November 19: Before & After--Exterior


At one point last spring, if you'd have asked me which was more disturbing--the wood chipper scene in Fargo or the condition of my house-- I'd probably have picked the latter. Oh. Geez. Margie.

It was month#3 of construction and I headed to the house with a little extra sproing in the ol' Chuck Taylors. I'd just received a text from our foreman saying that the latest round of demo had begun. By that point, demo messes were generally more thrilling than terrifying. Having already said goodbye to Prince's secret hideaway on the upper floor and piñatas in the linoleum-lined living room, I felt steely and unafraid of the fresh new start awaiting our house. Yeah, let's do this!

But that morning, our crew had been especially busy. As I rounded the corner, my stomach dropped like an elevator shaft in a bad action movie. How it happened, I don't know, but apparently, my house had barfed all over itself.

our house: in progress

Yikes. In tears, I wondered what kind of costly mess we'd gotten ourselves into and whether this house was simply too challenging, as so many seemed to think when we had first bought it. Maybe we'd been naive to believe otherwise and should be flogged in penance for p*ssing away our nest egg.

Getting through the panic and self-doubt triggered by the sight of our new house laying in pieces all over the yard was amongst the most trying tests of the whole reno process. There were sleepless nights--many of them.

But then came a timely realization, brought on by recollections of our previous construction experiences: in virtually every reno, it's inevitable that things will get worse before they get better. Patience, Jedi. Big, beastly projects demand it.

The next steps, in order of priority, were to: a) stop freaking out; b) stick to the viable building plan in hand and let the project unfold more fully; and c) remember that we had an excellent crew supporting us.

A lot has changed since then:

exterior (before):


exterior progress:


our house (front):

While we loved the shell of the original 1939 structure, we were less excited about the awkward aesthetics of a 1960s addition along the south side of the house. There was no way of bringing the house back to 1939, but we were able to give it a freshened, character look. Incorporating three dormers into the roofline also gave us a better-functioning upper floor. Three cheers for headroom!

The house now feels more balanced and seemingly comfortable in its new skin. Best of all, I can sleep again.


A note: I'm so grateful to our terrific neighbours and kind passers-by. Even when the place looked like crap and our noise pollution shot through the air with merciless regularity, everyone was SO NICE, offering words of encouragement when we needed them most. Dear neighbourhood friends: thanks for your little white lies and other kindnesses, even when you were skeptical of where this project was heading. It meant a lot.

October 27: Before & After--Entrance


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):

And now:


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:

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.


Sometimes, simple really is best.

October 1: Before & After--Home Office


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.


office (before):





The original fireplace mantle is now a bookshelf/ ledge.


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.


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.


library cart (before):



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.)


A few details:

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