Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holiday Brunch

I've been meaning to do a blog entry about our open concept living and dining room for a long time, in fact it was one of the first projects we tackled. But i have to confess these rooms are rarely in presentable shape to be photographed, since the large open space often makes it an ideal staging area for our on going renovations. With the holiday season upon us and company coming over for brunch however we were motivated to finally whip our living and dining room into presentable shape.

Our living and dining room had most of the original trim and plaster medallions intact, however the floors were tired and the old owners simply used primer as their top coat. So we patched all the cracks and blemishes, sanded all the trim, re-primed, and painted everything. We also changed the light fixtures with some fixtures from Union Lighting and we put in a new hardwood floor. Then went on a mini shopping spree in Leslieville. We had Hardware Interiors build us the dining table and storage bench out of reclaimed wood and cold-rolled steel. Across the street from Hardware Interiors, we found our vintage mid-century rosewood dining chairs at Studio Pazo.

So here are some festive finished shots of the dining room:

Beautiful arrangement by Coriander Girl

Our dining room and Christmas tree

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Artist Project 2010

The Artist Project is one of Toronto's best show and sales for original pieces of art from some of Canada's leading artist. And i had been anxiously waiting for the Artist Directory to finally be published so that i can spend the next few months perusing the artist's websites and drooling and dreaming of the works that i'll get to see. And with any luck, maybe even get to own. Well they've finally published the Artist Directory. I'm saving my pennies until March 4th, in the off chance that i find something there in my snack bracket.

Here are a few of my favourites from the website directory:

Sunny Choi (above) paints incredibly stunning yet haunting images of beautiful women.

Lindsay Chambers (left)

Elizabeth Dyer (above)

Brian Harvey (left)

Stewart Jones

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

Tonight we’re expecting a “Colorado Low” to bring in our first big snow storm of this winter. Environment Canada is predicting 15 centimeters of the white stuff in the Toronto area. That’s just a little bit more than ankle deep. Usually I’m not a big fan of snow, but the first really big snow fall of the year always brings out the kid in me. Last weekend we put out our Christmas lights, and this weekend we’re going to drag home a tree. So a blanket of fluffy white stuff will just add to the cheer. The other thing about a thick layer of snow is it really makes everything look pretty. What were once dead, naked tree branches suddenly become graceful sculptures and each of the bay-n-gable style houses in our little section of the street transforms into a real-life John Kasyn painting.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Don’t Know What to Get Your Favourite Renovator For Christmas?

I received an email recently from the folks at Artefacts, a favourite architectural salvage store of mine. They’re having a sale for the month of December. Not only is Artefacts a great source for incredible raw building materials (doors, windows, grates, wrought iron, corbels, brackets, door knobs, mantles, you name it), they also re-build old salvage pieces into new furniture, endowing the new pieces with all the charm and patina of the ancient materials that went into them. And that’s why they’re having a sale to make room for more pieces.

So if you or anyone you know is looking for just the right item to fit perfectly into an old home or even if you’re just looking for a little diversion, it’s worth the drive to check out downtown St Jacobs Country, which has all the picturesque charm of a Victorian Christmas card.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

WHY THE #%$^ WONT YOU STOP LEAKING, DAMMIT? (aka Installing a Shower Valve)

Have you ever walked down the plumbing aisle at your local building store and wondered why they have so many different types of teflon tape and pipe joint compounds? If you're like me, then probably not, because frankly it's a really boring aisle to walk down. Well for anyone doing any DIY plumbing, let me tell you it does actually pay to stop in this aisle and learn a thing or two, about a thing or two.

Here's what i learned:

1. No matter how much you think you might be saving, don't ever buy the cheap teflon tape. There's a very good reason why some rolls cost 4 bucks and others cost 39 cents.

2. Get some pipe joint compound, and make sure it is safe to use for your application.

3. Shut off valves are your friend.

A few weekends ago i was replacing the shower valve in our basement bathroom. The valve uses threaded fittings to connect to the copper supply lines. So i went and shut off the water and waited while the whole house drained. Then i soldered some brass fittings to some short copper pipes. And using some teflon tape i found at the bottom of my tool box, i threaded the fittings into the valve good and tight. Using a copper coupler, I then soldered the supply lines to the short copper pipes to complete the connections. I was now ready to turn the water back on to make sure i didn't have any leaks. To my surprise the threaded fittings were dripping water, i thought i had tightened them as well as i could without damaging the threads. Of course once the whole assembly had been soldered together the only way to unthread the fittings is to turn off the water, drain the whole system, cut the copper pipes and start all over again. After 2 failed attempts, i was ready to turn the 3-piece washroom into a 2-piece. I had spent an entire day without water and i couldn't turn the water back on until everything was water-tight. My wife wasn't very happy with me.

