December 30, 2010

Two Forward and One Back

Expect the unexpected during renos.

As Rory just mentioned, we removed the wall separating the dining room and the kitchen in order to “open the space” somewhat and to make the small kitchen appear less confined. We are referring to the eating space as the dining room even though in its previous life it was referred to as the sitting room. We had converted the previous formal dining room into what we call the “hub room”. If that is confusing, from now on, consider the eating space as the informal dining room or just the dining room - we have no time to sit anyway.

It was our initial intention to just remove/replace the ceilings in both the dining room and the kitchen in order to install recessed lighting. After experiencing the resistance of the aforementioned 50+ year old double-drywalled- screwed-and-glued-to-aged-fir wall, and being familiar with the effort of replacing drywall in ceilings (see earlier posts), I searched for a less painful means of upgrading the lighting in these two critical rooms. Additionally, I appreciated the detail of the hand crafted 1960 plaster swirl ceiling in the dining room. It would be unfortunate to lose that bit of history that makes this house so special.

For those that have physically been at the site of our current renovations, and for whom architectural detail is important, there is no upper floor above the East end of the house. Although the dining room is not vaulted like the living room, it shares the same roof configuration, namely that there is no accessible attic above this portion of the house. I rightly expected to find that the space above the dining room would be unheated and contain some form of 1950-60’s insulation. Installing recessed lighting in such an area demands fixtures that are building code rated as “IC” (insulation contact). Normally IC-rated fixtures are installed in a large housing that provides sufficient air space around the actual lighting fixture so as to prevent contact with the insulation and maintain at least 3 in. spacing from anything combustible. These housings are usually installed from within the attic space before the ceiling drywall is installed. It appears that we were at an impasse and our options were: (a) remove the ceiling (and the plaster swirl affect), install the large IC-rated housings and recessed fixtures then replace the double drywall ceiling; or (b) change our vision of the new dining/kitchen area and not use recessed lighting – dull and boring!

Google is your friend. Not satisfied with either of the above options, I was certain that someone somewhere would have encountered the same issues and developed a solution. After reviewing dozens of DIY and electrical forums as well as searching for specialized recessed fixtures, I happened upon a solution and made a proposal to “the boss in all matters kitchen” that would enable us to retain the dining room ceiling yet still have recessed accent lights. After checking with an electrician friend as well as the city electrical inspectors for an interpretationn, she gave me the go ahead to … “make it so #1”.

The solution: Use European-designed recessed lighting fixtures that are IC-rated and require as little as 60mm (2 3/8”) clearance inside the ceiling and can be installed through the 76mm (3”) fixture hole. Electrical cabling to/from each fixture would be fished from the fixture hole to the nearest wall where it would exit in a small hole adjacent to the wall where it would be hidden behind crown molding. This is more evident by looking at the pictures. Naturally, the Canadian distributor of the lighting fixtures did not have representation in Alberta but would ship direct. In a few days, I had the fixtures in my hands and confirmed that our vision was achievable.

It goes without saying that said fixtures were more than 3 times the cost of non-IC fixtures available in our local home reno outlets but since we only had a requirement for 4 accent lights in the dining room, it was an acceptable investment to maintain our vision. Besides, in the kitchen, where we required 10 additional fixtures, I expected that we could use the less expensive alternatives since the second level of the house sits over the West end of the building and normal construction methods should present non-obstructed, non-insulated above ceiling air space.

As the title of this blog entry suggests, when in the midst of renovations of a 50+ year old house, expect the unexpected. The first seven feet of the kitchen nearest the dining room were also insulated despite being on the West side of the former dividing wall. This, of course, I found out after coring the first 4” hole for the kitchen recessed fixture. After deploying a few descriptive expressions, I sent Kathryn a rather informative email advising her of my discovery and what I thought of it. Obviously IC-rated fixtures were required for at least some of the kitchen fixtures. I made the executive decision to return all the 10 relatively inexpensive non-IC-rated 4” fixtures to Rona, and order an additional 10 of the expensive 3” IC-rated fixtures.

