Monthly Archives: June 2011

Of the Useless Variety

Originally, when my job offer came through and the prospect of buying our own home when our lease was up became more and more of a possibility, we were considering condo living. After all, we were quite content in our little 500 square foot apartment despite the lack of shelf space in the kitchen (I was forced to turn half of our front closet into a makeshift pantry) and the dirty white carpet.

For a while, we started spending our weekends touring pre-construction condo sales offices. I quickly came to love their model suites. I drooled over the gorgeous finishes, the walk-in closets, the master bathrooms. We poured over floor plans, making a compromise here, and a compromise there until the dollar value accompanying the size of our potential unit became comfortable. After living in a condo that needed some work, the idea of everything-brand-new was really appealing.

At this point, you’re probably really confused. Is this actually Nette, the writer of a blog about a down-to-the-studs home renovation, talking about the desire for a move-in-ready, never-before-touched condo? Indeed. So, what changed so drastically in the 3 months between frequenting sales offices in October and calling a realtor in January?

Not much actually. Just this: information. See, we were looking at condos because we honestly thought it was all we could afford. The Toronto housing market is tough. Average prices keep climbing. There is no wonder the suburbs keep spreading. You know — drive until you can buy. But the Husband and I have never had any interest in the suburbs. (That’s a different musing, for a different time.) We wanted to be in the city. We wanted to be close to public transit. And restaurants. And grocery stores. But, for the most part, houses with a Toronto address are numerous hundreds of thousands of dollars out of our budget.

But condos. Condos are expensive per square foot, but since they tend to be quite small, they also tend to fall nicely in our price range. And, since condo unit prices shoot up the moment the building is actually standing, a pre-construction condo seemed like such a good investment.

I don’t know which one of us looked outside the North York area first. Since the Husband is the one who has an MLS addiction, I suspect it was him. As soon as we discovered that there was an area of the city still full of run-down and therefore, affordable homes, we didn’t look back.

But every so often, we fall into this kind of pointless conversation:

Me: You know, if we’d bought one of those condos, we’d be all settled in now.
The Husband: No work to do. It’d be different. It would be kinda nice, actually.
Me: Yes. No dust.
The Husband: Actually, we wouldn’t have it yet. We’d still be waiting for it to get built.
Me: True. We’d have moved into the cheapest apartment we can find to save as much money as we could.
The Husband: And we’d still have to go up and down an elevator every time Mocha has to potty.*
Me: And I wouldn’t have the blog. There wouldn’t be anything to blog about.
The Husband: Probably not.
Me: This is better.

* The Husband doesn’t actually talk like that. He does not call Mocha’s walks ‘going potty’. He’s much more manly than that I guess. Actually, I don’t even call Mocha’s walks ‘going potty’…

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Filed under condos, housing market

Drywall Dust

Drywall dust gets everywhere. It moves across the floor and clings and wiggles itself into the cracks of our bamboo. It coats our bathroom tiles in a thin layer of fine white grains and as it settles, it drifts further and further down the stairs into the basement.
But drywall dust means progress. Drywall dust means smooth walls, and mudded cracks. Drywall dust means the shape of a closet. Drywall dust means another paint colour to choose, another room ready for a smooth dark floor, ready for white trim and white doors.
I don’t mind getting dusty, living dusty, as long as that dust holds so much significance.
Mudding and sanding the master bedroom. There’s a few patch jobs to be done yet and some serious lack of insulation to be taken care of sometime — hopefully before the winter and with minimal disruption and damage — but it’s coming along beautifully, gorgeously, inspiringly. (No, inspiringly is not a word. I made it up. I’m the next Shakespeare, I guess.)

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Filed under bedroom, closets, drywall, dust, mudding, sanding

I’d Take Any One Of You

Every city has its pockets of old, beautiful, well-maintained homes. And by old, I mean century old, original-owners-all-gone kind of old. Old with a history and a long one. While visiting my best friend forever last weekend, I took a few shots of the gorgeous homes just a few blocks away from her house. A couple of them reminded me of the old farmhouse I grew up in. All of them reminded me of how much charm can be packed into one building. Old houses are beautiful.

This last one was incredible. It was on an odd little corner, a V, really, which meant it had not only a gorgeous front entrance:
but also an adorable back entrance.
The dusty house, with its 600 sq ft and crumbling front railing doesn’t compare. One day, I’d love to live in one of these gorgeous homes — particularly one of the first two — should our situation and our finances warrant it. For now, though, we’re doing pretty good with our dusty house. It’s small, but I constantly remind myself: we’re only two people, and in a housing market that just seems to keep climbing, we’re doing pretty well for owning a house at all. 
Someday, we’ll set our sights a little higher, but for now, we are perfectly, utterly content.
(Or, I will be once the kitchen gets finished!)

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Filed under dreaming, old houses

A Little Bit of Dreaming

After reading about Shannon’s office this morning, I’ve realized I can’t deny it anymore. It’s official. I want a home office.

Hers is, of course gorgeous. But I’d also be happy with one like this.

Or one of these.

Or even one of those closet offices, as long as there’s a window somewhat close by to said closet.

Unfortunately, we have a bit of a nasty limitation. Mainly, this:

Meet our floor plan.

(I know, I should have posted this a long time ago.)

Considering this space really only adds up to approximately 600 square feet*… do you see any space for a desk and a filing cabinet, let alone a library of bookshelves or beautiful vases lined up in a row?

(Ok, I’m sure I can find the space for the beautiful vases.)

Before this pity party gets too much underway, I will remind myself that we have big plans, plans that include adding at least 300 square feet of space, possibly more, and may allow for an adorable office nook, maybe gorgeously tucked under a skylight in the attic. Until then, I guess my office is the dining room table.

* The fact that I’ve not shown a single closet is not a result of laziness, trust me (though we are soon rectifying that situation).

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The Appliance Search Concludes

Last I talked about appliances, I shared our night of shopping at Lowes, The Brick, and Home Depot. When we concluded our evening last Wednesday, we had one more place we wanted to visit.

Pilo Appliances isn’t much to look at. It’s crammed full of inventory without too much care or attention given to displays and floor models. What’s there is there. Half of it is still wrapped in plastic. The dishwashers proudly show off their insulating layers. But for those prices, who cares?

See, it’s a scratch and dent place. Not that every appliance has a scratch or a dent. The first time we visited, we were informed that some of them had just suffered from ripped packaging which, for some reason, meant the company couldn’t sell the product as new. We weren’t really expecting them to be able to fully outfit us. We have learned quickly in this process that there is a bizarre lack of love for gas stoves in the appliance world and the few times we had called Pilo to see if they had any in stock, they had been disappointingly lacking. But, we thought we’d give them a chance when it came to our fridge and dishwasher. At least.

We walked in and there, (queue music) with the light shining on it and glinting off it’s beautiful stainless steel face, its cast iron staunchly standing up to the wimpy coils of the electrics that surrounded it, and its sleek, simple control panel casually beaconing, our gas stove and I fell deeply into some serious love at first sight.

Ha.

Yeah, right. I’m sorry. Did I make you gag a little?

I don’t actually feel so strongly about the stove, but it is a beautiful one. Stainless steel knobs, as we wanted, but not the slide-in I had already reluctantly admitted was out of our price range. A quick look around matched a fridge and dishwasher to the stove and after a brief conversation with the sales person, we walked away with a delivery time of Sunday afternoon.

Say what?

Home Depot, Lowes, the Brick… they all wanted to take two weeks to order and deliver our appliances. Scratch and dent is, of course, in stock, and the delivery charge might be a little steeper, ($150, compared to $50, $69.99, and $75, respectively) but when you’re dropping $3000 on appliances, it’s kind of nice to actually have the product within a few days. So now, my counter topless kitchen is just a touch more beautiful, matching handles and everything!

So, what’s the low-down?

Listed at $1199, regularly retails for $1700.

Listed at $999, regularly retails at $1600.
Everywhere else we had looked, we had decided on this fridge without the French doors. We could have saved a little extra money by going for our original choice (listed at $799 Scratch ‘n’ Dent, versus $1000 retail), but when we saw the French door for the same price as the retail price of the model without the extra flash, we decided to splurge a little.
And, finally,
Listed at $799, regularly retails for $1500.
All these prices, as we bundled the appliances together, became flexible, so we walked away with an additional $300 or so dollars off. And goodness, are we happy.
The moral of the story? If you’re buying new appliances, go Scratch ‘n’ Dent. Ours don’t even have a spot on them, at least not that we can find. Now, all we need is to get our plywood counter top rigged up, throw up the uppers, and I’m good to cook somewhere other than the dark, dim kitchen that I’ve been in for the past two months.

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Filed under appliances, dishwasher, gas stove, kitchen, LG, refrigerator, scratch and dent

A Different Dog

The Husband thinks she looks like a little alien and, that if he hadn’t been there the whole time, he might have thought we’d gotten back a completely different dog. ‘Cause remember, this is what Mocha looks like:

Right?
Right.
She still loves her tennis balls. And chewing up her humans’ underwear. And every so often she goes a little crazy and runs in a circle as fast as she can, just like she did before. 
Except faster. Because now, she’s lighter. More aerodynamic. With cute, soft, floppy ears.
What a cutey. 

