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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Auction Week!

So the reno has been on hold somewhat this week as we head back to our roots and into to the world of auctions (yep, sometimes I am gainfully employed – not for lack of trying though, believe me).

We’ve been out in the cute-as-a-button town of Chester working to set up an art and antique auction for Crowther & Brayley Auctioneers.

It’s great to get back into it again, but it is very different from the auctions we used to hold in Toronto, particularly as art and antiques tend to be incredibly regional, at least in this country.  There are a lot of very well known East-Coast artists here that I’ve never heard of before, so it’s been a bit of a learning curve, especially for a West-Coast girl.

Anthony Law (1916-1996), for example, is a wonderful painter and Second World War artist, and a major art star out here, but I can’t remember his work ever coming up for sale in Toronto.  In fact, I don’t think I had ever heard of him.  Here’s a really lovely one we have in the sale of the Blue Rocks outside Lunenburg:

Sam, on the other hand, has been just fine with the rugs and carpets.

He’s lucky though –  as they aren’t made here, he can still look knowledgeable.  A Kazak is a Kazak whether in Halifax, Toronto or London (though he’ll point out he is holding a tribal saddle bag above).

The exception is hooked rugs and mats – particularly those referred to as ‘Grenfell’, though those are still popular in the rest of Canada, just not as common.  Wilfred Grenfell was a Newfoundlander known for many things, but for our purposes he’s best known for setting up medical missions and encouraging the development of a cottage industry which included hooked mats in the late 19th,early 20th century.  That’s the gist anyway (Sam says I risk writing the most boring blog yet if I go into too much detail, so sorry in advance).

Here’s two that are in the sale (they don’t always have polar bear themes):

And here’s a kid’s snow suit, also made by Grenfell Industries:

The other thing you’ll notice, unsurprisingly, is the overwhelming nautical nature of the auction.  You want a ship painting?  This is the place:

It’s this one I’m loving though:

‘Fishing Schooner Leaving St. John’s Newfoundland’ by M.G. Schrader RCMP, 1940, 14 x 24.  So cute.  But I haven’t been to Newfoundland yet, and I do have a bit of a thing about buying art that depicts places I haven’t seen.  Is that weird?  Actually, I think it’s pretty normal.  People always seem to want to buy art that depicts where they live.  That’s why West Coast artists do better on the West Coast, East Coast in the East etc. (we’re talking landscape artists obviously) – and why Canadians love a good painting of snow.  It’s true.  We’re very predictable on the whole.

Actually, I really love this one too:

‘Fairmount’ by John Loos Antwerp, 1882, 21 x 30 – but it will be beyond my (non-existent) budget.  I’ve learned over the years to only covet things that are within the realm of possibility.  Difficult to be sure, but it does get easier with the more stuff you see – there will always be something else. Well, usually.   Just don’t talk to us about the ‘ones that got away.’  There’s a painting we wanted to buy about 6 years ago that still bugs us…

Or maybe you don’t want the painting of the ship, but just want the ship’s wheel?  We’ve got that too:

Or maybe a cannon?  Got ya covered:

But it’s not all ships, mats and paintings.  There’s always something weird and wonderful that can’t be categorized.  Take, for example, these silk stockings that belonged to Queen Victoria:

How crazy awesome are they?  Actually, the most interesting part is probably the letter proving provenance that comes with them:

How much are they worth and who will buy them?  I have no idea, but it’s definitely going to be interesting to watch.

Another bit of awesome-ness is this Art Nouveau Liberty pewter jug:

It was designed by Archibald Knox – possibly one of the Isle of Man’s most famous sons (after the Bee Gees of course – seriously), and exciting for us having lived there.  I would love to own it, but at this point it would mean it or a stove, and I can’t cook in a 19th century jug.  Bummer.

My friend Matt is also considering giving away his first-born for this ‘Revelations’ biblical folk art folding screen:

Pretty amazing, though he thinks it would make a great headboard, which just takes me back to the days of the mirrored Jesus…shudder.

I’m not neglecting furniture though as there are some really amazing pieces, and in some ways I’m more passionate about Maritime furniture than art (possibly because there’s a lot of the Maritimes I haven’t seen yet so can’t relate to all the art).  But it’s hard to get really excited  when you don’t have room for anything in a small apartment.  God help us if we ever own a large house.

