The Renovator’s wife Blog

Renovating with your partner and living to tell about it

When New Doesn’t Mean New November 25, 2010

When you buy a pre-owned car or house, generally speaking, you say something like “I bought a new car” or “we’re moving into a new home” even though it isn’t ‘new’.

Over the past few decades, we’ve grown used to the concepts of reduce, reuse and recycle. While renovting often is a case of ‘out with the old and in with the new’, it is possible to reuse things to prevent them from becoming landfill. Like your “new car” or “new house”, you can create new from somone else’s, or your own, old.

In house # 2, I inhereted an odd little ensuite. I know from the realtor, and my own visual inspection, that the tennants didn’t use this bathroom. The toilet and sink looked brand new. We removed them carefully, I inspected them thorougly, then I cleaned the furiously before installing them in the new main bathroom. No one would ever guess.

A bit hard to see in the photo, but that toilet (and the sink off to the right) are the ones from the ensuite. Another case of recycling in this house came from visiting a new and used building supply store where I bought used pocket doors for a fraction of the price – they simply needed a new coat of paint.

You’d never know

In house #3, everything needed a major overhaul. Little things got our attention, like the handrails on the stairway. The Renovator sanded that ugly dark shiny finish to find a beautiful light wood underneath, we finished and reinstalled the ‘new’ handrails.

Here in house #4, we’ve got some great options for recycling. Many of the big things are ‘bin filler’, like the carpetting and cabinetry, but some things can be saved or repurposed. We’re carefully removing the bricks from the wall downstairs to reuse in a funky new way in a different location. When we replace the windows, we’ll be saving the old ones to build a small greenhouse. Although the lilac toilet and sink will have to go, there are a number of cabinet knobs and hardware bits we’ll be making use of.

Definitely get that dumpster if you’re doing a full reno, but before you decide to ‘toss it all’, take a closer look and see if you can make something old new again.


A Road to a Friend’s House is Never Long – Danish Proverb August 31, 2010

If The Renovator and I had a dollar for every time a friend asked, “Could you look at the house and tell us what you think?” we’d be rich! Whether they are purchasing a new place or considering changes to their existing home, our friends have come to know that they can rely on us for advice.

Often, after being asked the question noted above, I hear, “You must get sick of being asked to walk around people’s houses making suggestions and comments”. The funny thing is, we don’t get sick of it. We love it. There’s something about looking at a space and seeing the big picture – a big NEW picture – and being invited to do so. That doesn’t mean that if we come to your house we’ll pick it apart (well, mentally maybe), but if we’re invited, we will definitely do ‘what we do’.

I’ll be the one looking at the space while our friends say ‘we were thinking about this…’ then I’ll ask questions like ‘what do you want to do in this space? What are the three most important things to you about this room? and How would you like to use it?’ Then, The Renovator will weigh in on the art of the possible and what’s easy or what’s not worth the effort.

Recently, The Renovator helped out in a way we often do. He went to a house our friends were considering purchasing. They wanted to know what could be done to make the basement into a suite. What is possible and what is not. This type of request is one of our favorites because it allows us to look at the space in new ways and really consider layout and usage. In the end our friends have purchased the home and chances are The Renovator will find himself completing some of the work he envisioned. Often, I’m called upon to offer guidance around colours, finishes, lighting, etc. I never used to believe it, but the right light fixtures can make a world of difference!

So, the next time you’re looking at your existing space, or one you are thinking about purchasing, call on one of your friends who knows a thing or two about renovating. Chances are they love helping with it as much as we do and that’s why I love being The Renovator’s wife.


Demolition Love May 26, 2010

With all due respect to Jann Arden (who I think is fabulous), her song should have been named “Renovation Love” instead of “Demolition Love”, but for the Renovator and I, the two are one in the same.

In any renovation, there is a certain amount of demolition. Like all good renovators, we think that sometimes ‘destruction’ is the best part of ‘construction’. It’s quicker, easier and helps you get out whatever aggression you’ve stock-piled while trying to finance your reno.

To properly demo takes a bit of planning. It isn’t just screaming while swinging the sledgehammer and crowbar!

