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

kitchen_full view

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.



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.


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


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


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...




breakfast bar
Vintage Poppytrail teapot

Vintage Poppytrail teapot


Peonies from our backyard...

nook_dresser detail




kitchen_full view
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.




kitchen_sink side
kitchen_sink detail


kitchen_before_stove wall


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

May 13: Before & After--Gaby's Bathroom


It's hard to depict the evolution of this bathroom in then-and-now pictures without leaving you utterly confused about whether we are, in fact, in the same space. Well, we are. Aaaaand…we're not. You see, two can become one via the sweet, sweet magic of renovation. 

Bound together in purpleness were two separate spaces that collectively functioned as the upper level bathroom. Bathroom Part A, below, had a toilet and corner sink. Part B housed a tub and another, longer sink with a porkchop countertop. 


The old incarnation of the upper floor featured a host of odd bump-outs and extraneous walls, all of which were remedied in the new floorplans. Oh those delicious new floorplans. If I were to describe my excitement on first view of the would-be bathroom--simple, rectangular, functional--I'd liken it to my daughter's reaction if, say, a blue unicorn were to marry a T-Rex and 1000 of their closest unicorn/ dinosaur friends attended the wedding in their sparkliest attire.

Decor-wise? Well, I'm generally not the hugest fan of heavily themed kids' spaces. If I had to describe the way this room feels, I'd say it has a vintage vibe, with a bit of beachiness thrown in via the horizontal tongue-and-groove paneling behind the vanity. The colours are mellow--lots of creamy layers, grounded by taupey-brown 12"x24" porcelain floor tile. Wood-toned accessories such as the shelf and antique Thonet bentwood chair cozy it up, as does the large woven towel basket under the vanity, affectionately dubbed "the breadbasket" by our cabinet designer.

I think the best accessories of all--the ones that lend the most colour and life--are the little green ones. I'll always have plants and flowers in Gaby's bathroom. With the skylight we added up above, they'll be happy here, even on the dreariest of days.


Vintage Thonet pressed seat chair for $59? Yippee!


I just love Emily Winfield Martin's work. This particular print fits my girl to a tee.


And so ends the tour of kiddo's bathroom! I hope she'll like it for years to come and that this space is even one tiny sliver as cool as she is.

A few details:

Cabinetry: James Weedmark
Tile installation: Versa Tile
Carpentry: Frank Vickery, Darwin Kolodziejak
Quartz countertops: Flo Form

April 17: Office Progress


At long last, I will soon have an office (yesssssss....) We'll be completing this room in the next week(ish), so please ignore all those gaping ceiling holes crying out for potlights and whatever other unfinished miscellany I'm blissfully overlooking in my picture-posting haste. More photos coming soon. I swear there'll be an actual desk in there somewhere and not just a credenza with a giant, curiously empty wine rack. 

For now, I thought I'd share a few shots of my first prettied-up wall, aka, the shrine wall, which will surely cement my status as a patently uncool mom when this dear three-year old turns 14. Then there will be miniskirts. And skinny boys in big pants coming over to the house. No, no. Not going there today.

I never imagined I'd enjoy hanging art this much, but the world of those immersed in year-long renos is bound to be narrow. To me, dressing walls signifies, with the exclamation point that only a photo of a ruffly-bummed child can make, the end of the truly messy sh*t. Hallelujah to that! 


I leave you to stare into the expressive eyes of my rustic, carved rabbit. At night, during a full moon, he is rumoured to turn into the Monty Python killer bunny, but we think he's sweet anyway. Happy Easter, everyone!

March 26: Barstool MacGyver Project

Remember MacGyver? Who didn't love Richard Dean Anderson, in all his bomb-detonating, aviator-jacket-wearing, mulleted glory? MacGyver was famous for making do with whatever was available to him. I have several of these "make do" projects on the house reno docket--born, in part, of budget management necessity.

Though, on paper, our total reno budget seemed pretty healthy, a large portion had to be allocated to some very unsexy things--engineering, framing, beefed-up seismic requirements in the new BC Building Code, structural fixes to an ant-eaten porch, rot remediation. I catch myself snoring as I type this. Boring, boring...

Moreover, since there's a point at which the budget becomes finite (and, sadly, no illicit currency-printing operation exists in my basement), I've watched my finishing/ furniture budget steadily dwindle to cover the growing list of unsexy stuff.

That's okay. I like a challenge. C'mon, MacGyver, turn that simple clothespin into an impressive, never-before-seen, bandit-catching apparatus--all in 12 seconds or less.

The barstool project: our new kitchen is open concept, with a dropped-down countertop long enough for three barstools. Resto Hardware et al. have a great selection of stools, but at $400+ apiece (+ shipping + an ever-worsening exchange rate on the Cdn dollar) for the ones I like, they are not in my budget.

Instead, I found a trio of stools on Used Victoria--solid wood (made in Arkansas!), with really nice lines. Cosmetically, the frames were a little beat up and the upholstery had seen better days, but at $80 for all three, I figured they'd be great project candidates.

Here's how they turned out:



Besides the obvious monetary benefit of upcycling (my project total was $110), there is something hugely rewarding about taking something old and freshening it up. First off, it makes you feel kinda handy; secondly, you discover how much BETTER the quality of older goods can often be vs. new, mass-produced stuff; lastly, you have the opportunity to create something completely one-of-a-kind.

I think I'll choose to MacGyver more often--even when I have other options.

image via Pinterest

image via Pinterest

March 17: Before & After: The Little Bathroom

I'd almost forgotten what the old main floor bathroom looked like, until I revisited the photos I took when we first bought our house. There's nothing quite like some savoury 'befores'  to make anyone feel like a minor league design hero.

