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paint it black (well, some of it) – a finally functional upstairs kitchen

So I finally got the balls to paint a wall in the kitchen with black chalkboard paint…against the advice of mostly everyone.

I had a slight wobble half way through when it looked like crap and I thought ‘what the fuck am I doing?’ (is there anything worse than a wishy washy ‘not quite’ black when decorating?  It’s like when you try and match black clothing and discover you’re wearing about 4 different shades of dark grey) – but I loved it when it was finished and had the second coat.

black wall

We’re not finished here (hopefully somewhat obviously), as we’re planning a cabinet above the range hood and few decorative tweaks (so ignore the wire ok?) – but now I realize that for blogging purposes this is all a big ‘so what?’ as I haven’t even properly documented the upstairs kitchen at all.  And of course I forgot to take a ‘before’ photo of the white wall in my haste to get started; my excuse being that with an infant, when the planets align and you get time to actually accomplish something not mom-related, your brain is just saying ‘GO GO GO!!!’ and you don’t want to dick around composing blog photos.

Just imagine a very blah expanse of white.

So my big moment (well, in my world) was a bit anticlimactic for ‘reveal’  purposes – except, I suppose, if we go right back to the beginning (like we should have in the first place).


kitchen in progress   new island close up

Ta Da!

Can you even believe the stove used to be there?  It was just all freestanding crazily against the chimney brest sticking out from the wall like it might start to walk across the room.  Insane.

The above is actually also a recent development as we only just got the kitchen island seen above – an amazing $80 auction score (it’s the Ikea Varde unit).  Before this completely serendipitous purchase a few weeks ago, we were still using the blue drawers our former tenant left behind that Sam had raised up on a base:

sam making cabinet basenew:old cabinet

It looked kind of fun, and served us well for the past year, but it wasn’t particularly functional.  The drawers didn’t really open or close properly, and having the table so close (I don’t think the above photo is representative of the table/drawer proximity) meant it was pretty much unusable as a surface when anyone was over – plus, who wants to face the wall when working?

We were actually planning on putting the Ikea unit right where the blue drawers were, but something clicked when it was delivered and placed in the middle of the room, as in: ‘why not just leave it here?’.

A revelation.

new island

I then decided to use my leftover chalkboard paint to cover the disgusting sink cabinet doors (chalk artwork thanks to 4 year old Georgia who was visiting), and the whole kitchen was completely transformed.  Here’s a tip though: if you, like me, pretty much only ever wear black, having white chalk on cabinets that you work in front of is not the smartest idea.  Duh.

We tried to use the old kitchen table (another parting ‘gift’ from our tenant), but it was too squished between the wall and fridge (or we were too fat to squeeze into the chairs), so we dusted off our old teak dining table from the basement (you might remember it downstairs here).

new kitchen table

Much better.  Plus I missed it.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much more functional this layout it.  It’s changed the way we use the kitchen (as in, now we hang out there), and actually makes me want to cook a lot more.  People aren’t constantly underfoot as we’re preparing food but can hang out and enjoy our scintillating conversation!  Everybody wins, right?  Amazing what just having a work surface can do (especially one with a view out the window).

So finally, just because they are so gross, and thus make me feel better about life (well, my life NOW), here’s photos of the kitchen as it looked when we first viewed the house:

kitchen first viewingkitchen first viewing 2kitchen first viewing 3

The photos are a little weird and fuzzy as we felt a bit awkward taking them.  It’s not the most comfortable thing to photograph someone’s place as they’re living there – well, if the place looks like a shit hole (we’re not talking about shooting an Architectural Digest feature which would possibly be uplifting, and use better lighting).  So the pics are a bit ‘stealth’ – but I think you get the idea of what we started with.

And here is what we were left with when we moved in (you might recall, or want to review how the whole place looked here  ):

kitchen in progress 2 kitchen in progress 3 kitchen in progress 4

It’s always reassuring to look back on these when I feel like nothing is progressing around here.  I look at these and think, damn – we’re doing ok…

table from windowblack wall  view to pantry  new island

…but note to my mom friends coming over this week: it’s definitely not going to look this clean by tomorrow…


we have a new pantry…oh, and a new baby

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Yes, it’s been quiet for a while on the blogging front.  Surprisingly, having a newborn is not really conducive to spending hours naval gazing about your renovation. I know – shocking!