1. Think about what you want to do. Is it to take the wall out entirely or just widen the doorway? Are you sure double doors are right? Or is a single door more practical? It’s easier to think about it a bit longer than to have to rebuild.

2. How will you deal with the debris? It’s fun to rip and tear, but have a plan for the garbage; fully assess what will be going out. Some renos work fine with a pickup truck, but large ones will require a rental bin. Carpet doesn’t look like it takes up much room, but think of it rolled up with underlay and that’s a lot of junk! Also, keep in mind that metal, wood and drywall are disposed of differently, so don’t heap them all into one pile.

3. Have an understanding of the steps in the process. It’s hard to hold back when you’ve decided to start, but do what’s necessary to be safe and not make your spouse want to strangle you.

  • A. Remove the furniture and items off the wall. If something is too large to remove, cover it with a padded cover to protect it.
  • B.  Screen off areas not in the construction zone to keep the mess confined.
  • C. Yes, I know you want to grab the sledge-hammer and hit the wall, but remove the little things first – trim, casings and light and plug outlet covers.
  • Depending on the surfaces you’re dealing with, and what is required, start by removing ceiling tiles first, then walls and last flooring. Carpet helps to ‘absorb’ some of the dust and bits and will allow you to roll it up and get it out easily.
  • D. Know where the electrical runs and if you’re even slightly unsure, don’t saw through the wall!

4. Keep the doors on the hinges until you’re almost done. Doors are a natural way to keep the mess confined.

5. Start with the right equipment.

  • Make sure you have a pair of sturdy canvas or leather gloves – my former mother-in-law (who is a wonderful lady) bought me a pair of calf-skin leather work gloves years ago. I completely wore them out on house #2 – there were holes in three fingers on each hand!
  • Safety glasses and ear protection as required. Knee pads are helpful!
  • Sledge hammer, large and small crow bar, regular hammer, screwdriver (for removing outlet plates), putty knife (to slide in behind baseboards if you want to reuse them), reciprocating saw, tarps and plastic sheeting, shop-vac, pliers (for pulling up staples holding down the underlay) and a heavy-duty garbage can (easier to carry the smaller pieces out).

With a bit of planning at the start, you’ll have a great demolition and renovation and that’s why I love being The Renovator’s wife.


Water, Water Everywhere!

You can drink it, shower in it, wash dishes with it… ah! Bliss!

I admit it, I’ve been lazy with regards to the blog, so my hope is to get two posts up today to make up for it. First, thank God for water pressure and a smart husband. As you may recall in the last stage of our saga, The Renovator and I moved into “The Mother of Ugly” in November with no water pressure. We’ve been having baths for 6 months because the water pressure was so bad it wasn’t possible to shower. A video reminder for those who need it:

And now, for the update.

Instead of spending the $7800 it would have cost to follow our original plan of hooking up to the water in the street behind the house, The Renovator, together with his muscles and brains, did the amazing by digging a trench 250 feet long, hooking up a new water line running the entire distance, bringing it into the house in the most professional of ‘after-construction’ ways, hooking it up to a new pressure valve, attaching the whole contraption to the house’s main-incoming pipe and then connecting it to the city water line. We saved $7400. NICE!

I had anticipated our one tiny problem – the kitchen faucet ‘couldn’t take the pressure’ literally. The hose in the old faucet blew. Fortunately, I had the foresight to buy an alternate faucet, so it was a small hiccup – and one well worth the end result. Take a look at this ‘now normal’ water pressure (It’s hard to appreciate in the video, but the kitchen faucet actually jumps there’s so much pressure – wheee!):

Water may seem like a little thing, but now, more than ever, I love being The Renovator’s wife.


Renovating and NOT Going Crazy March 22, 2010

It’s good to be slightly crazy to begin with if you plan on renovating. Whether on your own, with your spouse, or a whole family project, renovating brings out ‘the crazy’ in people. By starting off slightly on the edge it will be less noticeable when you lose it. And you WILL lose it.

