Wanna Meet My Stylish Humble House?

As y’all know, I’ve yet to spend a night in the Cross House.

I live twenty miles to the west, in a house wholly the opposite of the Cross House. It is humble to the extreme.

In preparing to move into the big house though, I have been simultaneously getting the humble house ready to sell. I have never written about this before, but the project has consumed a lot of time this past year.

This effort began in 2013, when I began a full-scale renovation. However in March, 2014, I closed on the big house and (insert unsettling music) all work on the humble house stopped. The tools and sawhorses and materials gathered dust during the ensuing years.

In 2020, I resumed work on the humble house.

A goal since 2013 was to renovate the humble house very stylishly but cheaply. In short, I am seeking a stylish humble house.

Thus, throughout the house I have been using the cheapest tiles available for the kitchen and three bathrooms: ultra-basic 4×4 ceramic. And how, you will be thinking, is that stylish?

Well, you see, I am using white tiles, and pale taupe tiles, in a checkerboard pattern:


So, cheap AND stylish!


I know! Brilliant!

Adjacent to the tiles in the kitchen (above) are granite counters. And how, you will be thinking, are granite counters cheap?

Well, you see, I found the counters, pre-cut, at a local lumberyard. Eight-feet long. On sale: $80 each.

Huh? $80 bucks for a granite counter? And they had four? I purchased two. Squee!

Then I realized that I would need backlashes. I called a granite manufacturer in Wichita to get a quote on a normal 4-inch-high backsplash: $350 each. WHAT?

So, I would have to spend $700 on custom backsplashes for my two granite counters costing $160?

Well, that made no sense! A few days later, while showering, I thought: Where is it carved in stone that backsplashes need to be 4-inches high? Why not (drum roll, please) 24-inches high? 

While slightly unsettled to hear a drum roll in my shower, I was nonetheless excited to think: I could buy the other two counters, and use them as very tall backsplashes! How dramatic! How cheap! And…how stylish!

Then the four counters sat leaning against my kitchen wall from 2013 to this year.


In creating a stylish but cheap kitchen, it is vital to assure a clean look. So, between the stove and fridge is one of the eight-foot-long granite counters, topped by the two-foot-high granite backsplash, which is topped by an eight-foot-long shelf made from a 2×12 stained white and piled with my white 1950s Starglow dinnerware.

With nary a small appliance on the counter! There is just a looooooong sweep of granite. This is all gorgeous. And…stylish!

Behind the stove and fridge, I installed electrical outlets so the next home owner could plop down a microwave or toaster, with the unsightly cords hidden behind the major appliances.

I know! Clever!

On the opposite wall though, I had Justin slice the eight-foot-long counters in two, creating a pair of four-foot counters to each side of the sink, with more TALL backsplashes. But, where to place electrical outlets?


With no adjacent appliance to hide an outlet behind, I had no choice but to install one in the tiled wall. However…


…note my cleverness. The outlet was installed after the tiling was done. This way, I could assure that the outlet was precisely centered between tiles. People rarely consider this but I think the end result makes a huge difference.

And, while I only needed a single outlet, I installed a pair so that the end width would be outlet rather than tile. Imagine, if you will, how sloppy it would have looked with a single outlet and then a tiny strip of cut tile to one side. Oh, the horror.

I know! Clever!

Then, I picked a taupe cover plate to complement the taupe tiles, even though all the other cover plates in the kitchen are white.

I know! Clever!


My humble house will be a lot of work to finish. A lot. After I move into the big house, my routine will then shift. Instead of driving east every afternoon to work on the big house, I will drive west to work on the humble house until it is ready for sale.

And I hope being clever = nice profit.

I hope.





  1. Karen L Grohs on July 22, 2021 at 6:26 am

    How is the cat fence coming at the Cross house?

    • Ross on July 22, 2021 at 10:49 am

      It’s on hold, Karen. Right now all focus is on getting Cody into the carriage house by November 1st.

  2. mlaiuppa on July 22, 2021 at 6:50 am

    That is brilliant. That is the kind of stuff that your average contractor wouldn’t do. I know it’s four feet from the sink but I think I still would have done a GFI in that location, just to be safe.

    And not only genius but great shopping getting those four slabs at that price and you were planning slab backs before it was fashionable. (Four 8 ft counters for the price of one custom 4″ backsplash!) Or at least planning for them. Beige isn’t really my thing but I can totally visualize your very high end kitchen at a reasonable expense being not only stylish but also timeless. (Don’t get gold fixtures and hardware. It will be dated in a year or two.)