While we wait for the IC-rated fixtures to arrive, we will patch the first 4” hole in the kitchen ceiling, drill the 3” holes for the new fixtures, and get on with it. I keep telling myself that it will be lovely when it is done.

…. Until the next surprise.

December 29, 2010

The Wall

Momma's got a new job at work so tonight she's too tired to be witty. That means I get to show you the pictures of the wall coming down. I helped. Really. Like, I totally followed her around and sniffed everything. Eventually they put me behind a piece of plastic, but it really wasn't necessary. I don't mind the dust. This is me wondering why they moved the stove. And especially why they were so quick to sweep up all the bits from underneath the stove. It looked like there was good stuff to sniff, but I didn't even get the chance. You can see the built in microwave above the stove area. It took them ages to get that thing out. And they said a lot of bad words too.

Here's Norm, and you can see the microwave is gone now!

And when they started taking the wall down, here's the vantage point I had. They put a sheet of poly between the living room and dining room. Momma said something about making a movie called "Dog in a Bubble". Not funny. Maybe she was tired that day too. I was doing my best to look forlorn and left out. How'd I do?

Here's the view from the dining room side when they were taking the drywall off. Two layers on each side of the wall. There really was a lot of mess.

Here's the view from the kitchen side when they got some of that drywall off.

And this is it all down. They moved the old fridge into the dining room along with one of the base cabinets. They eventually turned the stove around and now she's cooking in the dining room. I don't much care where the cooking happens, as long as I'm close to it. So here's me, with my blankie right in the middle of things.

Speaking of food, I think I should get some extra for typing all this out on the teensy netbook while I was sleeping at Momma's feet. Pretty amazing, huh?

December 28, 2010

A Plan Comes Together

Have you ever put a puzzle together only to find a piece missing? What about thinking you had it together and you had all the pieces, when in fact you didn't? Okay, probably 'no' to that last one. Me either. But that's how I felt about the kitchen until tonight. Other than finalizing the finish for the cabinet doors, we thought the kitchen planning stage was done. We had an idea of what colour the doors were going to be, but had yet to go to the special paint place to have them mix some samples for us to try on slabs of maple - we were likely to end up with a custom colour, but it would be some shade of white. Problem was, Norm and I were both (without telling each other) having trouble reconciling what we thought we wanted with the practical application this entailed. For his part, it would be trying to get a white finish to look the same on the side of the cabinets (birch) as it would on the doors (maple) and making the edge banding match too. For my part it was the thought of having yet more painted wood in the house. The place is replete with mahogany. Mahogany paneling in the living room, which is getting painted a yet to be determined colour. Mahogany doors and casing everywhere, which is bit by bit being replaced and painted on off-white (bleached linen or antique lace to be more specific). That's a lot of painted wood. There will be other white things too...the stark white of the frames of the new windows, the soon to be whiter ceilings, the white crown molding. Too many kinds of white. So even though we had agreed on white cabinetry, my brain was subtly trying to make known that in the context of the rest of the house, this wasn't the best plan. That was the missing piece for me. And I didn't want to say anything to Norm because I thought he was pretty set on a white kitchen and far be it from me to be second guessing and pulling the female card by changing my mind. He didn't want to say anything to me because he thought I was set on it and he would simply have to make it happen (yeah, he's nice that way).

When we started planning the look of the kitchen our approach was to share photos of things we liked, get samples of materials, and generally make a lot of visits to a lot of different places. Then narrow down our list of likes to the things we really like and then try to come up with a workable combination based on those things. Easier said than done. I like old fashioned white sinks with embellished aprons. I also like the super modern look of a Kohler Stages 45 sink. Norm likes cherry cabinets and white cabinets. I like dark stained cabinets and white cabinets. You get the idea. In any event, we had narrowed it all down and like I said we were pretty clear except for a final detail. We picked up a sample slab of our counter top material today so that we could take it tomorrow to the cabinet finishing place and figure out what kind of "white" we wanted for the doors. The drive home (don't you love having a captive audience) was my last ditch 'are we totally sure this is the way to go' pitch. And wouldn't you know it, we were both having doubts. By the time we arrived in our driveway, we had come up with what we thought was an even better way to go.

