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While You Were Out … SURPRISE Renovations!

I recently spent a week renovating a spacious mobile home – in secret – while the owner, my mother-in-law, was out of town. Budget and speed were key, but there were three main tasks to complete in four rooms plus a hallway:

  1. Painting
  2. Replacing the carpets
  3. Bringing in furniture

To save money, I handled as much of the labour myself as possible, along with my husband and his brother, my own brother and mom, and the kind of awesome friend who helps you paint. We hired professionals only where necessary (to install the carpeting). To max out the budget I bought all the furniture secondhand – or in some cases picked it up for free on

Budget Breakdown:

  • Labour: free
  • Paint supplies: $290
  • Curtain rods and curtains: $175
  • Furniture: $235 (double bed, entertainment unit, filing cabinet, four bookcases, shelving unit)
  • New carpeting: $1,400 ($335 of this cost was professional installation)

The Reveal!

My mother-in-law moved to Ottawa last winter to be closer to more of her children. Her new home was badly in need of some renovations, so while my husband’s brother and sister took their mom out of town on a trip, we secretly renovated her home and surprised her with the result. Here’s what a week of labour, some cans of paint, new carpeting, and furniture can do to a place (and, of course, a lot of love).

Have you ever surprised someone with a home makeover?

Before: The hallway to the bedrooms. Old, dark blue carpeting and bare primed drywall.

After: The hallway after is much brighter with painted walls and baseboards and the new uniform carpeting helps connect the spaces. Before, there was different wall-to-wall carpeting in every room!

Before: The office. Dark wood paneling made this room feel very gloomy.

After: The office after painting over all the dark paneling with fresh white paint. I picked up a free filing cabinet with a busted lock for tidy storage of all Margaret’s family papers, poetry and book manuscripts.

Before: The other side of the office. Gloomy and small and nowhere to put things.

After: The other side of the office after painting over the dark paneling, installing new carpeting, and buying two used bookcases for $90. Margaret came back a day early(!), so unfortunately there was no time to “style” the bookshelves and fill them with her boxes of books.

Before: The living room. Great windows, beautiful crown moulding, dingy walls and loose old carpeting.

After: Margaret had already got the couch and the coffee table from the free section of For the surprise renovation we bought a wood entertainment unit for $40 (with delivery!) on, and a bookcase (out of the picture) for $45. Plus painted the walls, installed new carpeting and hung curtains from Ikea. With her new entertainment unit and bookcase, Margaret can finish her unpacking onto their shelves.

Before: The bedroom. Dingy and dark – and no bed!

After: So much brighter! Painting over the wood paneling makes so much difference, and it was a pleasure to rip out those ugly brown metal closet doors. An Ikea bed found on for $75 gets the mattress off the floor, plus provides storage underneath. A free small bookcase makes a perfect nightstand.

Before: The spare room before was mostly an unnavigable dumping ground of unpacked boxes.

After: With tons of new storage provided by the bookcases, filing cabinet, entertainment unit, etc, in the rest of the home, the spare room is no longer full of unpacked boxes and can become a work room and functioning space.



Saving the planet is a nice side benefit to going green, but I have to admit I'm in it for the money. Why pay more for new when used is better?

3 Responses to “While You Were Out … SURPRISE Renovations!”

Betty Higgs

Wow! I think you found yourself a new career!!


Carly Russell-Huntley

Love this Lisa! I’m planning to redo my living room and bedroom with all the furniture from and this is great motivation! Thanks!


    Lisa Higgs

    Thanks, Carly. Can’t wait to see your renovations, too!

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