Some people manage it, but I have no idea how (see Young House Love for folks we love to hate – their weekly photo project of their daughter is damn cute, but as I could barely dress myself during my first month of motherhood, such things were beyond me).  I had to wait a while as this blog was in grave danger of becoming about parenting as looking after a newborn actually does take up EVERY minute of your day, and thus is pretty much all you think about.  But frankly, I spend enough time now obsessing about being  a mom on Facebook, email and in ‘real’ life, that I don’t need to write about it here too.  Plus, the hilarious Amy Morrison at Pregnant Chicken has that shit covered.

But without further ado, here’s what we made:

Ok, she’s not always so red and angry (not always…), but she does have, let’s call it ‘personality’.  Here she is looking more angelic:

Her name is Finley Rose, though we usually just call her Fin (or the monster/poo machine/peanut, depending on the day).  Yep, she came out with a shock of red hair, and without much drama (though she does drama quite well now thank you).  But she’s pretty much amazing and awesome.
We did good.

So…back to the house.  It’s been easy to forget sometimes that we live in a glorified crack house, but there’s nothing like family visiting to remind you of all the projects that are still ‘in progress’.  I feel like I spent weeks constantly apologizing and explaining – ‘oh right, that shouldn’t really be there’ and ‘yes, that’s supposed to be painted/fixed/less dangerous/not a hole’.  It’s amazing what you learn to live with and then just forget about.  Whoops.  My mom and my two sisters were here (My dad declined: ‘why would I want to go to Halifax in February?’  Why indeed.  And my brother also stayed home, ’cause brothers are like that.), and as Fin was almost 2 weeks late – cue feeling unbelievably sorry for myself and other pregnant dramatics (idiot, someone should have told me it only gets harder) – my family and I had a lot of time to discuss what still needs to be done to the house.

My mom, always one for a project, took on the pantry at my request.  She has a thing for pantries (we’ve never had a house without one, which in North America, is something of an accomplishment), and ours didn’t really look much better than when we first moved in:

Ok, it looked a bit better, but I don’t have any photos.  The walls had been painted, but not the ceiling, and the floor was still the same, as were the gross shelves.

Cue supermom.  She’ll hate me for doing this, but here she is installing floor tiles to match the rest of the kitchen (I think she looks cute, but she’ll be horrified she’s ‘on the internet’):

She painted the ceiling, put up new shelves, reorganized everything (or I should say organized – there was no ‘re’ about it as it had just been a dumping ground), and even bought me a new broom and hooks to hang it on.  Actually, they all made me buy a new broom as mine was deemed ‘dickish’ – though I had bought it at a home show from a guy giving a demo with a headset (when are they ever wrong?) and thought it was the bee’s knees…

So here’s the pantry progression:




Hurray!  It’s not gross anymore, and now there’s actually room to put stuff.  Even the random crate of tools we’re too lazy to keep in the basement has a place (though why we need a saw in there I’m not quite sure).  I even have somewhere to put non-kitchen stuff, like rolled paper and canvas, bottles, and diapers, which is great, as there is only one closet in this entire apartment, which, as you might expect, is full.

There’s also room for the vacuum that I desperately need.  I know, I know, I don’t own a vacuum. Don’t judge – it’s a long story involving wet dog smell and carpet that I SWEAR crept into the vacuum I had so I had to get rid of it, even though, yes, no one but me could smell it.  Anyway, now I live in a house that smells like dirty diapers so I guess the last laugh’s on me.

So it’s not quite finished – my mom will kill me for posting photos without the final shelf up (there’s a small one for spices and it still bugs her that she left without having time to put it up – hmm, guess where I get my obsessive personality?), and she wants us to round the edge of that wooden counter top as she says it looks ‘stupid’ as it is beside the window –  but really, if I waited to post this until it was totally finished we might be waiting another 4 months…

It may not be a design marvel (despite the poster of cheese varieties I recently re-discovered and put up – I know, check me out!), but it works.  There’s even some lovely mom touches that I only noticed after she’d gone:

Thanks mom, you’re the best.  I should have a kid every year – just imagine how much you could accomplish!

slow progress, but some progress…

So, we’re still here, though the renovating has slowed to fits and bursts – largely dependent on a) if anyone is coming to visit and b) if something just drives us crazy enough so we finally fix it.  I’m becoming surprisingly tolerant though.

Actually being back in school (or college for you guys in the UK – they think ‘school’ is for kids) is taking over all my spare time, and I actually want it that way.  When the view from your studio looks like this:

is it any wonder you want to spend all your time there?