When we put all the pieces together on the counter to see if our theory would pan out, it did. The weird part about it is that neither one of us would normally have been drawn to maple cabinets with a clear finish. But in this context, it works perfectly for us. Photos won't do it justice, and obviously there is no accounting for personal taste, so you all might not like where we're going, but have found our groove on this one. We love it. No painted wood. Lots of natural stone to tie in with all the stone both outside and in the rest of the house (don't forget the big honkin' fireplace - floor to ceiling stone). Natural wood cabinets that don't clash with the tiger wood floor.

The small tiles in the upper left are copper. They'll be added as accents to the floor. You have to keep the copper in mind because the hood fan cover with be copper and stainless steel. The appliances are also stainless steel. The big block in the bottom left is the quartz counter top. Shades of copper, dark green, off-white, grey. The small 4x6 tile is the natural stone back splash. It looks grey but when it is sealed it is almost the same grey/green/taupe (okay, kinda hard to describe) colour in the quartz. Once it's sealed you can also see more variations in the stone itself. The tile on the right is the porcelain floor tile. It has a bit of a copper glow brushed on it. The slab of wood in the middle is clear varnished maple. The white square piece is about the colour of the crown molding. The dark piece of hardwood flooring is the tiger wood we used in the TV room and is also going in the living and dining rooms, so it will be visible with the kitchen. The pendant light is there just because we have three of them to go over the peninsula - the effect of light on the glass is definitely not caught in this photo, but maybe you'll get the idea. Wall colour...and there is hardly any wall left, is still to be determined.

The first photo just above is a close-up of the quartz. The second are the materials, but with the back splash stone wet so you can see what it looks like with the sealant.

Next post: the wall comes down and the wires go in.

December 7, 2010

The Gift

What is it? Well, the blanket was woven for me by my mother and it was a gift. It's gorgeous. It's my most favourite thing to wear around the house. I'd like to wear it to work. But this isn't a weaving blog. And most certainly not a fashion blog.

It's the thing on the blanket that should get your attention. I've given up staying on top of all of Norm's tool acquisitions. And apparently he has given up on filling me in on each and every one. This little gem came out out of the garage on the weekend when I finally demonstrated an interest in the detailed mechanics of cabinet making. The kind of stuff that keeps Norm awake at night. I had some questions and in answer to some of them (and with what was no doubt well contained excitement that I wanted to SEE a tool) Norm brought a little box of goodies in from the garage. This, my friends, is a tool designed specifically for pressing edge banding onto cabinet carcasses. Not something you need every day, but leave it to Norm to have just the thing.

This is the underside. What look like wheels in the top photo are actually metal rollers that you roll along the front edge of the cabinets to help the banding adhere. I fell in love with this little thing. Zoom zoom. It looks like something I'd give my nephew to play with. Speaking of which, I didn't buy him anything for his birthday last month. Now before you all boo and hiss, hear me out. I was babysitting him recently and we were playing with a computerized 'thing' that he said he got for his birthday. I asked who gave it to him. And he didn't know. Okay, okay, he's five years old...but this was a cool little laptop-type thing. This experience, and not wanting to add to the already overcrowded toy department that is my brother's basement, caused me to do things a bit differently this year. Instead of buying him a gift we spent the day with getting craft supplies and then making a Christmas wreath for his mum and dad's front door. He also came with me to pick out a new toy to donate to a local charity for underprivileged children. The concept that some children might not get gifts was a stretch for him, but he handled it with his usual aplomb by asking if he would get to play with it before we gave it away. Satisfied with my explanation for why not, we then carried on and had a little birthday lunch at DQ. And all was well in his world. And some little person without an overflowing toybox will get a Christmas gift from my nephew this year.

December 5, 2010

Poetry Behind Closed Doors

Today was officially day one of kitchen renovations. After months of planning everything from the basic layout to the floor tile, from how much overlay the cabinet doors should have to whether we should use the clips supplied when we install the sink (which I still haven't ordered), from appliances to cupboard inserts, from hood-fan to lighting diagrams. All that, but when you actually begin the physical piece you realize just how much more there is to go. But the rest should be working with the plan, not planning the work. Fingers crossed.

