AT Reno Diary: Week 1

Our first post is up over at Apartment Therapy, talking about the scariest and most traumatic bit of this whole renovation – the structural work. (Really, the photos don’t do justice to just how insane it seemed at the time.) Go check it out here!

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Still here.

Hey my lovelies. Yep, I’m still here. Remember back in January when I said that I was going to focus on my peace of mind, and not have guilt about not blogging too often? Well a few things came up which made me entirely drop the ball on the blogging since then, at least on this blog.

First of all, that kitchen reno? It’s started. In a major way. And while it might seem crazy that I haven’t posted about it, that’s because I’ve been too busy blogging about it over on Apartment Therapy! I’m participating in their Renovation Diary program, where I post my weekly updates there, and they pitch in a little dough to help out with the renovation. So far they’ve only posted the first three weeks of my reno, so you can catch up on everything here. I’ll post updates here when new content goes up every Wednesday. We are actually much further along than their posts let on, which is good, because of this second thing.

Secondly, this other thing has been taking up a lot of our mental space.


Yep, at the time of writing I’m at 30 weeks (the photo is from 24 weeks I think, I have grown exponentially since this photo). Only 10 more weeks to go already! I’ve been pretty shy about posting bump pictures in general on social media – I am not one of those ladies who likes to document every single week. But despite my radio silence, I have really enjoyed this pregnancy so far. I’ve felt great and had lots of energy, which is good because the last few months have been the busiest I’ve had in recent memory. And we are so, so excited to meet this little jumping bean (gender unknown!).

Thirdly, work has gotten really insane the last few months, and has taken up every last scrap of my spare mental energy. I am glad to have gotten the chance to work hard before taking a well-deserved maternity leave, but I’m hoping things calm down a bit for my last trimester.

Does all this mean that we have abandoned other work around the house? Well, yes and no. The entryway is sort of on hold (although we’ve progressed since my last post!). And oh, we also need to decorate a nursery. Hahah. I actually have the design in my mind already, so that’s like more than half the work right??

So that’s what’s happening with us. I’m hoping to post a few more updates on what’s happening elsewhere in the house, time permitting, before this baby arrives. I’ve missed this little blog, and you readers out there. Happy summer everybody.

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Kitchen plans. Boom.

So far, you’ve seen the living room, dining room, entryway and bathroom in my apartment, but did you know that I haven’t shown you the entire back half of the apartment? Yep, there’s two whole rooms I haven’t shown you – the kitchen and the sunroom. (Okay, well there’s the bedrooms too, but they’re not too exciting.)


You’re probably wondering, why haven’t we seen these areas? Well, in short, it’s because the kitchen is really bloody complicated and it’s taken us two years to figure out something close to a plan of action for it. And no, I don’t mean that it’s just ugly – although that too! It’s more that it’s a hot mess of load-bearing walls, miniscule counter space, wall-mounted radiators, freezing cold stone tile, electrical panels and windows that go below counter height. So not only is it ugly, it’s inefficient and impossible to reorganize in an smart way without major. major. changes.

So here is what we’re dealing with.


The sunroom was previously an uninsulated cold storage area, I believe. About 10 years ago, the three owners in the building (it’s a triplex) pitched in to put a foundation under the sunroom and connect it to the rest of the building, allowing the neighbours upstairs to build patios facing the back garden. I would imagine that the fridge and stove were once against the wall between the sunroom and the kitchen, meaning this was probably originally a galley layout. There have been a few retrofits over the years – the dishwasher, the range hood, new windows and flooring in the sunroom, and those 80’s-fantastic rippled glass cabinets – but it’s never been truly gutted to make an efficient kitchen.


As you can see, our “improvements” to this area have consisted in us adding our junk to it. Sigh. Our tiny countertop in the kitchen is constantly jammed, and the cold sunroom has become the dumping ground for all the things that have no home in the house.

