Mom, designer, thrifter and DYIer Clare Conklin shares her journey of renovating her 1979 Bloomfield home into a calming environment for her family.
By Chelsie Dzbanski
1. Tell us about your professional background. After receiving a degree in interior design from Michigan State University I worked locally in the architecture and design industry. My work consisted mostly of interior architecture and design for commercial projects ranging from hospitality to medical to corporate to industrial clients. My husband’s job took us on a five-year hiatus from Michigan, where we moved to Louisville, Kentucky and then to Birmingham, Alabama and then back to Michigan 3.5 years ago. During our travels I worked as a facilities project manager for a worldwide corporation. Since moving back to Michigan I have started taking residential design clients while also caring for our two boys (6 and almost 3).
2. Can you tell us a little bit about your home and why you decided to renovate it yourself? Our home was built in 1979 on a 0.75 acre lot in Bloomfield. The home is 2,800 square feet with four bedrooms, 2.5 baths and the exact layout we were looking for. Since the layout was what we wanted and renovations wouldn’t include moving any walls or reworking the floor plan, we knew we could tackle most of the cosmetic work ourselves.
3. Deciding to renovate your home is a big decision! How did you even know where to start!? My husband is very handy and does not shy away from YouTubing a project and diving right in. We prioritized what we needed to have completed by the time we took occupancy. We lived in a temporary apartment for about three months while completing the rooms we knew we wanted to have done right away (kitchen, main living areas, kids’ rooms). At that time I was about seven months pregnant with our second child and ready to move in. The motivation to get it done was there. My husband went to work all day then went straight to the house and worked on the renovation for a couple hours before coming back to our temporary apartment to turn around and do the same thing the next day. We also had a ton of help from friends and family.
4. What inspired you to document your renovation process on your Instagram account @conklinhouse? I followed a few other home renovation accounts and was always so interested in learning about their process. Since we planned to DIY most everything I thought it would be helpful and inspirational to share our experiences with others trying to do the same, especially those trying to do it while juggling small children.
5. How long have your been in the process of renovating your home? Is it complete yet? If not, what’s next on the list? We began renovating our home immediately after receiving the keys in January 2016 and still have a large portion to complete. Next up is our master suite, including our master bedroom, master bathroom and walk-in master closet. Demolition has already begun and the goal is to have it completed by the end of May.
6. Which room in your house underwent the biggest transformation? The kitchen went through the biggest transformation. We changed the cabinetry layout and removed a few ceiling soffits. It feels much bigger and flows better with the other spaces. It doesn’t even feel like you are in the same house.
7. What is your favorite room in the house and why? My favorite space is our open concept family room/kitchen area. We spend the majority of our time here preparing meals, eating together, playing with the boys, coloring, playing games, hosting friends and family. Our boys can play in the family room while my husband and I are in the kitchen, and because of the layout, we still feel like we are all together in the same room.
8. What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced throughout your renovation process? One of the biggest challenges for us is finding the time. We work on renovations for an hour during the week after the boys go to bed or on the weekends for two to three hours at a time. We also have to be mindful of making sure the home is safe for the boys while under construction. We can’t leave tools or projects laying around. Everything needs to be cleaned up and put away each time unless it is a space we can close off.
9. Where did you source inspiration when renovating your home? I have been sourcing inspiration for my home renovations for as long as I can remember and have saved ideas from magazines, design websites, trade shows, home tours, etc. for many years. My existence has always revolved around design of some sort, and I am constantly immersed in it. I have also found so much inspiration following along with many interior designers, architects and design publications on social media.
10. How would you describe your design style? My design style is forever evolving. I lean toward modern/mid-century with a touch of vintage. My preferred color palette is neutral earthy tones. We have a ton of excitement and chaos with the two boys bouncing around that I wanted to create a calming environment to help balance the energy.
11. Can you share a renovation or design tip or trick that you’ve found to be helpful? We were not up to the challenge of scraping popcorn ceiling bits off of three ceilings in our house so we decided on the much easier route of covering them up. We cut 4- by 8-foot sheets of plywood down to 6- by 8-inch strips and glued/nailed them up, painted them white, and now we have a bit of character without the popcorn. Tip: Paint the popcorn ceiling black first so you cannot see the popcorn through the gaps.
12. You have thrifted and repurposed many items in your home. Can you share any advice on how to successfully thrift and repurpose furniture? I think it is important to look at something in person before purchasing. I look at tons of things online but never agree to purchase anything until I have seen the quality up close. I also always have an idea in mind of what I am looking for before heading out on a thrifting expedition. That way, I won’t end up with a bunch of things I don’t have any use for.
13. Can you share any DIY projects you’re really proud of? Our family room shelves turned out really well. The walls on either side of our fireplace were originally empty. Our plan was to use Ikea bookshelves and make them look built-in by adding trim around the tops and bottoms. The scale turned out all wrong so we decided to design and build our own custom shelves that included firewood storage and a space for our TV.
14. How do you find the balance between working, renovating your home and being a mom of two little ones? This is tricky. I don’t feel like we have really found the balance or if balance is even possible. When there are so many things going on, something has to give, something has to get pushed to the bottom of the priority list. Some days our renovation does not see any progress and that is OK. We focus on fulfilling the kids’ needs, then getting our work done, then working on the renovation if there is anything left.
15. Can you share any advice for someone who is thinking about renovating their home? Home renovation is fun and exhausting and challenging and rewarding. It takes a ton of time and effort, but we really enjoy the whole process. I think it is helpful to know your limits and know what you can and cannot do. Some things should be hired out to a professional. For example, if you don’t know anything about electrical, don’t try to DIY it. Also, be prepared to spend more money and time than you originally budgeted.
For more updates and photos on the Conklin House, follow Clare’s renovation journey on Instagram at @conklinhouse.