Rock Solid and Gorgeous

We did get some good news recently. The granite place has found our ‘Bora Bora’ granite. It’s time for another field trip to London to scope things out.

At this point, we have largely made our colour selections. At least, we think so. As far as the kitchen goes, a lot will depend upon the colouring of the granite. Because there is a lot of colour variation, there could yet be a change in cabinet and wall colours (particularly depending upon whether the granite has an overall ‘cool’ or ‘warm’ cast to it). Much will depend upon what we see when we get a look at the actual slabs going into our house.

The original plan was to have a look at the slabs a week ago. Sadly, that plan changed when Southern Ontario got hit with an impressive and massive snow storm. Mark was supposed to fly in the night before; his flight got cancelled, and driving anywhere that day was strongly inadvisable. As excited as we were to see the granite, the appointment needed to be rescheduled.

As a result of scheduling commitments with both Gene and ourselves, the first time that we could all get out to London was the following Friday. Fortunately, the day was bright and sunny, if still cold and suffering a hangover of the previous week’s storm.

Getting to see our slabs of granite was an awesome experience. We knew that we loved the granite overall, but there were a lot of questions of how all of the colours of the kitchen would come together. We wanted unique and exciting, and we really didn’t want drab; given that many of our preliminary colour choices were technically ‘grey’ (although a green-grey), this was definitely a risk. Given that the colours we had chosen spilled into the yellow end of the spectrum, slabs that had cooler colour tones would not have worked. We would have then been back to the drawing board.

Bora Bora, in all its glory.

The actual slabs we have secured, however, are definitely towards the warm end of things. And they are absolutely, positively gorgeous. Rather than granite, they resemble a sedimentary rock that has been built up in layers. There are tones of green, grey, brown, orange, black and blue, all depending upon where on the slab you are looking. The overall result should be absolutely stunning.

Checking out the granite for the kitchen. It should look amazing.

Last time we were out in London, we got so excited picking the kitchen granite that we completely neglected the bathroom. So apart from inspecting the ‘Bora Bora,’ we also had to select a stone for the bathroom counter. The overall design is leaning to a traditional, old-world feel, and something in similar to a marble would be ideal. Marble itself, however, is decidedly NOT ideal. It is a very porous stone, and would quickly become stained from water, toothbrushes and the like. A granite is far preferable, but ideally we want a granite that will have the feel of marble.

The granite for the bathroom. Not marble, but you can see it from here.

We looked at a number of potential slabs, but ultimately went with one that has a lot of ‘texture’ to it. While it is far more ‘grey’ than we had in mind, it should be awesome with the vanity that we’ve selected. The vanity itself will be a deep blue (the actual colour is ‘Indie-go-go.’ Really). It should also play off the tiles that we’ve chosen for the floor and wainscotting beautifully.

Slowly Making Progress

It has been a while since we have posted. Not because no work has been happening, because there has been. But January was a month of personal difficulties, which kept us from many trips to Boo Manor. And there weren’t a lot of major decisions to be made, which has kept the updates down some as well.

In the meantime, the various work crews have continued to make steady progress on the house. Much of this work will ultimately not be visible, critical though it is. Keelan, for example, spent several days levelling the bathroom floor. This shouldn’t be a big issue, in a room that is about 8′ by 7′, but it surprisingly was. The rough estimate is that the floor varied by as much as 3″ overall, meaning that some parts of the joist had to be shaved down and others needed to be built up. Along the way, some pipes that were perilously close to the top of the joists (and therefore in jeopardy of screw punctures when the floor gets fastened down) needed to be moved. Invisible, all of it, but critical nonetheless.

This is not a level floor. This is not even close to a level floor. But it will be, before we are done.

As well, the drywallers have been through. The kitchen and bathroom have now been closed up, various ceilings and walls have been repaired, and the other holes that have been punched out along the way have been cleaned up and repaired. All in all, the house is coming together and we are starting to get a sense of what the finished product will look like.

The kitchen takes shape. There are walls now. Real, live, drywalled walls.

Next up is painting and flooring. Can’t wait.

Doing a ‘Mike Holmes’ to Boo Manor

We’ve all seen it. That moment in a Mike Holmes just after he says that he, “really, really doesn’t want to go ripping things apart unless he absolutely has to.” Right before he rips everything apart, generally criticizing the previous contractor along the way.