So here's what i did. First i installed inline shut off valves way above the shower valve, so i could turn the water back on to the rest of the house. And so i could turn the water off just in the area i was working on, when i ever decided to make a third attempt. This would save me hours of waiting for the system to completely drain. These shut off valves would eventually get buried in the wall so they didn't have to be pretty. I turned to the internet to try to figure out why no matter what i did the threaded joints wouldn't hold water. And here's the secret - BUY PROPER TELON TAPE, YOU IDIOT!

Anyhow, i will now share my surefire way to creating a water-tight brass threaded joint.

1. Make sure the threads are the same size, and both the male and female threads are clean and burr free.

2. Put 2 wraps of good teflon tape on the male threads. I like the orangy-pink stuff.

3. Put some pipe joint compound on the female threads (make sure it's non-hazardous for household water, you don't want to drink or shower in poison).

4. Hand tighten till you feel a noticable increase in resistance.

5. Wrench tighten 2 more full turns.

And voila no more drips:

Friday, November 6, 2009

Basement Reveal

I posted a progress post of the basement reno quite a while ago, and now that it’s 95% done, I thought I’d do another progress post. Now that the basement is mostly finished and we’ve set up our TV down there, we spend much more time down there than we ever thought we would. Unfortunately the time is now often spent in front of the TV, rather than getting that last 5% done. I blame it on the new DIY Channel. We were much more productive when all we had to watch were 3 year old HGTV re-runs.

We worked on our basement simultaneously with our kitchen, since we needed to make holes in the basement walls and ceilings to run wires to the new kitchen. We also got rid of the laughably small laundry machines that were in the kitchen and built a nice laundry room, with storage and counters. We wanted many of the same finishes in the laundry room as the kitchen, to keep the look harmonious throughout the house. However in the laundry room I decided to install IKEA cabinets and hardware, as well as sink and faucet (see below Technical Tip if you have bought one of these). We then had our cabinet maker, mill and spray shaker doors to match our kitchen doors, and we chose to go with the same bianco carrara marble for the counter tops. And finally I installed a clean white subway tile backsplash.

Overall we’re quite happy with the results. Our basement ceilings are only 6’4” high, but because it is clear space without any ducts, beams or pipes, it doesn’t feel that basementy.

We still have a few more odds and sods to finish up:
- I need to scribe some filler strips between the sink cabinet and the wall, and I need to install a cover panel below the sink doors
- I need to finish installing the last few feet of baseboard in the laundry room and hide the water heater.
- I plan on refinishing some old French doors and using barn door hardware to install them in front of the laundry room.
- I need to build in some more storage throughout the basement
- And right now I am in the middle of renovating the basement bathroom.

So there'll likely be some future posts if i can tear myself away from the DIY Channel.

Technical Tip:

Anyone who is planning on installing an IKEA faucet LISTEN UP! The robinets (hoses) that come with the faucet are metric, they will not fit on 99.9% of the fittings available in our country.
So here's what you need:
- 2 Male Adapters 1/2" Code: W01131H ( i picked mine up at Home Despot).
- 2 1/2" sweat to 1/2" sweat inline shut off valves.- all the soldering goodies (emery cloth, pipe cutter, flux, blow torch and solder)
- Some teflon tape and pipe joint compound

Here's what it should look like:

Finally, The Kitchen Finale

So here it is, after months of take out dinners and BBQ’ing, our kitchen was truly and finally DONE. It was time to hang up my tool belt and put on an apron, I was finally ready for my inner chef to wok out with my spatula out. OK I’m getting carried away, but the point is we’re really happy with the way it turned out and at how much more storage and counter space we now have. The appliances which started us down this path are dreamy. Going from one working electric burner to 5 gas burners is like going from steerage to First Class. And we are just scratching the surface with the features on our new wall oven. It can bake, roast, broil, convect, microwave, steam and clean itself. That’s 5 more things than our old range.

Overall, the reno process went fairly smoothly and quickly, even with us doing much of the work on evenings and weekends. More often then not the availability of tradespeople became the bottleneck. I guess with the Home Reno Tax Credit, they’ve got more jobs than they know what to do with. But we were able to find some excellent trades through Homestars. We also saved a lot of money by doing much of the work ourselves. The first quote we got was for a turn key renovation of our kitchen and basement, it ended up at $50K-60K labour only. Much more than we were prepared to pay. That made our decision to roll up our sleeves an easy one. We did the demolition, framing, insulation, plumbing, flooring, painting, and finish carpentry on our own. In total we spent about 13K on trades for items that were beyond our abilities (mason, electrician, drywallers, and HVAC) and in that 13K number were a lot of materials embedded in their quotes, like bricks, wires, electrical boxes, drywall, switches and outlets. With all the money we saved on labour, we were comfortable splurging on finishes, like the deep undermount sink, marble counters and moonstone backsplash.

OK, this pic is just before i installed the grates on the cooktop, but hopefully you get the idea:

Christopher Peacock - eat your heart out!

I know, i know, i should have taken my Crocs out of the picture, and put my Guinness pint glass in the washer:

Here's the new powder room. Note to guests: please do not confuse the little sink for a urinal:

I installed marble counters in my old house, but that was in my bachelor days when I ate out more often than not, so the counters really didn’t see much duty. Now that we’ve had a chance to really use our marble counters in this house, I wanted to share some advice and feedback to anyone who’s considering them. We sealed our counters and backsplash with a product called TileLab SurfaceGard Penetrating Sealer, and we haven’t had any problems with stains at all. I’ve discovered spilt wine, coffee and other stains that have sat on our counter so long they actually dried. These come up with just a wipe from a damp cloth. The hardest thing I’ve encountered to get off was the red chalk line that the installers used to draw measurements on the marble, but those wiped off using a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. We haven’t found any signs of oil or grease that’s been left on for a while. Marble does show a small blemish if you bang it with something hard and it does scratch if you drag something heavy and rough across it. In a kitchen that gets any use, these scratches and blemishes are inevitable, so we opted for a honed finish, rather than a really glossy one, which would have highlighted these imperfections. There are professional marble restorers that can buff out imperfections. They also repair more severe damage like cracks and chips. So if we ever wanted to, down the line we could always have someone come in and freshen up our counters, but we actually like the patina that marble gets over years of use.

What we love about our new kitchen:
- So much more functional and better planned
- The appliances are great, and they were a steal.
- The counters and backsplash make us swoon.
- The heated floors feel really good
- The abundance of natural, ambient and task light really makes cooking more enjoyable
- The wine fridge was a splurge, but it gets a lot of use.

What we slightly regret:
- Wish we had enough room to include storage for coats and for a step ladder.
- We wish we had chosen a lighter flooring stain, because dust really shows on it

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pumpkin Envy

I spent Saturday afternoon carving a large pumpkin, i was quite pleased with the results. After a couple of hours of scooping, drawing and cutting, Drac-O-Lantern was born.

In our neighbourhood, we have a Nov 1st tradition of taking all of our pumpkins to the local park for the pumpkin parade. When we arrived at the park, we set Drac-O-Lantern down and had a look at the other pumpkins. It was a beautiful night, and the skyline view from Sorauren Park was really quite nice, but the sight of thousands of lit pumpkins was even more spectacular. And i can tell you, there is no shortage of pumpkin-carving talent in Roncesvalles Village. I have to admit, i had a bit of pumpkin envy. So instead of a reno update, today i thought i'd share some pictures from last night's pumpkin parade.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

And now for the pretty stuff (Kitchen and Basement Reno Part 5)

Once the kitchen demolition was done, i framed up the walls, and had our electrician come in to re-wire the kitchen for appliances, outlets and lights. I also roughed-in the plumbing to where our sink and dishwasher were to go, as well i ran the water line to our new fridge opening. While i was working on that, my wife insulated all the exterior walls. We were then ready for our drywallers - R.A. Rosati to come in and do their magic.

Newly drywalled and primed room:

With our walls done we turned our attention to flooring. We began by removing the quarter round in our living and dining room, and by gluing and screwing down plywood on top of our sub floor. Then we laid a foam underpad over the plywood, and installed heating pads in our kitchen and powder room. We were now finally ready to install our new Kahrs hardwood floor. We were really excited for the floor to go in, we watched the instructional video on Youtube. And it looked really easy. Well, let me tell you that video is a BIG FAT LIE!!! In the video you see a man gently tapping the boards together. In reality, my wife, brother and i spent a couple of weeks pulling, prying, bashing and generally struggling to get the boards to lock. But we were on a tight schedule and had to get the floors done before our cabinets could be installed.

Flooring progress:

While we were still sore and tired from installing the Kahrs floor, our spirits were high because we knew that from this point on, it would be time for the pretty stuff to start going in. And we also knew that we would be able to leave the heavy lifting to the pros. As they would be the ones to install the new french doors and cabinets.

And now for some of the pretty stuff:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I ♥ RESTORE (Kitchen and Basement Reno Part 4)

With our kitchen plan and finish choices decided, it was now time to make sure our contractors were all lined up. We used (excellent site!) to find good trades people. And we knew which parts of the project we were going to tackle on our own. We found it incredibly helpful to break down the kitchen and basement projects into separate jobs, noting all the dependencies. And making sure the schedule proceeded in synch, so that our trades could do what they needed both in the kitchen and the basement during their time allotted. Then we mapped out each job on a calendar with realistic time frames and a bit of contingency built in. We were now ready to begin.