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Filed under cockapoo, hair cut, Mocha

You Can’t Teach That

I’m excited about this post. I’ve been excited about this post since my best friend agreed to my cockamamie idea in the first place. Actually, I’ve been excited about this post since I came up with the cockamamie idea to begin with.

Last week, I asked my best friend if she’d be willing to let me take half an hour and get some shots of her cute little apartment specifically for the purpose of sharing it with all of you. She is such a wonderful friend and happily agreed, even though she expressed a whole lot of a surprise and a little bit of doubt. Her, a decorator? Really?

Yes. Yes, J, you might not realize it, and you might not do it on purpose, but you have this amazing, enviable, innate decorating ability. After checking out her place through the perspective of my camera’s view finder, I’ve come to a couple realizations about exactly what it is she does really well. Her ability to keep her home comfortably clutter-free is one I just don’t get and am, thus, incredibly jealous about. But, on top of that, she doesn’t shy away from things that are completely and absolutely her, absolutely them (because we can’t forget that her awesome husband J2 shares this space). From J’s original artwork, to salvaged vintage play posters, to the soft touch of a handmade quilt, each item in their home reflects their personality and values in quiet, welcoming comfort.

So, without further ado, meet J and their cozy home!

J and J2 live on the upper floor of this house. A narrow stairway leads you up to their kitchen, dining room, and living room, no room particularly large, but each efficient and doing it’s job perfectly well.
Their coffee table plays double duty, a thing of design genius for small-home dwellers. Each colourful square pulls out, a comfy foot rest, extra chair for guests, an additional place to put your coffee.

There are bright splashes of colour everywhere, a reminder of the shopping trip we went on in which she pushed me to buy something other than black, brown, grey. I went home with $250 worth of clothes, none of which I could wear together, due to clashing colours and bold patterns. She is far better at putting colour together than I am.

“This is my favourite room,” she said when we stepped into the dining room. I can’t blame her. The light is strong on the original hard wood floors and she’s filled it with books and a few delicate decorative touches.
“I love displaying books,” she told me once, right after I had expressed my own dislike for my messy bookshelf. Hers takes on order and balance.
Her kitchen is small and brighter than the dining room somehow, despite being on the same side of the house with no additional windows. It’s a rental, and J has worked beautifully with what she has, making it as comfortable and functional as it could be. 
Even here, where functionality comes first, their personalities shine strong. This bookshelf is full of cookbooks (bottom shelf), decoratively displayed mixing bowls (ooh, I think that’s a must copy!), and jars of jam and other preserves, gifts from J’s family members last fall at one of her wedding showers.
And finally, last, but not least, the bedroom.
They might be finding it a little inconvenient these days, judging by the fans that ring the bottom of the bed, but their bedroom is one of the adorable details that makes me fall in love with this apartment. If I remember correctly, it was a huge selling point for them when they were apartment hunting last year. This room is tucked into the attic, a bed, dresser, and small office suite tucked beneath the peak at the top of a narrow, steep set of stairs. 
The quilt that covers the bed is a perfect example of how closely knit they are to the world around them: half the items in their home were thoughtful gifts from friends and family, still proudly displayed 7 months after the wedding. Items like this quilt are a huge part of who they are simply because of the way they connect them to the people who care about them. That is what I love about their apartment: stepping into it is like being enfolded in the huge hug that is their lives.

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Filed under bedroom, dining room, house tour, kitchen, living room

In Which We Visit Three Appliance Stores in One Night

Before we can order our granite, we need to have our appliances. In fact, according to a flow chart at Lowes, we totally got it backwards: we were supposed to pick our appliances first, right after we had finished dreaming. Obviously, we didn’t do that.

Last night, we started our appliance hunt at Lowes. As soon as Salesperson John found out we were looking for three appliances, we had his attention, 100%. He took us through every single one of our options, made suggestions, worked out a deal and printed off an estimate for us.

An LG fridge, KitchenAid dishwasher, a Bosch stove and a free standing range hood. I don’t really want to think about the number that spit out of his computer.

On to Sears. Salesperson Bob was a little less interested, but informative enough and willing to work with us in light of the prices we were being given at Lowes. The same LG fridge, price matched. The same KitchenAid dishwasher, price matched. A GE stove that, after seeing a proper picture of the Bosch stove at Lowes, I actually like slightly better.

