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Cute and little house in the woods.

Trying to fit as much living space — and style — into 500 square feet can be a real challenge.  You can see how that challenge is being met on the Vancouver Heritage Foundation Laneway House Tour on Saturday, October 19.  Get your tickets now for a great afternoon of discovering all the ways designers meet the constraints of building a home in a tightly restricted size limitation.  Our place and one other are the smallest homes at 500 square feet.  Some of the others go up to nearly 1000.  But in every one you will find lots of great decorating and renovating ideas.

Be listening to the Home Discovery Show Sunday morning, October 13, for a chance to win tickets to the tour!

Far away from Vancouver’s urban densification, homeowners outside of Golden, Colarado found themselves with a similar dilemna.  They wanted to build a studio/guest house close to their main dwelling, up in the Rocky Mountains.  But they were restricted by building codes to build in the footprint of a recently-demolished shack — to just 500 square feet.  And they wanted the new structure to fit in with the rustic style of their existing residence.

As this story in Houzz shows, the answer was a delightful little “Hobbit House” seemingly growing out of the granite of the hills.

Rustic Exterior by Golden Architects & DesignersTKP Architects pc

From the quaint rounded front door to the slate roof, every detail was carefully planned and executed.  Guests can make themselves at home in a loft bed

Rustic Bedroom by Golden Architects & Designers TKP Architects pc
Or a Murphy bed
Rustic Bedroom by Golden Architects & Designers TKP Architects pc
And the “kitchen” is actually a studio for the owner, a jewellery designer
Rustic Living Room by Golden Architects & Designers TKP Architects pc
There’s a modern bathroom that still fits the quaint esthetic (a custom concrete sink keeps the theme going).
Rustic Powder Room by Golden Architects & Designers TKP Architects pc
And the fireplace and open beams are a perfect way to incorporate “Hobbit” charm. The mullioned windows along one side are actually doors that slide open to the deck.
Rustic Living Room by Golden Architects & Designers TKP Architects pc
Once again we see that good design can overcome site difficulties.  Who wouldn’t want to make their way to this guest house after a day of hiking or skiing?
Rustic Exterior by Golden Architects & Designers TKP Architects pc

Liberty, Equality, Frugality

When you are paying a mortgage or monthly rental and trying to keep all the bills under control, you don’t think much about how to save money.  You just do.  You keep your Starbucks habit to once-a-week or less, use coupons, take your lunch every day and eschew the vending machines at work.  You don’t eat out unless it’s a VERY special occasion, and make your own pizzas rather than have delivery.

But what happens when we are in the new place — mortgage free?  We will actually have money LEFT OVER every month. And for people who just don’t spend money, we could blow this very easily, by starting spending habits we don’t need. Sure, I’ll buy those magazines!  I’ll pay for SOMEONE ELSE to colour my hair (if, say, it needed colouring)!  I’ll go shopping even when I don’t need something!


OK, that last one is a non-starter.  I dislike shopping (especially for shoes) and there will be no room for frivolities in our new closet.

But as part of our new, simpler lifestyle, keeping control of our spending is just a part of well, life.  And I could use some direction in being even more frugal.

Luckily, when the need is there….

I bought a book from a lady who spoke at a workshop I went to.  Very helpful.  And reassuring.  Do you know a shedload of people live beyond their means?  Not something to emulate, to be sure, but somehow comforting.

It’s a journey, so I’ll be working on it day by day.

With help from books, and websites like Wise Bread and LifeHacker, and some common sense.

Closest to the closet we want

One of the things you must talk about when hiring a builder is where the money is going to go.  And you should be putting your money where it makes the most sense — to you.

Take a look at your budget and see where you want to spend more — and where you will be more frugal.   Only you can decide how your budget will be allocated.  Of course, certain line items are going to cost what they cost — the foundation, walls, and roof for instance.  But you can have quite a say about what goes inside the foundation, walls, and roof.

We wanted a custom kitchen — and we got it.  It will be gorgeous (actually it already is gorgeous, the cabinets are nearly ready to be installed).   But in the bathroom and the clothes closet we are falling back on the standard — IKEA.

At the time we were first conferring with Laurel, our designer, about the design of the laneway house we weren’t sure what kind of clothes closet we wanted.  We had been spoiled by having a custom closet system installed in our condo, and we thought we might want the same in the laneway.  So Laurel gave us a space that would fit any closet system that fits into a 200 cm width.  And we left the item off the builder’s budget.