We had called Habitat for Humanity’s Restore to see if they would be interested in taking our old cabinets, granite counter and appliances. After sending them some pictures of the old kitchen, they were happy to send over a crew to carefully dismantle everything and pick it up. And when they sold the cabinets, counter and appliances, we received a tax receipt for $2200. I would highly recommend to anyone doing a major renovation, involving replacing anything that still has a lot of value, to please consider donating it to Restore. Their concept truly is a win-win-win solution; they sell the donated goods to raise money to fund Habitat for Humanity. Meanwhile it keeps the items from going into a landfill, and finally it not only reduces dumping fees for the home owner, it also provides them with a tax receipt once the donated goods are sold.

When coming up with our kitchen design, we noticed that the ceiling in the kitchen was much lower than the ceiling in the rest of the main floor. So I drilled a few large holes in the ceiling drywall to see whether we had a false ceiling and how much room we could gain back. Turns out the old owner liked the look of pot lights, but didn’t want to pay to redo the ceiling. So instead he just put in a false ceiling about 13 inches below the original, and then wired up the pot lights to the single box that was in the middle of the kitchen. Once Restore had removed everything worth salvaging, we were excited to begin demolition, so that we could see the room without the false ceiling and partition walls around the washer & dryer. My wife and I spent a few days of hammering, prying and bagging and watched as the room began to expand before our eyes.

Now came time to demolish the ceramic floor tile. For this I rented an electric jack hammer with a tile scraping bit. Here’s a tip for anyone looking to remove tile, go with a small SDS demolition hammer instead of a big heavy jack hammer. Unlike jack hammering concrete where the weight of the machine works for you, in tile scraping you need to hold the machine at a shallow angle to the floor. Therefore all that extra weight is just more for you to support with your arms.

The last part of our demolition, involved moving the door opening and rebuilding the brick wall. For this we had Glen from Castlerock Masonry come back.

Here are some progress pics:

No more false ceiling and partition walls - YAY!

The doorway being moved to the center:

The exterior brick work:

Friday, October 2, 2009

Kitchen Inspiration (Kitchen and Basement Reno Part 3)

Miraculously my wife and I both agreed (…mostly) on what type of kitchen we wanted. Lately the magazines have been trending towards very integrated kitchens, so all one sees is a a flat wall of paneling, with the various doors and appliances cleverly blending together to form a homogenous paneled-wall look. We didn’t want anything too sleek, slick or polished looking, so that look was out for us. While we quietly admire these kitchens from afar, we simply lack the necessary O.C.D. to keep that type of kitchen looking as good as it should. We also tried to steer away from anything that might be trendy, like “funky” glass mosaics, “punchy” colourful cabinets, bamboo doors or recycled counters. What we did agree upon was on the classic, understated, white kitchen style, made famous by carpenter to the rich and famous: Christopher Peacock. His kitchens have names, like Refectory or Scullery, denoting the different price points. After options and customization his kitchens usually start out at the low 6 digits and go up from there. Our hope was to distill the essence of his kitchens and find an affordable way to recapture it. Fortunately, in one of the best posts ever, Willow D├ęcor blog had done most of the hard work for us. I drew up the first kitchen designs on graph paper, and my wife and I then sat down and played around with some of the cabinet placements. After about 4 tries, we came up with, what we think is a functional and attractive design.

Here’s what we went with (in future posts I’ll detail the installation of each of these items):

Hardwood floors – Our house is open from the front door all the way to the back, and we wanted the flooring to be continuous throughout. So we chose a dark oak engineered hardwood floor by Kahrs.

White floor to ceiling cabinets – Our kitchen did not have a very large foot print, but we knew we could go a lot higher with the cabinets ….Once we got rid of the false ceiling.

White marble counters – Lots of people tried to steer us away from marble towards granite, though very few of them were ever talking from experience with marble. This is a must read blog post for anyone considering marble counters. For us the decision was simple – marble is always classic, understated, beautiful and timeless, like Grace Kelly. Granite on the other hand is like Zsa Zsa Gabor in a leopard print unitard.

French Doors – We had ugly aluminum sliding patio doors, that as far as I could tell opened the wrong way, the operable side of the patio door, meant you had to duck as you passed through, or risk banging your head on a kitchen cabinet. That and there wasn't anyway to lock it from the outside.

Powder Room – We had a small powder room in our kitchen, we toyed with the idea of removing it, to get a bigger kitchen, but we felt the convenience of having a powder room on the main floor out-weighed having a few more cabinets. So we changed the fixtures and painted it.

Here is a before picture:

A laundry closet used to eat up a lot of valuable space.

Old powder room: