Saturday, October 7, 2017

Status Update

By some Thanksgiving miracle, I'm here to advise that things are happening - framing is 80 per cent complete. Sure, this time last year I posted about how there is NO way I wouldn't be back in my post-renovated home by Thanksgiving and that was my non-negotiable, bottom line. Everyone in construction assured me that I'd be back by the beginning of September - not optimism, flat out lies. But whatcha gonna do? Happily, we will be having roast vegetables, roast lemon capon and homemade pumpkin pie today. We will also be siting on the couch while we eat. Honestly though, it's just a convention to sit at a table while one dines. What's wrong with cozy spot on a couch?

We got some red roses and a really nice bottle of cava, not to mention that it's the most summer-like day for a fall holiday ever. I really love summer in fall. There is much to be grateful for.

But let me tell you where we're at with the house. To date, we've:
  • Expanded a foundation around a boulder
  • Corrected the foundations of 2 neighbours
  • Created a full-depth basement that now travels the entire length of the house
  • Replaced a rotted load-bearing beam
  • Replaced a dry-rotted two-story wall
  • Created the framework for 5 new rooms (sewga, 2 bathrooms a kitchen and a sitting room), and
  • Replaced the stairs and walkway from the basement to the backyard

What's remaining, as far as I can remember and in no particular order or order of magnitude:
  • Installing the heating, electrical, insulation, and plumbing - and all of those necessary systems
  • Actually outfitting all the rooms that have been built i.e. kitchen cabinets, pantry, showers, floors etc.
  • Installing a yoga wall in the sewga room
  • Replacing all of the windows at the front of the house (and getting the windows into the new build)
  • Installing a fireplace (I'm going with 3-sided glass and gas because, despite my undying love for the scent of wood smoke, not one person (even the fireplace installer) could recommend a woodstove.
  • Opening the load-sharing wall between the staircase and dining room (this will NOT result in open-concept), which involves installing beams in existing walls and ripping up the ceiling to reinforce the second floor.
  • Installing some new sort of balustrade (or glass?)
  • Affixing a brick veneer to the entrance wall, opposite the dining room.
  • New lighting throughout the house
  • New painting throughout the house
  • Reconstructing the wrecked-up dining room
  • Fixing the stairs (they need to be sanded and repainted) 
  • Hardscaping the backyard
  • Landscaping the backyard, including bamboo in boxes, to be set up outside the kitchen window for what I'm calling a panda-scape.
  • Furnishing the new spaces (we recycled a lot of our furniture that's been around since the beginning of time, and certainly before we had any taste).
That sounds like rather a lot.

So, I'm keeping my fingers crossed and moderating my consumption of alcohol to the best of my ability. And feeling rather thrilled - for the first time since this saga began - about this architecture meeting my needs:

That's Marcus the framer, in the sewga room. What it lacks in width it makes up for in height!
Everyone thought this roof was crazy. The builders questioned it. People said it would look weird. But as my mother likes to say: no guts, no glory. I think it's fantastic. There will be wood panels or beams (scandi style) on the massively tall ceiling and a beautiful floor. It's going to be outrageously light in this room (note the window to the left of the wall of windows - it is not small), I'll be able to sew without overheads, even on a cloudy winter day!

And, to get super-controversial, I've decided against putting a bathtub in either of the new bathrooms (and the one in the basement is just a powder room). I'm putting in showers and I'll install a tub, as required, before I move in 20 yrs, in the event that people still bath at that point. Why no tub?? Um, because I hate them, they take up space, I feel entirely unstable getting in and out of them (and like I'm bound to slip while I'm in them). I love a sexy shower with bells and whistles and maybe a seat, you don't have to put a curtain around it if you like glass, and I do, and that makes for an infinitely more spacious-seeming, freakin' tiny bathroom. And as for the argument that children need them, my kid's been having a shower since she could stand up (not that all buyers necessarily share my perspective).

So, here's to a Kristin-post that isn't all doom any mayhem.

Today's questions: What do you think of the all showers/no tubs decision? Are you in camp bath tub? Do you think I'm insane? And how do you like the crazy ceiling? (Note: If you hate it, feel free to desist from being entirely truthful.)  FYI, the roof doesn't look strange from the back of the house - you can't see the crenelation from that view. It's only from the third floor balcony that the shape of the roof is discernible. Have a great weekend, everyone. Kxo

Friday, September 22, 2017

Wherein I Decide to Take the Long View

Well, hey there. It's been a while. Generally, when it's been a while, I've been itching to write for weeks. Not this month. This month is kicking my ass in many ways. I almost wrote "in all the ways" but, frankly, that's just not true and I don't want to get into a pissing contest with the Universe.