After trying every configuration possible of the appliances in the Ikea Planner, we came to the conclusion that to make a functional, efficient kitchen, we’d need to do one of two things:

  1. Remove the wall mounted radiators, install another heat source and replace the single window with one that starts above the counterline; OR
  2. Remove the pantry.

Of those two options, it seemed like the second would have better results and possibly cost less. No exterior masonry work, and we’d keep the practically-new turn-and-tilt windows. So with that in mind, we started talking to our contractor about what it would take to remove the pantry, and started poking holes here and there to see what was behind.



So it turns out that the pantry is hugely load bearing. It’s built on giant thick cement cinder blocks that go all the way up to the third floor. Some jobs can by DIYed, and this is not even close to being one of them. So we started talking to an engineer, and we’re now at the stage where we’re getting permits from the city for the work to have it removed. Permits + engineers + the city = more money, and more time. But we’re inching forward.

Enough depressing before shots. Let’s look at the future plan, shall we?


So the plan for now is to move most of the kitchen to the back wall, with a small island and a banquette under the low windows. We’d also like to build in a desk where the current kitchen counters are now. We currently have our computers in the second bedroom, but we’d like to put some small people in there at some point, and we’ve got enough computers in this house that we need a dedicated desk space.

Want to see some (amateur) elevations?


I originally wanted to do all open shelving on the North Wall, but for a couple reasons I don’t think I will. We’ll need to pass the ductwork out of the east wall so that it doesn’t exit into our neighbour’s yard, and we would need a soffit to go underneath the beams. So my plan is to hide the ductwork in the square stacked cabinets on top. Sneaky! I’m also not quite sure we have enough beautiful dishes to go on miles of open shelving. Don’t those people have a collection of ugly mugs?? So a combo of open and closed might be best.

So that’s what’s been keeping me really busy the last few months. This is by far the biggest change we can do to the apartment, but also the one with the biggest impact. We love to cook and entertain, and we live just a block from the biggest open-air farmer’s market in North America! So a functional kitchen will really transform how we use the space. Lastly, given how big of an undertaking this is, we’d like to do it before those aforementioned small people arrive on the scene. I’m not quite certain but I imagine small infants and construction zones don’t mix.

I have about a zillion ideas for style (to get a sneak peak, check out my kitchen pinboard). But first I have to focus on functionality before I can do fun things like picking finishes and flooring. The next post won’t be quite so lengthy, promised – I really wanted to give the full story on the challenges of this space. But for now – onward!

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Looking back, looking forward.


Wait, it’s almost the end of January already? And I haven’t even had a chance to take a moment and reflect on 2012? Well, that’s not true… I did spend two weeks relaxing, eating, traveling and hanging out over the Christmas holidays. But I haven’t had a chance to get all bloggy about it. So, you may be sick of everybody doing recaps of their year, but well, you’ll have to put up with one more.

Normally, I am all over lists of goals and achievements. For about 5-7 years, we made a habit of spending some time over the holidays to draw up a list of goals for the coming year, and review goals from the previous year. Often these were professional or personal goals – I’ve included major job changes and moving to different cities on these lists.

But this year, I don’t have any kind of desire to make the sort of detailed list I would have made in the past. Why? Well, I have a few theories, but it boils down to this: 1) I feel like I’m already working towards where I want to be, professionally and personally, so there are no major changes needed, and 2) I don’t want to get so caught up in overly ambitious goal-making that is not in tune with reality.

That said, I do have a few “themes” for this year (just like last year):

#1. Make the making a habit.

Last year, I decided that my theme for 2012 would be “making, fearlessly”. That’s totally still valid for 2013. In fact, this might just be a life theme. This year though, I’d like to try and change my habits to support it. If I can take 15-30 minutes every day to write something down, take some photos, or make a small step on a project, I’ll be happy. To do this, I’m trying to focus on small to-do lists that have manageable tasks that can be accomplished every day. And when I say “making”, I mean lots of things – writing, cooking, building, designing, sketching.

