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VHF Laneway Tour — another great success!

DH and I got into the car yesterday, which is a treat in itself as we usually use transit to get around.  But there was not a minute to waste if we wanted to get through all 6 homes in the Vancouver Heritage Foundation Laneway House Tour.

Three years ago, it was the Laneway House Tour we took with our designer, Laurel, that showed us some of th4e features we wanted to incorporate into our lanehouse design.

Two years ago our house-in-progress was part of the tour, a great honour for us.

Now that laneway homes are becoming more and more common, it was interesting to see how the designs are being interpreted across the city, finding solutions to how to keep families together and even how to save a beloved tree.

The first home on the tour was not, strictly speaking, one of this generation of laneway homes.  Instead it was a strata-title home tucked behind a heritage house in Point Grey.  In 1988, architect Robert Lemon purchased the Barber Residence, built in the art deco style by Ross Lort in 1936.  The home straddled the front part of two lots, and Lemon wanted to make sure that the home would not be torn down to take advantage of the land.  So with a plan, patience, and perseverance, he convinced the city permit department to let him build a complementary home behind his, and to let him enter into a strata ownership with its inhabitants.

The result was stunning:

LW2015-1

At 2340 square feet the home is a spacious one bedroom and den, and those two-storey-high windows bring light and an upstairs view into what could be a rather dark north-facing home.  Skylights upstairs also lighten the interior.  The decor and artwork are stunning, too.  Comfortable but elegant, a perfect partner to the Barbour Residence.

But there was no sense in mooning about what could never be (for us, anyway), on to the rest of the homes.

We zipped up to House 4, just off King Edward Avenue and Columbia.  Built on a 150′ by 50′ lot, this was the largest of the laneways we saw, 1000 square feet.  There was a nice kitchen and sitting area, but the home is used as a vacation rental, with 3 bedrooms and two baths, so it didn’t say “homey” as much as “convenient”.  The take-away from this home was the heating/cooling system — a heat pump.  You get heating and cooling with the same system, and it costs much less to run, but costs much more to install.

House 2 is a real cutey:

LW2015-2

It’s an adorable one-bedroom cottage, all on one level with lovely high ceilings in the kitchen/sitting area.  That rounded front door is repeated in an interior hall archway.

House 3 fits in perfectly with the neighbourhood and allows a mother and child to live on the grandmother’s property (having grandchildren right there is a blessing!):

LanewayTour2015

House 5 provided a solution to a marital break-up that didn’t break up the children’s lives.  One ex-partner lives in the house, and one lives in a spacious laneway with room for the children to stay:

LW2015-5

House 6 is right in our neck of the woods and provided another solution — how to keep a mature magnolia tree and build a laneway house.  Lanefab found the answer:

LW2015-6

The house is a reverse plan like ours, with the kitchen/sitting area up top and the bedroom in the lower level.

So what did we take away from the tour?  All the homes were well-built, and most had radiant floor heat with boilers instead of water tanks.  So new home technology is being used freely in these new builds.  I’m sure all are energy efficient, and all make the most of the natural light available to them through windows and skylights.

We met some new builders on the tour, so you have lots of choice when it comes to pick your own you’ll have dozens of options.  And the tour showed us that laneways are a solution, not just for Vancouver’s housing shortage, but for all kinds of problems that people have.  A way to keep families together, to let children stay in the neighbourhoods they grew up in and to raise their own children there.

How does our garden grow?

Yesterday I went with DD to the store and bought my first pair of gardening gloves.  Plus a bag of potting soil.  Then, while she carefully delineated and planted her first sowing of vegetables in a narrow strip by the sidewalk, I planted eight little pots with herbs.

The promise of herbs to come

The promise of herbs to come

Yup, I gardened.

One thing that you should definitely know if you are planning to build a laneway house (and I hope you are!) is that landscaping is a very important part of the process. I’ve written about this before but it bears repeating, you have to have a plan.

In the regulations it says quite clearly

11.3.3 Except as provided for elsewhere in this section, the setback area shall be fully graded and
landscaped with trees, shrubs and lawn to the satisfaction of the Director of Planning.