This is probably what it will be filled with (I’m assuming obviously that large house=large decorating budget):

How beautiful is this mahogany sideboard?  It has 27 pigeonholes and 25 of them have ivory inset letters.

To die for.

Then there’s this beautiful Nova Scotian pine blanket box:

The back is the best part:

How this would fit in with our current teak/mid-century modern furniture I have no idea, but it’s definitely a problem I would love to have.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention East Coast folk art.  Check out this honey:

‘Privateers Rest’ by David P. Stephens.  Priceless.  Sam really wants it.

What we might bid on (for real) is this Kazak rug:

I’m justifying it by thinking that with a rug on the floor, maybe we won’t actually have to spend money on flooring.  Genius!
Fingers crossed it doesn’t go too high…

Ok – auction is tomorrow so I better get to bed.  Over 600 lots to be sold – it’s going to be a long day…


the problem with garbage

No one ever told me this before we started reno-ing (I’m sure I’ve used that before, but is that even a word?), but getting rid of stuff is really freaking expensive, highly annoying, and incredibly time consuming.

Last year we got a huge dumpster and filled it in about a week – which totally amazed me.

We took down one wall, removed some plaster and some flooring and $600 later, the dumpster was full.  I never would have imagined we would have generated so much rubbish, but there ya go.

But this time, getting a dumpster was out.  I didn’t think it was necessary, I didn’t want to spend the money, and we’d also created a nice garden area so there wasn’t room anyway.

(and yes, there is a glimpse of the hammock – successfully installed on a real post! – more on that later…)

Of course, then we inherited a mountain of crap in the flat upstairs.

We did put a lot of stuff out on garbage day, as Halifax has one of the most generous garbage policies of any city I’ve ever lived in.  Every two weeks you are allowed six bags of garbage – yes, SIX – plus one ‘bulky item’.  I called them and asked, ‘Surely by bulky item you don’t mean something like a stove do you?’  Oh yes they do.  Not that it even made it to garbage pick-up.  We put that sucker on the pavement and it was gone within half an hour.  Amazing.

But there was still a ton of stuff left.  We moved everything into one room and piled it up (thanks to Sam’s years of professional furniture stacking skills) so we could start working, but it was still annoying (and I should have taken a photo of the stacked room of furniture but sadly didn’t – just imagine the room above stacked to the ceiling).  Actually, it annoyed Sam more than me.  I still had visions of reclaiming some stuff, maybe taking some to a charity shop, putting some in the basement for future projects, but Sam, rightly, argued that all that would probably take just as long as the reno itself and we really didn’t have time – plus, there was very little of it that anyone realistically would have wanted (30 year old mattresses anyone?), and then there was the little problem we have of not even owning a car to take stuff anywhere.  So before I really had a chance to argue, Sam had called some guys with a truck, paid them $275 and POOF – it was all gone.

It was a real relief to be honest.  We now had space to move and work and some of the skanky smell had disappeared.  Horray!

We’re creating more garbage now though as we’ve finally decided to tear down the plaster on the one wall that was beyond repair.  We had a brief thought that the wall could stay as is in a sort of ‘shabby chic’ look.  Actually, I just googled ‘shabby chic’ and that is definitely not what I mean.  I don’t know what you call it in design-speak, but basically it’s that ‘this old house is so awesome even the peeling paint looks good’ look, but one that also says ‘we live in a climate that rarely falls below freezing so don’t worry about artistic holes in the walls’.  So that was out.

So now I need to figure out what to do with all that plaster.  I’m going to bag it up and see how much I can get rid of today (it’s garbage day tomorrow), but the rest might need some more drastic, and yes, costly solutions.  I just called the city though, and see that old toilet?  It is also considered a ‘bulky item’.  It’s going out on the curb!  One problem solved.

So today is a very glamorous day of breaking down and bagging up all the various piles of stuff around the house…

We’ll see how long I last before the hammock starts calling.

(and no, I’m not showing the whole hammock as there’s a load of other reno garbage under the deck that also needs attention…to be dealt with, later…)

one step forward…

…and another one back.

Yes, it’s called ‘having the electricians in’.  Necessary, but oh my do they leave a mess.  It’s like your very own make-work project.  At least this time I had them in before painting all the walls, though it’s still awful to have even one newly primed wall desecrated.