#2. Read daily.

In 2012, something amazing happened – I started reading again. As in, books on paper. I don’t know how exactly I stopped but for years reading became a very minor part of my life. I’ve started reading again on a semi-regular basis and it feels amazing. I used to be an insane, voracious reader and it is really one of my true pleasures. It also helps me relax (unlike you guys, iPhone and MacBook!). So I’d like to keep making time for this.

#3. Remember what’s important.

Sleep, peace of mind, family and friends are what’s important to me. So that means I move forward with projects slowly, and that I don’t blog very often. My personal to-do lists are out of date. But for now anyway, that’s fine, and I don’t want to have guilt about it. What’s important is that I’m moving forward, living according to my own standards and focusing on what’s important to me. This also means prioritizing time spent with family and friends, time spent writing thoughtful emails, time spent with Pierre.

#4. Trust my instincts, and don’t fear the fail.

Trust the weird and wacky ideas. We naturally get more risk-averse as we get older. It helps to exercise that “take a chance” muscle!

Do you have any themes or goals for this year?


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New project: The entryway.

So, we’ve got a few bigger projects in the works that I’ll detail a little later, but they are projects that require professional help and permits and extreme planning and serious dough. In the meanwhile, I wanted to try tackling a smaller, more manageable spot – the entryway (or, if you prefer, the vestibule). Here is a rundown of issues and things I’m hoping to resolve:

Shoe, coat and winter storage. As much as I wish this area could be a simple pass-through, it has some serious duties to accomplish. We don’t have a front hall closet, so coats are stored here, as well as mittens and toques, plus the day-to-day boots and shoes (off season and special-occasion shoes are in the basement). In Montreal we have serious winters, so there needs to be some storage for all that stuff right by the door. Our current setup is okay, but guests never seem to notice the coat rack – they come right in wearing their coat and then pass it to us. I’m thinking some hooks behind the door might do the trick here.

Floor protection for winter and spring. Um, something that’s a little prettier than what we are currently using. I would love to put in beautiful tile here, but it would really be a waste as it would be covered with snow mats 6 months of the year.

A new overhead light. Tracklights, be gone!! I think I can finally make my chandelier dream come true here.

Replacing those dirty lace curtains with privacy film. No explanation necessary.

Weather-proofing the front door and replacing the lockset. Did I mention our crazy, -40 degree weather in winter? This thing leaks air like crazy. We also currently have three locks on our front door, and a wooden block where there should be a proper lockset. The doorknob doesn’t even turn. This will have to wait until the spring though, since we can’t well take off the door in the middle of winter.

Repainting/wallpapering/finishing the walls, ceiling and radiator. I have exciting wallpaper plans!

Moving a switch to the entryway so you can turn on the light. It’s really annoying to reach around the doorway to turn on the light when you’re wearing snowy boots.

That last one is what moved me to get started on this project a few weeks ago. It seems like a silly detail, but some of those small quirks can really make a house more functional. Plus, I decided that a three-way switch would be a good, relatively simple electrical project to learn from. I’ve done some very small electrical – replacing sockets, wiring lights – but this would be my first real alteration or addition. Since it was literally putting a box on the same wall it seemed pretty straightforward.

It ended up taking Pierre and I all day to get the thing properly wired and patched. This video was super helpful. I also drew myself a diagram so I would know exactly which wires went where.

When we moved in, half the walls in the apartment looked like this: ancient burlap wallpaper with 10 coats of paint on top, that was cracked and bubbled in places. The only way to get a smooth, flat finish is to rip it out and replaster.

This is a horrible, messy, dusty job, but we’ve already done it to the entire living and dining room, so it was a little less scary this time. One thing I’ve learned so far is that even in small renovations, things have to get ugly before they get beautiful.

I’ve started the plastering, but it’s slow going – especially now that there is such limited daylight in the day, leaving me only the weekends to work on it. But it’s coming along. I’m sadly still a ways off from the fun bits like painting, but the worst is behind us!