Ronda’s rules of renovating:

1 – it will cost more than budgeted, no matter how much you budget

2 – something will go wrong

3 – It will take longer than expected

4 – you will go crazy at least once. And by crazy, I mean a crying, hair-pulling, “I don’t know how to deal with this” rampage

Some things take longer than expected, like our family room

Some things take longer than expected, like our family room, but I can shut the door!

What brings on rule #4? It varies, but as mentioned, it is inevitable, so it’s best to limit the number of times it happens and learn to recover quickly from it. My trigger is one large ‘issue’ after a string of small ones. Case in point – House # 2 was taking far longer than I could tolerate (see rule # 3 above). I was finishing some painting and The Renovator was working in another room. It was pouring (some of you will remember the torrential rains that caused the avalanche in North Vancouver, BC – same rain storm), but I wasn’t worried, we’d fixed all of those pesky water issues, right? I checked the crawl space and completely lost my mind when I saw 1/2 inch of water. I was crying, screaming and as far as I recall was generally inconsolable. Fortunately, The Renovator explained to me that with the amount of rain we were having it was likely that almost everyone’s crawl space was flooding. He was right, the water wasn’t an issue again. But, in hindsight, I see that I really needed that outburst. It was the peak of my frustration of the house not being finished and things not going as planned.

Since house # 2, I’ve learned to take it in stride a bit more, but to also accept the ‘freak out’ when it comes. Just let it happen and then move on. This is important when you’re living in a construction zone. Right now, we live in the ‘Mother of Ugly’ house. There are things here that I don’t want to look at let alone live with, but we can’t fix them all right now. So, to stay sane, I do three things: 1 – shut doors where possible to avoid looking at it, 2 – remember that this is only temporary, and 3 – take things one room at a time to prevent too many rooms in flux at one time.

either rip it up or leave it in!

The carpet was like this when we moved in – we just ignore it because it will all be removed!

In house # 2, I remember an evening of watching TV and coming slightly unglued when I looked around and realized that there wasn’t one single room that I could go to that was finished. This can be really hard on you because everywhere you look, you see work to be done. The Renovator and I now do our best to keep at least one room out of the path of construction until another room is completely finished. This way we always have a small ‘sanctuary’ to hide out from the mess around us. Even now, the house we are in is far from ideal, but we have a few rooms that are set up comfortably. They might be ugly, but we make them as cozy as possible and ignore the ugly – like the pink walls everywhere.  Then there’s the carpet at the end of the hall – or lack of carpet as the case may be. The previous owners ripped the section of carpet out and left a small triangle of underlay. Weird, but we ignore it. We know it’s all going to get ripped out and thrown out soon, so we keep it clean and smile knowing it’s temporary. Even the stairs have an issue – the carpet has pulled so badly that the ‘tack strips’ are exposed – not good when your toes get too close! Ouch! But this too shall come to pass, so I save up my ‘going crazy’ for a time when it will really count and that’s why I love being The Renovator’s wife.

Brandie on stairs

Even Brandie can see that the tack strip showing on the stairs is bad


Defining Greatness February 23, 2010

With the Olympics on, and us living in the lower mainland, I’ve been struck by how we all have special skills and abilities. Mine is writing, but I also have a flair for seeing what needs to be done to make a house beautiful (I like to think so anyway!). In the last few weeks I’ve had several people ask me how The Renovator and I choose the next house (aka: project) we’ll live in.

We didn’t plan for our process to evolve the way it has. Certainly, neither of us established who would do what when we’re looking at a house, it just came about as a natural part of our relationship. When we bought our current house, “The Mother of Ugly”, it was after looking at a lot of other houses. I’m pretty sure our realtor was exhausted by the time we signed the final offer.

Driving up to a potential house, I already have a partial feeling of whether the property can work for us or not. While we aren’t swayed by ugly furniture, bad paint colours, crappy design choices or a lack of curb appeal (in fact a crappy appearance is generally better for us renovators. You’ve seen the ‘sell this house’ type shows and know that few people can see anything but what’s in front of them), there has to be the ability to create curb appeal and a beautiful, functional, inviting house. My eyes don’t necessarily see what is in front of me – they see what could be done. At that point, I start to talk.

