October 27: Before & After--Entrance

entrance: thehousediaries.com

I wasn't planning on pulling out my camera today, but the filtered sunshine pouring into our hallway was just too tempting. Almost as irresistible as a bar of good Swiss chocolate (metaphorically, Roger Federer. I just can't help myself...) It came out of nowhere--the sunshine, not Roger--providing some respite from the morning rain and making our front entrance look, well, rather glowy. 

There was a time when this space was more gloomy than glowy:

entrance (before): thehousediaries.com

And now:

entrance: thehousediaries.com

I liked the cute, old coves, but not the piddly 32" hallway width. Expanding the cramped hallway by 1' as well as opening up and re-pointing the stairwell were, hands-down, among the best things we did in this reno. The result is a main floor that is far less compartmentalized and more in sync with the open feeling we were aiming for in the broader project.

And as for the fate of the amazing old door--7' tall, solid fir, with an original 1930s peek-a-boo window--that decision was easy. We paired it with a new fir sidelight and jamb, while giving the interior side a fresh coat of paint and new hardware. The exterior side took me about a week to strip and re-stain, but it was well-worth the effort. My Maine Coon cat, her gloriously furry self tattoed by stain during a foiled escape attempt, would respectfully disagree.

wall light/ shelf: thehousediaries.com

I found this amazing handmade light buried in the clearance corner of a high-end furniture shop. It retailed for $1100, so I was pretty stoked about paying a measly $100. Yee-ha! It was meant to be huge wall sconce, but I had our contractor flip it horizontally and top it with a thick slab of cherry. Now, we have a place to drop our keys and a great source of ambient light in the hallway at night.

entrance: thehousediaries.com

Sometimes, simple really is best.

October 1: Before & After--Home Office

office: thehousediaries.com
office: thehousediaries.com

I still see the ghosts of cubicles past. So much grey (and probably little tolerance for paintings of naked people on the walls.) Thankfully, I think we're experiencing a shift in some corporate cultures, where organizations are now realizing that their employees' work environment can have a big influence on both creativity and productivity. It's about time!

We recently finished dressing up our new office digs. The space was once a formal living room--fireplace and all. We're not "formal living room" people and, while I was sad to see the fireplace go, my disappointment quickly vanished once a large new window was installed. Removing the 2' deep fireplace bumpout also opened up the room considerably and created better opportunities for furniture placement.

BEFORE:

office (before): thehousediaries.com

AFTER:

office: thehousediaries.com

BEFORE:

AFTER:

The original fireplace mantle is now a bookshelf/ ledge.

office: thehousediaries.com

The 1950s John Van Koert desk, a lucky find at a local consignment shop, is in amazing vintage condition and features a pullout leaf on the right side. It's like a sidecar, where kiddo can draw while I pretend to look very busy beside her.

office: thehousediaries.com

A can of spray paint turned a worn-out but sturdy library cart into a bookshelf/ printer stand. A bonus: it's double-sided, giving us twice the storage space.

BEFORE:

library cart (before): thehousediaries.com

AFTER:

IMG_2723.jpg

Is it lame to have a shrine wall of your kid? Probably. She'll be so embarrassed once she hits high school (insert evil grin.)

office: thehousediaries.com

A few details:

Credenza (commissioned): Jake Lee
Barn door hardware: Rustica Hardware
Ceiling Fixture: McLaren Electric

Aug.3: Renewal in Mostar

mostar house

Sometimes, it's good to just stop.

Then go. See something new. Be with family. Regain perspective. Sleep. Even just experience the luxury of a little guilt-free boredom.

This summer, we've taken a break from the construction, dirt, unfinished projects and expense of the past year+ and have landed in beautiful Croatia, my home away from Victoria. A few days ago, I took a drive to a special place--my dad's hometown, the city of Mostar, in neighbouring Bosnia-Hercegovina. Among my greatest treasures are old photos of my dad, so young and handsome, posing with his friends under Mostar's famous stone bridge.

Mostar is now in the midst of renewal, carving out a new identity for itself in the aftermath of of a terrible war in its recent past. It is a layered and deeply complex place--you can't help but feel this and see it at every turn, as cultures, religions and people cautiously intertwine, trying once again to coexist.

Here are a few snapshots from our visit:

The Neretva River and its trademark green waters.

The Neretva River and its trademark green waters.

Mostar-Old Bridge
Stari Most--the famous old bridge after which Mostar was named.

Stari Most--the famous old bridge after which Mostar was named.

A diver prepares to jump from the peak of the old bridge. It is a VERY long way down.

A diver prepares to jump from the peak of the old bridge. It is a VERY long way down.

Diver-Mostar
Divers-Mostar
Old Town

Old Town

Mostar memorial
Reminders of the war are everywhere.

Reminders of the war are everywhere.

It's amazing what a little time away from routine can do to enhance your perspective and make you truly appreciate what you have. Our houses? At the end of the day, they're just shells with rooms and sticks of furniture. But our homes are places stamped by the richness of experiences, where reminders of family history, formative moments, and our own triumphs over adversity, however big or small, can be found lingering on the walls, bookshelves or in trinket boxes, awaiting rediscovery.

June 16: Before & After--Kitchen & Breakfast Nook

kitchen_full view
edit-lg-8715.jpg

With so many inspirational kitchens featuring amazing open concepts and magnificent islands, I wouldn't have guessed that my ideal kitchen would one day assume the form of the much-maligned galley. Now? I can't imagine it any other way.


Where to Begin?

Admittedly, when we first bought the house, I didn't have the highest expectations for this space. I knew we could make it into something better, or at least prettier and marginally more functional than its predecessor. Anything beyond would be a bonus.