In terms of work, I'm on the sexiest project of my career. That's very cool, on the one hand, and I'm thrilled have the opportunity. On the other hand it's absurdly challenging and this alone would be enough to keep me up at night. You know it's far gone, though, when scary-ass work is less scary than life. Last weekend I was almost looking forward to incessant briefings (wherein I'm in the hot seat) because that's not where I live. Sure, it's a core, but it's not my fucking home.*

And then there's the pain. It's not a great moment on this front. The last couple of weeks have been barely bearable. I have enough experience now to tell you that chronic pain, when it's there, adds a layer of effort to everyday life that "regular" people cannot understand. BTW, I'm really glad they can't understand cuz no one should have to live this way. I'm managing as best I can; there's a trajectory and I have to see it through. But it would be pretty fucking hard to do my life right now, without pain, and pain is a constant undercurrent that takes so much energy to compartmentalize (the only way I can keep going).

I don't want to dwell on the negative, not because I don't love dwelling, but because I have so little bandwidth remaining that I can't spend it that way. And frankly, this is my time to expend this kind of energy. If not now, when? I want to have a gorgeous home that meets my vision and that's a fucking hard thing to achieve. I want to be respected in my career and to set myself up for the most interesting projects in the future and that takes a shit-ton of commitment. I want to help my kid to achieve and to manage waves of crushing stress she doesn't yet know how to navigate, but I'm not sure I'm the optimal teacher. I mean, coming home after 10 hours of meetings, only to deal with financial planners or builder matters followed by reviewing/editing my kid's assignment (always due the next fucking day, can she not plan ahead just slightly???) is not something I do particularly elegantly. Note: That's an understatement.

I'm not going to dwell on the specifics of the reno because, inasmuch as many aspects of this process are disappointing to me, my complaints are not going to facilitate anything productive. Moreover, this process is so cyclonic that, in any given week, I will have gone from utter despair to vague hopefulness. In the end, if my involvement can provide any assurance, we will have an excellent finished home. I need to take the long view, not because I'm measured, but because I'm outpaced. It's the only way I'm going to have any sanity at the end of this. So, will this take twice as long as it was supposed to (and only that much longer if I'm lucky)? Yup. I can either fester with hostility about how we got here - and be tormented by the costs involved in time over-runs - or I can be massively grateful that I currently live in a comfortable house, in a nice neighbourhood, while chaos runs its course.

The problem with vision is that it isn't fortitude. I'm continually reminded of Orpheus, the need to stay the course without looking back. There is only the present, which will lead to the outcome, and my job is to remember that. (BTW, I'm not so far gone that I don't realize that comparing my scenario to that of mythological Greek prophets ain't particularly woke. Mind you, isn't that why Greek mythology came to be? So peeps like me wouldn't feel so philosophically unmoored??) Scott and I are learning so much about ourselves - our style, our biases, our baseline expectations - and our ability to influence dynamics. But be under no illusions, potential big-time renovators: This process is a fucking full-time job. We have definitely encountered challenges, that I may speak more about once all of this is complete, but don't imagine that spending more money will get you better site management. It's just a crap-shoot. Cuz, trust me, I did ALL the research anyone could have done, and more, and I'm still disappointed. If you a) know what good management looks like and b) are incapable of just standing aside and hoping it all works out in the end, you will be managing your own project to a greater or lesser extent. Know that going in and you can save a lot of money (and disillusionment).

On that note, I've taken the day off work to have a meeting with the builders. After that, I intend to go to crappy-place's fantastic patio to drink more sbagliatos than is strictly sensible. Needs must, and all that. Mercifully, the weather supports my plan.

*Another stressor, though I don't dwell on parenting minutiae here, is that my kid is now in Grade 12 and it's the make-it-or-break-it year academically. This has been an adjustment for us all. Simply in terms of the administration that accompanies planning for university/college, it's a job. And, of course, it calls attention to the fact that my child may be living in a new city at this time next year. I never thought this would concern me but now I'm not sure how I feel. Well, I'm sure I feel she should stay home for one more year to gain additional life skills, with my support. I have a whole plan worked out but I'm not confident she's game. But seriously, there's going to be a fantastic house in it for her! I mean, we live in urban-centre Toronto. You could do worse than to have your own space in a gorgeously renovated century-home downtown. Especially if your parents intend to give you freedom. How do people manage with more than one child???

Sunday, September 3, 2017

What Do You Think of This (Salon)?