Here’s what I saw as we walked around, outside, the Mother of Ugly. What do you see? I see a bumped-out living room window to create a box window seat, a completely re-worked foyer / entrance and an extension to the master bedroom over the garage.

Outside view from the yard at the creek

If a house is a possibility, I feel it. I know in some part of me it can work. To get to that feeling, The Renovator and I need to look at the full picture: curb appeal, the lot, the exterior and the interior. When a house is wrong, I generally say very little, or comment on the insignificant points. The Renovator knows immediately whether I’ve got ‘that feeling’ or not, based on how much I talk.

The day we viewed this house, I started talking as soon as we turned into the driveway. I had seen the potential with the lot, all I needed was to know we could work with the house.  Although The Renovator says you can change anything with enough time and money, there are limits! We respect these limits when doing a walk through.

The master bedroom will come out 8 feet

This is such an ugly entrance! Imagine exterior stairs, a small porch and a double door at the upper level

Imagine that window being replaced with a well-patio, french doors and stairs up to the yard

A few steps inside, I began seeing a vision for the house and started my role in the process by asking The Renovator if my visions were possible. “If we deleted this wall…”, “I’d like to open this up”, “can we add on over here?”. Together, while I think about improvements and The Renovator assesses the possible, we walk through a house with a constant dialogue, building a plan.

This leaves guests wondering “where do I go?”

For this tiny split entry, I see gutting the entire mess and creating an extension to the space, putting the entry on the upper level and the stairs on the outside, like a brownstone.

As it stands, we’re still contemplating the changes we discussed when we bought the house. Some ideas have since been questioned by The Renovator, but we’ll work through those by establishing whether the cost and pain of the work will be worth it at the time of resale.

With the kitchen plan complete and the family room under construction, now is the time for me to draw basic plans for all the other spaces so that we have a game plan. We look at design and home magazines together, make drawings, discuss concepts and go to home shows to do this. If we don’t, I could come home to some big surprises! And that’s why I love being The Renovator’s Wife.


I’m Dreaming of a Bright Kitchen February 2, 2010

Yes, I realize that I’m more than a few weeks late to be making a mess of Christmas carols, but it will likely be next Christmas (or later!) before this plan gets put into action.

We all know the kitchen is the hub of the home. It’s where everything happens. In our house, not only do we prepare food there, but we also talk, interact, hold up the counters with our butts while we sip tea or coffee and contemplate life. We stare out the window, feed the pets, read cookbooks and talk on the phone. It’s really the heart of it all. No wonder a kitchen renovation is such a massive undertaking!

There’s a lot to think about and because I love to cook, I feel an even greater amount of pressure to get it right. Fortunately, The Renovator and I have been through this before and are feeling fairly comfortable with the design I’ve come up with. It won’t be vastly spacious, but it will be more open than it is currently, certainly more functional, and will let in much more of that beautiful southern light we are so fortunate to have.

To begin, here’s a quick, silent video showing what the kitchen (trapped in the 1970s) currently looks like. You’ll see the new-ish, broken fridge, the old-ish, working fridge, the pantry door and the cat having a bath all in the light of a sunshine ceiling:

Now that you’ve seen the aged environment we live in, here’s the floor plan of what we intend to do:

My Dream of a new Kitchen

My Dream of a new Kitchen

As you can imagine, this is no small feat. If you’ve ever done it, you know that renovating a kitchen is a bit like camping in your own house for several weeks! You have to be well organized, have your materials ordered and planned at the right times and be very patient. When we did the kitchen at the last house, I spent 3 weeks washing dishes in the laundry sink.

To make this plan work, there will be a lot of wall removal, moving a door, bumping out a window to create a window box, gutting the lighting, ripping up the flooring and tossing the ‘very pink’ cabinets.

While the process can be challenging, one needs to keep their thoughts on the end result – a beautiful new kitchen. I love the planning, the designing and ultimately, the better living a new kitchen delivers. It’s just one of the benefits of being a passionate renovator I suppose, and that’s why I love being The Renovator’s Wife!