11.3.4 The following may be permitted within the landscaped setback area by the Director of
Planning:
(a) statuary, fountains and other objects of art;
(b) open ornamental fences if necessary for the protection and preservation of landscaping or
permitted objects of art;
(c) walks or driveways which in the opinion of the Director of Planning may be required to
provide direct access to any building or use on the site.

That’s bureaucrat for “you need some plants here, people”.

In the application for your building permit you must include

Landscape plan should include the following:
□ Plant/ Tree list (common & botanical name,
size, quantity)
□ Plant list symbols keyed to the plan
□ Indicate soft and hard landscaping

And not just any plants, either.  They want you to plant with five factors in mind:

1) low-maintenance,
2) drought-tolerance &
hardiness,
3) scale (all plants under 3ft
high not including vines &
climbers),
4) availability, and
5) variety & interest

And in the Guide the City of Vancouver provides they even list some plants that take these factors into consideration.

With the help of our landscaper Amro and his team, we have fulfilled the promise of our original plan.  We have a plum tree

Which will look like this when it's all grown up

Which will look like this when it’s all grown up

And on the laneway, we have our tall grasses, our lavender, creeping thyme and our beauty berry plants

Beauty

Also not at this luxurious stage as yet — but will be!

When you are planning your laneside plantings, you are not allowed to put in anything that will obscure the front.  We originally  wanted to put in some tall bamboo in a little hedge, but it was pointed out that would provide the perfect hiding place for someone who wanted to break into our place or who wanted to give us a little surprise when we came to the front door.

As well, because the occupants of the laneway, us, are family, we do not have to have a specially dedicated area of yard just for us — but if we ever want to rent the place out we will need to have a clearly defined area of yard just for the laneway tenants.

It’s also very important to remember that your landscaping should be substantially in place before final inspection is completed.  So unless there’s a foot of snow on the ground, it’s expected that your plants will all be planted and your land will be scaped.

When planning your walkways, sidewalks have to provide a hard surface from the street in front of the main house right to the lane and the laneway door — no meandering gravel walks — for emergency services to get to the laneway if they are needed.

When you are planning your laneway build keep all this in mind.  Just as with the design of the home itself the landscaping design has strict rules to follow, but you’ll end up with a space you really love.

 

No new (stuff) is good news

Last week we went through our belongings in our storage locker and renewed our pledge to live with less.  It just makes sense.

But how do you resist the lure of retail?  After all, temptation is all around us — we see new and shiny things (or in my case, old and patinaed things); advertising is everywhere reminding us that we NEED NEW STUFF.

At this point it's mostly toys anyway, isn't it?

At this point it’s mostly toys anyway, isn’t it?

In the nick of time comes two articles from Apartment Therapy to help strengthen our resolve to fill up our lives with useless items.

First of all, avoid the idea that you are missing out on a bargain if you don’t buy that particular shirt or shoes or chatchka.

1. Avoid high pressure sales tactics.

We’ve all done it, gone into a shop for one thing and felt the pressure from the sales staff to get more.  Hey, it’s their job to sell you stuff.  But it’s not a personal rejection if you don’t submit to their wiles.  It’s your job to stick to your original plan.

Don’t have an original plan? Well,

2. Keep a list

You should always be aware of what you need, and what you buy frequently.  If you don’t keep a list in your head you may find yourself prey to the next item.

3. Avoid impulse buys.

You’ve got a shopping cart (in real life or online). Why not just slip in a couple of things that are on sale but are not exactly what you need RIGHT NOW?  Don’t do it.  You will regret that expensive impulse when you get the items home.  You know you will.  And if you bought it on sale you may not be able to return it.

4. Check the measurements and read the product info and reviews.

One of the great advantages of shopping online is being able to read the product reviews.  Those have saved me from many a foolish expenditure.  In a retail store be sure to check out the size on the package or you’ll come home with sheets that won’t fit your extra-thick queen mattress.

5. Eliminate temptation.

When we were stocking the laneway I subscribed to several on-line shopping services.  They were great when I knew I needed one white duvet and two sets of white queen sheets.  I was able to compare and was quite happy with the deals I got by waiting and checking often.