When the baby comes I’m going to be stuck with the house (and in it I guess), but I only have less than 2 months (2 months!!!) to finish my fine art degree.  It feels like a race against time to empty everything creative in my head into amazing art projects before Christmas while I still have the chance.  I’ve actually had profs say ‘you won’t make any art once the baby comes’ and similar scary prophecies on a ‘children will ruin your life plans (oh, but they’re great too)’ theme and it’s stressing the beejezus out of me.

The fact that most of our light fixtures are mere dangling wires no longer seems to concern me (well, not as much).

The house is basically functional, though we still have no shower (all baths, all the time – it’s like living in England again), and until a week or so ago we had no heat.  Or, more accurately, we either had full blast heat, or none at all (which explains our crippling heating bills last year thanks to our last tenant obviously thinking extreme heat 24/7 was perfectly normal).   Turns out, the thermostat was actually connected to – nothing.

Crazy.  Nothing as pedestrian as actual wires, just stuck there like an ornamental relic.  For show, I guess.  Though nothing much surprises me about this house anymore.

So that was more money (as we are, as I might have mentioned, electrically challenged), though I’m trying not to think about it.  Finances are dire, and the only job I’ve been able to find is one hour a day at minimum wage in the Craft and Design office at the University.  So I might be able to spring for a new pair of socks to at least keep my feet warm.

But doom and gloom and dashed dreams of art careers aside…let’s see some before and after pics of the living room:

Yes, that would be the entire record collection piled precariously in the corner.  We’ve bought some shelves, now we just need to actually put them up.

Oh, and the wicker chair (scammed for free, left out in the rain, and not exactly ideal but nevermind) now replaces the matching green chair some of you might remember when we were downstairs.  Unfortunately, the crack it always had in the leg finally gave out and it’s been regulated to the nursery/office (which, frankly, is just a fancy name for ‘room of crap where Sam tries to study’).  The sofa is also making suspicious and very worrying creaking noises so we finally broke down and bought a new sofa this summer, which will arrive in about a year – or so it seems.  We were told 6 weeks, put down our (non-refundable) deposit, and then were called the next day and told it was actually going to be 16 weeks.  Nice.  So I keep forgetting we bought it at all.  I’ll update you all around Christmas time.

Yes, that is the door to the room we took off still propped in between the windows.  We can’t seem to agree whether or not to put it back on or not, so it sits there in limbo.  And that isn’t a sculpture in the corner on top of the speaker, it’s actually a lamp (made by my great aunt in England and shipped over with us) – just with no wiring and no lampshade.  Add it to the list…

Finally, of course, let’s not forget the hole:

It might not be the most professional job in the world, but hey, at least I don’t have a hole in my ceiling anymore.  One day (!) we might take down the entire dropped ceiling in this room and repair the original ceiling, but that, my friends, is somewhere near the very bottom of a very large list.

Oh yes, and we will put a light fixture here eventually.

Back to the studio…

ready to move? hell no. but let’s do it anyway.

So let’s rewind a little bit and update on what happened (or didn’t) over the past few weeks.

The biggest debacle turned out to be the bathroom (no, it’s still not finished).

As we ran out of money to pay a handyman friend, we had no choice but to finish it ourselves and embarked on a romantic day of grouting.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of shit (I’m told the technical term is ‘adhesive’ or ‘mortar’) to scrape off first.

Two hours later (yes 2 – less said about this the better), we were finally ready to grout.

Now, I have since learned that grouting while pregnant is possibly one of the worst things you can do.  The instructions said to keep away from children, but that didn’t compute in my brain into keeping it away from unborn children.  Yikes.  I didn’t even wear a mask as it doesn’t smell toxic, or like anything really.  My friend told me her grout said it was only harmful to unborn children in California, so I’m hoping that means a fetus in Nova Scotia will be ok…

So yes, in a nutshell, the bathroom renovation has turned into a gong show with all sorts of frustrating, fetus-harming, and upsetting repercussions.  And we had no choice but to move in without it finished.

Luckily Sam was able to get the toilet in just before the big move,

with only one minor flooding crisis.  Impressive.  So we had a toilet, but no working sink or shower.  Which also meant that we weren’t able to re-tile or put new floor in the downstairs bathroom as we were still showering down there until the day before our tenants moved in.

But such is the fun of renovating.  Or so I’m told.

