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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Restore faith in humanity

We’ve signed the Part 2 of our agreement with the builder, so they are going ahead with the detailed plans for the laneway house.  The people up the hill in the big house got some (sort of) bad news, their current budget will not allow them to completely finish all the plans they have — they are going to have to cut up the remodel into smaller projects.  Right now they are looking at gutting the basement and completely building the studio suite, roughing in the rest of the basement to finish later.  When the laneway house is in place, of course, their property will be worth a lot more, and they could borrow enough to take on some of those other tasks.  They just don’t want to get in over their heads financially now by taking out a larger loan.

I am tidying up our shelves, so I put away some of the family photos until we are in our new home.  We’ll have to stage the condo to sell it — clearing out our personal belongings so potential buyers can more easily see themselves in the place.  We don’t want people thinking that they’re in OUR place, we want them to be able to see their things here.

We’re also replacing the builder-grade vanity bar lights in the bathrooms with new fixtures.  After we’d painted the bathrooms, DD suggested we swap out the ubiquitous bars with something more stylish.  We checked out the big box stores, but they were quite pricey and we want to do this as thiftily as possible.  We also looked at Craigs List, but most of the stuff there were fixtures people had pulled out of their bathrooms — the same ones we were replacing.  We wanted something nicer — but we know that one of the first places people make changes is in their bathrooms — why spend the money on something they are just going to tear out?

Then I remembered Restore, the retail outlet for the items Habitat for Humanity have donated.  It’s not just used stuff — although there are lots of used doors, shelves, and fixtures.  It’s obvious that sometimes builders get too much tile or flooring for a project, so the remainder goes to Restore.  We nipped up a couple of Sundays ago.  There were lots of friendly people to help, and within a few minutes we had found our lights.  Still in the box, they are easy to install and look great.

Looking at laneways

Yesterday we joined the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s Laneway House Tour to get the inside look at seven new laneway homes around Vancouver.  Luckily, our designer, Laurel, was able to join us and even drove us around in her nice car (thanks, Laurel!).  There were homes by Smallworks, Lanefab, LaneCraft, and Urban Lane Homes.

It would not be fair to compare homes to homes, because some were built on large lots and could use more square footage, some were obviously built to rent, and most didn’t have furniture so it was very hard for me to tell how places would look when they had people’s “things” in them. It was good to see what different builders and designers did with their homes, given the very strict rules about building LWHs.  Of course we had favourites, due to the features that we could appreciate.

Stuff I liked:

  • Several homes had low kitchen windows between the upper cabinets and the counter. You get to keep your window and your storage, too.
  • paperstone, a product using recycled paper (although I would like a light coloured counter at this stage, and they seem to look best in dark colours)
  • lighter kitchen cabinets up top, darker ones below
  • smaller appliances
  • staircases open to the top level gable, and a spot that overlooked the lower level
  • high ceilings
  • bathrooms with drawers instead of cabinets below the sinks.  A couple of places used IKEA Godmorgon cabinets and they looked very good
  • small square floor tiles in the bathroom — about 2 inches square in a dark grey colour
  • bathroom mirror lights set into the mirror
  • Parallam beams left out in full view — the only thing I took away from one of the houses we looked at
  • blinds that pull up from the bottom of the window, rather than from the top.  I can see us using them in the upstairs windows, letting in light from above while blocking the view into the room from outside.
  • tankless water systems and radiant heat — no more registers and baseboard heaters
  • slab doors, interior and exterior
  • Smart Garage Doors — I had wondered about how we were going to install a garage door without using one of those systems that take up half the garage ceiling — but these roll into a nice tight tube right inside the door.  Not one of the garages was used to park cars in, by the way.  Everyone is using them for extra living space, and had TV feeds and telephone jacks already installed.

Stuff I’m not crazy about:

  • polished concrete floors — I know they are nice looking and they are hip and stuff, but I just don’t like them.  I think they look cold and they remind me of unfinished basements and parking garage floors.
  • light coloured floors — nothing like having a few hundred people schlepping through your place (without their shoes on) to show how hard they would be to keep clean
  • apron sinks — ugh, just don’t get it.  Also those glass-topped stove tops.
  • Huge triangle-shaped cathedral windows in the bedroom.  Your neighbours are going to get very familiar with your habits, as there is no way to adequately cover those windows with drapes, blinds, or even taped-up newspapers (seriously, you will be awake at 4 every morning in summer)
  • hot tub in the living room.  Don’t ask.

A couple of things surprised me:

  • We were at the first home on the tour a few minutes past 1 pm, and just managed to scoot into the last house a couple of minutes past 5.  Keep up the pace or you won’t get to see all the houses
  •  Except for a couple of examples, the new homes didn’t fit in well with the existing homes.  They stood out like a cuckoo in a sparrow’s nest, or a gardenia in a bouquet of daisies.  It wouldn’t take much to paint the new places the same colour as the old, or to incorporate some of the same finishes on both structures
  • Most of the kitchens were very small — like a total of maybe 25 square feet of area (not a surprise).  Almost everyone had nice counters, but a couple of places used cheaper cupboards.  You’re going to open and shut that drawer 10 times a day for years — why not get the better product?
  • It’s plain that some kitchens were built for looks and not for use.  Cupboards placed on their side look great, but you’ll have to hold the door with one hand while taking stuff out with another.  A microwave behind a drop-down door?  So you open the door and then open the microwave?  And you have to do this every time?  And the microwave wasn’t facing the rest of the room, it was on the side of the island facing the other counter, no one would really see it
  • not one of these homes had the main bedroom on the main floor, like we are planning.  That meant that the light just poured into the bedrooms, but a couple of main floors were kind of dark
  • And the one thing that surprised me the most?  DH and I cannot agree on what colour is yellow.  We want to paint the house yellow to match the main house.

Design frenzy

This weekend the designer, Laurel, came over to show us the concepts the team had come up with for the renos and the laneway house.  This is the preliminary preliminary part of the design process.

First they showed us all the plot lines, etc. of the current home. The property slopes quite a bit from the front to the back, and that gives them some chances to put the laneway house onto more than two levels.

Then they showed us three ideas for the basement reno.  The idea is to split the space into a legal suite and a family room/bedroom/bathroom/laundry room combo for the homeowners (DD and DSIL).  The first plan was a split with one third suite and two thirds family room etc — not quite right.  Then they showed a design for a half and half arrangement — too much suite and not enough family etc.  Then, just like that Goldilocks story, they showed one that was just right! The suite will be a studio, but the family room, etc, is lovely and spacious, with room for a nice bedroom.

Then they showed us a very clever way to split the back yard between two spaces, that could be combined just by opening a gate.  Very handy when one of the homes will have a dog and the other home will not. Or will have a different dog.

Then onto the laneway design.  The first design they showed us was the main floor — bedroom with closets, bath, laundry, etc.  Nice, but…..Then they showed us the design tweaked by moving the closets out of the bedroom and into a separate space with the washer.  Yes!  Love it.  Love the staircase.  Love the idea of French doors onto the yard half way up the staircase (using the slope in the yard to provide access at that level).  The top floor looked great, too.  Small galley kitchen with counter for eating.  Very small sitting room with good-sized deck.  Loved it.  Loved the roof lines, too.  Many levels of flat roof (living roofy-garden) with a gable open to the top floor over the stair case.  So light and airy!  They also had plans drawn up for a top floor with a gable roof — there would be more storage on top, but the design was ix-nayed by Cal, who just didn’t like it as well. I didn’t like it as well, but it was also cheaper.  When someone says cheaper, even if I know I don’t like it nearly as well, something deep in my wallet says to give it a chance. So it’s good  that I don’t have to consider that plan.  Too much choice makes a person insane.

Next Saturday we will go for the Lane Home Tour put on by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation.  DD had to bow out because she is attending a wedding, so we were able to offer her ticket to Laurel.  Looking forward to seeing what other people are doing with their homes.

Getting the apartment ready to sell

Well, we’re not ready by a long shot.  We keep throwing stuff out and giving it away and it just seems to quadruple in volume overnight.

A couple of weekends were all it took to get both bathrooms painted in an almond colour.  It brightened up the main bathroom, but made an astounding difference in the second bath which had been rag painted in a bright orange.  Next we will look for some nice second-hand lighting fixtures.  One of the problems we have found when trying to replace a builder-standard light-bar fixture is that all the second-hand bathroom lights look exactly like what we are trying to get rid of.  We will go out to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore this weekend to see what they have.

To go into the main bath, I made up a little picture.

I‘ve been quite taken with those subway signs like those Restoration Hardware sells, and thought it would be nice to remind people who view our little home how close we are to the Canada Line. It took me about an hour to make it up and I found a nice little frame at Michael’s to put it in and show it off.

In other news, DD looked out her kitchen window last week to find some men standing around surveying.  She asked them what they were looking for, and they said they were just seeing where the sewer line was.  For the laneway house.  So if the City of Vancouver knows it’s true, it must be true.

Meeting with the gang from the builders/designers this Friday.  Should be interesting. The designer emailed us today asking how tall we were.


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