RSS Feed

It’s a small, small, smaller world

About a month ago, you might have seen a line-up of people waiting impatiently for an office to open in a local suburb.  No, not to snatch the Apple watch.  Not to put their names down for the Google self-driving car.  This crowd of near-rabid buyers was after their own piece of Metro area real estate — a condo in the new Evolve development– for less than $100,000.  This post is not going to be about how to get that space, it was gone within minutes of the doors opening to the sales office.

No, we’re going to talk about how a studio apartment can be big enough for one, or even two. Yes!  You can do it. Don’t listen to the people on TV who roll their eyes as they spout nonsense about how NO ONE should have to live in these eensy spaces.  For one thing, they’ve obviously never done it or they’d know it can be done — easily.  And also they are probably making a lot of money because, hey, they are TV stars, so can afford to live any way they want.

For those of us who choose to live in an exciting, busy, space-challenged city a small space is just what we need.  And want.

Now I could get into how you can design and build a super-duper space within the confines of a studio — and I will — but right now let’s look at this super-sweet 400 square foot space from Apartment Therapy to see how one woman manages to get the most out of every square inch without lifting a hammer or wielding a T-square. And, if it’s a rental, she can move out without leaving a mark to show she was there — a little patch and paint and she’s set to go.

Kay Rozynski is already lucky, because although her New York City apartment is only 400 square feet it is open and bright.  The living (i.e. non-bathroom) area is basically a large box with a very sunny balcony. Kay says she didn’t want to erect dividers because she wanted to maintain that airy flow.

StudioMay1

 

And the sun just pours in!  Kay has taken advantage of this brightness by keeping her walls a warm taupe — neutral but not boring.  Plus she has lots of reflective surfaces, mirrors, windows, stainless steel appliances, the white wardrobe, even the TV screen.  Everything bounces that lovely light around.

StudioMay2

And her major furnishings are all the same tone — a mid-range of greys and browns.  Nothing to make the eye stop as you scan the area.  Once again, a neutral backdrop to the accessories.

When Kay introduces colour, she keeps it to a couple of shades — yellow and orange, in the kitchen, blue/green by the bed, with the throw at the end of the bed matching the chair in the dining area and the one pillow on the sofa.  That watery aqua colour is repeated in a cushion and the throw on the sofa.  Your eye goes naturally from the aqua cushion on the sofa to the ones on the bed then up to the Moby Dick poster on the wall — also in ocean blue.  Very natural and soothing.

Kay has used area rugs in the same greys and taupes to separate the “bedroom” part of the suite from the “living room”

 

StudioMay3

 

In the Lilliputian kitchen area, Kay has painted one wall with chalkboard paint.  This gives her something to write on, of course, but it also visibly moves the wall back.  And check out those accessories — once again she keeps to ocean blue and yellow.

 

StudioMay4

To add a little rustic touch Kay has hung a yoke on the bulkhead that separates the kitchen from the rest of the living area, but once again it’s tonally in harmony with the cupboard and the butcher block counter, so it’s not jarring at all.  And it’s a clever contrast to the Eames chairs at her table.

StudioMay5

What are the lessons this little home has taught us?

  1. If you’ve got light, keep your windows as bare as possible so that it can flood in.
  2. Co-ordinate your colours so that the eye travels in a natural way from one part of the space to another.
  3. Unframed, graphically simple artwork can introduce the accessory colours without visual clutter
  4. Simple white lamp shades disappear into the wall — once again, no visual clutter
  5. You can use a lot of white in different textures to keep it light without bringing in the boring.

Check out the original post in Apartment Therapy.  What other features do you see in Kay’s apartment that you could borrow for yours?

A laneway neighbourhood?

Our Vancouver neighbourhood is in transition.  I may venture to say that ALL Vancouver neighbourhoods are in transition.  That is because the land beneath these 50, 60, 70-year old homes is worth more than the homes themselves.  So a developer can buy an old house for $700K, tear it down (and if you got it at that bargain price, the house must be in tear-down condition), and put up a monster home for less than $250 – $350K.  Then sell it for $1.299 million.

For instance this house:

oldnew

 

is currently available at that price.  Check it out. Of course it has two suites for rental, so we’re attaining some kind of density.  But the house to the side indicates the size of house it replaced in its East Van neighbourhood, quite a difference.

