Thursday, 25 November 2010

Luckily, we made very few mistakes in the whole ground floor reno process. One of the few was putting some of the halogen pot lights too close to the kitchen cabinets. Hardly a mistake really, more like a fudge, a little boo boo. But still it required some patch work as well as the services of our favourite Hungarian curmudgeon, László, to make it right.

True to form, László entered the Tall House

without even so much as a hello:

Cutting right to the chase he barked: -Who did this work?

Me: -What work?

Him (getting a little red in the face): -This!!!

Me (heart pounding): -Oh, You mean the mouldings?

Him (voice rising as if speaking to a deaf half-wit): -Yessssss!

Me (not knowing whether this is good or bad): -Uh, Manu and his brother did a day together and Manu has been doing it alone ever since.

Him (shaking his head as he walked around the room): -Whhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaatttttttttt? … … But this fantastik job!

Me (breathing again): - ...

Him: - ...

Him again: -What your husband do again?

Me: -Um, he works in advertising

Him: -And the brother?

Me: -He's an engineer.

Him (full on yelling): -IM-POS-SI-BLE!!!!!! Usually these guys don't know what they are doing.

Him again (more quietly): -This really incredible job. Most workers don't do as nice work. He's hired! … Now you go.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Mr W, our ancient, crotchety old neighbour with the heart of gold has moved out and put his house up for sale. We saw the pictures online. Save for the staircase, there are no original features, just an empty shell. There is nothing to show for a lifetime of living in that house but a bunch of linoleum flooring and some bare walls. Growing old sucks.

The house is being touted as a "piece of history", as indubitably was Mr W. We hope that someone falls in-love with it and brings it back to life.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

All the trim still needs painting

The range hood needs to be installed.
The smoke alarm goes off every time we open the oven...

...we're missing the backsplash too

One day we'll hang the real plates, these are just photocopies...

The future coat closet. The antique doors need to be hung and painted.

We've been living in the new space for a couple of months now. No matter that there is still a list as tall as the house of things to do, we are home. And we are loving it.

There is nothing like a year of living in a construction site to make one appreciate the finer things in life. Cleanliness! Order! Organization! It is amazing how comparatively simpler our life seems. Possessions are now nicely stowed in their allotted space instead of piled higgledy-piggledy in a corner. We're back to having people over for dinner. We don't feel the need to get out of the house on weekends. We linger.

Everything just seems so damn easy. We've even discovered that mundane tasks such as doing the dishes are actually soothing and enjoyable in a beautiful space. Its even taken that edge off the weekly morning routine. Getting out of bed at 6:30? A snap! Because even on the grayish of days, the new kitchen is filled with light.

Oh we still have projects, but now the work is just aesthetic. We've put the grunting and heavy lifting behind us. And maybe that's why we are so happy, we are now just working on the pretty.

Even our gifts to each other have changed. We have moved on from power tools to more soul nourishing offerings such as the much longed for Magnolia tree in the back yard.

And just this past weekend, for the first time in years we actually had a whole two hours of doing nothing! Manu watched some football and I read while the Princess napped and our Little Superhero saved the world.

Life is good, but we can't quit now. We have to pull up our bootstraps and give that last push. Manu has already planned to take a couple of days off this week to prepare the house for winter and I'll be back in the saddle on the weekend painting the trim. Then the back splash needs to be laid, the range hood installed, the closet doors hung and painted, the vestibule tiles found, the front window trim applied...

Holy sh**t! We'd better get to work!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Behold the great pirate ship

Argh! And she shall be christened the Stejoine

The Jolly Roger flying aloft

The summer of 2010 will forever go down in Tall House history as the summer of the great pirate ship, The Stejoine.

One fine august day while I was busy unpacking and organizing the first floor, Manu came up with the most inspired idea to keep the little folk (which included my three and a half year old nephew who was visiting from Miami) out from underfoot. The children would build a pirate ship! It would only be an improvement on the actual landscaping and there was more than enough scrap lumber left over from the 1st floor reno.

The four of them worked away at it for the better part of the day. First the hull, then the masts and finally the sail. There was even a hand drawn Jolly Roger flying proudly aloft. The children baptized the ship Stejoine in honour of themselves, the mighty pirates who'd built it: Captain Stelio, First Mate Joseph and Secon Mate Inès. Much like real pirates, they got absolutely filthy, dirt on top of mud on top of black paint - there was nary a square inch of them that remained untouched. They would build, then they would play and when it all got too much, they ate grapes and water melon slices to combat scurvy.

