Before & After--The Multipurpose/ Guest Room

If you just happen to have a penchant for skull pillows and giant portraits of 3-legged dogs, boy have you hit the jackpot today.

We call this our multipurpose room--a hardworking little space for art, sewing and the occasional guest who drops by. As with most other rooms in our house, this one has humble origins. You could even say that it has no real origins because it didn't exist in the old house. But, oh what sorcery is this? Renovation, I say. You take one large, awkward room, cut it in half, and then you have two much better, far less-awkward rooms. I'm picturing the magician's giant saw trick, with a screaming room in the magician's contraption instead of a screaming woman. Damn, I could really use a funny graphic right now, but it would take me all day in Photoshop, so here is a "before" shot instead. Click the arrow to see how we reworked this space!

Seems tiny, doesn't it? The main space is actually 9' x 11', which is on the smallish side, especially when you factor in the height constraints of the angled ceiling. BUT! There is a new dormer in the roofline, yielding a full-height bumpout, aka, a nice spot for a built-in desk. A new, opening skylight also creates the illusion of more space and allows the light to shine on in, even on the dreariest of days. Did I mention that it's February on the west coast of Canada? Me and dreary days--we're tight.

I swore off Ikea in this new house. Nothing against Ikea. I just want everything we put in here to not break apart at the point of assembly, which rules out particleboard and melamine--which, in turn, pretty much rules out 90% of Ikea products. However, as soon as you make a rule or swear something off, you really ought to go ahead and break that rule. I mean, why so rigid, right?

Oh Sweden. You vex me. You still seduce me. And it's adorable how everything you make ends in "orp"--like the two Nittorp units, which fit snugly under the angled ceiling and are a combined 8'--conveniently, the exact length of the angled wall. I also like that they are ultra low. Keeping all the furnishings low in this room helps maintain an open look, in spite of the ambitiousness of working so many functions into a single space. The only thing I wasn't too keen on was the turquoise colour of these metal units. So then, magically, they became smoky blue.

The second orp in this room is the Fintorp rail we installed above the desk. It's marketed as a kitchen product, but no one actually uses Ikea products as-marketed, do they? Hack, hack, hack. I've allocated some of the white hanging buckets to greenery, which, by the way, I'm working diligently to keep alive, per my 2016 projects list.

Oh, and this has absolutely nothing to do with the room in question, but I really do love those jumbo packs of Ikea napkins. Recently, I opened the kitchen drawer and was alarmed to see my jumbo packs reduced to a couple of sad, cellophane wrappers. Out of sheer curiosity, could sending your 5-year old to school with this in her lunchbox qualify as questionable parenting?:



You know, I really do love a good mish-mash--and what better way to mish-mash it up than with art? In this room, the artwork is fun and casual by design and includes antique paintings, a vintage poster, a colourful Elton Bennett mid-century serigraph, our daughter's amazing sketches, and a few of my own photos.

Above the bed is a portrait of Nocho, our dog. Unconventional? Hmm, maybe. But here's the thing: art can be anything you love--on trend or not, in a conventional spot or not. So if you want to fill your home with depictions of all the things you love--even (or especially!) if it's the bad-ass little dog who makes you smile every day--then just do it.

Please don't sue me, Nike.

 The Nook

Below is the sewing/ art nook in the space provided by the newly-minted dormer. The built-in is made from an old craftsman desk that had seen better days. The wood was stunning though, and a little stripping/ restaining allowed its beautiful figuring to experience new life.

As for sewing, I'm not a sewer by nature. Rather, I reluctantly assumed the role of one when my daughter came home one day and announced that she wanted to be a "vampire dog" for Hallowe'en. Hmmm, not exactly an off-the-shelf costume choice. Since then, I've been learning and, gasp, sort of...liking it!

After pulling off a couple of shoulder bags and totally slaying the zippered pillow cover that had been intimidating me for months, I thought I had this whole sewing thing down pat. Feeling a bit cocky, I thought I could manage an extra-long, decorative bed pillow in fancy orange silk with a little border and contrasting back side, but halfway through that project, all I could think was D-I-Y, why, WHY THE EFF am I doing this when there are skilled professionals out there who are clearly better at sewing than I am??

But I wanted to do it myself, so I tried again and worked really slowly. And now I'm kind of thinking I slayed that one too. Boo-yeah.

Our girl, Gabi, loves shadow puppets, which made this vintage poster a natural choice. Come to think of it, there seems to be somewhat of a shadow theme going on in this room.

Below: a painting by Ottawa artist, Stephen Frew, and a trio of salvaged Singer sewing machine boxes.

Hope you enjoyed the tour! 

2016 House Projects, Part 1

Well, hello! It has been a while since I last wrote something for this little blog, but I'm still here and thoughts of projects, both new and unfinished, still swirl in my brain with the tenacity of a Jack Russell. Have you ever met a Jack Russell? More tenacity per gram of body weight than any creature on earth, so they say.