Right now the house in our neck of the woods that we affectionately dubbed “the crack house” is currently undergoing such a transformation.  Workers swarm over it every day (even Easter Sunday) as the new structure rises before our eyes.  But what interests us is the large foundation they just poured on the lane.  It could turn out to be for a garage, which would add another $50K to the value of the finished house.  Or it could very well be for a laneway home, which would add another $350K.  I’m thinking it will be a laneway.

And it will be just one of many in our area.  Most are going up behind new builds, such as the one pictured above.  But many are being tucked behind existing homes.

We’ve just got the news that our neighbours are being evicted from their rental basement suite after the sale of the house.  For a few heart-stopping moments we worried that the new owners were going to tear down the mid-century building, but it turns out they are planning a house-wide reno on the two suites therein, and hope to build a laneway on the property.  I remember chatting with the former home owners while our laneway was being built, and they were quite interested.  But one thing definitely will stand in their way.  The house has a HUGE deck off the back.  Much larger than would be allowed if it had been built with a permit.  To build the laneway and still keep the needed 16 foot distance between the two homes, the deck must come down.  That might be a step they are willing to take.  If the reno is done with permits the deck may have to come down anyway.

Whatever may come, laneway homes are no longer a novelty in this neighbourhood, or anywhere in this city.  They are a viable partial solution to the shortage that is driving up the price of housing here and elsewhere.  Laneway homes are popular in Toronto, and have recently been allowed in Saskatoon and may soon hit Regina.

Could this be the Canadian way to achieve greater density?

Being part of the team — simple rules to success.

Now that you’ve found your designer and builder, and signed your contract (or at least looked it over and started negotiations), I guess you can just disappear like those HGTV families and come back when it’s all done! (Cue the OMGs!)

No.  That’s not how this is going to play out.

It gets worse before it gets better

It gets worse before it gets better

I’ve heard where people handed the keys to their decorator or builder and walked away (or stayed in a completely different city) while they worked their magic, but these people are either 1) very easy to please, or b) insane.

You have some obligations to the builder and to yourself to be around during the build.  And more.

1.) Be easy to reach.  Whether it’s asbestos in the heating, collapsing plumbing, knob and tube wiring, or a host of other surprises that won’t pop up until the walls come down, your builder will need to get hold of you.  Make sure you are accessible by cell phone or email so problems can be solved in a timely manner. What if you really are in another town?  Skype, email or phone.  And be prepared for a sizeable long distance bill.

2.) Make up your mind.  Don’t take weeks to pore over samples until you’ve made every decision.  Pick out the cupboards, plumbing features, flooring, lighting fixtures, moulding, door handles — and all the thousands of little decisions that you’ll have to make — early in the game.  These choices have to be made quite early on to make sure there are no hang-ups during the build.

3.) Be flexible.  It doesn’t matter how well you plot and plan, some things just won’t work out.  In our case it was bedside lamps we had to switch out partway through the build.  But it could be almost anything, countertop material that’s no longer available.  Flooring in exactly the right colour.  Then your builder will need to get hold of you quickly (see 1.) above) and get an alternate. But

4. Don’t change your mind.  Some things can be returned to the store.  But not walls.  Once you’ve signed off on the plans everything flows from that, the schedule, the budget, the workers themselves.  Changing your mind during the build can cause terrible delays; yes, it’s just a day or two of work, but that could mean the sub-trades are already on their next job and can only get back in their spare hours.  Those decisions should be made during the design stage.

4.) Get out of their way.  You may not have to actually leave the building — although for big renos that’s a darn good idea — but you should pack up your stuff and make sure all your shelves are cleared and your pictures and mirrors removed from the walls. Demo and rebuild can be rather seismic, you don’t want stuff crashing to the floor.  Your builder will put up plastic sheets where he/she can, to keep the mess contained, but it’s also a good idea to cover your furniture with dust sheets.

5.) Pay your bills on time.  You knew that.

6.) Leave a contingency fund.  There will be surprises — and not all of them good.  That contingency fund will come in very handy — and if you don’t spend it (although you will) you can take a nice vacation when all the hurly burly is done.

 

Get the most out of your designer — a four-step plan

designer

Step one:  Admit you need a designer.  

You may think you know exactly what kind of room/reno/addition you want.  And hey!  You can get some software for your computer to help you put together some plans.  So what do you need a designer for?  Well, do you know what size windows you can put in the room (housing by-laws have a window-to-wall ratio you must follow).  Or if you need an engineer to sign off on the removal of that load-bearing wall?  A designer knows.  Plus he/she can bring lots of great new ideas to the project that you would never think of.  So enter into your relationship with this person/team knowing that you’re doing the best thing for your future — and paying up front for a good design can save you many bucks later on.