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Dining Room Light: Ikea Angenäm Bowl hack

Ever since we’ve moved in, we’ve had no dining room light. I’m pretty picky, and Pierre and I have slightly different taste on this one – I would have loved to put in a crystal chandelier, but I couldn’t get it past the guy. Pierre is a big fan of more industrial looking lights, but it would have made it a little too rustic for me – I wanted something that contrasted with our table. Leave it to Ikea to come to the rescue.

I saw this Ikea hack back in May posted by Emma from The Marion House Book, one of my favourite home blogs. I liked it, but wanted to tweak it ever so slightly to match our long, narrow dining table. So I got Pierre to work his electrical magic. We wanted to use cloth electrical cord, rather than the plastic cords that come with the HEMMA cord set at Ikea, so we sourced gold sockets at Home Depot and did the wiring ourselves. Sorry, no in-progress shots – it all went down pretty quickly. We’ve installed a dimmer which was totally necessary – the edison bulbs throw off a lot of light, and the gold interiors really magnify the light. We have it at about 25% most of the time and that’s plenty.

I might upgrade this to a more investment-worthy light at some point in the future, but for now, we’re just so happy to be able to see what we’re eating! And it’s got just the little bit of glam I was hoping for.

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The bathroom: where it’s been, where it’s going.

Remember our destroyed bathroom from this post? Well, all that horribleness is over – the walls are closed up and the new lighting is installed. But before I get to that, let me take you on a little bathroom tour – where it’s been, where it’s going.

BTW, sorry about the open-toilet pictures. These were hastily snapped move-in photos.

This was what the space looked like when we moved in. Of the entire house, the bathroom was the one that had actually recently been fixed up. The previous owner put in this fantastic classic black and white tile with dark grout, and had bought a really nice classic pedestal sink. It also has the only remaining original window to the house, as well as the claw foot bathtub. Unfortunately the tile was the best thing about the bathroom. Other features included: disgusting puke yellow paint. An olive green door with many layers of gummy paint all over it, that doesn’t open completely (it knocks against the plumbing of the tub). A massive black track light over the shower. Absolutely zero storage. Tacky blinds that appeared to have been sponge-painted orange. A fussy, wobbly, dated curtain rod.

But the best part were the two frameless mirrors – one above the sink, but another massive one installed on the wall along the bathtub. The angle of the two mirrors gave a hilarious side effect of allowing you to see your backside in the reflection when standing almost anywhere in the bathroom.

BUT. We couldn’t just get in there and bust the place apart. This is our only bathroom. So I came up with a multi-part plan for the bathroom – things to do now, and things to do later.

Here’s a quickrundown of what we’ve done so far:

  1. Removed non-original molding from wall
  2. Installed baseboards and shoe moulding
  3. Painted everything white
  4. Removed mirrors
  5. Replaced toilet with new dual-flush model
  6. Hung new antique mirror
  7. Replaced window pane with sandblasted privacy pane
  8. Stripped and refinished door
  9. Replaced lighting with recessed lighting and installed a vanity light
  10. Installed paintable wallpaper behind the tub and painted it gloss black

This is about the extent of what we can do without putting the bathroom totally out of service, and it’s a major cosmetic upgrade. My dream is to move the plumbing to the center of the wall behind the tub, or possibly flip the position of the tub so the plumbing is against the opposite wall. I’d then replace the curtain track with a rod, installed closer to the ceiling – which would allow me to finally replace that ugly-but-functional shower curtain. Hell, I’d love to tile the whole bathroom in beautiful subway tiles, but again – it’s our only bathroom, and I value my sanity.

One thing I can do now, however, is improve the storage situation. My temporary solution was an antique dresser that’s currently holding all our bathroom stuff, but it’s way too deep for the small space. I’d also like to add some open shelving above, and a few decorative elements to give a bit of personality. My rough plan is to mount some kind of a fauxdenza-style cabinet on the wall and then install floating shelves above. Still to come…

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Trucking along, very slowly.

