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Hi! I'm Nicole

Fearless DIY. Sharing building project tutorials and interior design tips. Let’s build something beautiful together. For more projects, design tips and behind the scenes, follow me @designtobuild.nicole

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Interior Design was Never My Thing

Interior design was never my thing. Not what you would expect as the opening line for an interior design/DIY blog introduction. But it’s true and it’s part of my story.

Growing up my mom loved to decorate and turn our house into a home. Her style was country, as was pretty much every other home in that era. I remember being bored one day and going through every room counting all of the geese/ducks. I can’t remember the exact number, but it was well over 100!

When I got married and we bought our first home, I did what I swore I would never do. Yep! I acquired hand-me-down ducks and geese from my mom and went down the country path.

But I have to admit, I was never all in. Decorating just wasn’t on my radar and not something I felt confident in at all. I would look to my mom and sister, who really had a knack for all things interior design, for all of my decorating tips.

So, while I liked my home to be clean, organized and relatively up to date, I really didn’t put much effort into the aesthetics. With 5 kids and homeschooling, it just wasn’t on my priority list and took way too much effort when I tried.

Tragedy Strikes My Family

Fast forward to July 9, 2011 and all of that changed.

It was a beautiful Saturday morning. Sun shining, crisp air, the kids and I still in our pajamas, indulging in some Krispy Kreme donuts. A relaxing morning. We were excited to get out on our new boat we had just bought a couple weeks earlier. We were all looking forward to a great day ahead.

Everyone piled into our boat. And we headed out onto the lake. With 7 of us, our boat was only half full. It was a boat Corey had dreamed of owning for many years. Designed specifically for wake boarding. It had all the bells and whistles. Corey and Chase (our second oldest son) shared this passion for wake boarding. So they were in awe over this boat. And couldn’t wait to see what all it could do.

Our friend Jim, who’s lake cottage we were sharing for the summer, tested his skills first. After a few great runs, he hopped out of the water and Corey jumped in. He was so excited to show me what he had been working on in the early morning hours.

He straps on his board, the boat takes off, and he’s up. Doing great! He’s done this for years. Then he goes into a turn and the edge of his board catches a wave just right and smacks him down hard onto the water. We could hear the smack all the way up in the boat, about 30 feet away. I remember Jim saying, “That was a hard hit. I’ve done those before. That hurt.”

We pulled the boat around to Corey. Our youngest son, Grayson (3 at the time) said, “Are you alright, daddy?” Corey responded, “Ya, I’m alright.” Ty, our second youngest, (5 at the time) said, “That had to hurt.” And at that moment, Corey’s head fell back into the water and he lost consciousness.

By this time, we had floated further away from Corey. So, we had to get the boat back over to him. But, unbeknownst to us the rope was wrapped around his board. Therefore, everytime we gave the motor gas, we pulled Corey under water. Now he wasn’t only unconscious, but he was also taking in water…essentially drowning.

Jim jumped in and swam out to Corey. With his wetsuit dragging him down and no lifejacket, Jim was running on adrenaline to pull Corey back to the deck of the boat. That whole scene is vivid in my mind, but yet a whirlwind of mass confusion at the same time.

During this time, I was on the phone with 911. I think I was in shock, because I had a hard time giving the dispatcher the details of where we were and exact details of what was going on. I was also trying to console my children at this time. Chase was in shock and the two younger ones were very scared.

We finally got Corey situated onto the diving platform of the boat. Jim stayed back there with him to hold his head up, so he wouldn’t take in more water, while his wife, Kris drove us back to shore. This was the longest trip ever. Everytime we tried to speed up, water would rush up onto the platform, so we had to go very slow.

When we eventually made it back to the cottage, we had to wait a little while for the ambulance to arrive. This felt like an eternity–although it probably wasn’t that much time at all. The whole time Corey was unconscious, he was making motorboat noises with his lips and clenching his arms close to his body. I would later find out the devastating reason why his body was reacting in this way.