But I don’t need them any more.  There will come a time when I have to replace the sheets/towels, and I’ll subscribe again.  But right now I do not want to see a supermarket of attractive items coming through my inbox and tempting me to purchase them.

Maybe you know you have to buy a new shirt or blouse in an exact colour.  Find a sample of that colour and carry it with you to the stores.  It’s a reminder that you need THAT particular item and nothing else.

Yesterday DH and I took a little walk along Main Street, looking for a particular item.  I had a fabric swatch of the cushion covers I am making and we needed a little tray in a matching tone to sit on our ottoman and serve as a coffee table.  We whisked through second hand stores and thrift shops, zipping through in minutes because we knew exactly what we were looking for.  (We found it, BTW in the Vancouver General Thrift Shop for 50 cents).

So we’ve safely navigated the swamp of retail stores as far as impulse buying goes — what about the danger of (dun dun DUNNNNNN) Stocking up.

We can’t do it here.  We just don’t have the room for a giant case of paper towels or toothpaste.  So this article in Apartment Therapy speaks to us in the dulcet tones of truth. When you have limited room and are not expecting the apocalypse, store it at the store. What could be standing in your way?

Roadblock 1: Buy more, save more

You can save money on large quantities of things like paper and laundry products.  But we know well how much storage costs — we are paying for a storage locker.  How foolish it would be to use our in-home storage for bathroom tissue rather than bringing our good crystal home from that expensive lock-up.

Roadblock 2: Convenience

We have to go to the grocery at least every other day — our little fridge doesn’t hold very much.  And that is fine with us, we are close to 3 major grocery stores, two of which offer clothing, housewares, and yes, small appliances.  So stocking up on the bulky stuff just does not make sense when we’ll be back buying milk tomorrow.

Roadblock 3: You Might Run Out 

Once again, see Roadblock 2 above.  We are close to the store.  Running out means literally running out — the stores are open early and close late.  Plus we keep an on-going list of what we need.  We usually buy replacements for our dishwasher detergent or toothpaste just before we run out — and of course our neighbours can always help us out.

I think it’s a good idea to borrow a concept from our Zen teachers, but instead of mindful meditation we practice mindful spending.

Learn more about building Laneway Houses from the experts!

If you are interested in building a laneway house on your property, or if you are just curious about the process, then you owe it to yourself to attend a presentation on Laneway Houses on Wednesday, March 12.

A panel of experts will be there to answer your questions and provide information:

Ralph Case, President of the Real Estate Action Group – Investment benefits of laneway housing
Jake Fry, President/Owner of Smallworks Laneway Housing Inc. – Designing and building small
Colin Lawrence, VanCity – Financing made easy
Richard Bell, LLC – How to share title

Date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Where: University Golf Course
5185 University Blvd (10th ave. west of Blanca)

Time: 7:00pm – 8:30 pm

BTW, that address is quite accessible by bus, if you would like to go but don’t have an automobile.  But there’s lots of parking there if you want to take the car.
If this is something you think would be of value to you, please attend.  It’s the best way to get expert advise I’ve seen so far (other than reading this blog, of course!)

Who wants to live the small life?

Have I convinced you to live in a small house yet?  Lots of people love living the small life — and bring great gusto to it. And not just on mountain tops and deep in forests.  These people found smaller is better even in the biggest cities.

Designer and architect Rohan Walters built an 1100 square foot “Driveway House” in Toronto in a space that was just 12 by 40 feet.  Read more about it here where Humble Homes drew our attention to it.

The use of glass walls and frosted panels allow lots of light to penetrate into the interior of the home.

SmallHumbleHomes

I particularly like how the electrical outlets are placed high on the walls along a silver-coloured strip.

SmallHumbleLiving

And it’s super efficient, too, using as small an environmental footprint as it does a physical one.

In the heart of Paris, clever use of design by Julie Nabucet and Marc Baillargeon allow comfort and style in just 130 square feet. Thanks to Tiny House Talk for the heads up.

SmallParis1

The bed pulls out from underneath the raised kitchen area.

SmallParisbed

And I love the bold touch of the red kitchen cabinets. This angle allows you to see how they’ve brought light into the kitchen through the clouded glass of the bathroom door.