But the fun didn't stop there. For over the next several weeks our little Superhero, all of five, busied himself making all manner of improvements to the lovely vessel. Benches and tables were added and removed, there was a cafeteria (!) in the works, storm proofing was attempted… Folks started stopping by just to see the ship. It was fast becoming more famous than the Black Pearl on the Small Street.

But best of all, it meant, for the first time since we bought the house, that the kids didn't have to go to the park to enjoy the great outdoors, they could just hang out in their own back yard. And it didn't matter if it wasn't pretty or cared for (yet!) it was still, simply, magical.

As you may have guessed we have a lot to do inside before we even think of tackling the outside. Which is a good thing because the darn place is overrun with pirates!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Our layout of what could have been

I realize that in the grand scheme of things, being heartbroken over a floor is pretty silly. So lets just say that we are bitterly disappointed.

We had found the perfect tiles for the entrance way. Manu had first spotted them while lunching at a sandwich shop in the old part of town, and had told me about them that night at dinner. He was in love. Then as luck would have it, we stumbled upon them at the very store where we bought our kitchen sink and counter top. If possible I loved them even more than Manu. Black and white honed marble tiles shaped like little lanterns. And the best part, they didn't look all shiny and new, they looked like they had been around for years and years. They were perfect for the Tall House. We were smitten.

And as we are want to do, we obsessed over them. Designing and redesigning the entrance way pattern until we were satisfied.

Then our luck ran out. Having a rather long list of things to do before we tackled the vestibule floor, we decided to wait before buying the tiles. Well, good things don't necessarily come to those who wait: they are not only sold out but discontinued!

I tried having them brought in from other cities. I have even tried having them made. No dice.


Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The artists at work

It looks like the mouldings have always been there. Good sign.

Crown is on. Door frames and baseboards need to be done...

...window frames too.

Manu and I have a thing for mouldings. We first discovered their power to transform a space when we lived in The Condo. Aching for a DIY project, but finding very little to do, Manu decided one day to install crown moulding in the two back rooms. The results were extraordinary, in one weekend the rooms had changed from bland and box like, to interesting and elegant. Since then, we have been obsessed, offering it as transformation advice to any and all friends who will listen.

Now if I had my way, or rather, if our bank account wasn't bleeding, we would have opted for plaster mouldings (it is supposed to be a "restoration" after all). But unfortunately those will have to wait. In the meantime we have opted for the run of the mill white painted MDF variety, but honestly you wouldn't know it.

So while the kids, my mum and I lounged by my office pool, dear Manu and his brother Fabio, who is expecting his first child any day now, celebrated father's day by installing crown moulding on the ground floor. At noon, my mother-in-law brought food, pasta (of course), salad and the great Italian Sunday lunch staple, vino. We ate on the stairs and admired their work. And despite the wine, or maybe because of it, they really got a lot done.

Manu still needs to build a frame around the top of the kitchen cabinets before the rest of the crown can be applied, then there are all the base boards and the door and window frames. All told about three or four days work.

But even if we are only a third of the way there, its really starting to feel like home.

The, ahem, view from the kitchen door.
We planted some Virginia Creeper along the fence to the right
in the hopes that by next year, when we are ready to attack the yard,
the fence will be covered in lush greenery.

Midway through: the doors look better,
the stairs and the siding look worse.

I spray painted some old terracotta pots black.
Added a few geraniums... and voila! Instant love.

The doors and siding are painted.
In autumn we will do the stairs and the railing.

The old girl has been upgraded from haunted -
to just rickety.

We are a bit scattered these days. We have been working a bit out front, a bit out back and a bit in the middle. Seems like every time we turn around, there is another mountain of work waiting for us.

Now, we do know better than to start a new project before having finished the first one, but somehow the theory hasn't made it to practice. I started stripping the closet doors but the onset of planting season urged me to add some love to the front of the house in the form of geraniums. This in turn lead to adding some crushed stones to the front yard to perk it up just a little, which brought on the need to paint the front doors, which highlighted the ugliness of the yellow siding (so it ended up getting painted too) which then brought us to work on the front steps…

But then it started to rain.