Oh, Park Slope, you give so much to the people of means:

Emily Blunt's home, courtesy of Apartment Therapy. I cannot believe she's selling it?!?!?!
Note to Reader: You have to look at the whole house tour to get a sense of how truly massive it is.

Kristin, what do you think of this? Well, I love it, but more for the architecture and overall vibe than for the interior design, which could have been made a zillion times more functional. I mean, who needs 2 chairs looking at a mirrored wall?? But hear me out.

This is effectively the layout of my house. Sure, my first floor could fit in this room (if you folded it in half) but see that bay window? The foyer? The orientation of the staircase? People, I can relate. When I first walked into my home, I knew I would buy it and it was because it channeled this vibe, writ mini.

I love many styles - mid-century, Edwardian, Victorian, chalet, robot-modern industrial, pretty-well anything English-looking in a dark-walled, brooding way - but this is the architecture that makes me wonder about past-life theory. I mean, I cannot encounter it without feeling entirely at home. I've been here before. And I'm super habitual. It's a mark of how much I like the rug that I wouldn't rip it out in favour of those wood floors, unhindered. Look at those freakin' floors.

Now, I do think you've got to have a shit ton of space to waste it so spectacularly on this layout. This room is not for living. It's for waiting in or passing through. And that's ok, I guess, though I would do it differently. In fact, if there's one thing about this house I dislike (in terms of the architecture), it's the massiveness. Hard to feel cozy here.

But what about this, other than the gift of its bones, do I love? The admixture of modern lighting and original features takes a sassy approach. I approve. I love the mash-up of painted wood in the salon against the original wood in the foyer. (In this respect, I'm no purist. You try living in NYC in winter. One needs light.) I think highly of brightly-coloured furniture against a minimal, neutral background. It's punchy, but it doesn't overwhelm.

So, what do you think?

Monday, August 28, 2017

What Do You Think of These (Bathrooms)?

Some days, I fixate on one palette, as evidenced by these intriguing, European bathrooms:

German house from Desire to Inspire. Seriously, look at the whole tour. It's luxe, if not my scene...

Spanish house from Desire to Inspire. Is it just me or can you spot a Barcelonean place from its floors alone?
See a theme? In full disclosure, I'm not one of those people who shies away from pink. My house was painted very pale pink from top to bottom. Admittedly, it was that way when we bought the house but, when I repainted, I kept the pink.

Kristin, what do you think of these? Well, what I love about them is the textural quality of each. They're pretty busy on either the floor or the ceiling, but the rest of the room balances that out, to my eye. And in both instances, mirrors give scope. Mind you, it's scarcely like these rooms need additional scope. They're huge by comparison with the size of my new bathrooms...

Re: German bathroom: I do love rads, that door molding is lovely and the sink is huge. Mind you, the wood is too yellow-toned for the pink, IMO, and it looks like you could stab yourself on the edges of that structure (would we call it a vanity?). I love that this is set up differently than most bathrooms - to suit the realities of the space rather than to force the "standard bathroom" orientation of things. The lighting is pleasingly soft, but the lit mirror means one can apply makeup day or night.

Re: Barcelona bathroom: Honestly, that floor. I love it just cuz it reminds me of Barcelona! I adore the height of the room, the huge window and shutter. I love the mirrored backsplash under the sink. I love the juxtaposition of light colours with black and the rosette on the ceiling (though it's strangely placed given where the WC is). I don't like marble much but, given the choice, this is how I'd use it. (Note: marble is a pain in the ass, IMO. I don't recommend it.)

Moreover, I find both of these bathrooms kind of sexy (if one can apply this term to a bathroom without seeming weird). I think I will be aiming for sexy in the new house.

But what about you? What do you think of these?

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Renovation as Metaphor

Having spent much of my life supported by physical order and the knowability of structure, I have said - at least 100 thousand times: I am not the kind of person who does that. And by that, to be clear, I mean any number of things - going to a rave, jumping out of a plane, eating bugs, camping. But never have I used that phrase so often as when I'm discussing renovations. Which is kind of strange since, prior to now, we have done one major structural reno on the house (the third floor) and numerous smaller ones (a bathroom, for example). It's not like I've never done this before.

Last week, we decided (like every idiot who's ever done a major renovation) to increase the scope of the project in a rather meaningful way (financially and structurally), at which point it came to me viscerally: I am the kind of person who does this. I mean, not only am I doing it, but I'm doing it more.

