GREENVILLE, S.C. -- To her friends and family, Alison Storm Lowry has always been known to be frugal.
"I prefer to think of myself as thrifty as opposed to cheap," the former Sioux Cityan explained. "I'm not above doing some dumpster diving as long as it is for something nice."
However, Lowry knew that she, her husband Tim, their 9-year-old son Sammy and 6-year-old daughter Phaniella, were quickly outgrowing their Greenville, South Carolina, home.
Searching for affordable housing in idyllic Greenville proved challenging.
"Everything was way out of our price range," Lowry said, sighing at the memory. "We had to buy a small place and fix it up ourselves."
In early 2020, the Lowrys discovered a property that had once been a small church.
"You had to use your imagination but I could picture a living space where pews once sat and a bedroom that once held a pulpit," she said.
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As they were getting ready for some demolition, Lowry saw a casting call ad for a new television program called "First Time Fixer."
Featured on the Magnolia Network -- a joint media venture between Discovery, Inc. and "Fixer Uppers"' Chip and Joanna Gaines -- "First Time Fixer" showcases first-time renovators as they build the home of their dreams.
"The producers wanted to feature us on an episode of their show," Lowry said. "Plus they wanted us to record every step of our renovation, both the good stuff and the bad stuff, to be used as footage."
So, between the end of October 2020 until February 2021, the Lowrys lived a "Truman Show"-type existence, taping their progress with camcorders and cellphones.
Surprisingly, this wasn't a stretch for Lowry, a former television reporter who began her career at Sioux City's KTIV.
However, living in a house that was part home/part reality show set wasn't always comfortable for Tim Lowry, who owns an online marketing business.
"To be honest, we were both new to home renovation," Lowry said. "I like watching how-to TV shows and Tim became addicted to YouTube videos. We got through it OK."
Still, there were a few mishaps along the way, such as a disappearing contractor as well as an IKEA kitchen cabinet that came incomplete.
"When we trying to assemble the cabinet, we found all of the doors, shelves and hinges," Lowry said. "What was missing was the kitchen cabinet box, which attaches everything together."
According to IKEA, the desired box could be back-ordered, which wasn't good enough for Lowry.
"During a renovation, you learned to be flexible," she said, solving the problem by purchasing a similar kitchen cabinet box at a local building supply store. "There is nothing wrong with going with Plan B."
Lowry also had to be flexible when it came to the budget for the family's fixer-upper.
"We originally set a budget of $30,000 to $35,000 for our two bedroom/one bathroom house," she noted. "We actually ended up spending $40,152 on the house. Yeah, I know how much we spent down to the dollar because it was very tight."
In the end, Lowry was able to take a former church, turning it into a one-of-a-kind dream house.
"This house is so much better than your typical, turn-key home," she said. "That's because we've invested so much sweat equity into the house in the form of sleepless nights, altered plans and, in my case, a bad experience with poison ivy."
Lowry let out a sigh.
"We've made it through home renovation and it looks beautiful," she said, pointing out personal touches as well as a decorating style that blends a modern aesthetic with some mid-20th century panache.
So, what tips can Lowry give other first-time fixers?
First, check out businesses like Habitat for Humanity ReStores or Facebook Marketplace for unexpected bargains.
Also, thrift stores, consignment shops and yard sales are great places for budget-minded designers.
Plus the home renovation experience has given Lowry a much-needed shot of confidence.
"There are plenty of old churches in the south," she said. "I'd love to see them repurposed as family homes."