January 15: Before & After--Dining Room

dining room: thehousediaries.com
dining room: thehousediaries.com

It's January and somehow, I suspect this is a very unpopular month for blog posts about dining rooms. I can almost picture the bleary-eyed, design-loving masses, having just caught up on their feeds and re-emerging from the solitude of their cramped, wi-fi enabled attics in the aftermath of the annual magazine/ blog/ Pinterest/ Insta photo deluge of 22 million perfect, bling-laden holiday tables…only to find…a post about a dining room here at the good ol' House Diaries.

Ahem. Rookie blogger sense-of-timing aside, I stumbled across some photos I took a few months ago and thought you might like to see how our dining room turned out. Humour me, will you?

Let's start with a before, from the viewpoint of the living room. Side note: I actually like this shade of pink (do you?) and recently painted Gaby's ceiling a similar colour. More about that later...

dining room (before): thehousediaries.com

After:

dining/ living room: thehousediaries.com

I enthusiastically count myself among the many homeowners out there who favour open concept living. More light, a better sense of connection between rooms…what's not to love? In our house, removing most of the wall separating the dining and living areas greatly improved the flow of the main floor. It also remedied the general awkwardness of all the teeny, tiny openings dotting this part of the house, which kind of resembled human-sized mouse holes in the walls.

Before I go on, I should urge anyone who hasn't done this before and is considering tearing down a wall to call in a pro and investigate any structural constraints your house may face. Few things are more annoying than watching some reno show on tv and--with no mention of structure--they cut to a shot of the cute homeowner in an ill-fitting hardhat, giggling away as he or she bashes through an old wall.  No! No! No!

The wall above was not without its structural limitations. Since support posts were a must, it only seemed right to make the whole area into a feature instead of a mere engineering necessity. Enter the two pony walls, each topped with walnut (among my favourite woods) and fitted with double-sided bookshelves. They both satisfy my fetish for built-ins and provide a great opportunity to blend creativity with function.

We use these shelves A LOT--particularly Gaby, to whom I've given free reign over the left-hand side. Man, that kid has a lot of stuffies. Here, I'll readily admit I'm not the world's most adept shelf stylist and could use some inspiration now and again. But for better or worse, besides a good cleanup, some flowers (which you'll always find in our house anyway) and removal of our cat's overnight hairballs, my photo prep habits don't typically include stripping away every trace of real life. Where's the fun and mockability in that?

Regardless of whether we make the shelf-styling grade, one thing I solemnly vow to never, EVER do is wrap my books in fake covers so that they "match the room". Does this practice still even assume the status of a "trend"? I hope not. How would you remember which books are which? And why would anyone want to cover up objects that add so much texture and value to our lives?

Okay, movin' on!

Before, from the viewpoint of the hallway/ kitchen:

After:

dining room: thehousediaries.com

Did you notice the new window on the left? It's beautiful, big and identical in height to the adjacent bay windows. We repurposed it from the bedroom-turned-laundry and love how it captures a view while flooding the dining room with light.

Another significant change was removing and repositioning the bay windows themselves--a choice we extended to most other pre-existing windows in the house. Previously, the vertical placement--almost at the mid-point of the wall--felt so unnaturally low to me. Our contractor dutifully forewarned me about the labour costs associated with such a decision, but in retrospect, I am 100% glad we went ahead and put this on our list of non-negotiables. These are the changes you will never get a chance to re-think once the drywall is up and new stucco is in place, so I consider the added labour cost money well-spent.

Before:

dining room (before): thehousediaries.com

After:

dining room: thehousediaries.com
dining room: thehousediaries.com

Furnishings and Special Objects

The Table
The large, rustic-style dining table was a new purchase--and a bit of a splurge. We love its weighty presence, which anchors the room and feels in-scale with the equally-weighty chairs.

The Chairs
The oak chairs were a very lucky vintage find at a local consignment shop. I don’t know who designed them, but they are well-constructed and supremely comfortable. I like their heft and the way this is balanced out by their elegantly-curved backs and flared, tapered legs.

The Gallery Wall
I really don’t think art needs to be expensive to have value. It’s far more important that it be personal in some way. With a few exceptions, I also strongly prefer originals over those that are mass-produced or part of a trend. Our little gallery wall is a mix of pieces, including a vintage Georges Braque exhibition poster, a still life acrylic by a talented artist who works at my favourite bookstore, and a white-framed fingerpainting of a flower--Gaby's first piece of pre-school art!

Lighting
In both past and current renos, we've prioritized lighting and consider it a vital element in shaping the mood of a room. We're lucky that our dining room benefits from a tonne of natural light during the day. At night, we rely on a mix of lighting sources. Two mesh pendants in a matte nickel finish hang over the table and have a simple, industrial feel. They are also visually lightweight--you can see right through them!--so as not to impede the view to the outside. Small potlights dot the perimeter of the room to light the gallery wall and fill in shadows. A vintage brass lamp and stair lights leading down to the living room round out the room’s lighting scheme.

