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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…


no one puts baby in a crack house

– except us apparently.

Given we have a child, it’s probably time to address the indisputable fact that, from the front at least, our place looks like a crack house.  I don’t know why having a baby means you feel the need to have a cuter house, but you do.  Call it a strange hormonal side-effect, or just feeling weird entering what looks like a former drug den (because uh, it is) with our new million dollar Bugaboo yuppie stroller (I joke, but that thing rocks – thanks Geoff and Powell , best gift EVER), but the exterior of my house is depressing me.

Truth be told, Sam actually likes it this way as he sees it as a free security system.  He’s right, I suppose, but we (ok, I) can only live like this for so long.  I want a pretty house!  Well, at least not a crack house.

Up to this point I have avoided posting any photos of the front of house as I’ve just been plain embarrassed.

But ok, deep breath…
here you go:

Pretty bad right?

‘Curb Appeal’ is still a mystical notion we have yet to get a handle on.

Making it worse, we live in a neighbourhood and city of very cute wood shingled, brightly coloured homes.

via Property Guys (was going to take my own photo, but that would mean leaving the house – not that easy these days, plus it’s raining)

Yes, many of them used to be derelict and as sketchy as ours, but we’re rapidly becoming the worst house on the street.  Yikes.

So, ideally, we would like to pull off this god-awful vinyl siding and replace it with cedar shingles.  Unfortunately, we really should replace the windows first, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon, so we’re pretty much stuck with the siding for a while. Plus, there’s nothing actually wrong with it, unless you count the level of embarrassment I feel every time I have  to explain to people that we live in the ‘mint green’ house.

At least I no longer have to say ‘the house with the mailbox falling off’ as my sisters finally replaced the mailboxes for me when they came to visit.  But I do come from a long line of embarrassing house monikers, as my childhood home used to be identified as ‘the house with the Christmas lights up all year round’.  Ah yes, procrastination, you are genetic…

Obviously, paint seemed like the solution.  I got beyond excited picking a colour scheme and settled on grey with yellow doors and white trim.  No one was that enthused, but yellow is what the doors should be according to feng shui (yeah I know, but it narrowed the choices), and grey seemed like a good choice for a house that is not, and never will be ‘cute’, but could be what you might call ‘handsome’.  And imagine a window box with some red flowers.  You with me?

Sam was a hard sell until we started watching Casino, and Robert DeNiro was sporting the same colour scheme:

house colour inspiration? why not!

This is when you press pause and go ‘SEE? It can work!’  And voila, Sam was on side.

Here’s a few other better (but less fun) examples:

via Holly Smith Interiors

via fric and frac

via PeaHen Pad

Now, ideally I wanted the dark grey as above, but with a slightly softer, less acid yellow.  I got totally carried away and collected about a million colour cards (it’s like my new hobby) until I finally talked to someone at Benjamin Moore who told me that, actually, you can’t paint vinyl siding a darker shade than it already is as it will absorb more heat from the sun and then warp.  Shit.  Cue deflating balloon.

So I could go white, or really pale grey, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that as merely getting dressed and having a shower is a challenge these days, painting the front of the house is just not going to happen.  And it’s definitely not going to happen if the colour is a boring compromise.  Let’s be realistic (for once).

Project ‘I don’t want to live in a crack house’ take two…

Stuck with the mint green siding, and feeling that I might actually find the time to paint the doors, I started thinking differently  – what about blue?  This image was the inspiration that pulled me from my despair:

via design-vox

Back for more colour samples:

We’re deciding between Benjamin Moore’s Staffordshire Blue and CIL’s Arctic Night – neither of which I can find on-line.  Annoying.  And they look completely different in the photo above than they do beside me here on the couch.  Imagine them darker like in the ‘inspiration’ image above.

Anyway, this is all the fun part.  First I have to actually tackle the door trim which is, oh boy, a little desperate, and more than a little overwhelming:

Fun times ahead…

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!

end of an era, but ready for tenants…finally!

A HUGE sigh of relief as downstairs is finally ready for our new tenants.  And not a moment too soon – they arrive in about 2 hours.

So strange to see it empty of all our stuff.  It’s like going back to the beginning before we moved in and pretending it always looked this way.

We finally did all the little things we’d been meaning to do for ages: re-caulk the tub, paint the baseboards, put the heating covers back on the heaters (I know, ridiculous).

But it’s the end of an era…

This was just heartbreaking to erase.  Sigh.

Meanwhile, however, our ‘new’ place upstairs looks like an episode of hoarders:

Don’t even ask how we’re able to manage actually living here.  I’m not sure myself.

Updates (embarrassing as they are) to follow shortly.  You probably won’t be surprised to learn that in the cyclone that seems to have erupted, I temporarily ‘lost’ the camera.  I took photos with my phone for a bit, but now that cable seems to have been swallowed – somewhere.

Anyway – oh crap, tenants are here – early!


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…

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)

goodbye edmonton – my work here is done

Yes – finished!

That would be the ‘after’ photo on the right.

So, you might notice that we haven’t got the closet doors back on exactly (we lost some screws somewhere, though now we’re thinking maybe they only had a few in before anyway – well, that’s our story), but I’m still really happy with how they turned out.  It’s a little bit Mexican, but not in an ‘Arriba!’ kind of way.

As you can see, we also switched the bed around.  I like that you can get in (or out) on both sides now, but the primary benefit is that your head is no longer right against the wall with the toilet on the other side.  You now avoid what used to be known as ‘the poo vent’:

Obviously, the room still needs a few things like blinds, and maybe a rug. Tiff found the blue fabric in the basement and we got the pillow at Ikea, but that was essentially all we purchased apart from paint, baseboards and 3 frames.  Tiff’s also currently trying to find the perfect white dresser after one those ‘one that got away’ kijiji moments.

(Oh, and please ignore the stain/wet area we cannily folded on the white bedspread thinking it wouldn’t be visible in a photo.  I managed to place something down on the bed that left a mark, Tiff got out the stain remover, the clock hit midnight, my flight was in the morning – we took the photo anyway.)

So it’s all pretty much finished, except for some art on the walls.  We bought some Ikea frames but didn’t have a chance to put anything in them (the ‘Ikea 1985’ you see sideways was a bargain ‘as is’ find – LOVE that section).  I hung them anyway as Tiff and Manny are of the ‘hang art wherever there’s a pre-existing hole’ school of decorating so I was a little afraid of what might happen in my absence.

Given that their wedding was over a year ago and they haven’t even had a single photo printed yet, I thought it was high time they did, so that’s what we’ve planned to fill the frames.  The fact that the wedding was in Mexico, and on the beach, meant that their awesome wedding photos (taken by the very talented Ricardo Bencomo Renedo) have some of the same colours as the room: yellow sand, blue sky and red bridesmaid’s dresses.  I think they’ll be perfect.

Here’s a few we’re considering:

But Tiff will have to figure out that part on her own, as, yes, I am now back in Halifax.

I hung the frames late into the night before I left, but essentially my work here is done (for now – my brother did end up buying a condo, so if someone wants to buy me a plane ticket…).

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