With only one weekend remaining before our tenants were moving in and Sam working almost every single day and night (someone has to pay for mom and baby’s growing addiction to KFC chicken burgers), we had one free Saturday to move so we put the call out to all our amazing friends.

Were we ready?  Hell no.  Were we even remotely packed and organized?  Don’t be ridiculous.

Our idea was that a handful of friends would sporadically show up, help move the large items of furniture, and then we would, somewhat leisurely, bring up the rest in a civilized manner over the course of the week.  Our friends, on the other hand, had very different ideas.  Arriving in droves starting at 9am they were like a military operation on steroids.  Random containers were used to ferry everything from books to that embarrassing crap you find lurking in drawers but can’t throw out, emptied upstairs and then filled again.

Unbelievable, wonderful, total chaos.  Everything got moved.  EVERYTHING.

And so – boom, we were moved.  We had no shower, no stove, no bathroom sink, no door on the bathroom, and no idea where any of our belongings had ended up.  But it was done.

Never underestimate the power of a keg of beer.

final photos of downstairs

– well, until we do something drastic down there, like in 5 years.

So, I never posted any photos of the living and dining room as it never really felt finished.  It still doesn’t.  But now we’re about to move upstairs (in 2 weeks – god help us), so as much as it bugs the hell out me, this room just has to be documented as is.

So here goes…

First of all, that light fixture is not supposed to be there.  It was (was) a three pendant thingy that hung over the dining table before we decided to swap the living and dining rooms.  Then, being too lazy to switch the light fixtures, we left it, where it hung, precariously low.  You might guess what happened next.  Yes, Sam banged his head into it, and now we have two pendants, twisted together to move the whole thing out of the way.  Classy.

But here’s the same view before we took the wall down:

So crazy. I can barely believe it used to look like that.  We pulled up all that lino and the plywood underneath it, sanded and stained the floors, and replaced the window.

This is how it looked when we just finished (though still with the old window) and were so excited to finally have a place to sit (at this point we were living in the bedroom all the time – I don’t even think the kitchen was finished):

The floors looked ok when we were done, but they were freezing.  There were gaps in the floorboards pretty much straight down to the basement.  I started to realize why they covered the bare floorboards with layers of plywood and lino in the first place.  Stupid modern folks like us trying to have trendy bare floorboards and then freezing our asses off.  Serves us right really.

As usual, I went to the internet for some solutions.  This Old House had a video tutorial for filling the gaps with rope. Apparently it’s an old shipbuilding technique.

So, I tried it.

I kind of like how it looks, but it’s definitely not as easy as whatshisname makes it look on the video (welcome to my world), though granted, it’s not rocket science.  But as a solution for cracks and heat loss, it is, as my sisters and I would say, a bit dickish.  We’re going to have to insulate from below anyway and probably lay down new floor – eventually.  The areas where we had to fill in with new pine floorboards where the wall came down (see first photo above) also really bug me, though Sam likes how it looks, for reasons unknown.  ‘Rustic’ maybe.

Here’s the view from the other side:

So, imagine that the proper low dining room light fixture is actually hanging over the dining table, there’s not a huge hole in the chimney, and that the art is hung and centered properly (it was, but we didn’t move it either after we re-arranged the room – hence the lack of anything above the sofa).  The strip of wallpaper you see is what we found when we removed the strange half wall that divided that room:

Now THAT looks like a crack house.  I’ve probably said this before, but sometimes I look at these old photos and am still amazed that we so nonchalantly took all this on.  Sometimes I still think we must have been out of our minds.

But you know, there isn’t much that white paint can’t fix.  Or at least make tolerable.

I can’t wait to move upstairs though.  The dining table currently doubles as our desk and work space, so actually never looks like it does above (as in, empty).  I confess – there was a pile of crap on the floor behind me when I took the photo.  I’m not a huge fan of ‘staging’ photos of your home as it often just looks staged, and thus ridiculous, but in this case it was just too awful and embarrassing to leave as is.  I’m so looking forward to having the extra room upstairs for a proper office.  We will lose a dining room, but as this room was pretty much not functional as a dining room anyway, it’s not really a loss.

Sam’s record collection is going to be a problem though.  You can’t see it, but that Ikea shelving unit is currently held together by a wing and a prayer (also known as plywood and glue).  It barely made the move across the room so I don’t fancy its chances going upstairs.  Apparently you shouldn’t store crappy pressboard shelving in a damp barn for five years and expect it to be ok.  Live and learn.

