For many couples, owning a home comes after a substantial amount of time together, maybe even after marriage and children. But Jenna Cook and Brandon Curry aren’t exactly your average couple. Not only did they know they wanted to spend their lives together after less than a year together, they also knew they wanted to buy a home together, which they did. As happy as we are for the recently engaged couple, it’s the latter decision we wanted to share with our readers because Jenna and Brandon have painstakingly renovated their home from the ground up.
We’ve been inspired by the hours of blood, sweat, and tears they’ve poured into their new home and the results they earned as they’ve documented the process on their blog and Instagram, For Richard or Poorer. We think you will be, too.
Tell us about your home! How did you find it and at what point did you know it was right for you?
Our house is a 1926 shake-sided home located in Ferndale, MI. We knew we wanted to be in Ferndale because it's charming, unique and centrally located — close to Detroit and the suburbs. It took a while to find our home... we wanted something we could renovate but everything on the market at the time had already been redone in ways that we would want to change. Since Brandon's a realtor, he was able to sign me up for emails of new listings. Every day I would check and every day I would see this house. I thought the outside was ok, but the inside had a lot of potential including a lovely library off of the living room. I convinced Brandon to see it (he wasn't a fan of the exterior) and the second we walked in, I knew it was home.
Brandon and I bought the house a little over two years ago - February 3rd, 2017 - one year into our relationship. People would probably thing that was crazy, but I always tell my friends (when talking about relationships) when you know, you know. I knew Brandon was the one the night I met him. We moved in the day we closed and slept on a mattress in the dining room. We immediately got to work with the renovations."
Have you found favorite quirks or unique characteristics?
Yes, around every corner. Being an old home there isn’t a square wall or flat surface in the house. The walls are plaster and the floors are the original hardwood (for the most part). The home has settled in areas over time creating a lot of unique characteristics. For example, the wall that is shared with the dining room and kitchen — if you drop a marble on the ground it follows the path of the hardwood floors slightly and rolls towards that shared wall. The basement was an original Michigan basement and resembled a skate park with all the slopes and pitched corners. Tiling over that surface was a real blast (not). The wood floors creak in all the right places giving us a vintage security system against cat burglars.
What elements needed to be renovated or restored?
EVERYTHING (but we are kind of crazy). The home was in excellent shape and many different owners had the pleasure of calling it home over the years. For us, we wanted to make the home ours and everything we’ve ever dreamed of in a home. We are the fourth owner of this house in the past 10 years so there were a lot of different styles and finishes in this melting pot. Our first project that we tackled was refinishing the floors in a darker color. Underneath the bedroom carpeting we found that a previous owner had painted the wood floors surf blue in one room and white in another. The walls and ceilings got painted next, all flat white.
When we moved in to the house the wall colors resembled a retirement home. They say Eskimo’s have 50 different words for “snow." Likewise the previous owners of this home had 50 different names for “tan.” We made custom moulding for the home to compliment the style of the home better, replaced all windows in the home with new double-hung windows that actually open now, replaced all light fixtures, and so forth. In every inch of this house, we erased the past styles and made it ours.
How much of the renovation process have you completed yourselves versus hiring out to contractors? What has been the most challenging project to tackle?
If we are capable of doing something ourselves, we will. Apart from electrical, some plumbing, having the exterior painted and having the hardwood floors professionally done, we did it ourselves. We custom made the trim around the house with a table saw and router. One rainy day we decided to install our own board and batten in the dining room. Everything, even down to hanging a drywall ceiling in the basement, we did ourselves.
What has been the most rewarding part of the project?
There have been so many rewarding parts of this project besides the obvious answer of having an (almost) completed home just the way we wanted it, but two stick out the strongest in my mind:
One: This project brought the two of us together better and tighter than we ever would have imagined possible. Through all the frustration and stress we were always there for each other for support and help. Even the smallest victories (like ripping up five layers of existing kitchen flooring) were celebrated together. We shared blisters, cuts and most importantly, memories. I’ve never done anything so special in my life.
Two: We made an extremely special friend. We couldn’t have done all that we did without the help and support of our hardwood flooring guy, Nick Zeb. We hired him to refinish our flooring, but he stayed until the end. When an extra set of hands were needed to hang cabinets, he was there. When we needed to install moulding and quarter round, he was there. When we even bought all of our outdoor furniture and needed a set of hands (and truck) to pick it up, he was there. Always with a smile and never questioning the project. Our home wouldn’t be the same without him and nor would our lives.
How would you describe your decorating sensibility?
We start with a blank canvas by painting everything white and take it from there. By using neutral furniture, we then add in the color whether it be through pillows, paintings, or books. Living in a house that’s aesthetically pleasing and comfortable is extremely important to us. Every painting starts off as a blank canvas. It’s about the splashes of color and brushstrokes that make the painting what it is, not the frame.
Do you and Brandon always agree on decorating decisions? How did you navigate mixing your styles?
Brandon’s more of a neutral guy and I’m all about color, patterns and pattern mixing. But together, we love white walls, clean lines, the color navy, stripes (duh!), accessorizing with books, plants and flowers, traditional mixed with modern, old mixed with new, and everything from Schoolhouse.
Where do you most enjoy spending time in your home?
In the living room in front of the fireplace playing board games, downstairs watching old movies in the theater room, on the back deck in the summer reading on the couch, baking in the kitchen. I feel like we truly enjoy all of the rooms in our house it makes it hard for us to leave the house. We even eat at our dining room table. Who does that anymore?!
What are your favorite things to do and places to go in your area?
Taking George for walks around the neighborhood (when it’s not freezing out) is always fun—we love looking at the homes. We tend to stick around Ferndale for the most part: going out for food and drinks at places like the Fly Trap, Pop’s for Italian and our favorite place for seafood, Voyager. The best thing about where we live is that Detroit is a quick 15 minutes away. Living in the city for 12 years, I tend to stick to the places that have been around forever.
The Bronx bar is forever my favorite dive. It’s where Brandon and I went the first time we hung out. The Detroit Institute of Arts is awesome and Belle Isle is beautiful—we’re actually having our wedding reception at the Belle Isle Aquarium this summer. The Redford Theater plays old movies on weekends and the admission is $5 which is awesome. Come summertime, we don’t discriminate. Any place that is dog friendly is good in our book.
How has it been tackling renovations on top of wedding planning?
Believe it or not, we’re feeling pretty good about everything. We’re having a small intimate wedding in Northern Michigan so I’ve been trying not to get too stressed about it. The house projects are slowing down and the thing we were most stressed about has already passed. We hosted a housewarming/engagement party for ourselves in September which was mega stressful. Brandon was finishing up the basement and it was just a mess—tools everywhere, dust, you name it. Brandon’s mom came over to help clean because I was just so overwhelmed. We had guests coming over at 6 and at 5:30 I was finally changing out of my dirty clothes and into my dress.
Finally, what's an ideal weekend at home like for your family?
George (our dog) and Richard (our cat) on their best behavior holding paws, homemade breakfast by Brandon (preferably pancakes and crispy bacon laid out in the shape of a funny face), a trip to a state park to explore and toss George’s favorite tennis ball, romantic dinner made at home without making a mess of the kitchen followed by board games and Miller High Lifes by the fire and a black and white movie to cuddle up to.