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Monthly Archives: May 2011

home reno TV drinking games (or why the bathroom isn’t finished yet)

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Right – well, absolutely nothing got done over the past few days due to having the kind of fun that takes some recovery time, otherwise known as a Beer Fest.  We went to super cute Moncton and hung out with our friend Steve of Beau’s Brewery fame, pretending that we too worked as Ontario Craft Brewers, and handing out samples to thousands of thirsty New Brunswickers.

You may think that none of this has anything to do with renovating, and while you’d be right, it does lead me nicely into presenting my two favourite vices: drinking and home renovation television programs.  In the UK this was usually 4Homes, and back here in Canada it gets really dangerous as there’s an entire channel called HGTV (Home and Garden TV) devoted to renovation/property shows 24/7.

So what could be better than a home renovation show drinking game?  Or, to put it another way, rather than get annoyed at the ridiculous formats and formulaic premises and actually have to stop watching (inconceivable), why not have fun with it?

The worst offenders are probably the desire for (yawn) stainless steel appliances and granite countertops.  You could probably get plastered just drinking whenever those are mentioned. And it is bizarre – would you really not buy a home because of a fridge?  Were avocado appliances and Formica countertops so obsessed over in the 70’s?  Oh the unanswered questions of real estate…

In any case, pour yourself your favourite tipple, and join me every time someone mentions the following of my renovation show pet peeves:

1. stainless steel appliances

2. granite countertops

3. ‘blank canvas’

4. ‘put our mark/stamp on it’

5. ‘needs updating’

6. man cave

7. anything about their children falling down stairs or over railings

I usually max out at 7 as these are more than enough for reno-related inebriation to set in.

Anyone got any more?

– and if you just can’t get enough, here’s another pretty hilarious site specifically for ‘This Old House’ related drinking: http://www.fred.net/turtle/souse.shtml

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a bathroom of limited possiblities

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At 4 feet wide (actually, 47 1/2 in. – this will prove vitally important later) and 9 1/2 feet long, there’s not a whole lot that could be changed about the bathroom layout, though much that could (and would) be changed about the somewhat challenged ‘decor’.

- the bathroom as it was (including the empty mouthwash bottle - weird)

Yes, that’s a 4 ft long ‘bathtub’ at the end that must have been popular, oh I don’t know, back when people didn’t bathe much and you had to heat water on the stove.  The whole house was actually built before the invention, or at least, ‘popularity’ of indoor plumbing, and thus you will find exposed pipes throughout the house carrying things we prefer not to think about from our upstairs tenant (you can just about see a pipe in the photo above under the super sexy cabinet).  But exposed pipes are trendy now right?

None of this stopped me, however, from going on a rampant google search for all things related to ‘small bathroom design’ to see what could be done (this search soon changed to ‘tiny bathroom design’ and then to ‘tiny bathroom design in Europe and Japan’ as I discovered ‘small’ is a very relative term).

I had extravagant visions of what could be accomplished that were to bear no relation to either my space or my budget (you could say this was a bit of a running theme).

The first casualty was the clawfoot tub (in my mind).  Yes, you heard right.  I wanted a clawfoot bathtub –  4 feet long.

And goddammit I found one, plus loads of sexy images promising me what my bathroom could be:

From HGTV’s site ‘rate my space

– and these from ‘The Daily Tubber‘ – an actual blog basically devoted to clawfoot tubs (I know, right?):

So it all seemed possible.  And yes, there is a clawfoot tub you can own that is a mere 48in. wide.  You can see it here.

But again, that’s 48in. long, and let’s remind ourselves (as I had to again, and again) –  I only have 47  and a cruel 1/2 inch.  Plus the pipe of course.  It took me a good two weeks to let this information sink in.

So, not one to give up the opportunity for another time-wasting internet home design search, I started looking at images of sexy showers:


From HGTV again.   The one on the right comes from this link I bookmarked ages ago, but I’m not sure where it’s from (so apologies in advance to anyone, and let me know if you know where I can credit this to properly).

Tearing everything out and putting in a shower would be great, but it’s also a pretty expensive option (particularly with the window there), and a huge upheaval if you only have one bathroom (seriously, what are you supposed to do?  Dehydrate so you don’t have to pee for a day? The mysteries of renovating…).   It wasn’t something I was looking forward to.  Thank god for Apartment Therapy though.  They know what’s what when it comes to really small spaces.

A bathroom even smaller than ours at 4 x 6!  I’m thinking the tub must be around the same size as ours, just not totally gross.  So with that in mind, the new plan is to replace the sink, but make the best of the old tub.  The other reason for leaving it is because it’s currently the only place to wash out brushes, rollers and other renovation related paraphernalia.  The thought of putting in a new tub or shower and then ruining it by slopping paint or floor stain all over it just doesn’t bear thinking about.

So, I’ve now bought an assortment of bathtub finishing stuff, and will be tackling it…soon.

Tune in…well, when I finally get off my ass and actually do it (and will then reveal what else we did – it’s just still too embarrassing to show with the tub like it is).

bedroom – before and after

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We got over the distractions of dirt and newspapers and set to work cleaning, painting, and sanding with a vengeance, knowing that we had to live here in 3 very short weeks.

- floor almost scraped clean of lino and newspapers

Lucky for us, we started to learn firsthand the true and overwhelming nature of maritime generosity when a steady stream of brand new friends showed up to help.  For my birthday, Sam organized a surprise crack team of stealth painting friends (thank you Andrew, Neal, and Nick) to whip the bedroom into shape seemingly overnight (well, when I was in class):

we have somewhere to sleep!

Best birthday present EVER.

The floor I actually did later – when I had my own incredible crack team come to help: the amazing Len (who actually had a job painting professionally but then came over after work everyday to do more painting for free), the incredible Jerra (who once took the back door key so she could come and finish what she’s started when I wasn’t even able to be there), the dedicated Lorraine, mentioned last post, and the fabulous Nate (who still hasn’t managed to escape the endless-ness of this reno and was down in the basement shifting broken concrete just last week). Greatest team a girl could ask for, even if they were often intoxicated.  Never ever underestimate the power of pizza and beer.  That could actually be ‘Renovation tip number 2’.

After scraping off the lino and old newspapers we rented a sander and set to work.  Sanding the floors wasn’t as dramatic as I would have hoped, and as I was too cheap to rent the edging machine to do the corners, those had to be done by hand – ugh.  I had always, always wanted painted black floorboards though, so that was never in doubt.  People freaked out a bit – there’s a lot of purists out there about wood being wood colour – but the floorboards were so stained and with a lot of old dark red paint on them that I probably would have had to sand them for a week.  Black paint covered the problems and appealed to my aesthetic – what’s not to love?  Painting them was hands down the single most satisfying task I’ve done during this reno.

Not so satisfying was watching them dry.  That shit took forever.  I only had 48 hrs before we moved in and it was not enough.  The photo above looks perfect, but that was before the furniture was moved in and pushed along the floor taking the paint with it.  Oh the pain! – the actual physical cringing pain of watching your ‘new’ floor get ruined!

I just pretend now that I wanted it that way; the scuffs and old red paint showing through just add character...

So here’s what it looks like now:

These are our most favourite awesome pillowcases from artist Miranda July that we got at the ICA in London.  We switch them up so no one has to dream of fraudulence every night.

I have to confess, I was a little annoyed to find the exact pillowcases in my recent issue of East Coast Living – particularly as they are in a much fancier house (and actually look like they’ve been ironed -oops) with a much more extensive art collection and better quality photography.  I’m just jealous obviously.  But really, I know they’re an edition of 1000, but what are the chances of 2 sets making their way to the Canadian Maritimes?

‘Looking up from below’ is a piece by Eldon Garnet purchased from Christopher Cutts Gallery in Toronto, back when we were high flyin’ art world folks and not crack house renovating unemployed students.  Oh well…onwards and upwards!  At least we still have the art.

Speaking of, you can see another piece here that the artist Sadko Hadzihasanovic did of us for his ‘Kissing’ series:

And finally, here is a somewhat embarrassing series of photos of the bedroom that also reveal our pretty mortifying ‘closet’ system, the beloved ‘corner of wires’ (if anyone has a solution to this I’d love to hear it), and the ‘we’re not really sure what to do with the fireplace’ stalemate.  I was going to edit these all fancy-like so it looks like our life is magazine perfect, but that’s not how I roll (and Sam told me I was being obsessive/crazy).

And if you wonder why I don’t seem to have many clothes (the above is both mine and Sam’s), that’s thanks to DHL, who manged to lose my entire wardrobe last year en-route from the Isle of Man to London (which isn’t that far).  No apology, no compensation, no nothing.  I digress…(though if anyone from DHL is reading this, my bag is a blue duffle, from Mountain Equipment Co-op, also contains my tripod and sketchbook, and I would really like it back).

'chair makes lame attempt to disguise plaster fireplace mess'

phone, internet, AND cable wires all have to live in the corner

*for those care about such things, the wall colours are Benjamin Moore Province Blue and Oxford White.  The floor is Benjamin Moore porch and floor paint, I think in something boring like ‘Black’

the bedroom – tobacco walls and newspaper floors

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So before people think we only have a kitchen, let’s move on to the bedroom properly.  This was the first room we did so that we had somewhere to actually sleep.  It was also probably the most immediately live-able room in the house.  But mirrored Last Suppers notwithstanding, there was still stuff to fix.

With the Jesus mirror out of the way, we were free to tackle the incredible nicotine decoration and clean our hearts out.

Oh my god it was gross.  The grime on the walls was unbelievable.  Layer upon layer of yellowed nicotine and other substances from goodness knows what or when.  Lucky for me, the amazing Lorraine came over armed with supplies and set to work like a woman possessed.

You know that clean freak hygiene obsessed friend? Everyone has one. Well, Lorraine is mine (and no, you can’t have her), and this is exactly who you need when confronted with this level of overwhelming dirt.  I let her listen to French CBC, offered cold beer at regular intervals, and – voila!  Clean room.  Her cleaning prowess was to continue for pretty much the next two months. Hallelujah.

The floor was also pretty disgusting, naturally (you may have noticed a bit of a theme developing).

The floor was covered (partially) in that awesome ‘is it lino or is it a carpet? – it’s so convincing I can’t tell!’ floor covering of, I’m assuming the 1950s or 60’s.  My assumption is based on the next layer we found – an amazing amount of old newspapers dating primarily from the 1960s (there were a few older ones going back to the 1930s – found in the ceiling/upstairs floor – but they pretty much disintegrated when we moved them).  Well really, is there anything like a 50-year-old newspaper to distract you from cleaning smelly tobacco encrusted walls?  If so I have yet to find it.

I mean seriously, Trudeau might be prime minister!

‘Tape-Citie’ has more than 5000 tapes!  Dupuis makes something called ‘acrobat go go’ tights! (they should definitely make a comeback) Hard hitting stories about gas and indigestion make the news!

So much to learn!  It was endless.

– and at least a day was wasted.

Jesus in the bedroom

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Oh it’s true:


This little beauty was on what would become the bedroom wall (actually not so little – probably about 24 x 36 in.).

And it wasn’t just a picture.  Oh no, this was mirrored tile.  Glued to the wall.

Sam actually wanted to keep the Jesus mirror.  Our friends also expressed Facebook angst about us removing it.

I was having none of it.  I mean, there’s kitsch, and then there’s Kitsch.  Not that I don’t love Jesus ‘n all, but having him and his apostles staring down at me while I sleep…or whatever…wasn’t really doing it for me.

Luckily for me, where Jesus & Co. was on the wall was also where the ‘closet’ was going (this currently consists of two brackets and a piece of dowel rod until we can agree on wardrobes).  But, like the good and accommodating girlfriend I am, I did make an attempt to take it down intact so we could ‘move’ it somewhere else (!).

There was blood (a little), there was sweat (a lot), and there were tears (well, faked), but in a total tragedy of astronomic home renovation proportions, I’m afraid to say – the mirror broke.  Yes, I tried to salvage a few squares – hoping at one point that if I could save Jesus’ feet I might be redeemed slightly – but that sucker shattered into thousands of horrible dangerous pieces.  And yes, it did feel weirdly sacrilegious.

Sorry Sam.

(- and if anyone has a line on a mirrored Jesus, let me know…I’m still not totally forgiven)

kitchen floors, and other nightmares

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Pulling up old linoleum (am I the only one who has trouble pronouncing that?  I always say ‘lino’ so no one notices) promised to be one of the more satisfying jobs of the kitchen reno and I couldn’t wait to start.  The day after we got keys I was in there trying to yank it all up.  Total fail.  Not only was there more than one layer of lino, the old glue used looked like black tar and was just as impossible to shift.

Like a good DIY-er I blamed my inadequate tools and scooted off to buy a proper scraper and some stuff the guy promised would remove the old glue.  But before I even got to use the magic toxic liquid I made a stomach churning, ‘sit down suddenly and try not to cry’ discovery: rotten floorboards.  Oh crap.

This was definitely one of those moments when you really wish you hadn’t started a project, and for a fleeting moment, wonder if you can just carefully put back everything you’ve disturbed and just tiptoe away hoping no one will ever notice.  This is probably how Holmes on Homes got started.

Realizing this wasn’t going to be one of those ‘Carly fixes everything on her own’ moments (actually, there weren’t going to be any of those), I knew I needed 3 things: friends, advice, and a stiff drink – not necessarily in that order.

The aforementioned Neal somewhat gleefully pulled up the remainder of the lino, and we assessed the damage.  Luckily it looked like the rot was confined to two areas – under the sink and near the stove where we think they had a washing machine at one point.  So it made sense, which always makes me feel better.

We called in a plumber who confirmed it wasn’t even our sink but our tenant’s upstairs.  In fact, it wasn’t really her sink at all, but her leaking taps and pipes.  Yep, just a leaking faucet, slowly seeping water that was running down the pipes to our floor – unattended for over 5 years or more; just new taps, a new washer and presto, no leak.

So now our friend Nick – photographer by day, DIY expert by night (actually probably the other way around) – offered to help, always game for a good reno challenge.  We had got down to the sub-floor by this point, only to discover a second sub-floor.  There was a bit of humming and hawing on our part about leaving it, particularly as we had been living without a kitchen for over a month now, but Nick is not a guy to do things by halves, so sent us away with his car keys to get supplies while he tackled it alone (no we don’t own a car – major renovation liability!).  We came back an hour or so later to find no more sub-floor, no more rotten boards, and a quite a bit of blood on Nick.  Waving aside our concerns, toilet paper wrapped around his hand, he and Sam put in a new sub-floor and, hooray! the floor was fixed!  With only minor injuries!

A week or so later – fully recovered – Nick returned and we installed new sexy flooring.  ‘Burnt Mocha’ (black) bamboo (which yes, is as hard to clean as I was warned, but I still love it).  Nick cut it to size and I used the air floor stapler thingy.  Once I got over the fear of nailing/stapling my foot I was like a woman possessed – that thing is ridiculous satisfying fun.

So thanks to Nick, we have a kitchen floor.  Though no flooring skills in the world can compensate for my shoddy measuring:

Yeah, no worries, the cabinet will totally cover this far…

the kitchen: before and after

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Ok, without further ado, here’s what the kitchen looks like before and after:

So how do you make a kitchen work that’s only 12ft 9in. long and 7ft 1in. wide?  Well, it’s not easy that’s for sure.

I wanted to call this part ‘this is how we do it’ after the 90’s Montell Jordan song, but the good folks at Young House Love  (whose blog I’m addicted to) beat me to it.  Or they put they idea in my head in the first place.  Unlikely though, as 1995 was my TIME!

So let’s indulge:


Right, where were we?  Oh yes, designing the smallest kitchen of all time.

The first casualty was a full-size North American fridge.  Yeah, I know, I say ‘North American’ in the lame way that only someone who has lived in Europe will.  But seriously, we both lived for many years with small under the counter fridges without many problems so we figured we could do the same here.

But we really didn’t have much of a choice.  The problem was that however I laid out the kitchen, a normal fridge looked like a gigantic monolith channeling something from 2001: A Space Odyssey.  I used Ikea’s kitchen planning tool to map out various configurations before getting it right (though I do need to stress: we do not have Ikea here in Nova Scotia!  The nearest Ikea is about a 13hr drive away in Quebec – so not even a weekend trip. Yes you can order online, but it’s not the same as seeing things firsthand right?  We should all get extra home renovation points in this province…).  The fridge would also block the window, and reduce the amount of already severely limited counter space.  So a normal sized fridge was out.

I wanted to have a countertop stove to save space, but the price was too prohibitive, and then we actually scored a free stove through a friend of a friend who was renovating.  So the decision on the stove was made for me, which was actually kind of a relief.  They also gave us their full-sized fridge, which we put in the basement and use for the freezer and small-fridge overflow (which, to be honest, normally becomes the ‘oh shit, forgot I put this down here 2 weeks ago’ fridge).

The sink was yet another challenge – the available counter space being only 32in. long.  I managed to find a 1 1/2 bowl sink that would fit – a 2 bowl sink was out of the question (and yes, you’ll notice we had to do a bit of ‘finessing’ to get the counter and cabinet to fit by removing a little of the door trim – a further little kick in the ass from not being able to move those pipes beside the chimney.  But the door and trim may be transformed one day in any case).  This left us with the big question – where to dry the dishes? (don’t even talk to me about not being able to fit a dishwasher – it’s a sore point.)  To the internet!

After an obsessive search, culminating in the painful realization that the French dish rack I coveted was, well, in France, and too expensive anyway, we settled on Ikea, primarily because Sam was heading to Ottawa to see his parents and this little (fold-able) guy could actually fit in his luggage.  I like how it looks, and it’s also handy for storage – those small plates live there permanently – but it does need a tray to collect water to stop it dripping on the wood counter.

Add it to the list…

Along with: baseboards, trim, extractor fan (currently in a box in the basement acting as a handy shelf), and oh yes, door handles! We did buy some second hand ‘vintage-y’ ones to try and offset the Home Depot-ness of the cupboards, but we haven’t had the balls yet to actually install them.  Given that older handles have different dimensions than the pre-drilled holes in the back of today’s cabinets, it’s a bigger leap than we’ve been able to make to put in new holes we might regret.  Plus, we can’t even decide whether to install them horizontally or vertically.  I think there’s a decision making limit with some projects, and that was when we reached ours.  So we live without handles, and have got really good at the ol’ toe tuck under the cupboard door edge.  I hardly even notice anymore except when someone comes over and can’t open a drawer.

And one day soon I’m going to actually peel the protective plastic off the cupboard doors.  I know, I know – my laptop still has a yellowing cover over the mouse pad…don’t judge.

(I realize I’ve forgotten to mention the whole drama that was the floor – can anyone say ‘rot’?  That actually deserves its own post.)

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