We don't harbour any manic canines here--unless you count the little herding dog who decided to adopt us a few months ago. He is a rescue named Nocho, seen guarding the dining table below. His tail is feathery and will no doubt land in the corners of many future photos, prompting me to swear at the prospect of having to reshoot. But nah, I can't stay mad at you because you have big, brown eyes and deserve a treat. Good boy...

dining room:

Preoccupying though it may be, this new-dog-love hasn't quelled my love for all-things-home. Do you wonder what draws us to our living spaces in such powerful ways and fuels our desire to keep shaping (and reshaping) them? For me, it's a near-irrepressible need to create things. I think and dream endlessly of design--how it connects to the way we live, how new and old ideas can collide in the most superb ways, and how something good can become better (or more functional or less wasteful or...) If you like to create, you understand the allure.

This year, we have a few new plans for the house--some small, some fairly lofty. Here's Part 1 of the 2016 project list:

1) Indoor Plants: Keep Them Alive

This goal may seem modest, but it is nonetheless daunting when your relationship with indoor plants has historically been dismal. Exhibit A below shows the remains of the succulent I somehow managed to kill. I didn't even know it was possible to kill succulents, but the inadvertent experiment of leaving it on a dark shelf and denying water for eight months has proven that yes, it can be done.

And here is the bird of paradise in the principal bedroom, trying to escape after seeing what happened to the succulent. I think this plant is somewhat of a drama queen though. I mean, "bird of paradise" (?)

I won't show you what is left of the fiddle leaf fig and how I cry when I log on to Pinterest, where photos of perfect, flourishing figs mock me at every click.

This year, I will bravely try again with another expensive-ass fig. If all else fails, I can send it to my mom's house, which I've unofficially dubbed the Betty Ford Clinic For Ailing Plants. My mom is a plant whisperer. Last fall, she rescued a patio-dwelling hibiscus, slated for the plant abattoir as soon as the weather turned cold. Wooed by giant, apricot-coloured blossoms, I had high hopes upon bringing it home the previous year and, while it did well outdoors, I soon grew tired of battling leaf-sucking aphids that wouldn't leave it alone once indoors. Seeing as how I wasn't equipped to house a throng of indoor ladybugs to keep the gross aphids in check, I decided to give the plant one last summer outside, then let it slip away into plant compost heaven. God, that sounds so awful...

But alas, it wasn't the hibiscus' time and now, it thrives indoors, aphid-free, at you-know-who's house. I'm happy it survived but kind of jealous that it likes my mom more than it likes me.

Enter 2016. Forget The Year of the Monkey. This will be The Year of Indoor Plants at Our House. My inspiration is this lovely little trailing plant, which just grows and grows wherever I happen to move it. I love you, trailing plant. You fill me with hope.

2) The Outdoor Garden: Build on 2015's Strong Start

In contrast to my experiments with plant life indoors, gardening outdoors has so far yielded entirely different (and thrilling!) outcomes. Flowers and shrubs--both old and new--are joyfully lapping up their nice, new organic food. Nom, nom, nom. But most exciting of all has been my first season of raised bed gardening.

Ever since we bought this place, I knew I'd have to do something garden-y with the magical slice of space on the south-east side of the house. The exposure is perfect and a bank of tall trees by our laneway does a nice job of blocking harsh winds.

Growing up in a fairly rural part of Southern Ontario, I was lucky enough to always have a huge family garden. My parents planted every veggie imaginable. Of course, carrots were my favourite. When you're a kid, there's nothing quite like yanking a carrot out of the ground, hosing it off and taking a bite when it's fresh. Did you know that keeping the tops on the carrots as you eat them also makes you believe you are a rabbit? It's true. Ask anyone.

So, as I slowly morphed from child-to-rabbit-to-adult, the idea of growing my own vegetables never lost its appeal. I like the notion of self-sustenance and now, I especially like having our girl, Gabi, involved in the process of growing something from scratch.

After mapping out a plan, digging, leveling, edging, building, and then, finally, planting, here's what emerged in 2015:

I won't lie. It was a lot of work.  But whoa--the yield for a mere 35 square feet of space was rather amazing. And the satisfaction? Unquantifiable! I'll do a separate post in more detail, sharing what I've learned and outlining a few pleasant surprises, like the simple irrigation system that was far less terrifying to set up than I had anticipated.

In the meantime, Alison over at Deuce Cities Henhouse provides some great primers for those interested in raised bed gardening.


Thanks for reading and have a wonderful weekend!

Stop Reading This Post. Then Go Make Something!

Favourite Oscar moment: Glen Hansard, 2007. Hansard is an Irish musician and star of the beautiful little film, Once. Scruffy and out-of-place amidst the glitter, he stood clutching one of those coveted statuettes after winning the Oscar for Best Original Song and conveyed a singular message to the billions watching: "Make art."

There are few things that compare to the remarkable feeling of creating something new--and I'd venture to guess that this feeling is heightened when you encounter some pain and frustration along the way. If the process was all rosy and easy, I think it would imply that we weren't pushing ourselves to new places beyond our comfort zone. And beyond the comfort zone seems to be where all the good stuff lies, right?

A few months ago, I read about an amazing little project, conceived by San Francisco-based artist, designer, and writer, Elle Luna. It's called the 100-Day Project, which Elle describes as "a celebration of process that encourages everyone to participate in 100 days of making. The great surrender is the process; showing up day after day is the goal. For the 100-Day Project, it’s not about fetishizing finished products—it’s about the process."

Do you want to get on board? Your project could be about anything, really, but the only hard-and fast rule is committing to 100 days of ritual.

My project: writing one page of fiction per day.

The 100-Day Project starts tomorrow, April 6. You can read more about it here!