In the case of Boo Manor, Gene’s son Keelan is our own little Mike Holmes. He and a friend have been busily gutting the various bits of the house that are in the process of being renovated: the kitchen, the guest bathroom and the soon-to-be-wine cellar.

First sign of renovations: the waste disposal bin shows up.

Destruction started with the arrival of a waste disposal bin at the property. After that, it didn’t take long for the drywall to start flying. Those bits that could be reused (the kitchen appliances, cabinets and claw foot bathtub) had already found new homes courtesy of Kijiji (and Keelan’s impressive negotiating skills). Out of the bathroom came the rest of the fixtures, including a hideous 70’s vintage plywood vanity, and a surprising array of different eras of flooring and wallboard. What was left was the bare essence of a room, and an awfully uneven floor. While the overall structure of Boo Manor is surprisingly sound, apparently not all previous renovations have been done to the same exacting standards.

The bathroom, down to the bare walls.

The kitchen floor met largely the same fate. Interestingly, floors seem to have been laid on top of previous floors. A relatively hideous (but apparently fashionable at the time) linoleum peeled back to reveal an equally hideous green tile. It was all coming out.

First there was linoleum. Then there was tile.

Finally, the drywall from the wine cellar needed to be removed anywhere there wasn’t already insulation in place. Building wine cellars is an interesting challenge. In most houses, the goal is a warm house insulated from a cold exterior. This is accomplished by insulation, with vapour barrier between the drywall and insulation to prevent moisture from condensation. For a wine cellar, the process works in reverse: you want a cold room inside of a warm house. Warm walls get lined with vapour barrier, then insulation, and then the wallboard for the interior of the cellar. Or, alternatively, spray-foam the heck out of it the interior and enjoy insulation and vapour barrier combined in one smooshie product.

Out comes the drywall. In goes the insulation.

Removing the drywall, however, also revealed the presence of some previous tenants. Namely, six mice that seemingly engaged in some form of suicide pact and fell into one of the wall cavities. Inevitably, a house this old is going to reveal some surprises. A few of which will unlikely be unexpected pests.

One other unexpected pest that has been discovered is a squirrel that has taken up residence in the eaves above the kitchen. At this point, we have no idea how it is getting in. But there is a hole somewhere, and it is large enough to allow not just squirrel, but also some pretty sizeable walnuts, judging from the detritus that the squirrel has left in its wake. And, given the quantity of walnut remains that the electricians have discovered as they’ve been laying cable for the kitchen lights, this has been going on for a while now. It is a wily squirrel, however; Gene has been trying to set a trap for it, using peanuts as bait. After three attempts, all Gene has to show for it is a small pile of spent peanut shells.

And, beneath it all, there is actually a sub-floor.

All in all, though, Gene and his team have been making awesome progress. The result is that the rooms we are renovating have now been gutted, the mice have been removed and the squirrel is still enjoying a free run of the eaves. From here, the work of rebuilding can commence.

Of Bathrooms And Vanity

How hard can it be to buy a bathroom vanity? Really? I mean, they make enough of them. Surely we should be able to find one that works for us for the guest bathroom. After all, it’s not even a bathroom we’ll use on a regular basis.

On our previous plumbing expedition, we found pretty much everything we needed for the house — sinks, showers, faucets and spouts — in one simple trip. Except a vanity. We saw one that we thought would work, but the colour sample had gone missing. And we saw several more that would definitively not work given our mental picture of what we wanted the bathroom to look like. We were looking for an old-world, funky bathroom feel, similar to what we had seen in bathrooms of hotel rooms in Paris. Marble, old fashioned knobs and beautiful vanities (often repurposed from other pieces of furniture), combined to form beautiful, functional and unique bathroom spaces.

A modern bathroom vanity. That looks a whole lot like a dining room sideboard.

Sadly, a lot of the vanities we saw looked like sideboards. They were wooden cabinets, with wooden finishes, that looked more appropriate in dining rooms if they didn’t come equipped with sinks. We wanted something a little more unique, a little more colourful and a little more off-the-beaten path. We had enough budget to work with on this particular piece that it could be new construction, but it needed to meet the design spec (as loose as that was) of what we were looking for. So we designed the bathroom around what we wanted, choosing flooring, wainscotting, shower, toilet and fixtures, recognizing that we still needed a vanity to bring it all together.

