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

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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

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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

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

kiddo

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. 

bath_before

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.

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sink_detail
shelf_vertical
tub_before
emily_print
shower_detail

Vintage Thonet pressed seat chair for $59? Yippee!

chair

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

print_detail
before_bathentry
bath_fullview
vanity_detail

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

office_loveseat

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! 

office_gallerywall
office_gallerywall2
bunny

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!