The ambulance finally arrived and they immediately told me to head straight to Parkview Hospital. He needed to be life-flighted. I grabbed Auston and Chase (my two older boys) and left the younger ones with Jim and Kris. We made the one hour trek from Coldwater, Michigan to Fort Wayne, IN in less than 45 minutes.

Praying and crying with my flashers on….the whole way motioning for people to move over. For much of the drive, I drove on the shoulder. Looking back, God really had a hedge of protection over us. I was going speeds I didn’t know my truck was capable of going. My poor boys were in the back seat praying not only for their dad, but also for our own lives.

When we made it safely to the hospital, Auston was in such shock, a girlfriend of mine took him home with her. But Chase wanted to stay. We were led to a room. “The room” where they tell you bad news.

The doctor came in, sat down and told us the bleak news. I remember pieces of it. By this point, my mind was in such a fog. Severe traumatic brain injury; subdural hematoma; high probability he won’t make it; we’ll do what we can.

Chase lost it. My mom lost it. I hardly reacted. I couldn’t even believe what I was hearing. This couldn’t be real. Any moment I was going to wake up from this nightmare. I had to stay strong for Chase. Deep deep shock.

We were allowed to see him one last time before they took him for surgery. We were led into a very cold, sterile room. Corey was laying on a table with many people working quickly around him. Chase saw his dad and couldn’t hold back the tears. He was trying so hard to be strong, but the reality of the moment set in and he turned his back and the tears came fast. A very kind nurse came over to him immediately and talked with him and comforted him. She was so good. I’ve never been able to remember her name…but I wish I could…I would love to tell her, “thank you.”

Every so often Corey would move his arms close to his body. I thought this was a good sign–awareness. I soon learned it was not good at all. It meant he had severe damage to the brain.

While my mom and I were talking to him and I was leaned over close to his face, a tear ran down his cheek. I knew he could hear us. My heart was completely broken.

He was my everything. How could I possibly do life without him? He had to pull through this. We needed him. We had just been laughing and having a great time only a couple hours ago. Our lives completely changed in the blink of an eye. Was this really happening? It was all so surreal.

We said our “I love you’s” and headed out to the lobby. I was overwhelmed to see the entire room packed full of family and church family. It was unbelievable. It gave me strength and comfort to know we were not alone and so many people were praying, loving and supporting us.

A couple hours later the neurosurgeon came out with the news…”he made it through surgery. The next 72 hours will be very critical. I think he has a good chance of pulling through. BUT it will be a hard road ahead.”
I remember looking at my sister, with tears in my eyes and saying, “He’s still here, we can do hard.”

And hard we did for the next year +. Corey spent about 4 weeks in the hospital and then 5 weeks in an intensive aphasia therapy program in Chicago.

What Doing HARD Looks Like

Following all of the inpatient care, he spent the next year in outpatient therapies….

He learned how to walk again and talk again. How to do the simple functions we take for granted everyday, like lifting a fork to his mouth. His body had to be retrained on how to even swallow, before he could have solid food again. My 39 year old husband was essentially an infant again, having to relearn EVERYTHING.

But the brain is an amazing organ. Although watching the relearning process was slow and arduous at times (and might I also add a roller coaster of heartbreak and triumph), Corey regained his ability to walk again and the full function of his physical body.

However, his speech center of his brain was heavily damaged and although he regained the ability to speak, words did not come easy. The accident left him with Aphasia.

Having been unwillingly catapulted into the world of Aphasia, I learned so much. As a nurse explained it to me in the early days, Corey knows what a “cup” is, but the signal gets lost when he hears the word “cup” and he might hear the word as “fork” instead. This same thing happens when he is speaking. Knowing he wants to say the word “cup,” he pulls out of his file folder in his brain, “fork” instead. Sometimes he knows he said the wrong word and other times he doesn’t.

As you can imagine, this can make conversations very hard. Both comprehension and verbal language have been compromised for Corey. So, although he struggles in both of these areas, he is so patient and rarely gets frustrated when communicating with others. He pushes through and does not shy away from talking to people. It is really quite impressive. I’m not sure I would respond in the same way, if I were in his shoes.