BEFORE:

kitchen-before

The explosion of teak, while blazingly orange, was ultimately just a cosmetic issue. Conversely, there were a number of odd windows, entrances and stairs leading into the kitchen that posed significant challenges in creating a workable layout.

Then, our architectural designer, Wil, came up with the genius idea of enclosing the old back porch and claiming that space for the kitchen. Mmm...90 extra square feet. Could we now get the eat-in we'd hoped for? Giddy up, galley!

Once the house plans had been drawn up and the permit was issued, Wil's involvement in our project ended, leaving me with the job of figuring out what this raw space was supposed to look like. No pressure.


Inspiration

I must've combed through hundreds of galley kitchen photos, of which the most impressive were the stylish, function-rich wonders found in many a small New York apartment. Besides their innate sense of cool, seemingly ingrained at birth, New Yorkers are insanely practical people. Faced with the storage challenges of small-space living, New Yorkers build up. Literally. To the ceiling. We chose to build upwards too, elongating the lines of our cabinetry and making the space feel taller than it's 8'3" height. It's like cabinetry with high heels.

My other source of inspiration was the messy chic of bohemian Scandi kitchens, with their gorgeously cluttered open shelves proudly displaying the most stunning pottery known to humankind. Was there ever a culture with such astonishingly self-assured design sensibilities?

While I love the homey casualness of open shelving in lieu of upper cabinetry, my reality is that I just can't pull off an entire kitchen's-worth of it. So, here was my compromise: a bit of rustic open shelving to house prettier, everyday items and a few curated treasures + a smaller, open wall to create a visual break from runs of cabinetry. The rest of it? Behind closed doors! No one needs to see that 20-year old pan with half the Teflon peeling off.


The Cabinets

cabinets_detail

I met our cabinetmaker, James, last April, kicking off a fairly organic, slowly-evolving kitchen design process. I proposed a layout early on, the basics of which didn't change much. The details, however, were tweaked over several months as the rest of the house took shape. James was nice enough to not roll his eyes once during any of our long-ish meetings, which always seemed to involve an annoying number of folders (mine) filled with magazine clippings and messy sketches. Atta boy, James.

One thing about kitchens: the cost can kill you if you let it get out of hand. We had to pick our battles carefully and differentiate the extravagances from the must-haves.

Our must-haves: solid wood door fronts, well-constructed plywood inners, all-drawer lowers, and a comprehensive lighting plan. Among those items, drawers for the lowers represented a significant cost upgrade vs doors, BUT, they were SOOO worth it. With full-extension drawers, we can arrange contents easily and see everything. No more tupperware jenga or emptying 80% of cabinet contents to find that weird little bowl stashed at the back. Yep, drawers. The only way to go.

Our small extravagances: several glass door uppers with interior LED lights, "sitter" cabinets at the end of each run of uppers, and furniture-style legs in lieu of flat toe kicks. It's these little touches that make the space interesting to us.


The Nook $500 Built

nook_brekky

Among my favourite parts of our new space is the breakfast nook, where we eat most of our meals and stare out the back window, cultivating a love-hate relationship with the deer in our yard who look so damn cute while they eat all my flowers. The nook is cozy and has a mammoth 4' x 7' blackboard, where Gaby can often be found perfecting her chalk pufferfish masterpieces. Get this kid's autograph while you can. She's going places...

Best of all? Virtually every element of the nook was a bargain. Here's the cost breakdown:

-Chalkboard, $20 from The ReStore
-Vintage maple dressers, $100 for the pair on Used Victoria. I chalkpainted them grey and left the handles natural.
-Oak trestle bench, $100 on Used Victoria
-Solid wood round table, $5 (no, that isn't a typo!) at an auction
-Vintage (repro) light, $40 on Used Victoria
-Mid-century John Van Koert chairs, $150 for a set of 7 on Used Victoria. Score! Upholstery was an easy DIY.

It's a good thing most of the nook was done on-the-cheap because the horizontal slatted wood walls, a luxury I put on my must-have list early on, were anything but. There was nothing pre-made that fit the look I wanted, so after experimenting with different profiles and materials, our contractor made all of the boards himself. The installation, which involved 'wrapping' the walls seamlessly, with no corner trims, was painstaking, but I couldn't be happier with the results.


Steel Beams are Sexy

kitchen_breakfast bar

A big challenge in this space was figuring out how to deal with the clausterphobia-inducing walls. Enter the engineering marvel known as steel beams! We ran one down the length of the ceiling bisecting the kitchen and living room, allowing us to bust open a large expanse of wall. The result: plenty of extra light in the kitchen and, perhaps more importantly, the ability to simultaneously prepare dinner and watch the hockey game. Go, Leafs!


Enough Talk. Let's Cut to Some More Photos...

BEFORE:

kitchen_before

AFTER:

breakfast bar
chairs_detail
Vintage Poppytrail teapot

Vintage Poppytrail teapot

nook_blackboard
nook_detail

Peonies from our backyard...

nook_dresser detail

BEFORE:

kitchen_before

AFTER:

kitchen_full view
shelf_detail
shelf_counters
shelf detail
antique rug

This is our 100 year old Persian runner. I love all of its beautiful imperfections. I'm sure those wear marks have many stories to tell.

BEFORE:

kitchen_before

AFTER:

kitchen_sink side
kitchen_sink detail

BEFORE:

kitchen_before_stove wall

AFTER:

cabinets_with lights

Hope you liked the tour! We're pretty excited about our new space--it feels like "us" :-)

A few details:

Cabinetry: James Weedmark (and the lovely Sarah!)
Pental Quartz Countertops: Flo Form
Carpentry: Vickery & Sons, Darwin Kolodziejak
Flooring Installation: Andrew Dufour
Tile Installation: Versa Tile
Schoolhouse Lights (above breakfast bar): Schoolhouse Electric