Finally, Home Depot. We’d worked with this salesperson before and had always been pleased, but this time, he was a little snarky, a little short. He’d had a long, hard day and really just wanted to go home. We start talking to him, asking about our options. “Go with GE,” he says. Oh, I say, we don’t need to have all the same brand. He looks at me. “No one is going to put in stainless if it’s not all the same brand.” What? Really? “It’s all about the handles with stainless. They have to match perfectly.” I stare at the $1000 GE dishwasher in dismay, the $1200 GE stove, the $1000 GE fridge. Even with the 10% off, I feel resentful of the restrictions.

I start to miss John. I even miss Bob.

(Those feelings were more likely hunger due the fact we didn’t bother taking the time to eat after work at it was almost 10:00.)

Now, we have three estimates, three estimates that land us in exactly the same spot with slight variances. All we really have to worry about is the quality of the product and there is where my worry lies.

(Anyone know anything about GE or KitchenAid dishwashers?)

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Filed under appliances, kitchen

I love the look of subfloor.

Growing up, I don’t think we had anything other than our subfloor. Of course, my parents could confirm this. We lived in an old farmhouse with wide floor planks that my mother spent hours sanding smooth and varnishing at least once in my memory.

Wednesday night, the Husband ripped up the hardwood to reveal a weird patterned fabric and vinyl, then pulled that up to expose the pale subfloor beneath. It instantly reminded me of my childhood home, with its knots, gaps, and imperfections.

Seeing subfloor in the bedroom was a reason to celebrate (which I did with half a watermelon and a spoon) because it means we’ve broken through into the second half of the house. Stepping across that line down the middle of our house means we’re that much closer to finished. 
It also means the Husband spent the whole day yesterday sniffling and sneezing after stirring up all the dust with his demoing.

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Filed under demolition, master bedroom

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

How does your garden grow?

The Husband and I have no history as gardeners. Our parents weren’t much interested in growing their own food and even though my grandmother’s garden is extensive, I never helped much beyond picking strawberries in order to stuff my own face. Regardless, we wanted to find out what colour our thumbs are this summer. Until now, I was getting pretty certain they were black and rotting. 
I was embarrassed of our garden. See, it was kind of a last minute effort. The weekend we put plants into our one flower bed, we also picked up a couple tomato plants and some packets of seeds. The Husband and I threw them down  in rough, uneven rows at the end of a long day of turning soil and raking it flat. Where the garden ran into the section we hadn’t yet gotten to, we hacked up the dirt quickly and dropped the seeds in. A week later, the garden patch grew just a touch when we added a rhubarb plant and a few gifted broccoli plants. 
I’m sure you can see where this is going.
It was a mess.
I didn’t take pictures. It was embarrassing. 
Last night, I threw on a pair of painting yoga pants and an old t-shirt and got down on my hands and knees among the weeds. Slowly, slowly, our carrots emerged, our lettuce reclaimed its space, our rhubarb stretched itself out in relief. And now, I have a garden that I am almost pleased to share!

And now, here’s Mocha, with a detailed tour of our little patch:
Broccoli: A gift from our neighbour, a generous man, instantly friendly, who passed away last Monday, much to our bewildered surprise. One day about a month ago, I come home from work, and he leans over the fence. “Would you like some broccoli?” I’m not going to say no. He was a wealth of gardening tips and intensely chatty. 
Rhubarb: I love rhubarb. I grew up chewing on the tart stalks until I couldn’t anymore. My grandmother turns hers into jam every year and gifts us each with a jar or three every Christmas. Rhubarb crisps are better than strawberry pie. 
Lettuce: The day after we planted these, my parents’ big dog, who was visiting at the time, ran out into the back yard one day after her long day of being cooped up in the house and took a squat right in the middle of these. I’m sure you can imagine what that did to the tender seeds.
Carrots: Just because I like ’em. 
One Lone Cherry Tomato: It didn’t used to be such a loner. It had a pair, a big brother, a full-sized tomato plant. But it too, fell victim to the dogs. I actually cannot find the stalk. It was broken off and then dragged away at some point. Our cherry tomato, on the other hand, is doing quite well, despite being stepped on early on and losing half its stalk, before I had even planted it in the garden. By me. Can’t blame that one on the dogs.  
(And, in the pot on the edge there, a little tree I found among the weeds. Perhaps it will grow bigger and we’ll plant it somewhere else. Perhaps not.)
It’s little and a little too heavy on carrots. And there’s lots more variety of veggies I think I should probably have. I mean, where are the peas? The beans? The strawberry plants? But it’s good enough for this year. Hopefully, next year, we’ll plan a little better, edge it properly, and put it in a more convenient location (not necessarily in that order). 
Are there any veggie gardens playing a big role in your summer? Any advice for us beginning gardeners?

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