The bathroom was painted peach and, though small, included a tub. It also had a window, which was an awesome bonus for light-loving, SAD-prone Ontarians like me living on a very wet coast. Or voyeuristic squirrels.

The layout was another matter. When you opened the door, it grazed the sink to your left. The focal point as you walked in was shared between a) the toilet and b) a huge bulkhead spanning the width of the room. Hmm. Where to begin.

Typically, when you renovate a bathroom, it is reeeeeally expensive to change the location of your plumbing fixtures. However, as with the rest of the house, we were starting from scratch with our plumbing, so the canvas for this room was about as blank as I could've hoped.

This is what our starting point looked like:

...and this is where we ended up:

This is my favourite floor in the whole house. Herringbone Carrara? Hell, yeah! 

This is my favourite floor in the whole house. Herringbone Carrara? Hell, yeah! 

A wine crate-turned-towel-holder. 

A wine crate-turned-towel-holder. 

A few details:

  • Tile installation: Versa Tile (awesome job on the floor, Adam!)
  • Vanity: James Weedmark

Feb.13: Honey, I Bought a Kumquat

Oh, stop giggling--it's just a word. Besides, I really did buy a kumquat! A tree, that is. Look:


So, why the foray into the mysterious world of lesser-known citrusy fruit? Well, maybe it's the soppy blech of Victoria winters, or the eye-gouging aftermath of the lawn and garden apocalypse that took place around here last year during our reno (we'll be landscaping for a period of, oh, forever), but I've had an unrelenting desire of late to bring a little more green...inside!

First off, I realize I'll have to be a better plant mom than in the past, lest I be stuck growing only cactusesses.es. The truth is, plants scare me a little. They are so finicky and childish that I'm half-expecting a tantrum when I overwater or underfertilize or, say, leave them in a blazing hot sunbeam for two weeks straight. But alas, I can't just tell them to suck it up and stop whining, so I guess the onus is on me to develop better plant-mom habits.

What motivates me is the amazing payoff. Just look at these little green beauties:


During our reno planning, we made sure to allocate plenty of wall space for artwork. So too will we make space--lots and lots of it--for more indoor green.

Feb.7: Before & After-Laundry & Mudroom

When I was a kid, our laundry room wasn't a "room", per se, but a corner of the unfinished basement where a utility sink and washer/ dryer resided. It was always clean, but dimly-lit, raw, and certainly not likely to have wowed my mom as she dutifully trekked down there to deal with our daily messes.

From what I remember, all of my friends' houses had the same laundry setup--a small, dark corner of an unfinished basement, or some variation thereof. Oh, you poor, neglected, unsexy 70s/80s laundries. 

Times have certainly changed and we've seen a marked shift towards incorporating laundry rooms into the main areas of our homes vs whatever scrap of subterranean space is left over once all other rooms have been accounted for. This makes so much sense, given how much time we spend in there.

Our new laundry is actually a laundry/ mudroom combo, converted from a main floor bedroom. It will serve as our new back entrance and is a big improvement over the sad-looking side-by-side that existed in the old basement.

Our priorities in planning this room: nice-looking but budget-friendly cabinetry; large work/ folding surface; a small sink; storage--both open and closed; a place to sit; a litter box nook (hmm, now that's sexy!)

At 12'x10', the old bedroom was a great blank canvas. We chose an all-glass fir entry door and added a small window along the northeast wall for extra light. You can never, ever have too much light!

At 12'x10', the old bedroom was a great blank canvas. We chose an all-glass fir entry door and added a small window along the northeast wall for extra light. You can never, ever have too much light!

The floors are a 20"x20" semi-polished porcelain with a look similar to polished concrete. We opted for in-floor heat, which feels amaaazing underfoot. Quartz countertops span 10' and are extra deep so that the washer/dryer don't stick out awkwardly. Cabinetry is also a few inches deeper and taller than standard.

The floors are a 20"x20" semi-polished porcelain with a look similar to polished concrete. We opted for in-floor heat, which feels amaaazing underfoot. Quartz countertops span 10' and are extra deep so that the washer/dryer don't stick out awkwardly. Cabinetry is also a few inches deeper and taller than standard.

We wanted a cute, simple nook as a drop-zone for coats and place to put on shoes. The baskets store hats, scarves and other small things.

We wanted a cute, simple nook as a drop-zone for coats and place to put on shoes. The baskets store hats, scarves and other small things.

I'm a sucker for anything houndstoothy.

I'm a sucker for anything houndstoothy.

A few details...

  • Cabinetry: James Weedmark
  • Flooring installation: Versa Tile
  • Nook construction: Darwin Kolodziejak
  • Countertops: Flo Form
  • Birdie mirror and porcelain cabinet knobs: Fan Tan Gallery

December 8: Hi Again...


An entire five months have passed since I last posted an entry. I wish I could attribute this to laziness. Instead, I'll lay blame on how trying this renovation process has been.

We've been at it for close to a year now. In that time--and in particular, the past six months--I've spent nearly every weekend working on the house (read: away from family); had minimal contact with my close friends; experienced some intense worksite conflict; been through a blitz move to temporary accommodations (thanks for the crash pad, ma & pa); and endured financial stress unlike anything in the past.

Now, at long (LONG) last, we are finally in! There is still work to be done, inside and out, but the house is safe and habitable. What's more, to me, it's beautiful. I'm thankful every day for the amazing core of people who have worked so diligently on this project and helped us move past the bumpy, dusty, roofless times.

Follow along in the coming weeks--I have some crazy before-and-afters to share! Adios, purple wallpaper...hello, home.