Linens
While I’ve always been a sucker for pretty table linens, the runners below are especially significant to me. During our recent trip to Croatia, I received them as a birthday gift from my lovely aunt, alongside a story of their origin. They are pure linen, with a nubbly, rustic texture. My late grandma grew the flax and wove the cloth herself, while two of my aunts crocheted the intricate edges. The runners are among the few, intact family heirlooms to emerge from my grandma’s farm. I will always find a place in our home to display and treasure them.

dining room: thehousediaries.com
dining room: thehousediaries.com

The dining room has become one of my favourite rooms in our home. It’s a mix of contrasting elements--old & new, colour & white, curvature & angularity, thrift & splurge--which somehow fit together in a way that reflects who we are.

A few details:
Built-in construction: Darwin Kolodjiezak, Frank Vickery
Table: Restoration Hardware
Pendants: Chintz & Co.
Still-life floral painting: Jessica Whittington
Chairs, Depression-era sideboard, brass lamp, round mirror: vintage

And a special thanks to my mom, who brought over the awesome organic apples--because taking pictures makes people hungry!

January 7: Before & After--The Big Bedroom

bedroom: thehousediaries.com
bedroom: thehousediaries.com

I've never been much of a master bedroom person. Besides the term 'master bedroom' itself, which makes me want to put on a giant velvet cloak as I survey my medieval fiefdom, fussing over a room in which I don't spend many waking hours hasn't historically been a high priority.

But I'll admit, I'm warming to the fuss. After cracking open some ceilings, adding dormers to our awkward roofline, and rearranging the walls, a pretty nice space seems to have emerged. 

Here's a shot of the old room, complete with ominous-looking rope:

bedroom: before

And here's where we ended up:

bedroom: thehousediaries.com

Before:

bedroom: before

After:

bedroom: thehousediaries.com

Our budget was finite (and, in fact, often in need of creative resuscitation), but we decided early on to put something aside for built-ins and a vaulted ceiling. As it turned out, the engineering requirements for a high ceiling were no different than they would've been for a regular-height ceiling. Our cost difference? A little extra drywall and labour/ material to install faux beams along the peaks. It was among the few true no-brainers of this tricky project--and one that defines the room unlike any other choice. I love the interplay of shadow and light on the angled ceilings and the way light shifts throughout the day. It's a new room every hour.

Built-Ins

From where I stand/ sit/ sleep, the best feature of this house is what lies out there, beyond the walls. It didn't seem right to mess with a nice view by introducing a bunch of visual litter inside. Dressers? Armoires? Chests full of stuff? Bah. Clothes are so overrated.

Well, perhaps our pursuit of the minimalist ideal isn't quite so far-reaching, but you get the point.

dormer nook: thehousediaries.com

The copper fixtures above were part of the original 1939 home. We polished 
them up and had them rewired to current electrical standards. I love them so
much more than anything we could've bought new!


So, back to the matter of where to stash 'stuff' without adding too many bits & pieces of furniture. Our solution: build it in and let the walls assume furniture-style functionality. I thought the 6' high knee wall, along a corridor linking the bedroom and ensuite, would be an ideal spot to house a bank of storage drawers. Enter our nifty cabinet maker, James, who built this:

IMG_9611.jpg
bedroom storage: thehousediaries.com
bedroom: thehousediaries.com

There are 12 drawers in all. They extend fully and are extra deep, providing a practical storage solution that doesn't protrude into the main bedroom space.

And just because I got all excited about the idea of built-ins, I figured we should find some use for the 4' high knee walls that run the entire upper floor perimeter. With new insulation, drywall, and a little custom carpentry magic, we were able to turn otherwise dead space into extra storage.

If you can momentarily tear your eyes away from the impressive piece of audio technology on the shelf below, you'll notice the rustic-style wooden sliding doors. They're made of thick slabs of hickory, which, after 18 billion hours of sanding with a 60-grit orbital and much swearing, I have determined is the hardest surface known to humankind.

It's also quite beautiful, with plenty of tonal variation and knots to lend some lovely rustic character.

knee wall storage: thehousediaries.com

Click to check out the storage space inside!

And so ends the bedroom (boudoir? sleeping chamber? lair?) tour. Nighty night--and Happy New Year, friends!

bedroom: thehousediaries.com

A few details:
Barn door construction: Frank Vickery
Barn door hardware: Rustica Hardware
Built-in drawers: James Weedmark
Capize shell lampshades, sconces, bedside tables, side chair: vintage