But after living in the rental for a while and sharing a closet, we realized that we could design our own clothing storage system ourselves, and why spend more?  Go with PAX by IKEA.

Surprisingly, pretty close to what we want

Surprisingly, pretty close to what we want except for the dress — not my style.

On an unscheduled trip out to IKEA last week (long, boring story) we saw that the PAX system was on sale for 15% off until the end of September.  So now we had a deadline.  And thanks to the Main House, we had a space to store the flat-pack boxes until the system could be installed.  So I pulled out the graph paper and we started to put together a closet that works for us.

Driving out to the IKEA on Saturday I had that tightening around the temples that means “I am not looking forward to this”.  I love IKEA and used to love strolling around and finding things that I didn’t know I wanted, and putting them into those handy big bags and then taking them home and putting them away never to be seen or used.  But this time we had to buy exactly what we needed.  We had to have it delivered.  And I was not looking forward to stalking the warehouse to find the right products and then wrangling them onto those airport luggage carts and manoeuvring through the check-out (I have terrible check-out karma) and then standing in line for the delivery desk.  It’s a big deal.

BUT when we got there and realized that part of our plan would have to be abandoned because we could see it wouldn’t work, I started to go into full anxiety-mode.

We wound our way to the bedroom section and DH found an angel of mercy in a yellow shirt, Nancy, who held my hand and walked us through the process.  First she drew up what we wanted on a computer that showed everything in a nice realistic rendering.  She printed off a list of everything we had asked for and entered the numbers into another computer that showed whether or not they had it in stock (spoiler alert! — they did) then spoke those magic words that made all the difference.  IKEA will not only deliver for a fee, but for another (perfectly reasonable) fee they will pull the items off the shelves for you.  I could feel the relief radiating off DH, who was sure he would drag the wrong box off the shelf and we would have it delivered and then we would have to take it back and then there would be a lot of hassle…..and no, that was not going to happen.  Nor would a grandmother-aged little old lady (me) have to lug huge boxes full of Hasvik doors onto those tiny carts.

That is how a trip to IKEA that we thought would take all afternoon left us enough time to go to IDSWest.

We still had a bother getting through the check-out (not IKEA’s fault — it’s my karma to get in the wrong line up and then have the cashier have to change the tape just when I get to the front) but….the items were all delivered the following afternoon.

We are looking forward to seeing our new closet in place.  And we are happy that we got it for the lowest price we could.  We have other places to put that money.

Would you like to OWN a laneway house?

Don’t you love going to home and garden design shows?  You walk into a large hall, someone hands you a reusable shopping bag, and you walk out with a lot of brochures and information on how to live beautifully.

Well, at this year’s IDSwest show, September 19 through 22 at Vancouver Convention Centre West, you could walk out with a lovely new laneway home.

It’s in support of Alzheimer’s research, and you, too, could own a snazzy, carefully designed laneway home.

And while you’re at the show, be sure to check out the living roof on the convention centre.

Do I really need that?

While we are waiting for the great strides that the laneway house will be making in the next few weeks, we are busy doing some decorating for the new place? Compensating? Maybe, but the tasks have to be done and we will do them.  Ordering lights.  Arranging for a headboard to be built.  Checking out the bed situation.

Plus this evening DH told me that he would like to go up to the storage space this weekend and see if we can winnow down the amount of, well, crap that we have there.  Even if we just organize a couple of boxes to be carted off to the Salvation Army we’ll be further ahead.

As if to emphasize the point, tonight I managed to break the coffee grinder.  Not the whole thing, just the lid.  Necessary to grind coffee as it contains the switch to turn the grinder off and on.  Do we have another grinder?  Of course!  Plus another lid.  But not here.  No, they are put away in the storage space.  If we are lucky we will run across them when we are rooting around the storage space this weekend.  If not, we will have to buy our coffee pre-ground, because we must have coffee.

At times like this, it’s good to review a few rules for thinning down our belongings.  Here, we see “10 Decluttering Principles to Help Anyone Clear the Clutter”.  Things to remember:

1. Stop the Flow of Stuff Coming In.

We’ve already started cutting back on the papers entering the home, switching to emailed bills that are stored online, and we refuse to buy anything new.  New books go straight onto the Kindle.  But that doesn’t include furnishings for the new place, we have boxes of lights piled about.  So there’s still a little work to be done there.

2. Declutter at Least One Item a Day.

OK, noble aspiration.  But it’s difficult to find one item per day.  I have managed to get rid of some decorating magazines by passing them along.  And I’ve been throwing out my shabbier socks.

Let’s skip ahead.