Step two: communicate, communicate, communicate

Show the designers pictures of what you like to let them know your style and what kind of design you want.  Ask questions — don’t be afraid to question everything at any step of the way.  And let them know what you want in the big picture — not just what kind of dining room, but what you want to do with it, how often you entertain, how you envision the entire family gathered in the den.

Step three: money, honey

Let the designer know your budget at the beginning of the process.  Though you may have champagne tastes and a beer budget they may be able to provide you with some Chablis-grade alternatives.  And your designer will let you know if you can complete your entire renovation now or whether you’ll need to finish it over several stages — plus they can make sure that you’re not taking one step forward and two steps back when it comes time to continue to the next stage.

And remember to keep back at least 10% of your budget for contingencies.  I have honestly never heard of anyone who did not need that money before the project was over — no matter how precise their budget and plans were at the outset.

Step four: communicate some more

With each stage of the design process you will be defining exactly what you want and need.  Changes to the plans will cost much less than a change order at the building stage.  Plus!  Love the look of marble in your bathroom?  Knowing that at the design stage means you can look around for exactly what you want, find the best prices, and order it early in the build stage.  Knowing well in advance what kind of plumbing fixtures you want, choosing the right tile for your backsplash, having a firm idea of the flooring you want will all pay dividends during the build.

Another reason to hire a designer — you can relax, knowing that your project will be wonderful!

What to expect when you deal with a contractor

Congratulations!  You’ve found your contractor!  You are on your way to a better home!

Not exactly as shown

Not exactly as shown

What can you expect from your contractor? And what can they expect from you?

Contract.  A contract guarantees both parties know what is expected of them.  You get the assurance that the job will start on a certain date and will be finished by a certain date for an agreed-upon price.  There are several types of contracts, fixed-price, lump sum, time and materials, etc., plus various combinations of them.  Here’s an explanation of the different types and their advantages and disadvantages.  Depending on the size and complexity of your project, the contract can be very complicated or quite simple.  The important thing is that you HAVE a contract.  You should both know exactly what is being built and what is expected.  Read it, go over it line by line with your contractor, so you know exactly what you are getting.

The contract will also show that your builder has insurance, and will lay out the liability limits.

Permit.  If a contractor tells you they can do a job without a permit, think hard about hiring them.  If there will be any changes to the outline of the house (a deck, for instance), if there will be any changes to interior walls, plumbing, lighting,  make sure your contractor is doing drawings and pulling permits.  Yes, it costs you money.  Yes, it can be frustrating when the project is held up waiting for an inspector.  But permits are a guarantee that someone is watching your project.  Benevolently.  From above.

Deposit.  It’s customary to give your contractor 40% of the project fee up front. Then, when you receive the invoices for the work done (the scheduling of the invoices should be laid out in the contract), the invoice will indicate that 40% of the costs have been paid.  So if you get an invoice for $100, you will pay $60 of that, the remainder having been paid by the deposit.

Holdbacks.  These sound simple but are complicated. If your project costs more than $100,000 it’s mandatory for you to have a holdback account, where 10% of each payment you make to the builder is put aside in an account and held there until 55 days after the contract’s end.  This is to protect you — you can hold back that money if the job isn’t done to your specifications (thus “holdback” account).  It also protects the sub-contractors and suppliers because they can apply for some of that holdback money if the General Contractor didn’t pay them. It’s up to you and your contractor to include this in the contract, so talk it over with them.

Schedule.  Your contractor should indicate what job is done when.  The schedule has to have some flexibility built in, because there will be external forces at work to screw it up, whether it’s a storm that holds up deliveries or one of the aforementioned inspectors who’s sick that week.  But you should have a good estimate of who is supposed to show up when, and as the project nears completion you should be given a firm date.

Meetings.  The contract should set a schedule for meeting with the builder/contractor.  You should get together at the project once every two weeks to go over what’s been done and review any problems that have come up.

Good communication.  You should be able to reach your contractor between meetings to ask any questions you may have.  And they should be able to reach you! Problems may arise that have to have a quick answer.

 

 

Strategies for Coping with a Renovation

DD here again. We’ve been away from home for a few nights and the project at the “Big House” is underway.

