Major Farmhouse Updates on A Minimal Budget

Back in 2015, I was living in PA in an apartment after college. After living there for a little over a year, I was ready to buy a house. The house I bought ended up being first one I looked at out of the total four I walked through. From pre approval to looking at houses to my offer being accepted was under two weeks.

Closing Day

The process was fast but I was excited to get in and make updates. The farmhouse was built in 1900 and has one of those creepy basements with a crawl space. It also has a pretty large attic and some other unique features like a chicken coop, a wood shop, and an outhouse. These weren’t really on my “must have” list but were intriguing. When we initially toured the house, I went with my realtor and my dad. Keep in mind this was the first of four houses we planned to walk through that day, and after ONLY going through the first floor my Dad told me “you need to put in an offer”. I remember asking him if he was off his rocker considering how ugly everything was. He reminded me it was all just cosmetic and the bones were good. We toured the rest of the house and on our way to the second house, I remember thinking, he may be right; that may have been my house, chicken coop and all.

Mountain Lion Room with the border and wallpaper removed, before painting

When I bought the house, it was decorated in a style that is very much NOT my own. I’m surprised it was anyone’s style. It was very 1990s meets Do It Yourself meets farmhouse style. There were window treatments, awkward built ins, as well as wallpaper in every room. The wallpaper themes included but were not limited to teddy bears, swans, mountain lions, horses, and my favorite – OUTHOUSES. Yes, literal outhouse border and matching wallpaper was installed in the downstairs bathroom. Classic.

Other “on brand” decor for the house included carpets that were (and still are) various shades of light pink, a sea foam green, brown, burgundy, and a nicely discolored beige. The most uniquely decorated room in the house was the one that I call the Teddy Roosevelt room. It had pink carpet, teddy bear wall paper with sponge painted walls completed with a large gun cabinet in the closet. If you know Teddy Roosevelt history, you know he enjoyed his hunting and had his own cattle ranch at one point so the name seemed fitting.

The Teddy Roosevelt Room after paint, with the inherited pink carpet.
“Outhouse” Bathroom With New Paint

I purchased the home around Christmas time and decided I wanted to spend the PA winter updating the house so the day of closing, the wallpaper removal and painting began. Over the next 3 months, myself, my family, and my roommates smelled like a lovely mix of vinegar, hot water, and old glue. We used only our elbow grease and a vinegar concoction to remove the wallpaper in all but 1 room (the hallway which is another story). It took hours and the house smelled like a science experiment…. but we got new paint on the walls and already the house looked so much better.

Living room after paint updates and covering a large hole from an old stove.
Living room after border removal and paint.

While there were so many other updates I’d have loved to have made right away, that wasn’t in the budget. The only updates I made the first 5 years owning the house were the walls being painted, curtains being replaced, removing closet doors, and updating the hardware on my kitchen cabinets. I’ll include the estimated cost breakdown below. In total, those updates were around $900 or so.

  • Wallpaper Removal (vinegar, spray bottles, scrapers) = $70ish
  • Paint + Supplies = $500
  • Kitchen Hardware = $100
  • Replacement Curtains / Rods = $150-200

The kitchen hardware wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but the centers on my cabinets were a weird size so I had very limited options. The new ones were so much better than what I had on before. The old ones had this brass looking color with this ivory oval center and were just not cute. The curtain rods and curtains we installed were some we reused from my apartment and others I had someone sew. Overall though, the big $ was in the paint. I went in, ordered it all at once, and filled my car and brought it all home. The colors were greiges, blues, and grays. In total, there’s about 5-6 colors in the house throughout the rooms.

I mentioned earlier that the wallpaper in the hallway was another story. Well, that wall paper was on plaster walls and the glue was ON THERE really well. So the entire time I lived in the farmhouse, I lived in a house with a hallway going up the stairs that was permanently under construction with no end date. The wall paper was half peeled off. You could see the white underneath. It was sponge painted with this thin burgundy carpet runner situation. It was a hot mess, but I was too exhausted and too cheap to do anything about it so I didn’t. Progress over perfection, right?

You can see the lovely half wallpapered situation to the left of the TV. Even the pipes were wallpapered.

It’s incredible to see what some vinegar, paint, and manual labor can do to change the look and feel of someone else’s house into your own home. Next time you want to change up a room and feel like you need to invest a lot of money to do it, start first with a fresh coat of paint and moving around some furniture or changing up what you have hanging on the walls. Little things really can make a big difference. I still have pink and green carpet in the house, and you know what, it’s not my favorite but I still love the rooms and will save those bigger updates for a time when I have the budget to do it. In the meantime, I’ve enjoyed the small changes and when living in PA it felt like “home”.