5. Decide to Not Keep Things out of Guilt or Obligation.

This is the tough one, isn’t it?  Especially since I’ve got so much of my parents’ things to dispose of.  What is an extra dish or glass, what is a relic?  Something to work on.

But it’s all summed up with the final suggestion:

10. Do Not Waste Your Life on Clutter.  Every item you own takes time out of your life: time to manage it, clean it, repair it, and maintain it; time to choose between objects of a similar category; time spent shopping for it… and that doesn’t even mention the time spent earning the money to pay for it in the first space. Decide to sacrifice less of your precious life on the pursuit and ownership of stuff.

That’s the goal.  to live life with the minimum of belongings to weigh us down and complicate our lives. Because you can get trapped by your extra stuff.

It not just clutters your life, it can cost you money.  We are paying for a storage space every month.  But some people pay a lot.  

In the basement of Tribeca’s newest luxury high rise, the storage wars are underway. 56 Leonard just sold a 200 square-foot storage unit for $300,000 — that’s $1,500 a square foot.

More than we are paying.  But why pay anything?  Better to just rid ourselves of the stuff we aren’t using.

Decorating a small space for the most impact

While we wait for the laneway to be completed, we are working hard to make sure we have all the decorative components ready to install when the time is right.

We are challenged by the small space, of course, but we know we can have a smart looking home — a jewel box of a house — with lots of special decorating touches.

This article at Apartment Therapy sums up the challenges and offers some rules to follow:

1. Don’t be afraid of drama.  We are counting on our lighting to add a real punch to our spaces.  Already on hand are the sputnik light for the bedroom.


I’ve always liked the idea of a chandelier hanging over the end of the bed — but we needed one that would fit in with our mid-century modern decor.

The kitchen will have a saucer lamp, another icon of mid-century modern.


and of course, there’s the nut lamp to hang over the garden door.


2. Use every nook and cranny. And

3. A place for everything and everything in its place.

This is a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.  A lot of people like open shelves in their kitchens, and I can see their charm.  But our kitchen is also our sitting room, so we are putting everything we can behind closed, walnut-clad doors.  Including our appliances that would ordinarily sit out in the open, which we are putting in an appliance garage.

Another handy rule:

6. Install wall-mounted shelves.

Our designer has planned for built-in shelves along the wall beside the staircase.  These will serve not only as the repository for books and family pictures, but also as a “landing strip” for our keys and the mail when we come in the door. We’ll put baskets or decorative boxes to hold them out of eyesight but close at hand.

7. Bring in as much natural light as possible.

Another no-brainer.  We are challenged in this regard by the slope of the lot that the home is built into — we have limited access for putting in windows.  It worked out for us as we want our “quiet, dark” bedroom downstairs.  Upstairs we put in windows wherever we could, a glass door out to the deck, and even a window between the upper cabinets and the counter.

8. Use multi-functional furniture.

Our bed will have storage underneath, and we are putting in drawers in our bottom stairs in the hall, so we get this message loud and clear.  We are also looking at how we can have storage put into an ottoman for our sitting room area.

Good ideas all, read the whole article for more great suggestions.  And stay tuned for more news on our decor!

Ladies and Gentlemen, the doors!

Every time I visit the laneway, I am struck by how it is looking more and more like a real house.  The framing is coming along nicely and the plumbing is continuing apace.  The big difference yesterday was the installation of the exterior doors.  And they look great.

20130802FrontDoorTopThe front door as viewed from the top of the stairs, with obscured glass because it will be facing the lane.

And the vice versa view:

20130802BackDoorInsideThose are beautiful, energy-efficient doors from our window maker Cascadia —  just slabs of glass held by a fibreglass frame. They have protective plastic film on them now so they are not showing their full beautiful sparkle.

Here’s the door that will lead from the sitting area to the deck:


The day was quite gloomy and cloudy.  Up to now we’ve only seen the interior in bright sunlight, so I was happy to see that there’s quite a lot of light coming in even on a dark day.

Out on the deck we now have access to what will be our mechanical “room”

20130802DeckAccessAnd we also had our first visitors:

20130802WindowGirlsThe ladies from the main house dropped in to see the changes.

A journey of a thousand miles

It was a long weekend here in Canada.  I’m off next week to do my duty to my late parents, so I wasn’t too worried about finding some time to relax.  DH was off to the Jazz Festival every evening (he emcees) so I knew I would be staying close to home.

Friday evening we discovered the pizza place we had spotted during a walk delivered exceptional taste (and a polite delivery guy).