SmallParisBath

Of course, there are lots of opportunities to create a great small space in New York City.  This Houzz story shows a 300 square-foot studio in Manhattan.  Are you expecting more sleek finishes and mid-century modern lines?  Nope, this space has gone all Boho in Soho. (Actually in the Upper East Side, but who could resist…?)

Eclectic Bedroom by Brooklyn Photographers Rikki Snyder
In decorating her studio, she was inspired by both New York City and rural Chilean Patagonia. She wanted to create an urban refuge but was also drawn to rough woods, thick wools and warm colors, which were naturally suited to the apartment’s existing brick wall.
Even this tiny NYC apartment shows us warm wood and rich textures.
SmallNYCMain
This story from Life Edited shows how they’ve fit so much into the tiny area without looking cluttered or “stuffed”.
SmallNYCUpper
From Apartment Therapy we learn about another tiny home, right across the bridge in Brooklyn and just 460 square feet.  They have used light wood tones as well to make their house look warm and yet clean and elegant.
SmallBrooklynMain
But the secret to living in such a small place is in building up.  Looking the other way in the suite we see how they have created a second story in their sleeping loft.
SmallBrooklynLoft
Lots of clever use of built-in storage, plus an office area tucked under the bed.
SmallBrooklynDesk
Big cities and small homes.  The perfect combination.

13 Reasons Why Smaller Is Better

Many years ago I was walking down a residential street here in Vancouver with a much younger friend of mine.  We were both looking at the houses, stating our preferences.  I was rather surprised to learn that she wanted a big house.  Not just big, not just huge, a monster house. The kind of house that takes up most of the lot, that overwhelms the space.

MonsterHouse

Know what I mean?

She said she wasn’t planning a large family, or to live in a multi-generation situation.  She just liked big houses.

I thought she was out of her mind.  I still do.  Smaller houses are best.

There, I’ve said it.  And I am prepared to back it up.

Northern Homesteader got me started with 12 Reasons to Live in a Smaller House – other than money.  Here’s her list, with my comments.

1. A small house is cozy

In a big house you have to find your cozy spots, create them with an overstuffed chair or a window seat.  But a small house is all cozy corners and intimate spaces.

2. A small house is warmer in the winter

It takes less than 10 minutes for our house to get warm on a cold morning.  The radiant heat works beautifully, and there are no cold corners.  In fact the laneway house is so energy-efficient that we turn down the heat to 16(C) in the afternoon so it doesn’t get uncomfortably hot.

3. A small house is easier to decorate

Even if you are going for a bohemian style with every flat surface covered in pictures and knick-knacks, decorating a small house takes less time and energy.  Even painting a room takes less time.  And you’ll need fewer cushions, fewer paintings, and fewer area rugs.  So if you want to completely change the look you can do it over a weekend.

4. A small house is faster to clean

Our former condo was only 1100 square feet, but it had two full baths and miles of carpeting.  To clean it up used to take us most of Saturday.  Now we can be out of here in less than an hour, with every surface sparkling and every floor damp-mopped.

5. A small house builds relationships

It’s funny, when you have a big home, how little time you spend in the same room as another person.  You might drift through the kitchen while your husband makes dinner to grab a glass of wine before you go back to watching the news in the front room, but you don’t actually have that much face time.  But in our laneway, I can be in the “sitting room” doing the crossword while DH is making dinner, and we are sharing and chatting, and sometimes watching the news together.  Yet when we want some private time there is always a little corner where we can be alone.

6. A small house inspires ideas and creativity

In our condo we had storage space galore.  Closets stuffed with clothes we didn’t need any more, an entire storage room just for stuff, 50% of which we didn’t use.  But now we have to find storage in every nook and cranny.  The space under the stairs.  the space in the stairs. And since more of our stuff is on display we have to find ways to make it attractive.  There’s a reason I keep watching those decorating shows.

7. A small house prevents clutter

We used to have a pile of papers in the kitchen.  Also one in the front hall.  And one in each bedroom.  No more!  I keep a (lovely) basket where I put all the papers that come into the house.  Once a week I go through it and toss what we don’t need and file what we do.  Bills and bank statements I get online so there’s less paper coming in. Clutter makes a small house look very messy.  It also makes a large house look very messy, but there’s more places to hide it.