One very real consideration was actually finding an antique sideboard, refinishing it, re-surfacing it with a stone top and a sink, and calling it done. With this in mind, we began to stop at pretty much every antique store we came across (and in our neck of the woods, there are an awful lot of them) to look for possible vanity candidates.

A dining room sideboard. That could be pressed into use as a bathroom vanity.

One of the first stops, within Toronto, was Of Things Past, a consignment furniture store. We were referred to it by a relative, and had previously found some great lamps for our condo when we first moved to the city. At the time, we had also noticed some amazing furniture pieces that would have been awesome for our future (as yet unpurchased) home, and had resolved to come back when we actually had a home to furnish. The challenge with any store like this is that the stock changes over regularly; you have to keep checking in to see what is there. The result is some of the pieces that we adored last time were gone, and what we were looking for wasn’t really there. One piece that might have worked as a sideboard was actually a full-on china cabinet, with an upper storage cabinet as well; putting it into service would have meant throwing away the top piece in order to get the bottom cabinet. The overall piece was too long for the space we needed, however; we would have to keep looking.

A few days later saw us travelling from Guelph to the house in order to do some measuring. Out of curiosity, I set the GPS to avoid highways in order to see what kind of route it would recommend that didn’t involve the 401. While this initially took us through the heart of Cambridge, after that it guided us to some lovely country roads that led directly to where Drumbo Road (another name for our street) begins. It also took us past Southworks in Cambridge, a unique mall that includes a massive antique market and another consignment furniture store. Trolling through the antique market, we found a great deal of interesting stuff, but no candidate sideboards. The consignment store, however, was another matter.

Now we’re talking. A little too long, sadly, but otherwise awesome.

Next Time Around, like Of Things Past, takes furniture and resells it – meaning that there stock turns over quite quickly. A browse through their offerings found many more gorgeous pieces of furniture, but only one possible candidate for a bathroom vanity. As candidates go, however, there was a lot that was promising. It was a beautiful and sturdy piece that had a good deal of storage, even given that the centre drawers would have to be replaced with plumbing fixtures. And the multi-level top surface was not only unique, but also offered more surface area for guests to put toiletries that would not be imperilled by sinks. Sadly, the cabinet proved to be too long – continuing our trip and completing our measurements revealed that it was a good 8 inches longer than we would ideally like. The search would have to continue.

We finally wound up at an antique market near Dundas, almost entirely by accident. We had been driving around with a sample cabinet board in the trunk for weeks, and had finally decided to return it. From there, we were going to Dundas to do some Christmas shopping. On our way to Dundas we drove past a giant antique shop. One u-turn later, and we were in their driveway to check out their wares. These included a life-sized Elvis (white-suit-era), a Fender electric guitar, several beds, some disturbingly tacky Italianate cabinetry and one very real candidate for a vanity.

And then we found this. Perfect size, bump-out for a sink, and the price is right.

Sizing the cabinet up and down (and measuring it just to be sure) we decided it was a very real candidate. Given that the store was having a sale, and was also open to negotiation, we decided to pursue the matter further. $400 later, the cabinet was being loaded into the back of the SUV as we continued on with our Christmas shopping. We now have a vanity. It will need some work and refinishing, and we still need to find a linen tower that will complement it, but it’s a very good start. Take out a couple of drawers, add a marble-looking stone counter top and a vessel sink, and we have the basis of a bathroom. Even better, we might actually wind up under budget on this particular item. Which would be a good thing, because we seem to be over budget on a few other choices that we’ve made so far. Some balance would be very good.

Sinks, and Faucets, and Lighting, oh my…

After yesterday’s shopping blitz of granite, flooring and tile, the focus of today was on plumbing and lighting. The finishing touches to build upon the fundamentals of the previous day, as it were. For these, we ventured a little further east (or, more to the point, not quite as far west) to Kitchener, Dianne’s old stomping grounds.

The first stop was at the plumbing shop, to pick both kitchen and bathroom fixtures. After yesterday’s total oversight in picking granite for the bathroom, we weren’t going to make the same mistake twice. We would be selecting bathroom options as well. In fact, this is where we started. Although for reasons that remain baffling to me, however, I neglected to take any pictures. But rest assured that we have managed to select some awesome choices.

The bathroom is going to have an old world, very traditional feel to it – hence the marble tile options that we began with yesterday. On the drive out to Kitchener, Dianne and I built on this idea – the concept is a traditional bathroom vanity, of the sort that might have started out life as a sideboard or cabinet. It could be a new vanity, or could even be a refinished antique. Top with a marble undercount sink, and paint a funky rich colour (a deep, antique blue, perhaps) and call it done. Which leads to some pretty traditional taps and faucets as well. Fortunately, Grohe makes a pretty decent line of traditional-looking faucets that will work pretty awesomely in both the sink and the bathtub. Extend those throughout, and we still need to find a vanity and an appropriate slab of granite, but the essentials are in place.

As far as the kitchen goes, decisions were equally straightforward. Dianne saw and immediately fell in love with a white, porcelain fireclay farmhouse sink. Despite looking at a number of other potential sinks, ranging from stainless steel to cast iron, she was not to be swayed. Add a traditional-looking faucet, and we pretty much had a kitchen finalized. And so, plumbing dispatched in relative short order, it was on to lighting.

Lights are, no doubt, going to be a different story. We have several fixtures to buy, in some instances for rooms that we haven’t done a lot of planning and design for. We need pendant lights for the kitchen, sconces for the bathroom, a new chandelier for the dining room and also a light for what will become my den (it used to be the formal parlour of the house, and has a horrid 1970’s style bedroom flying saucer light in it currently.

We started at Urban Lights in Kitchener, a cool little store in a strip mall on the east end of Victoria avenue. Much of their selection is fairly modern and contemporary, so there was an initial question of how much we were going to find for the house. For most of the house, we are looking for more traditional pieces – or at least pieces with a traditional feel.

We started with the pendant lights for the kitchen. Urban Lights has a line of low voltage pendants that come in a wide variety of colours and shapes, from Wilmette Lighting. They take the traditional idea of a low voltage bendy track and ramp it up several notches in terms of style and flexibility. We considered a variety of shapes and styles, but didn’t quite get the right colour or the right style, until Gene discovered an awesome Victorian-style pendant in a corner (called, coincidentally enough, a Mini Victorian Pendant). These will hang either side of the range hood over the island, providing task lighting while cooking.

For the kitchen – a nice, classy Victorian pendant

For the bathroom, we wanted something simple in a sconce, that would again provide a traditional feel that would accent the marble tile and chrome taps that we had already selected. While we looked at some more ornate sconces, including some in an antique finish, and others with much busier designs. We finally selected a plain, simple sconce in a chrome-like nickel finish that match wonderfully with the options we have already picked up.

For the bathroom – a simple, clean, bright sconce

My den was more of a challenge. My design spec, in all humorousness, was ‘dangly but manly’ (take that as you will). I wanted something chandelier-like and with some substance, but that wasn’t frou-frou. Urban Lights definitely had some options, including some Restoration Hardware-ish lights that wouldn’t look out of place in the lair of a super hero who spent way too much time watching Home & Garden TV. Truth be told, however, these were a little too imposing for what I was hoping to find.

Designed to appeal to those with a taste for the industrial steampunk look…

What I did find, though, was a beautiful hanging light in a bronze finish. It has beautiful, old-looking dimpled glass and a nice clean finish that, paired with an Edison bulb, looks spectacular. And not too out of place with the plans for the rest of the den.

The ultimate choice – manly and dangly, but respectable

One store later, and we have kitchen pendants, bath sconces and a manly-but-dangly light for the den. What still remains is the chandelier for the dining room. Nothing really stood out for us today, but we were dealing with a smaller collection, we haven’t really developed a clear picture of what we want, and we have time on our side. So that will be a project for a different day.

In two days, though, we have picked the majority of the pieces that we need – granite for the kitchen, flooring and tile throughout, lighting for most of the rooms and plumbing for all of the rooms. What remains is granite for the bathroom, an appropriately funky vanity and a chandelier for the dining room. Which simply means we have to go shopping again.

We Were Floored (Tiled, Too…)

Having decided on the granite for the kitchen this morning, this afternoon it was about flooring and tiles. After a lovely lunch at the Katana Kafe (not responsible for the naming, but it is a wholly funky little restaurant right on the edge of London airport; the window looks out on the apron and both runways) we headed to Woodstock.

In our last house, we had tile in the kitchen (and therefore also the dining room, hallway and back entrance, it being all open concept). While easy to clean and durable, it is awfully hard and unforgiving (on wine glasses, as well as on feet). This time around, Dianne was proposing hardwood in the kitchen. While that might sound at first blush unusual (I know I did a double take), apparently it is more and more common to see hardwood throughout the house, including the kitchen. It is warmer, more forgiving and for the most part just as easy to maintain.

In Boo Manor, we already have a great deal of hardwood. In fact, at last count, we have at least five different shades and styles of wood, and that’s just on the main floor. The dining room alone has wood of three different colours – from red to brown – and the great room and new addition has clear maple throughout. So part of the challenge was finding yet another wood floor colour and style that would be appropriate, not clash and tie together maple at one end of the kitchen with century-old oak at the other. How hard can that be?

We found our floor just lying underfoot. Literally.

As it turned out, it wasn’t hard at all. In fact, the answer was lying under our feet the minute we walked into the flooring store. And I mean that quite literally. There was a sampling of an engineered hardwood that was absolutely perfect – wide slabs, oak and hand-scraped for a natural, old-wood feel. The boards are beautiful, showing up grain and knots, with undulations where they have been ‘shaped’. But, because they are engineered, they are virtually impermeable to scratches, moisture and damage – which is pretty much exactly what you want in a kitchen. Or in a basement, for that matter. Because we liked the wood so much, we’re using it there too. So five minutes in, we’ve selected the majority of our flooring. Like I said, keep up.

Of course, there is still tiling for the kitchen and flooring for the guest bathroom, which we are also tackling during this project. For the kitchen, we wanted something that would be traditional, clean and appropriate to an 1800s farmhouse kitchen. What we found, relatively quickly, was a really nice subway tile that had some beautiful accent tiles – a plain pencil tile, as well as a more ornate pencil tile. While originally drawn to the white version, holding the tile up to the sample of Bora Bora that we had said that the grey tiles were the way to go – the detailing on the ornate pencil tile matches the green of the Bora Bora granite perfectly, and the grey is a nice, clean accent.

Tiles for the kitchen. A simple subway tile, and a lovely accent.

From there, it was a quick move to paint colours, along with a change to cabinet colours. One of the nice things about custom cabinets is that you can order them in quite literally any colour you want. And so we are going with a light grey-green upper, and a slightly darker grey-green on the lower cabinets and on the island, that perfectly pick up the colour of the granite and the tile backsplash. This means that, a half-day in, we’ve pretty much got a kitchen design. Pretty good work, if you ask me.

Take one Bora Bora granite sample. Add Benjamin Moore swatch book. Mix liberally.

That led us to the bathroom. This led us to our first realization – which is that we never quite got around to picking a granite for the guest bathroom. We were so focussed on the kitchen that the idea of choosing stone for the bathroom slipped our collective minds. Not to be deterred, we decided to start with tiles and see where we went from there. Again, we were looking for something traditional and classic. Gene found a gorgeous hexagonal marble tile, that also had a matching subway tile and pencil and chair rail features. While we had originally considered it as an option for the kitchen, it quickly became our go-to choice for the bathroom.

Tile for the guest bathroom. Traditional hexagon floor, and awesome wainscotting options!

The design should be beautifully classic. The hexagonal tile will be the floor. We are also going to do tile wainscotting up the wall – the pencil tile will be at counter height, with subway tile below that. Above the pencil tile will be one more row of subway tile for a backsplash, topped by the chair rail. Beautifully traditional and European; inspired by some of the bathrooms that Dianne and I have adored while staying in Paris. Now we need to find a nice, clean piece of marble or granite to go with it – which will mean another visit to Alberto once he finds us our Bora Bora.

All in all, a good day. We found our granite for the kitchen, chose our flooring for most of the renovation, and found tile for the kitchen and bathroom. We returned to Boo Manor to check out our samples up close and in person, and by five-o-clock were dropping Gene off at his house. And joining him and Jenni for a welcome glass of wine or two to celebrate a day of decisiveness – while anticipating our choices for the next day.