The achievement of the day was knocking out the wall between the kitchen and the dining room. Photos will follow. Watch for photos of The Dog In The Bubble.

 We also took out most of the existing cabinetry, all of which must have been custom-built on site. This wasn't the standard stuff that one person could hang. One upper row was four double cabinets long - all one piece. When we finally horked that thing off the wall we were pleased (in addition to still having all of our fingers and only minor bruises on our heads) to discover ancient cave drawings. Well okay, not really. But there were some drawings. And for fans, a little ode to the Jabberwock.

Cool, huh?

What gets me is the time this person took to switch colours while writing. I get the whole leaving something for posterity. I won't lie. I put a note inside a sealed baggie and hid it away when we first started renovating the house. The only way it will get read is if somebody finds it during a demolition. And of course I'm hoping that time is far, far off. Ink though. One colour only.

I don't know if the poet was also the artist:

You can see the line from Jabberwocky in teeny multi-coloured lettering underneath the drawing.

Just so there are no misunderstandings here, I wouldn`t claim to know anything about Lewis Carroll other than Alice and her frustrations with the Mad Hatter and even that is strictly from the recent movie. I was, however, 98% certain of where the line came from (and for the additional 2% certainty, Google really is your friend) since I remember a childhood friend of mine who had a particular fascination with the poem. There were occasions where "Beware the Jabberwock!" was the warning shouted when Barbie and Ken were in imminent peril during one of our adventures (I suppose we should have stuck to playing house with the dolls like other girls).

There was another piece to this bit of self-expression. A little Big Bang Theory, if you will:

I feel fairly confident in suggesting that the bottom equation is true - and I don't need Google for confirmation. As for the rest...well, I can't be bothered right now but if any of you know what it is, I am listening.

November 21, 2010

Red Door Decor

-17C. Too cold to start tearing out the old kitchen and hauling it out to the dumpster in the driveway (which is slowly but surely being buried by the snow). The tile I ordered for the front entrance and back hall hasn't arrived yet so I can't start that either.

There are still options. Since the couch and chair have been sold we have unrestricted access to the fireplace - for the first time since we moved in.

The stone needs to be cleaned and the grout redone or painted but in the meantime Rory was VERY happy that I was able to get the pilot on, get the glass cleaned and make sure everything was in working order, including the remote control. How modern for a stone fireplace. Rory was kind enough to test the heat output and fan for me.

Not his greatest look, but you'll forgive him, he was in the throes of heat-induced ecstasy. You should have seen the baleful look he gave me when I turned off the fan after a couple of hours.

The other thing to do on a cold day while you wait for the football game to start is to get festive. If only to counteract the look that the dumpster lends to the front yard. Y'know, put something pretty on the front door and hope people won't notice the big green thing in the driveway.

Start with this:

Then spend an hour or so getting glitter all over yourself, your dog and your dining room. Till you get this:

That's about as crafty as I get. The poinsettias are Norm's contribution.

I can't see the dumpster, can you see the dumpster? No? Obviously my plan is working.

November 19, 2010

Little World

I don't know if I ever mentioned it here, but my realtor once told me that she took us to see over 80 houses when we were looking for a 'project house' in 2009. Eighty. And the minute I walked into the house we have now, I knew it was the one. Seriously, one step inside the door and I told the realtor to get the paperwork going. Buying the house wasn't without strife. It took a few months and some luck and good timing, but that's a whole other post. The point of all this is that I knew I was meant to live in this house, as odd as that sounds. My worries about moving out of my old place, where I'd lived and raised my kids for 17 years came to nought. I was at home here before my stuff was even moved in.

As we've gotten to know neighbours, gone through crawl spaces, opened drawers and checked behind doors we have come across remnants of the lives lived here before. There were childrens' names on labels, the instructions and diagrams in the boiler room, handwritten lists, and things left behind. The house was built in 1959/60 and owned by the same family ever since. By all accounts, houses rarely come up for sale on this crescent. The woman down the street (who was friends with the kids who grew up in this house) recently returned to the city and her childhood home to care for her father who still lives down the street - and has since he built his house in the early 50's. We know that the couple who lived in this house were loathe to leave it, but it had just become too much maintenance for two elderly people.

I know the people who sold this house believe it was worth more than they got for it. But it was a tough time in an off market, and you've seen the pictures - this place, though solidly built, really needs a lot of work. Even so, I still carried a bit of, well, I don't know... Something. Not guilt, but I felt sad for them. They had moved out of home where they had raised their family. Then the house sat empty for months and months because it wouldn't sell.

Right. On to the story. Norm and I had some errands to run this afternoon, after which we stopped at a new restaurant for dinner. Sitting down the way from us was a couple that Norm had spoken of on occasion but I had yet to meet in the eleven years that I've known him. In fact, I had once suggested that he had simply made these friends up. Well, F and T are real and they came to sit with us for a bit after they finished eating.  (They're real, or Norm paid a really nice couple to pretend to be his friends and they in turn secretly paid for our dinner). It's not terribly unusual to run into people you know, even in a city of a million people. What is unusual is when you tell them where you're living now, and they know the street. Not only do they know the street, but F was best friends in grade one with one of the kids who lived in this very house. T, who  moved to this neighbourhood in grade 8, was also friends with one of the girls. Not only was, but still is. Both F and T remember the house well and are excited to tell their friends that the house ended up in good hands. Though there is the added bit of pressure for me now that I know one of the friends is an interior designer. Goodness knows why she didn't convince her parents to do something with the place before they tried to sell it.

In the end though, I know that the original owners will at least hear about how much we love this house and how not a day goes by where we aren't excited about restoring it to a wonderful home. A place where family and friends gravitate. A home of celebrations and comfort. A place to come home to.

November 6, 2010

One Year Later

Are you there Seth? It's me, Rory. Momma says it has been 365 sleeps since I saw you last and that I probably don't remember you. But I think if you walked in the door I'd still recognize you. And Momma sees lots of you in me because you taught me everything you knew before you left.

Do you remember? I tried to copy everything you did. And even though it looks like you didn't like me, I know you did. Just deeper down. But you came around, didn't you?

You had to. Because I really was a lot of fun, and perked you right up, huh? We had great times. You howling and me dancin'.

You went from letting me share your bed....

 letting me share YOU....

 putting up with me EATING all your beds...

Gosh, we sure had a lot of beds, didn't we?

I still remember lots of the stuff you taught me. Like how to sniff REAL deep. It's important to get your nose right into it.

And to always come back when called.

How to squish into a sunbeam.

How to look ma-toor. I haven't quite got this yet, but I'm workin' on it. Momma says I have to get grey whiskers first and even then there's no guarantee.

Also, how to be with other dogs. Look 'em in the eye but don't be too intense. See my ears at the bottom here? I'm listening to you.

And how to generally just be a star. This is you making it all look so easy.

I know she misses you still. I'm doing my best to fill your paws. Even though it's me that walks on her left side now, you're still there. And I never let her out of my sight, no matter what. 'Cause I think that's what you would have wanted. It's how you showed me.

If you're watching, I hope you think I'm doing it okay.
Love, Rory

October 30, 2010

Ridgebacks: A Dichotomy

Thick skulls, yet transparent thought processes. I love that Rory can sit and maintain a furrowed brow for long stretches. It makes him look smart. Like he's concentrating. He sits at the very edge of the living room - maybe a toenail into the dining room, just testing - while he watches us eat dinner. Tonight was roast chicken, apparently one of his favourites. For all his "testing" and feigning ignorance of certain human words, all of which you could simply chalk up to stubbornness rather than a thick skull, his thoughts during his observation of our dinner time are pretty plain. They go something like this..."Hey, uh, I'm sitting here. See? How about this? See me doing a high five? Laying down? [snifffffff] Are you going to eat ALL that chicken? Why have you stopped eating? There's lots of chicken left. Oh, maybe you want to give ME the chicken. No? But I like chicken. A lot. And you aren't eating it. [insert Seriously Worried Look here] Just a bit of chicken. Chicken does a body good. [drool] Oh, wait! Why are you getting up? Where are you taking the chicken? Yay, you're walking to my bowl...that's the right direction! No. No. Oh no, don't put that chicken in the'll never eat the leftovers anyway. [sigh]

October 10, 2010

And Another Thing .....

And Another Thing ..... This should be the sub-title of all reno projects.

As you loyal readers might remember, our living room and entrance is panelled with ribbon mahogany. Each panel is approximately 16" wide with a 1/4" gap between each panel. The joints between the panels are covered with some rather unique molding strips - also mahogany.

We speculate that in the entrance, the original owners had installed a boot shelf or bench along the stub wall between the entrance and the living room. In the intervening years, this shelf/bench had been removed and the newly exposed wall space obviously required molding between the panels. The owners had tacked up some ugly molding strips that didn't match the upper pieces and then proceeded to ignore it for decades. In the spring, when Kathryn was prepping the entrance for painting and finishing, she would not tolerate such shoddy efforts. The ugly molding strips had to go. "No problem", I said. "We'll just get some new strips and replace the molding from top to bottom on the stub wall". Kathryn said "OK" and put the entrance prep on hold until I could replace the molding.

On my next trip to the local home reno box store, I rummaged through the mahogany molding strips looking for something similar that would do the job. Nadda. Off to the specialty molding shops where I was certain I'd find a rack of said molding. Nadda. "Never seen it before" ... was the common comment from staff. Searches on-line yielded similar results. Nadda. Nowhere.

OK ... Plan B - rip all the panel molding off throughout the house and replace it with something readily available.... Ummmm, way too much effort with increasing risk of making a bigger mess not to mention the cost and the problems of finishing to match the existing paneling.

At this stage, Summer was upon us and the entrance prep work remained on pause. Renos are patient like that. They'll just sit there waiting.

Yesterday, as Kathryn was doing the prep work for the family Thanksgiving dinner, I decided that perhaps I should appear to be busy or I might be called upon to wash pots or peel some poor vegetables. Obviously it was time to go to Plan C - make some molding strips to match the original (Read this to mean hiding in the workshop making noise and sawdust so as not to be called upon to fumble in the kitchen under the watchful eye of the culinary genius).

As it turned out, it was not too difficult.

Take the salvaged mahogany door casing from the old broom closet.

Route channels to expose the runner that sits in the gap between the panels. I'm making two molding strips from a single casing.

Turn it over and route two shallow grooves on the face of the molding.

Now carefully clamp it to an EZ track.

And trim the first strip to width.
Don't try this with a tablesaw or you will end up with a projectile.

Repeat even more carefully for the 2nd very narrow strip.

A little touch up with a block plane, a rat-tail file for the groove and a final buffing with a sanding block and "Bob's your Uncle", you have 24' of custom molding ready to assume its rightful place on the stub wall. Only I (and now you) will ever know that it wasn't put there in 1960.

Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers, friends and family. We have a lot to be thankful for and I still have all my fingers.

October 3, 2010

First Impressions

I didn't get as far on this project as I had hoped. And now that October has rolled around, both the white paint and refinishing the cement leading to the front door will have to keep until next spring. Do I sound sad? Uh, no. There are plenty of other things to keep us busy this fall. On the plus side, having even this much done for the front door means it's enough fodder for reno blog readers since I've been delinquent lately.

Then. Dark blue door and upper trim, made colder by the light in the north facing yard. Brass mail slot and door knob. And tiny little overhead light. Sunlight brought to you by the month of June.

Now. RED door! A good deep red. Changed the blue upper trim to a dark grey to pick up on those tones in the stonework. Also added some of this grey in the inserts beneath the windows on either side of the door. Subtle, but it makes the windows look taller. Black mail slot and new door hardware. New carriage lamp too. Leaves brought to you by the month of October.