What are we talking about?
Holes – lots of them.

You get the idea.

So, it’s been a day or two of patching and sanding instead of actually getting on with, arguably, more important stuff.  The holes downstairs got left for around 8 months as I was so disheartened I just couldn’t summon the energy to fix them (I had already finished pretty much everything else before they came).

I lived with the holes for so long I even started making art about them (I thought I might as well use them for something).   Here’s a short clip of a (longer, more self-indulgent) video I made of the holes downstairs for my video class (using short wave radio numbers station recordings):


Ominous huh?  Well, holes in the walls and ceilings of a 100 year old house are creepy, I don’t care what anyone says.

But this time is going to be different, and hopefully we’re doing everything in the right order.  Hopefully.

My friend Nate came and helped cut drywall to fill the patches as I have no patience for this kind of thing and am prone to trucker swearing when things don’t go my way.  I did a few and then just got frustrated and had to go do something else.  Putting them in also sucks as our walls and ceilings are plaster, so it’s not an easy job like drywall on drywall as the thickness is different for each and you have wooden lath in the way.  Do I sound annoyed enough yet?

To make them stay in place (though some of them fit fine and could just be mudded in) I fished out the drywall bit for the drill and attached some wood strapping to the backs of the drywall patches.

Now, here’s a tip: do not touch the drywall screw after you’ve drilled it.  It’s hot, and will burn your finger.

Why, you ask, would you even do such a stupid thing in the first place?  Perhaps because you’re an idiot like me.  I don’t know why, but for some reason, I couldn’t stop.  Sometimes renovating just turns me into Homer Simpson.

I wonder if that’s flush?  D’oh!  That’s really hot.  I shouldn’t do that again.  I wonder if that’s flush?  D’oh!  That’s really hot.  I shouldn’t do that again.
…and on and on.  (as soon as I find the Simpson’s episode I’m thinking of I’ll add it here)

I don’t know if you can see, but yep, there’s an indent of a drywall screw on my finger.  100% self-inflicted through idiocy.


Patches eventually got patched:

And the repair on the scary hole in the ceiling is almost done:

Of course, there was more nicotine to clean, but I finally finished the kitchen ceiling.

Pretty satisfying, but still shudder-inducing gross, especially when your head accidentally brushes against it.  Note to self: wear a hat.

Here I am down to the last patch:


Of course, there’s still loads to do.

So why, you might ask, am I sat here on my ass digging up old art videos and blabbering on about essentially very little?

Well, my friends, it is ‘Energy Audit Day’ and the house currently looks like this:

That would be a large fan doing some technical stuff I don’t pretend to fully understand.  What I do know is they may as well have put it outside for the amount of ‘energy efficiency’ they’re going to find in this house.  In other words, it’s not going to really tell us anything we don’t already know (Your basement is freezing and has no insulation! Shocking.), but it means money in energy rebates from the government, so we’re happy to play along.

Oh bureaucracy…

flooding = not a great reno day

So somehow I seem to have flooded half the house.  Really I should be cleaning up right now, but instead I’ve put out a few buckets, put the kettle on and retreated to my laptop. Sometimes you just need to tiptoe away from the scene and deal with it later (like when Sam comes home).

Seems that the new plumbing for the washing machine in the upstairs bathroom is actually a fountain of Las Vegas Bellagio proportions when it’s not connected to anything.  Who knew?  Well, I probably should have, but as usual, it turns out I have no idea about most things when it comes to knowing how my house works (or doesn’t).

I went to turn on the water in the basement (so I could start cleaning the nicotine kitchen – easily the most disgusting room in the house) and, WHOOSH (or whatever sound a large amount of fountain-ing water makes when written) – water EVERYWHERE.

I was standing down in the basement and the water started falling on my head.  Seriously.  And as we’re talking about the washing machine on the second floor and not just above me, all I could think was – this is definitely Not Good.

So, a few things we now know:

1. I am an idiot.

2. My plumber is an idiot for not realizing I’m an idiot and giving me the remedial ‘this is how this is all eventually all supposed to work’ lecture before he left.

3. Don’t ever turn on random taps in the basement unless you have someone upstairs on standby to yell ‘SHIT’ really loudly so you can minimize the damage.

4.. We definitely need a new sub-floor in the bathroom.

That is all.  I will now retreat to watching HGTV and eating chocolate.  It is, apparently, not a day for renovating.

(- and yes, no pictures of said disaster as I forgot to charge to battery for the camera.  This is just how I roll today…)

how many art students does it take to build a picnic table?

In case you were wondering, it takes four.

Including me to supervise of course.

Actually, we were only putting it together, not technically ‘building’ it.  But the instructions got wet (I didn’t actually realize they were there with the wood and left them outside) and were pretty much indecipherable, so it took us a few (embarrassing) hours.  God knows we’d still be out there now if we had to build it from scratch.  ‘Media Arts’ does not prepare one adequately for basically anything of a practical nature.

You may notice, however, the newly improved, not falling over hammock post in the background.  Horray!

I keep meaning to post pictures of the hammock ‘in action’ so to speak, but as ‘action’ means lying in it and falling asleep, I haven’t yet managed any photographs.

Unfortunately, I think my lazy hammock days (well, there were two) are officially over as the reno has been kicking into high gear.  The electricians have been, done their thing, left holes in my walls, and gone again, and the plumber is here as we speak.

I love trying to be cool with the trades guys: ‘oh yeah, 7am would be totally fine.  I’m always up by then…’


– on some fronts at least.  I didn’t get a job I interviewed for and was really excited about (for the regular pay cheque primarily), so I’m feeling really blah today.

Electricians are upstairs now doing their (expensive) thing, so I think I’ll just stay down here and wallow for a bit.

But yesterday was, otherwise, a fantastic day of progress.  My awesome friends Nate and Spencer came by and really kicked me into gear to get things done.

First we patched a lot of holes and cracks:

In an ideal world, these plaster walls would be taken down and drywall would go up.  But this is not an ideal world, so patching it is.  And the pink kind makes it fun (stop me if I get too technical).

We started priming the walls that weren’t totally shitty:

– and then started the horrible job of cleaning the walls that were too gross to paint over.

This was an experimental swipe of a wet cloth on the nicotine ceiling (the kitchen is going to be worse – stay tuned):

And so I had to do the whole thing.

If you look close you can see the line, but it was a bit half-assed as we’ve turned off the water upstairs (from the Carly and Sam school of plumbing: How do you stop a leaking faucet?  Turn off the water!) and the bathroom currently look like this:

So I had to go downstairs to fill the bucket, which meant, obviously, cleaning with dirty water for extended periods of time.

But then, finally, I got to put some white primer over the horrendous nicotine yellow hallway:

If there is anything more satisfying, I have yet to find it.

bathroom update – downstairs

– a quick diversion back downstairs as upstairs, progress is finally being made (updates to come).

Inspired by my friend Gill’s impending visit from New York on Friday (horray!) and a subsequent frenzy of cleaning, I finally got round to photographing the downstairs bathroom.

You might remember what it looked like from a previous post, but here’s a reminder:

I still haven’t got round to refinishing the tub.  I started to re-do the caulking (again), and then realized that really the whole thing needs re-tiling – actually, just tiling, as the tiles currently there are fake.  So, it’s a bigger job than I thought (as usual), and with the reno going on upstairs, I’ve put it aside for now so we at least have one working bathroom, however unfinished.

But this is what it currently looks like:

Still small, but the new sink gives us a bit more space and removing the big wooden shelving unit was a huge help in making the room feel less gross.  We also pulled up the floor but have just painted the floorboards as a temporary measure.  The window was replaced and a shower head installed from the bathtub faucet.  Oh, and we also replaced the toilet seat.  What a total revelation that was!  Why didn’t anyone ever tell me before how easy and cheap it is to change a toilet seat?  Why have I been sitting on gross old seats in rental apartments all these years?

So we didn’t actually do that much, but it’s amazing what a great shower curtain (brought back with us from London from Habitat – my most favourite store, I even worked there for a time, long long ago) and some bright paint can do (Benjamin Moore ‘Tropicana Cabana’ – bought as much for the name as the colour).

But, as always, there’s some screw ups that need to be addressed:

You might notice that the new mirrored medicine cabinet doesn’t fit the existing hole (we’ll just ignore the missing light bulb for the moment).
We noticed too.  Why haven’t we done anything about it?

That is a damn good question.

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