…so we decided to plant some climbing vines by the new fence in the backyard, which made us realize in what bad shape the soil was. Which lead us to start carting some of the rocks away, which in turn lead to some weeding…

…when what we should be doing is finishing the first floor. The stair risers and the wainscoting need to be painted, the crown mouldings and baseboards need to be installed, the coat closet doors have to be stripped, sanded, painted and hung. The windows need to be washed and god knows that the first floor and the basement are begging for a good, deep down clean. Not to mention some major reorganization of the whole house as well as moving some rather large pieces of furniture.

So what we need to do is focus!

We will finish the front steps and try straightening the banisters. But seeing as this is just a quick fix to keep the place from falling down until we can afford the real deal, we will stop there for this year. Then we will leave the backyard pretty much as is, allowing the newly planted Virginia Creeper a year's head start as it hopefully lays claim to the easternmost fence.

And now no more distractions, lets finish that goddam first floor.

Friday, 4 June 2010

The kitchen cabinets, island and counter top are in. We are so close to the finish line that we can almost taste it. I am loath to name an end date for this whole first floor reno extravaganza as every time that I do, we seem to overshoot it by a country mile. My birthday! Gone. Christmas! Nope. Valentine's day! Unfortunately not. Easter! Close but no cigar. Mothers day! Closer, but still no. Father's day! I doubt it… But enough is enough, so the now realistic, no-holds-barred-must-be-done-or-else-date is August 5Th, when my dear brother and his loved-as much-as-they-are missed little family come to visit us.

They will be our inaugural dinner guests.

For there is one thing that I have learned in this whole process. And that is that all this headache and financial strain is for one purpose and one purpose only: and that is to create the perfect backdrop for our Little Superhero's and The Princess' childhood memories.

So on that upcoming August night, while the grown-up brother and sister gently tease each other with the "remember whens" from their childhood houses . The little cousins will be making memories all their own as they chase each other around the sure to be (well, almost) completed first floor of the Tall House.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Well the floors are finished and they are nothing short of spectacular. We are pinching ourselves, as yet again we have nothing but good things to say about the fellows who did it. And this time round we were really taking a bit of a gamble as neither of us knew anything about them. I'd noticed their van parked in the Hood and taken down their number. Manu had read about them in the paper... Then, when we met them for a quote, we were charmed by their earth friendly products. That and the fact that we wouldn't have to move out of the house for a week. We were sold.

So they came, they saw, they sanded, they stained, and finally they varnished. No fuss, no muss and almost no dust. The process was so easy that I can barely believe that it is over. And the results are stupendous.

That's it then, the worst is over. No more mopping the floors when we get home from work, no more washing the pots before we use them, and no more little people with blackened feet. We just have one MASSIVE spring cleaning job to do first.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Before: the kitchen that taste forgot

For the past two and a half years, we have been living with a kitchen that is so laughably ugly that really anything, even a hole in the ground, would be a step up. Okay, in all fairness, we did apply a lick of paint and installed some el cheap-o vinyl black and white tiles on the floors, just to make it palatable. But the fact remains, that by even the most benevolent person's standards, it is an eyesore.

Thankfully, Manu's cooking talent is so great that our meals have never been a reflection of their surroundings. But the washing up has been painful. Zero counter space, a peeling counter, not to mention a view on the most ungodliest back splash have made doing the dishes, never our favourite chore, an unspeakable penance.

So now that we are only but a few weeks away from kitchen salvation, our aprons are all aflutter: the plans have been drawn up, the cabinets ordered, the counter top chosen, the appliances purchased… We are, as they say in the restaurant biz "cooking with gas". Or at least we will be.

The inspiration, via Style at Home

The cabinets, range and fridge will be along the far right wall
opposite will be a 9 foot by 30 inch island

The marble slab

The faucet

Counter depth fridge

The oh so nifty dual gas range

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The buried treasure, our now crisp, clean floor boards

The stair risers will be painted white

The stain swatches, we prefer the one to the left

Oh happy day! The floors are being sanded.

I am constantly amazed at how with old houses, the beauty is in the subtraction. Under the dusty grey wall to wall carpet, under the thin post-war hardwood, under several decades of paint and grime: beautiful, rich, wooden treasure!

When you think of it, 10 months to erase almost 125 years of design missteps is small penance for the everlasting joy that these charm infused floors will bring us.

Miraculously, the whole process should be almost painless, or at least odor less. In our previous life, when we lived in the condo, new neighbours would invariably mean a week of headache and nausea inducing odors caused by atrociously toxic floor stain. But thankfully, the eco tsunami that has hit our collective consciousness has even managed to green an old landfill bastion like floor lacquer. So not only will we be able to sleep soundly, our conscience clear, in our own beds, we will also manage, at least this time any way, not to piss off the neighbours.

Like most parents we gage the passage of time by our kids' ages. And seeing as The Little Princess, quite conveniently, was born just two weeks and one day after we moved into the Tall House, she serves as a cute, curly haired, living marker of our time spent there. So I can easily say that we have been living in our beloved ruin for 2 years, 4 months and 5 days. Which, rather embarrassingly, means that we have gone for 2 years, 4 months and 5 days without finalizing the top floor.

Apparently, this is an all too common occurrence with renovations. Be it either from boredom, a short attention span, or just out of sheer frustration, folks tend to start the next project before completing the one at hand. And although there was just but a few days work left to do to finalize that top floor, it required patience that we no longer had. So our bedroom windows remained the original sickly time stained puce, the doors remained unfinished, and the bathroom walls were bare.

Enter Laszlo, our Hungarian, slightly off-white knight. We were so thrilled with the plaster work he'd done on the main floor that we happily asked him back to do the paint. He worked well and was so cheap that it almost wasn't worth the hassle to do it ourselves. And honestly, we found him amusing. But Laszlo the plasterer is very different from Laszlo the painter.

One thing that remained the same was that he preferred to work without an audience. So despite his working on a Saturday, we cleared out of the house. Around 4:30 we dragged ourselves home after having spent every last ounce of energy and then some in the neighbouring parks.

Exhausted, the four of us plunked ourselves down in front of the TV ready to enjoy yet another rip roaring episode of Mickey Mouse Club House (The Princess is obsessed) when from the top floor came a "FUCKINGGG NIGHTMARE!" then, I'm guessing for Manu's sake "VAFFANCULO" followed by unintelligible Hungarian expletives.

Nonchalantly turning up the volume on Mickey Mouse, I went upstairs to see what all the fuss was about.

-Laszlo why are you swearing so much?

-This door, this glass, this hardware its a FUCKINGGGG NIGHTMARE, its taking too long! What time is it? I'm going home!!!

And off he went.

A while after, as The Little Superhero and I were doing our daily bedtime review, those big brown eyes got a little bigger and asked in a barely audible whisper "Mummyyyyyyy, what's a fucking nightmare??"

-I don't know, it must be Hungarian for door frame, my love.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Manu was so inspired by Laszlo's handywork that he applied the primer that very weekend

László, the plasterer, is such a character that it almost seemed predestined that he work at the Tall House. With an accent as thick as goulash and a vocabulary that hints at an eastern bloc upbringing, "in what commune is this Small Street?", László's humour is dryer than the plaster dust he creates.

Upon discovering my mother-in-law at our house one afternoon, he only briefly acknowledged her presence with a curt "I don't know you" before resuming his business. Now this would be a rather off putting attitude for even the strongest hearted of individuals, but my dear mother-in-law is made of stronger stuff. So although shaken, the poor woman was loath that she would forget her manners, and managed to offer him a cup of coffee. To her utter astonishment, he accepted! As it turns out he is a coffee fiend.

But my dear mother-in-law was unable to locate our coffee stash in the freezer so László was left hanging.  

The next morning Manu, trying to make up for the caffeinus interruptus of the previous afternoon, set out all the coffee supplies: a cup, spoon and sugar, along with a note saying that there was milk in the fridge. The stove top coffee maker was primed and ready to go, all Sandor had to do was turn it on. But when Manu returned from work, all was exactly as he had left it.

Manu: László, how come you didn't make yourself some coffee?

László: I don't touch your stuff.

Manu: But I heard you love coffee, I set it all out for you.

László: That's your problem.

While we didn't see much of him during the 8 days he spent painstakingly applying paper thin coats of plaster to our walls, he was a constant subject of conversation at the dinner table as we found his particular slow burn brand of humour tickled our funny bones immensely.

So thanks to László our post blitzkrieg-chic walls are a thing of the past and we have more than a few stories to tell.

We have even invited him back to paint the upstairs bathroom. We like having him around, but hey, that's our problem.

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