Updates We’ve Made to Our House So Far

We recently bought a new build townhouse, and while I was able to make a few changes to what had already been selected for the house, I wasn’t able to personalize most things.  I was able to change the floors, countertops, and fireplace surround because we had our realtor write it into our contract so that we could back out if I wasn’t able to update those things.  (An amber color was initially chosen for the floors, the countertops were a gray color in the kitchen and granite in the kids’ bathrooms, and the fireplace surround was a black marble.)  I figured those were the bigger ticket items that I’d never be able to replace on my own once we were the owners, so I had to make sure I loved those if we were going to proceed!  The options they had in the bathrooms were limited to brushed nickel and matte black (an upgrade).  We have brushed nickel throughout the house (a finish I do not like) and matte black had initially been chosen for our primary bathroom but I didn’t want to pay for an upgrade that I didn’t like, so thankfully we were able to drop down to the standard option- which I’m now replacing.  I wish I’d been able to make some of these choices beforehand, but at least these are things that I can tackle on my own, or hire out for a fee that’s not astronomical.  (And I’m sure someone is going to ask…I’m donating all of our unused fixtures to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Alexandria, VA.)

As a military family, we’ve moved around for all of our adult lives and I’ve been dreaming of one day making a house a true home for our family.  Your home is the backdrop to so many memories, and I want a home that feels comfortable, fits our family, and is beautiful (yet practical) too.  We’ve owned the house a little over 3 months and here’s what we’ve done so far.  I’ll add more details and better pictures in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

Updates We’ve Made to Our Builder-Grade Home

– Locker-style built-ins in our entryway.  I needed a drop zone for the kids’ shoes, coats, backpacks, sports equipment, etc…and this has been the perfect solution!   I used Capitol Closet Design for all of our built-ins and from design to installation they’ve been wonderful to work with.

Entryway Before

Entryway After

serena and lily priano wallpaper

– Wallpaper hung in our entryway and up the stairs to the main floor.  I went with Serena and Lily Priano Wallpaper in Sky and Sam Gaspar from Interior Out is the one who installed it.  He was amazing and I plan to hire him for our other wallpaper projects in the future.

– Our primary closet came with bare bones wire racks, so I hired Capitol Closet Design to help us come up with a custom closet that fit our needs.  I am so thrilled with how it turned out!  I have shelves for all of my shoes, a locking jewelry drawer, Tom and I each have a pants rack (LOVE), sections for my long dresses, shorter dresses, and other clothing (Tom’s too), shelves for sweaters, handbags, Tom has a tie rack, I have a belt rack, and we have lots of storage up top for luggage.  It’s not a huge closet but we made strategic choices to make it the most efficient use of space and every time I walk in there I smile.

– I swapped out all of the hardware in the house, as far as cabinet and drawer pulls go.  The kitchen and bathrooms all had those industrial t bar pulls in brushed nickel and making that simple swap made it feel so much more custom.  I ordered the majority of the knobs through Lowe’s, and the brand I bought for everything was Amerock- which I have been so happy with.  They have a good weight to them, they are high quality, they ship immediately, and they are affordable!  I went with Champagne Bronze in the kitchen (these cup pulls on the drawers and these pulls on the cabinets), Champagne Bronze in our bathroom (these pulls), Champagne Bronze in the girls’ bathroom (these pulls), and Polished Nickel in Jack’s bathroom (bought these on Wayfair).

Kitchen Before Swapping Out Pulls

Kitchen During the Hardware Swap

Hardware in Kitchen Now

champagne bronze hardware in kitchen

Swapping the Pulls in Jack’s Bathroom

– The lighting selections left a lot to be desired (you can see the original dining room chandelier above), so I hung two light fixtures that we already had (this Serena and Lily one in the dining room and an old Target one in our entryway).  The bathrooms have the worst light fixtures, so I bought this cute polished nickel one for Jack bathroom, this polished nickel one for our lower level full bathroom, I’ve ordered these sconces for our powder room- though there is quite a delay due to shipping so they haven’t arrived yet.  I ordered these vanity lights for our bathroom but the glass shades are much larger than I had expected and they don’t fit.  I love the light fixture itself though, so I plan to keep one and put it in the girls’ bathroom because they have a taller ceiling, and I’m installing these affordable vanity lights from Lowe’s in our bathroom because the scale is much better.  I hung two of these lights from Lowe’s in the girls’ bedroom/playroom.  I was able to request that the builders wire for pendants over the kitchen island but not hang anything.  I now have two of these beautiful faux bamboo pendants from Ballard hanging over the island!

Lights in Girls’ Bedroom

lighting from lowes girls bedroom

– We have the tiniest pedestal sink in the lower level full bathroom (it’s seriously an airplane-sized sink), and we have a standard-sized pedestal sink in the powder room too.  While I understand pedestal sinks, I personally am not crazy about them.  I need storage!  I purchased this vanity from Lowe’s for our powder room and this vanity from Wayfair for the downstairs full bath.  I’ve installed the powder room vanity and it was quite the learning experience.  It was a challenge but totally doable.  I’ll tackle the lower level bathroom soon.

– I requested that the builders omit all bathroom mirrors because I already had 4 on hand that I wanted to use and knew I could find some other options for the remaining bathrooms.  I hung a pair of vintage faux bamboo octagonal mirrors (found roughly 9 years apart and I painted them to match) in our bathroom.  (These look very similar.)  I hung a recent thrift store find- a vintage faux bamboo mirror that went with a dresser that now lives in our bedroom- in the powder room.  I painted it Farrow and Ball Parma Gray, and it’s the prettiest light blue color.  I hung an old mirror that has been in Caroline’s room since she was born in the girls’ bathroom.  I just hung this wood mirror from Lowe’s in Jack’s bathroom, and it’ll be part of an upcoming campaign with Lowe’s.

– I installed bamboo blinds on all of our windows.  We needed the top down bottom up option because we live in a tall townhouse and wanted the natural light to shine through up top but needed privacy for the lower part of the window.  These were a random Amazon find and I love them so much.  They provide great privacy, are easy to adjust (yay cordless), and look really nice.  The color we have is “Rustic Oak.”  I layered curtains over them in our bedroom and Jack’s bedroom for a more polished look.

affordable bamboo blinds

– Continuing with the brushed nickel theme, all of the toilet paper holders and towel bars were a brushed nickel design that I really disliked.  Sure, they worked fine, but many of the bars were hung too high for the kids to even use, and the TP holders were single sided, which means my kids often accidentally pulled the roll off.  There also were no towel rings or smaller bars for hand towels, so I added those.  I replaced all of the fixtures in 3 of the bathrooms in one weekend.  Powder room and lower level guest bathroom will be tackled after I install the new vanities (I’ll install the toilet paper holder on the side of the vanities).  It took a while but made such a big difference.  I went with Amerock for most bathrooms, so that I knew the colors would match the cabinet hardware.  Our bathroom now has this lucite towel bar and it’s such a beautiful upgrade.  I hung 2 of these towel rings in our bathroom, this towel bar in the girls’ bathroom, these toilet paper holders for 3 bathrooms, and this towel ring in the girls’ bathroom and it’ll go in the powder room too.  Polished nickel (vs chrome) can be a little trickier to find, so I bought Jack’s polished nickel pieces from Wayfair and Ballard Designs (TP holder, towel ring, towel bar).

Primary Bathroom Towel Bar and Toilet Paper Holder Before (this style was used throughout the whole house)


acrylic towel bar

– I’ve started replacing some of the internal door knobs.  They are lever-style knobs that have a scrolly detail to them and they’re brushed nickel, which I just don’t like.  The knobs I went with for our closet and our pantry (I figured I’d start with non-locking doors) are these beautiful brass knobs.  They have wonderful weight to them and really elevate the space.  I plan to tackle our bathroom and bedroom next, and then possibly the entryway.  The knobs are on the pricier side so I’ll tackle a couple every so often.  They were super easy to install!