For some reason, I underestimated just how stressful a renovation of this size is. Perhaps because we were able to stay in our home for the first phase, I’ve been caught off guard. So here are my top 5 coping strategies for surviving a renovation. Handy for me, too, seeing as we’ve got a few weeks to go yet:

1. Do not underestimate how stressful a renovation is!

Did I mention I’m a bit caught off guard by these feelings?

This dark photo (taken by a laneway dweller) is a hole where my kitchen was. Unexpected sadface took place when I opened it.

This dark photo (taken by a laneway dweller) is a hole where my kitchen was. Unexpected sadface took place when I saw it.

Because our reno was initially discussed for a March start, and we found ourselves with a January start, it was a bit of a whirlwind getting ready. Even without the accelerated pace, any family planning a significant reno will likely have to:

  • Find a new place to stay (we’ve squeezed into my in-laws’ condo in the suburbs), even if it’s just another portion of your existing home
  • Pack up the house, but with a fun twist (disclaimer: NOT FUN) … organizing what will be discarded, what will be stored and left unused, and what will come with you
  • Reschedule family events to sync up with the new location/being away – or plan for being without utilities (cloth diapering? yeah, let’s put that on hold)
  • Purchase items or pick out items for reno (fun at first, but it can wear you out)
  • Meet with the contractor and make big decisions about the future of your home quickly

I wasn’t prepared for how incredibly stressful this process would be. Over the holidays. With two small kids (4.5 years old and 4 months old). Thankfully, my mom lives in my backyard! Still, yowza.

2. Explain everything to the kids. Then explain again.

I have a charge ahead, think things through later approach, which means I often forget about the impacts of major life changes on the rest of the family. Don’t worry, they remind me!

My daughter misses home, and is acting out, with meltdowns a couple of times a day. And just today she turned to me and said “I miss our REAL house. Our yellow house. When can we go back to the yellow house?”

Knowing what I do now, I’d advise other parents to do a better job than we did of explaining the whole process to the kids. Try and share plans and show them materials. Show them pictures that depict what the after should look like.

Do not let your children see the house packed up, or the demo. This is something we did right, and thankfully there were no tears upon departure. We’ve also kept our daughter signed up at her daycare part-time, both to preserve the spot for when we get home, and to keep some consistency in her routine (despite the 1 hour commute, I’d say it’s worth it).

3. Dwell on the deficiencies.

Five days out of my house and I’m looking wistfully at pictures my old kitchen. So cute! So charming! So much like home. I’m … well, I’m homesick. I guess my daughter’s not the only one.

I’ve found that one of the best ways to combat this homesickness, and fear of change, is to dwell on what wasn’t working in the house before we left.

To help with this, I made a video of all the house’s shortcomings. You can view it here.

Smashy smashy! I used to make my coffee here. Now it's a giant hole. My primal brain is reeling.

Smashy smashy! I used to make my coffee here. Now it’s a giant hole. My primal brain is reeling.

And brace yourself! If you’re not home to see the demo, and your contractor (or family member) sends you photos, it can be a blow. It’s your home. There are holes smashed in it. Again, all for the best. But these things can really pack a punch.

4. Ignore the helpful comments/questions from family and friends. Instead, put them to work!

I will preface this by saying that my friends and family are AMAZING. Amazing. But even the best of intentions can lead to comments like:

  • Are you sure you want to sink all of that money into your house?
  • Why don’t you just fix the living room while you’re at it?
  • Why aren’t you taking out this wall?
  • Why aren’t you kicking the kitchen back? Just adding two feet would give you so much more space!
  • Huh, a checkerboard floor. I don’t think that’s going to age well. Why not just white?
  • Cool. A checkerboard floor. But why not just brown?

I had to quickly learn not to take these comments to heart and start second-guessing our plans.

On the other hand, my family has been incredibly helpful. My visiting aunt and uncle helped us throw a bunch of items into our attic and shift boxes around. And did I mention my mom lives in my backyard? When time was tight and we had to be packed and out, she watched both kids so we could get it done.

5. Treat yourself.

Whatever it is you need to do to look after yourself, do it. Reno time generally means time to tighten the purse strings. But don’t underestimate the power of a treat, a yoga class, a dinner out. Be kind to yourself – this is a major, major life event. If you’ve relocated somewhat far from home (as is our case), take the time to check out the local community centre, and ask around about great restaurants, bookstores, galleries … whatever might brighten your mood.