Oh hey there. It’s been a while, little blog. I didn’t intend to be away for so long, but then I hadn’t written for ages and it became a self-perpetuating cycle. The longer I was away from it, the easier it was to stay away. As it is with all habits.

I’ve been working on a few little home projects here and there, but I admit it, the bookcase burnt me out a bit. I was so tired of it that by the end I just needed it to be done and move on to other things. That’s the problem with slow decorating. It’s absolutely necessary for me for so many reasons – to spread out costs most importantly, but also to find things slowly, to learn, to make things myself. But it does have a downside, and that is that it requires massive patience, which I don’t always have. I’m not as conscientious at the end of a project as I am at the beginning. If it goes for too long, I start to cut corners, rush things along. Seeing as I’m not changing my decorating style anytime soon, I need to just be aware of this and be okay with the state of semi-completion.

Moreover, I’m finding that my home projects divide into two categories – small, and huge. The huge ones are long term and costly, like renovating the kitchen or rebuilding our closets (more on that later). The small ones are things like paint colours and furnishing. I can pretty easily work on the small ones, but the big ones are so huge and looming that I’m not sure how to tackle them, or whether I’m doing things in the right order. In retrospect, I think it makes sense to have an overall space plan that you’re working towards – one that you chip away at every year, even if you’re not doing huge layout changes. The fine folks at Chezerbey did this and it really rings true for me, even if our changes are way less dramatic and architectural than theirs. After almost two years of living in this apartment I’m only now really getting a vision for what it could look like long-term, and it seems so much easier to make decisions on what to work on based on that.

But again – this requires a lot of patience. Patience for living in a half-finished space. Patience to wait until your vision for a space becomes clear. Patience I don’t always have.

All that said, things have been happening over here. The chaos of the bathroom is no more – the lights are installed and the ceiling is closed back up. We’ve done some small changes (painted doors, the guest room, installed curtains, hung a light fixture). We’re also making tentative plans for the kitchen. I’ll get this into a post or two or three. If you’re still around, thanks for your patience!

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Salvaged treasures.

When we were in Maine, we spent some time – okay, a few hours – in one of the craziest, biggest salvage barns I’ve ever seen. It was all my salvage dreams come true. They had old doors, windows, TONS of old tools, garden furniture, hardware, and even (much to Pierre’s delight) a record section. I try and be very, very picky about the things I buy – nothing for the novelty, and only things that I have a purpose for. So I was very happy to come home with these two lovelies.

A small detail. But a useful and beautiful thing, to hang a robe or a sweater. A thing with real patina.

It’s these purchases that make me never want to buy anything new again.

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Scenes from a weekend getaway.

1. The best blueberry buttermilk pancakes I’ve ever eaten, in an empty inn in New Hampshire. 2. A trail in White Mountain National Forest. 3. What you wear when you go for an impromptu hike. I got a few comments from other people on the trail. 4. The lobster roll from J’s Oyster Bar in Portland, insanely good. 5. Wind catchers at the Lobster Shack in Cape Elizabeth. 6. Us. 7. Seeing the ocean. 8. Beach walking in Scarborough. 9&10. The BEST salvage barn I’ve ever been to. 11. Amazing rugs in our B&B. 12. The final meal by the water in Bar Harbor. 13. Acadia National Park, incredible vistas and the most eastern point in the US.

It’s been a while since Pierre and I took a road trip, and so a few weeks ago we rented a car for the weekend with a singular goal: drive to Maine, and eat lobster. We succeeded in that goal. There was a lot of driving, but we like it that way. I think not owning a car makes us really love road trips. Maine is a great place to meander through in a car. Lots of tiny, weathered looking towns, a million yard sales and junk shops and salvage lots. And seafood. Maine, we’ll be back someday, next time we want to feel the ocean spray on our faces and eat fresh lobster and oysters and just get away for a little while.

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