8. A small house feels securer

When DH is out I know I just have to lock the two doors and this place is a fortress.  No dark corners or iffy locks.

9. A small house helps to live simple

Maybe that’s not your goal.  Maybe you look for ways to complicate your life.  But buying less, cleaning less, fussing less is what I want.

10. A small house is freeing

I thought it was funny when I read this — because that is exactly how I feel!  Less stuff makes you feel freer.  It’s part of 9., but it’s more than that, too.

11. A small house encourages more time outdoors

Last week I was feeling a bit closed-in.  You can feel that in a large space, too, but I knew what I needed, a brisk walk to the store.  Our small fridge means we buy less, and shop more often.  So we get out every day.

12. A small house takes up less space

The blogger at Northern Homestead loves her garden space.  And she’s not going to sacrifice it to gain more housing square footage.  We like the garden space we share with the main house — their back yard is actually bigger than it was before we built the laneway here because there was a big concrete slab where the house sits.

Twelve good reasons to have a small house, but I’ve thought of a 13th.

13. Smaller ecological footprint

Building the house took fewer resources than building a large house.  That’s a good enough reason to build small.  But running it takes fewer resources, too.  Heating, cooking, running the washer and dryer all take less energy than a larger house with large appliances uses.  If we want to be responsible energy consumers that is one more reason to live in a small house.

Our visit to the BC Home and Garden Show

DH and I braved the snow yesterday to take in the BC Home and Garden Show. Thanks to Ian at the Home Discovery Show for the admission!

There were masses of people, lots to see, lots to do, in short, the usual Home and Garden Show.

And there were lots of individual items — and a few over arching trends.

Smaller is definitely in.  We saw a couple of laneway builders — one, My Lane Home, builds the structure off-site and then assembles it on the foundation they put on your property.  We had a nice chat with them. A lot of the regular design/build/renovate exhibitors were also displaying info on building laneways.

Small is also in with the furniture exhibitors.  We saw very few big pieces, and we saw two exhibitors with credenzas that made into full-size dining tables.  Like this:

Credenza1 Credenza2 Credenza3

Plus there were several booths showing beds that came out of cabinets or the more traditional Murphy-bed set-up for transforming spare spaces into guest rooms with the touch of a button. Plus closet systems that made use of every inch.

The furniture was also sleek and functional looking — nary a curve or a piece of extra ornamentation to be seen in upholstered or hard furnishings. And it really was about doing more with fewer pieces.

Window coverings were also more in the “blinds and shades” family than opulent draperies — and there were no prints except for a few geometrics. When I remember the meters and meters of cabbage roses we used on every upholstered surface in the 70s and 80s!  They are totally out of style now.

The finishes were the ones we’ve seen before — hardwood and engineered floors are still the most popular, there isn’t anything new there.  The counter tops were either quartz or what I came to think of as “novelty” stones, like marble with swaths of green running through; plus lighter granites than the blacks and dark greys we’ve seen in the past few shows.

There was a clean aesthetic when it came to all the decorating. The only place I saw texture was in the walls.  Bathroom and kitchen tiles often had designs incised into them — one booth had sheets of tempered glass with colours and textures embedded in it.  For myself, I would never put anything like that in my home.  How many homes have baths installed in the 1980s?  You can tell because of the florals in the tiles, something that is completely out of style now.  Tiling is something you only want to do once — don’t put anything up that is so very ….. dating.

Saving energy was a definite theme when it came to the doors and windows on display.  Plus there were lots of home security exhibitors, so it seems that putting in a security system is no longer an option but a necessity.

Taking it outside, I was surprised to see how much concrete was being used, often in interested ways.  And outdoor fire pits and fireplaces were everywhere.  “Outdoor rooms” are taking over from “yards and gardens”.

Of course, there were lots of booths selling things, mixers, knives, nozzles and ladders — I saw one man carrying a huge box containing a super-duper car seat cushion.  Luckily we were travelling by transit and had no way to get a lot of “things” home, and of course, no where to put them when we got there!  So we saved a fortune.

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