On the rollercoaster that is this project, somewhere between the hideous height and that ok plateau that goes through the splashy water feature, I can tell you I would do a bat-shit crazy, absurdly expensive reno any day before I'd parent a baby. I think I may be finally coming to terms with how tortuously anxious I was as a new mother. I was unceasingly panicked at the thought of losing my child (after a pretty fucking horrible first few days). My hyper vigilance was my way of convincing myself that I could forestall danger, the unacceptability of loss. If only I used my will and constancy, if I did it well enough, then everything would work out. And in the process I became a shell. (OCD peeps, it's not just lots of hand-washing.)

But this is not about that. This is about how, while it may take me a while to get there, once I make a commitment I am all-fucking in. Really. There is no half-measure. (Again, likely a function of my neurochemistry or, shall we say, my personality.)

Brief sidebar in case you follow me on Instagram: The fucking builders haven't even started the fucking framing that was supposed to begin last week during a projected 7-10 rain-free days which are now inching towards a close. I don't even know if the timber has arrived. So I'm not getting all "I love renos" cuz we've broken the back of this...

I said that my ideal renovation would, without changing the size of my house one square inch, cost approx 800K. I'm now flirting with that cost zone, for what it's worth, getting closer to it than I ever thought I would for, like, every good reason on the planet. And yet, the time not to spend was before I signed-off on a huge project that was unquestionably going to cost a whack of money. Now I'm doing it and I'm not going to forego something potentially spectacular because of a momentary little thing like a budget. (Note: I make these sorts of decisions with financial advice and, so far, this still looks like a good idea on paper, even if it sounds insane. Sure, could I be richer if I never did anything? Absolutely. But I'm not leaving my freakin' money to the cat orphanage and my kid will have an eventual place to live - or a shit ton of money to go somewhere else with.)

The scope increase, which should be doable "on time" (so hilarious because that concept is profoundly MEANINGLESS - what they're saying is that it will simply add to the vortex of "extra") sounds lite but is rather destructive (before it is reconstructive), even as it won't be anywhere near as destructive as everyone assumed. We're going to open the wall between the staircase and the dining room to allow light to get from the front to the back of my shotgun house. It's pretty clear that this will bring a really attractive reno into the realm of sensational. Like, Architectural Digest good.

Why have I resisted this - my mother's recommendation, please note, or she will be very displeased... Not because of the cost or extra time but because it means I'm going to have to destroy my original, Century dining room. And if you've known me for, um, an hour and a half, you know that I a) love my freakin' dining room and b) believe that one is a steward of history, not a killer of it.

See, given that it's a load sharing wall (dead in the middle of 3 houses that are partially attached), we're going to have to open the walls to put stabilizing beams in. And, more meaningfully, we're going to have to tear up the ceiling - with its plaster and foot-deep molding and rosette - to reinforce the joists of the second floor.

On the plus side (no joke), there doesn't appear to be any duct work running through that wall so we won't have to trash the entranceway too. At this point, there will remain but 3 original rooms in this house and every other one will have been gutted and/or torn down and rebuilt.

This is the equivalent of building from scratch when you live in a row house. Only it costs more and takes longer.

But, as Scott genius-ly suggested, to turn my mind around, those before us renovated thoughtlessly, and trashed a lot of history, leaving dysfunctional remnants. It's true. Also, apparently I can recreate my dining room so that all of the features will be recaptured (potentially even with reclaimed materials). It's making a philosophical sacrifice to create a new architecture that will be beautiful and well-made enough to survive for another century. Actually, to survive better. And since the builders accidentally wrecked the westernmost plaster wall in the dining room, when they tore off my kitchen, I've had to come to terms with the loss of some history already. (And yeah, that didn't go over well...)

Is this spin? Absolutely. But I'm on board. (And, please don't judge. The retro-fitting of one's principles is difficult.)

You know those shows on HGTV where the people work with architects and engineers and make crazy changes to their homes and it's painful to watch because they are insane with the scope change and the unknowns that become problems that need to be solved by doing more work? You know how you watch gleefully, maybe with a glass of wine, and you think: Lord, those idiots. Why did they do that? That cost is ABSURD. Do they really need to undertake additional unnecessary project X? God, look at that rotting beam they now have to fix and the foundation disasters and the boulder in the backyard that's too big to move. And then you take another handful of popcorn. (I really miss popcorn.)

People, I actually don't care about those shows anymore. They cause no anxiety. In fact, half the time what those crazy people are doing is functionally less crazy than what we have already undertaken. I'm on the dark-side. We're half way between here and there and I'm experienced enough now to know that I cannot control the outcome with my rumination. This is dangerous and unknown, just like raising a human being. But I am the person doing this and I'm not going to apologize for or undervalue it. We may be nuts, but we're also visionary. And that's worth a lot of money, time and effort to me - apparently.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

What Do You Think of This (Garden)?