    While I don’t work for the company nor do I get anything for the recommendation, I will say my favorite kitchen faucet is the Dishmaster. We now return you to our regularly scheduled program.

  3. Roberta on July 22, 2021 at 8:46 am

    I, too, use Starglow dishware. I think it’s the sleekest pattern, and I am not surprised to see that you also are a fan.

    • Ross on July 22, 2021 at 10:46 am

      Ahh, Roberta, you are a kindred spirit!

      I have the complete set! And even piles in storage! So, if I break a piece, I shrug, and haul its twin out from the closet!

      • Roberta on July 22, 2021 at 10:57 am

        Some Star Glow pieces are hard to find, and the prices have climbed significantly since I started collecting. I use them as my daily dishes. They are perfect for me as I don’t really like eating off of plates with colored patterns… used to go all-white for dishes till I started collecting Star Glow. And you are right, if I break something I just shrug and move on.
        My house is 1950s blonde formica themed with my parent’s old furniture (upholstered pieces redone). My house and I both entered the world in 1953. It’s oddly comforting to have these things I grew up with, perfectly scaled for my small post-WWII tract house. Modern furniture is often so out of scale.

        • mlaiuppa on July 22, 2021 at 4:03 pm

          Have to agree on the furniture. I’m only 5’1″ and it’s difficult for me to find pieces where my feet aren’t dangling like a child or I have to sit up because if I rest against the back I’m practically laying down. I found a leather love seat on sale that fit me perfectly and I bought it and plan to keep it forever. The dining room set is vintage from the 30s probably (waterfall) and the chairs are also a perfect fit. I can’t stand my parent’s dining set because the chairs are both too big and too low. Not only that but modern furniture isn’t really meant to last. The vintage pieces tend to be a higher quality of both materials and craftsmanship. Worth re-upholstering.

  4. Debbie Stevens on July 22, 2021 at 9:09 am

    Geez, I don’t know how you can live somewhere else!! When I bought my house, the first thing I did was replace the pipes, wiring and close up the holes in the ceiling and moved in! I didn’t even have a kitchen! I only had a toilet and for the first 3 months I had to go to a local gym to take a shower. But I made do. Now, I just do the rooms a little at a time.

    • Ross on July 22, 2021 at 10:45 am

      Morning, Debbie!

      It was not possible to move into the Cross House in 2014. Or 2015. Or 2016, and the ensuing years.

      There was no heat/cooling for many years. Only recently has there been a place to bathe.

      And I need the cat fence done.

      Also, it’s not just about moving the cats and me (and my goldfish need a pond). It’s also moving the business and all the old lights which take up 5,000 square feet. Had I filled the basement with all this, I could not have rewired and re-plumbed the house as the lights would have been in the way.

      VITAL NOTE: The two back-to-back Heritage grants largely dictated what I worked on for the past 6 years. And none of these project helped get me into the house.

  5. Seth Hoffman on July 22, 2021 at 12:38 pm

    The receptacles located to blend with the tile pattern is the kind of little detail I thoroughly love!

    Although I am sometimes frustrated looking for switches and outlets when they are disguised too well. I have relatives who have wallpapered their outlet and switch coverplates (matching the pattern alignment, of course) so effectively, that’s it’s almost one of those kids puzzles where you have to search for the object.

    • mlaiuppa on July 22, 2021 at 4:07 pm

      I would think the entire area around the switches would be worn and a bit dirty from people sweeping their hands all around looking for the switch. I actually did wallpaper the coverplate in the one room I wallpapered, but the switch is one of those large decorator rocker ones in white against a dark blue wallpaper so it still stands out. I gold leafed one in another room so you can really find that switch. I have a mirror one in the bathroom against the green tile.

  6. Mike on July 22, 2021 at 1:11 pm

    I’ll cross my fingers (and everything else) for you that the housing market stays strong; right now houses (even in Illinois) are selling quickly and for top dollar compared to just a year ago. I had to smile, imagining you leading your cats and goldfish into Emporia like some modern-day Moses 🙂

  7. Laurie L Weber on July 22, 2021 at 4:59 pm

    I’m sure it feels wonderful to work on your existing home. More steps forward. 🙂

  8. Cindy Belanger on July 22, 2021 at 6:32 pm

    Oooh, I love the granite countertops & backsplashes. They do remind me of some Victorian bathrooms that I’ve seen, although I don’t think that’s what you had in mind. But they are very stylish as are the tiles, great idea incorporating the outlet into the checkerboard design. I can’t wait to see the entire kitchen, I bet it will be great.

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