Saturday we found the perfect light/mirror for our bathroom.

Sunday I had a pedicure.  Then I discovered that the light we had picked out for our bedside wall-mounted-desk-lamps would not be suitable for that purpose.  Back to the internets to search for just the right one.

Monday I helped with the painting of the basement suite in DD and DSIL’s home.  Then I cleared out a whole 1/2 a box from our storage space to leave for Big Brothers.

It is ridiculous how good that half-box of stuff removed from our lives made me feel.  It’s just some perfectly good linen and books, un-needed by us, that will perhaps be of use to someone else.  Decluttering a little bit every month will be a good habit to form for now…and for our future uncluttered life.

If you need more inspiration, here’s an article on 12 Ways a Deep Decluttering Can Improve Your Life from WiseBread.  Lots of good reasons why getting rid of your stuff is a great idea.  One caveat:  the article says if you donate goods to a charity you can get a tax deduction.  We checked out lots of charities when we were getting rid of some really nice furniture, and no one would give us a tax receipt for them.

What I’m loving about our new neighbourhood

We were incredibly lucky to be able to move into the neighbourhood where the laneway is being built.  Thank goodness for basement suites, as there are very, very few apartment buildings available around here.  The ones that we could find are subsidized housing, and those are nearly impossible to get into, especially for short-term rentals.


Our Town

But here we are and we are very happy with the area.  For one thing, transit is a breeze.  We are very close to the Skytrain, and will be even closer when we move to the laneway. We can get downtown, to our gym, to shopping in Burnaby, and to parks and recreation quickly and easily.  The Broadway corridor is right there, with the express buses running during rush hours to whisk me to and from work.  We use the car even less here than we did at our old residence.

Shopping is also great.  I miss my London Drugs right down the street, but there are plenty available a short  Skytrain ride away.  We have a Superstore within easy walking distance, as well as a small shopping centre with a Price Smart, a Pet Smart, Canadian Tire, Mark’s Work Wearhouse, and a Starbucks (*whew*).  There’s a WalMart right down the street, too.

On an exploratory walk around the neighbourhood last weekend, we found several small parks close by.  Plus a possible pizza place.  We also have walked over the Commercial Drive on the Central Valley Greenway, which DH has explored on his bike.

But all this was something we expected, because we thought quite a bit about the neighbourhood before we agreed to move here, checked out the Walk Score, etc. and so we knew what to expect…..or so we thought.

What were we not expecting?  Garbage collection.  I lived in a condo for about 30 years, the years of Garbage Collection Reformation.  In a condo, garbage was something you took out, put in the giant bin, and it magically disappeared. We had visited friends’ homes and seen coloured maps of Vancouver on the sides of their fridges, but we’d never really considered what they were for.  I don’t know if we suspected that all our friends had identical taste in fridge decor, but we just never thought about it.

But now we do!  Because my friend, you LIVE AND DIE by the date of your garbage collection.  Every two weeks that truck trundles down that lane and if you don’t have your garbage out where they can grab it, it’s like Santa, that truck is not going to come back until its appointed time.

Luckily every single week a truck comes by for recycling.  And if you don’t think that’s a motivation to recycle everything you possibly can, you have never tried to fit four week’s garbage into a two-week bin. Now there is something even newer than regular recycling, which is composting.  Vancouver now takes your table scraps and coffee grinds and composts them.  It’s a great idea!  And it makes that every-other-week garbage collection quite doable.

In fact it’s such a good idea that Mayor Bloomberg is doing it in New York City.

Another advantage that I never expected started out as an inconvenience.  I know I’ve mentioned that the laneway is being built into a slope.  I don’t think I’ve told you that the slope is actually a big, honking hill that runs from a couple of streets above ours right down to the Grandview Highway where all the stores are.  Just to get to the Skytrain from the laneway means climbing down, and of course back up, a significant grade.  I thought this would be a pain, but it has turned into a blessing.  The first few times I charged up that hill to catch the 7:38 99 bus, I swear I thought I would pass out.  There were little red dots dancing in front of my eyes.  But just a couple of weeks has given me much more stamina — it’s great exercise!  Who knew!

Oh, the people at Life Edited knew.  They point out in this article that cities where exercise is built right in have healthier citizens.

And I’m good with that.

Shrinking house plans

Did you know houses were actually shrinking?  Not the houses themselves, of course, but the plans for new homes are getting smaller.

Here’s an explanation in graphic form from

Visit their site for the whole story.

My Pain, My Life, My Struggles, My Fight

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