Next time I sign in, we’ll be well underway. For now, I’m going to dip into the Christmas chocolate.

Finding the help you need — contractor and designer

Congratulations!  You’ve decided that you will hire the help you need to renovate your living space.  Now you just have to find them.

build

This will probably take a few weeks (or even longer) so in the meantime be sure to browse the internet and save images of what you’ll want and need in your new space. A picture is worth a thousand words, particularly when those words are cornice, mansard, and French cleat.

In a small community you will only have the option of two or three companies.  But in a larger city…..

Don’t worry about whittling the list down just yet, just get lots of names.  Ask all your friends who have undergone renovations who their contractors are, and if they would hire them again (this helps you eliminate some of the bad eggs right away).  Go online and Google designers, builders, and design/build companies. Check out their websites — just because it’s not a snazzy site doesn’t mean they are not good contractors, but you can get a feeling about their work from what they have up at the site.

What if they don’t have a website?  Well, they are either very old-school and rely on word-of-mouth, or they are brand new to the business. Do you want to work with either of these types?

Go to the Houzz site (which you are probably visiting for reno ideas).  They can help you find local contractors/designers. 

Go to the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association website.  Check out the Trusted Pros website for more names.

When you have a good list, run the candidates’ names through the Better Business Bureau website.  Again, not necessarily a deal-breaker, but membership is another sign the business is on a long-term professional basis.

Now comes the hard part.  Start phoning and emailing.  I recommend phoning over emailing.  If you can’t get an answer or a reply to your message how will you communicate during the build?

What vibes did you get about the company during the call?  Do they seem professional?  Are they short with you, or even rude?  Remember, you will be dealing with these folks for a long time — pleasant is what you are going for.  If they are a builder, can they recommend a designer?  If a designer, vice versa?  How soon can they begin to work on your project (no kidding, some of these people are tied up years in advance)?  Are they licensed?  Insured?  Ask for several references, preferrably some recent and some long-term.

This is where your list will be whittled down.

Make appointments with the two or three you really like.  If these are eliminated you can always go back to your list.  Do they arrive on time for your meeting?  Are they keen to do the work?  Are you comfortable with them?  Do you feel they are really LISTENING to you? Talk to them about the project.

Be sure and check the references.  Did the client like working with the contractor?  How did they handle problems that came up?  Were they easy to reach? Did they keep to the budget and the timeline?  Would they hire them again?

Look, really look at the bid when it arrives.  Does it cover the entire scope of the job?  They should also have some rough plans to show you — and give extra points if they have some ways to save you money, or how to improve the plans with a few of their own ideas.

We needed design services when we built our laneway home — more than what a contractor could provide.  So we went with a design/build company – Novell.  It worked out really well for us, and I think it’s a good idea for most people.

When the designer and the contractor have worked together before they know how each other work. And most importantly, if they have any differences YOU will not be caught in the middle.

And when the bids finally start coming in,  as this story from Apartment Therapy reminds us, remember: fast, cheap, good.  Pick two.  A good contractor can deliver fast and good, but at a premium.  Or affordable and good, but not on a tight schedule.  And no good contractor will promise fast and cheap — because you can’t get a quality job with those constraints.

My Pain, My Life, My Struggles, My Fight

Come walk with me, Down My Dark & Stormy Journey BUSINESS INQUIRIES & CONTACT EMAIL : GODSCHILD4048@GMAIL.COM

annotated audrey art

Art gives me energy. Coffee is for the moments in between creations.

Im ashamed to die until i have won some victory for humanity.(Horace Mann)

Domenic/havau22.com / IF YOU CAN'T BE THE POET, BE THE POEM (David Carradine) LIFE IS NOT A REHERSAL,SO LIVE IT.

kelzbelzphotography

My journey - The good, bad and the ugly

MannyRutinel.com | Educational Blog

An interesting educational blog which tackles the truth in Veganism, Politics, Ethics, general News, and more.

wegotperks

Company Perks and Resources

The Lady Who Lives Down the Lane

Lane Way Housing for the Nervous Novice

Apartment Therapy | Saving the world, one room at a time

Lane Way Housing for the Nervous Novice

House Hopes

Writing about real estate as it is and could be

The Tiny Farm

my journey towards sustainable living in the city

Slightly Snug House

building a home that's not too big and not too small

Vancouverandy

Funny thoughts from a nut like me.

My Cozy Ranch Home

Loving our Life!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 339 other followers

%d bloggers like this: