony door offered a bunch of vertical space above that little table (from Home Goods) that holds the internet modems and wires. I found two gold frames on sale at Home Goods and knew I wanted some type of graphic art in them. I finally made my own art with my fav Abraham Hicks quote. And the wall above the cabinet is going to display a collection of antique colorful oyster plates (I love oysters, antiques, and my condo has a subtle beach theme)! Now I just have to find them!
I must say, I love my white trashcan (similar)! haha It’s not plastic, it’s metal. And it blends so well with the rest of the decor. There really wasn’t a good place to put the trashcan, so since it has to be in the middle of the room, it might as well be stylish!
I got this cabinet from Ikea in 2006 when I got my first apartment in Arlington. It’s served so many purposes through the years! It was a linen closet, then my dad took it and used it in his basement. I took it back in 2015 when I needed it again as a linen closet. In 2016 it turned into a wine cabinet, and since 2020 it’s been a china cabinet. I love the simple design and the coloring of the wood and the frame around the glass. It fits perfectly in this area and matches the rug (which you can’t really see in this photo, but it’s kind of an Aztec design in very pale pastel pink, blue, green, and yellow (forget where I got it).
Side note: I’m obsessed with that plant! It’s from Trader Joe’s and has grown so much. It’s the perfect fit for the table. The tray it’s resting in is from World Market (no longer available but this is sorta similar and super cute! I almost like this better!) and the pot is from Home Goods.
Check back next week to see the living area!
Did this post get you excited to book your own photo session with me?! If yes, send me a note and we can chat about what you have in mind: contact me
Hi – I’m Rachel! A wedding, engagements, and headshots photographer in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and northern Virginia. I love taking photos of elegant people who love to laugh, as well as of much in-love couples. If you’re a dog owner, that’s a plus! I’m currently booking 2022 portrait sessions, as well as 2022 and 2023 weddings.
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