So that is it for downstairs.  We have tenants moving in on September 1st and we’ll be going upstairs – where the chaos continues…

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.

a hallway of Canadian art for Canada Day

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Happy Canada Day!

Our tenant moves out today – in a few hours in fact.  But before posting a flurry of ‘before’ pics of her flat tomorrow, I figured I had better make an attempt to get up to date with the progress down here.

Obviously the plan was to have finished posting about the reno downstairs before starting on the reno upstairs – but  life is messy, well mine is anyway (particularly at the moment – more on that at some point), so we’re going to be doing an ‘upstairs downstairs’ thing for a while.

So, here’s a quite satisfying before and after of our hallway:

What a relief it was to get rid of all that PINK!  The wall colour is Benjamin Moore Oxford White (which we used everywhere), and the wainscoting and trim is Benjamin Moore Bittersweet Chocolate, and oh my goodness was that rich brown colour satisfying to paint on.  It took a while (as usual) to decide on the right colour, but I’m so happy with it (we have quite a bit left over, so I might use it again upstairs).

I love how the brown and the new vintage light fixture ($100 from the fabulous Renovators Resource – handily/dangerously now barely a block away from us) look like they’ve always been there.  We won’t talk about how re-wiring the light at one point caused the TV to turn off when you turned the light on, and how having to call an electrician to fix the problem actually cost more than the light fixture…we just won’t…

The flooring?  Well, I actually didn’t mind the lino/tile and spent a long time scrubbing it trying to convince Sam that we should just leave it.  Turns out, however, that his elementary school had the same flooring, so getting rid of it was non-negotiable.  Time, money, and the impending cold weather made a suggestion from my mom seem like the best idea ever – carpet.

Friends were horrified, but you know what?  I don’t care.  It was super cheap, very easy, and made the house suddenly feel like a home.  Don’t look too close though – it was easy, but also, shall we say ‘a learning experience’ when it came to figuring out how to join the pieces together.  I’m not worried though as we can just pull it up again and start over, and it did give us confidence that we could do it again – much better – somewhere else (maybe the bedroom when we move upstairs?).

I would have rather not had window coverings, but as the edge of our house is also the edge of our property line, we’re looking directly into our neighbour’s yard and need some privacy – particularly as you have to make the sprint down the full length of the hallway from the bedroom to bathroom.  Luckily this gave us the perfect excuse to buy some super cool curtains from Smoking Lily in Victoria when we were visiting my parents at Christmas:

At less than 3 ft wide (2ft 10in. actually), the hallway is extremely frustrating to photograph from the side (especially when I forget to re-shoot at night to avoid the glare but then use the bad photos anyway as I’m already overdue posting something and it’s Canada Day so I know I won’t be doing blog stuff this evening, blah blah blah), but here’s a few anyway:

The photos on the wall above are of Canada’s Painters Eleven – a group of English abstract painters (as opposed to the French Automatistes)  from the 50’s and 60’s (my favourite time period for Canadian painting), Harold Town in his studio taken by photographer John Reeves, and a funny little photo we got at auction of ice in Niagara Falls (that came as a lot with the larger photo we have in the bedroom and another long photo of the Rockies also in the hallway).  The painting is one Sam grew up with in his childhood bedroom, and unfortunately, we’ve never been able to identify the artist.  The etching is also from auction, and is by a 19th centry English artist of Lynmouth lighthouse in Devon.

Directly above is a letterpress work by Amos Kennedy Jr. and beside it is a print by Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook ‘Interior and Exterior’.


Above is a Denis Juneau watercolour on the left, with Katie Bond Pretti above a  Toni Onley etching. Not shown (as the photos are just too terrible and therefore just unfair to the artists) are two drawings by Kazuo Nakamura and two paintings by Anna Yuschuck (you can see them a bit on the right in the first ‘after’ photo above).  We also have a poster from the Canadian War Museum (the counterpart to the one in the kitchen, and both used to hang in my office when I worked at the Victory Services Club in London), and an early panoramic landscape photograph of the Rockies.  One day I’ll document them all properly…

But, as with everything, it’s still not totally finished.  The trim painting was done during a slightly intoxicated painting session by me and my friends, and is embarrassingly sloppy in places so needs touching up.  The baseboards haven’t all been replaced yet, and as we painted before we moved in, the corners of the doorways all got chipped and scuffed.

Oh well, onwards…
(and time for some July 1st celebrating)

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