We’re so grateful to have him here with us still. God is so good!

With Aphasia, also comes the loss of reading, writing and math skills. Corey was a financial planner prior to his accident, so losing his math skills was a tough pill to swallow. Not to mention, he loved reading. Compensation was a new skill he had to learn. How to compensate for all that he had lost. He actually has adapted well and has learned to compensate effectively in many areas.

The Leap to Interior Design and My DIY Journey

Now you may be wondering, how are we ever going to jump from this life-altering tragedy back to interior design/DIY. Believe it or not, it does all tie together and the leap is not far at all.

As I mentioned, Corey spent well over a year in and out of outpatient therapies. This, in turn, meant that I spent well over a year in waiting rooms.

About the time of Corey’s accident, there was this little search engine called “Pinterest” that was starting to make some big waves.

Corey moved from full-time hospital care to full-time outpatient therapies. I went from a stay-at-home mom to a full-time driver/caregiver, doing everything I could to nurture the greatest extent of recovery possible. This meant many hours spent day after day in waiting rooms while he was in speech therapy or physical therapy or occupational therapy…you name it, he had it!!

I had my own therapy too—Pinterest! I know that may sound cheesy. But it truly became an escape from my reality. I was fascinated by all of these women making BIG changes to their homes.

It was the craziest thing, all of the sudden I was excited about interior design. Pinterest made it look so easy and showed me that anyone can renovate a room or why stop there!? An entire home!!

After about a year of Corey in therapies and Pinterest becoming my new found love, I came home one day—inspired. I had been admiring wooden staircases and had read several tutorials on how to get the same look.

So, totally on a whim, I announced to Corey and the kids, “I’m ripping the carpet off the stairs and we are going to have a beautiful wooden staircase!” As they all watched me, with a look of, “oh no, it’s happened, mom has completely lost it!” I confidently started peeling the carpet back, revealing the naked, real wood underneath.

Of course, there’s a little more to a Pinterest-worthy wooden staircase than just ripping back the carpet and calling it a day. But thanks to Pinterest, I was ready to tackle this project head on! And so I did!

And so began, a domino-effect of room makeovers. Our home has been in continuous chaos, I mean renovation ever since. :) And I ABSOLUTELY love it!!!

My grandfather was a furniture builder/craftsman and I have since followed in his footsteps. What started out as my own much-needed source of therapy, has become a passion that is so fulfilling and rewarding.

So, where did the writing come in? Of course, I dove into this new venture with both feet! And was tackling project after project. A friend of mine suggested I start a blog to share my story AND my projects. With my second (maybe close 1st) love being writing, I was very much intrigued with this idea. After looking into it and consulting with my tech-y nephew, I bought a domain and on September 19, 2015 Repurpose Life was launched.

It’s so rewarding to look back and see how much RL has evolved over time. In the early days, I focused a lot on repurposing old furniture. Eventually, I stepped outside my comfort zone and tackled bigger projects, such as building furniture….

and undertaking room makeovers….

My Design Style

Of course, my style has changed since those early days too. Starting out, I loved all things Farmhouse. Now I lean more towards an Organic Modern Scandinavian design.

Stepping out of my comfort zone even more, I now love to decorate and in “Nicole-fashion” have been diving in to learn all that I can about interior design.

Where my blog used to focus more on building projects, I now share a mixture of both design and craftsmanship. Which brings me to the reason for the name change.

Fast forward seven years from its launch date and Repurpose Life closed its doors, in November of 2022, to become Design to Build. Design to Build encompasses more of what my website is truly about.

It’s two-fold: 1. I love to design my own furniture plans and room makeovers and then share my builds with you. Through thorough, easy to follow, step by step tutorials, my goal is to make building and designing uncomplicated and achievable. And 2. D2B focuses not only on building projects, but also equally, on interior design. Bringing these two elements together, Design to Build encompasses this vision so clearly. Let’s go beyond the design and build something beautiful together!

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