Doorknobs Before

Doorknobs After

– Our laundry closet only had one rack straight across, so the storage was minimal and there was a lot of wasted space.  I knew it had a lot of potential though, so I hired Capitol Closet Design to help me with this space as well.  We don’t have any linen closets or medicine cabinets, so I needed something that provided lots of storage.  Now I have a spot for batteries, lightbulbs, my toolbox, medicine, and other random things.  I’m so incredibly happy with how this turned out because it’s really functional now!

– As with all of the closets, the kids’ closets had just one rack across, and it was up so high that they couldn’t reach any of their clothes.  I needed a place to store some of their toys and legos, clothes that they don’t fit into yet, bedding, etc. so I hired Capitol Closet Design yet again.  Their closets are so much more functional now, and these closets will grow with them nicely.

– Back to the brushed nickel features in styles I don’t like…the faucets in the bathrooms are all just pretty blah.  I got this cute polished nickel one for Jack from a company called Kingston Brass and it looks like an antique faucet and it’s under $100.  I installed it this past week and the faucet itself wasn’t difficult at all, but the drain was tricky, just making sure it was all sealed well and didn’t leak.

Jack’s Original Faucet

Jack’s New Faucet

kingston brass polished nickel faucet


Upcoming Projects:

– Install dimmers for the lights over our island and in our dining room.

– Wallpaper dining room (paper tbd).

– Wallpaper powder room (paper tbd).

– Wallpaper Jack’s bathroom (this wallpaper).

– Built-ins flanking the fireplace. (First week of October!)

–  I wanted something beautiful for our bathroom, but there are not a lot of single lever options that aren’t modern.  I got these gold Delta faucets for our bathroom, this polished nickel faucet for the lower level full bath (though I think its reach is too long), and the same faucet with two handles for our new powder room vanity.  I’ll tackle the girls’ faucet eventually.

– Paint lower level bathroom (color tbd but probably Farrow and Ball Parma Gray).


Do you enjoy these kinds of updates?  Please leave a comment and let me know!



Katie Vail
Katie Vail

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  1. Lindsay Jalbert
    September 29, 2022 / 12:42 pm

    Love this! I’d love to see pictures of the closets! Being local to the DC area, I need a good company to come out and redo my closets, pantries, basement laundry, etc.

    • September 29, 2022 / 1:43 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to read! I will definitely share a more thorough post with pictures of that. I just didn’t have any on my computer when I was writing this and didn’t want to delay publishing it. More to come!

    • September 29, 2022 / 6:52 pm

      I would love to see the closets too, Katie! What a great update! Congratulations!

      • October 4, 2022 / 11:44 am

        Thanks Holly! I will definitely share! The girls rummage through their clothing when they’re up there alone so I’ll have to catch it at a tidy moment at some point, LOL

  2. carole
    September 29, 2022 / 7:52 pm

    YES!! more more !! very excited to see the work the closet co. has done for you and the wallpaper and built ins too! please keep posting updates. fabulous job! bravo!!

    • October 4, 2022 / 11:43 am

      Thanks for reading, Carole! I will definitely share more once I get some photos!

  3. Catherine
    October 2, 2022 / 12:36 pm

    Great post! I have been hoping to see photos of your new house. I know it will be stunning. Love the mix of vintage and newer things! Look forward to seeing more detailed posts. You must be truly enjoying your new home – so very happy for you and your sweet family!

    • October 4, 2022 / 11:44 am

      Thank you Catherine! We are enjoying the home so much- it’s still a bit surreal that we’re finally in a home we own and I can make permanent changes to it. I will share more once I’m able to photograph it all!

  4. Jean
    October 11, 2022 / 4:57 pm

    I can’t wait to see the closets!!!

    • October 12, 2022 / 11:47 am

      I’ll work on taking some photos soon!

  5. Lisa
    January 8, 2023 / 1:16 pm

    Okay…adore your style! Everything looks fabulous! How did you order the blinds for the doors?

    • January 8, 2023 / 2:34 pm

      Thank you, Lisa! For the doors, order as an outside mount (choose the size you need and then specify “outside mount” in the message you’ll receive from the store- they will include 2 valance pieces that attach with velro to the sides so that the hanging mechanism is hidden- that really is the only difference). Just make sure to order a size that is a bit wider than the window on your door so that it will all be covered. I hope that helps!

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