Sometimes, I suspect that my mother doesn't like 84% of my design email fodder because she's crazy. How could it be any other way? The last few years have taught me I am unusual in that I truly cannot imagine that things I enjoy are anything other than objectively fantastic. Of course, I don't generally admit this to people.

Also, not sure about you, but I don't have a lot of chances to mull over art design with people. Maybe if I had more exposure, I'd be all "Oh, I can see how our opinions diverge".  Maybe my style would be more balanced and broader. Instead I'm rather committed to but a few things:
  • Cleanness - I need a space to be actually clean-seeming but also visually undistracting.
  • Colour - I like neutrals and wood tones but they usually don't cohere without deeper or brighter colours, IMO.
  • Warmth - Cuz Canada...
  • Architectural Intrigue
  • Practicality - Show me some kind of ingenious, attractive space-saver any day...
  • Elegance
  • Light
I think most people like most of these things - they're all good, no? But maybe now's the time to broaden my horizons.

Question: When you seriously change something up, do you prefer the idea of sticking with what you know (which is naturally appealing) or hovering at the margins of your edgy self?

At any rate, let's move the design to the outside world today:

Landscape Design of Tom Stuart-Smith courtesy of DesiretoInspire
Kristin, what do you think of this? Um, simply that it is perfection. I love the controlled wildness. I can't say enough about the colour scheme - purples meet greens and yellows. The water feature is relaxing but also has an industrial feel. It is truly reflective. I think this space is beautifully proportioned given its size which is, admittedly, very large. I love its low profile, how it uses natural topography to find balance. I can smell the cultivated nature.

But what about you? What do you think? PS: Check out that link for some utterly spectacular photos.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

What Do You Think of This?

So I'm considering a new blog series called What Do You Think of This? Effectively, it's a ploy to a) look at photos of (what I consider to be) interesting design and b) get myself, somehow, to a place that I can think beyond the pit, I mean, the healthful foundation, of my transforming home. Really, the pit is more metaphoric than anything, she says, trying to sound convincing.

Here's the idea: I'll find and post photos from one of my interior design sites. The photos will not be of one style or palette or room or locale. I will aim to make them relatable, whatever that means. The rooms will likely trend towards cozy and the homes/gardens compact, to resonate with the kind of home I'm building. I wonder if I'll come to regret writing that sentence if the only rooms that appeal to me from here on in are big! (Think: Mood Board, not "this is what I'm working with specifically".)

Then, I'll tell you what I like about the pic in question - and perhaps relate it to some aspect of design I'm thinking about for my own home.

I play a version of this with my mother on a daily basis. Note: She dislikes a full 84% of everything I show her, but I've got her number when it comes to places in Paris and Barcelona. Have I ever bothered to, um, save any of the house tours or photos?!?! Apparently, that would be entirely too structured for my interior-design brain which, I've recently discovered, is a fucking renegade. Do not tell her to organize in the way she does with, well, anything else. Style is a muse, y'all. Disclaimer: There is one other thing I undertake as unstructuredly as interior design and that's cooking. I refuse to follow a recipe. I commune with the food as I commune with spaces and I don't think mathematical structure helps overly, in those instances. Honestly: food and design are the same in that they are entirely associative. That's why there's relatively little, objectively bad design. (I'm going through an open-minded phase.)

So, for our inaugural space - and let's not put too much stock in any one photo - the Paris salon:

Photo courtesy of Apartment Therapy

You can learn more about this photo (and see a very French, full tour) here.

Kristin, what do you think of this? Well, it's in Paris (big city, gorgeous architecture both get points in my book). But in terms of the room itself, I love the light, the height of the windows and the juliette balcony. I love the textured walls and how they allow simplicity to shine. I love gold accents (though I do NOT like that table which one would get injured by routinely, I imagine, and which overwhelms the rug). I love that the only things that bring depth of colour into the room is the couch - and the TV. It's not that I support the overt visibility of TVs but I have a TV in my living space so I like to see versions of rooms that embrace the inevitables of living life. Who doesn't love the floors and the dimensions of the door? I'm fine with animal skin conceptually, but I don't think it's the piece, so much as the neutral layering that makes the rug integral. There are cut flowers - the essence of elegance, IMO, and a sign of nature within urban sprawl. But most of all I appreciate this room's cozy minimalism. It is not cold, even as there's very little in it. It's comfortable. Would go well with a glass of wine and some good music.

So, what do you think of this? And, by all means, do my mother proud with your honesty :-)