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A hard rain’s gonna fall

Here I sit, surrounded by Christmas cheer — decor, cards, goodies.  My home is the cutest, most adorable little welcome Christmas laneway home all lit up for the season:

XmasHome

But full disclosure — Christmas is kind of a tough time for me.  Three years ago, my mother suffered a stroke and lay in a coma for over a week until she died on Christmas Eve.  You know how Christmas traditions gladden the heart?  Remembering how Mom used to bake for weeks, how the house was filled with music and the intoxicating scent of gingerbread and cloves?  Cards from distant friends and relatives?  Caroling?  Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special? Well, that reminds me of when my Mom died.  Everything about the season reminds me of it.  As the years go by I hope that the achy feeling I get will fade a bit. But for right now…..

Of course, I’m not the only one who is hurting this time of year.  As Marsha Lederman reminds us in her Globe and Mail article,

Maybe this is your first Christmas after the death of a loved one. Maybe you’re going through a divorce. Maybe you’ve just lost your job at CHCH or Bell Media or Suncor or in some other layoff that didn’t make the news. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. Or, heaven forbid, your child has. Maybe you have depression or anxiety. Maybe you had a miscarriage or are trying, desperately, to conceive a child. Maybe there’s alcoholism in your family and you’re worried about another Christmas Day blow-up. Or maybe you’re sober and can’t face one more boozy holiday party. Perhaps treacherous family dynamics have left you out in the cold this year, disinvited to Christmas dinner. Maybe a loved one is in trouble with the law or has a mental illness or has lost their way and is suffering. And so you are too.

And that doesn’t even take into consideration the people who just can’t afford Christmas.  The tree, the decorations, the extra food and the gifts.  The stress on them must be nearly unbearable.

Of course adding to the melancholy that overtakes us is the feeling that we should be having a wonderful time!  How dare you be blue at Christmas! It’s the time of CHEER, DAMMIT! Or those poor souls who were expecting a magical Christmas and found that it was just **meh** (kind of like when you were a kid and woke up on Boxing Day and realized that getting what you wanted and asked for was not going to make you truly happy). Those people can find January a very cold month indeed.

And there will be cheer for me, visiting with my beloved family on Christmas Day and just being quietly, gratefully there. But there will be a few tears, too.

I am glad of the way I’ve found to display the very old ornaments we had when I was a child — suspended from a tension rod in a window:

XmasWindow

And I’m especially glad that we’ve cut way back on the baking and visiting and gift-giving (and ergo:  gift buying — so exhausting) and that I can just slip back to our little haven if celebrations elsewhere get too tiring.

So along with all the thoughts of sugarplums you’ll have this year, please spare a thought for those of us who will not be filled with the spirit of Christmas present.

Aly Semigran knows what it’s like to face depression during the holiday season.  And in her blog post she offers this comfort:

That you deserve to be healthy and that it takes work and time and it’s not always easy, but it’s worth it. Your friends and family will be waiting for you at the other end of this, whether it’s on a holiday or some random Wednesday when that fog finally lifts.

It’s okay to skip the songs on the radio that make you feel sad (Burl Ives will have to serenade someone else), it’s okay if the mall makes you feel utterly overwhelmed (though I will take that Auntie Anne’s pretzel, thankyouverymuch), and it’s okay if this particular holiday season wasn’t it what it was “supposed” to look like. It’s the best gift you’ll ever receive: the understanding that it’s okay. You’re okay. It’ll be okay.

Reduce, reuse, recycle — a house

In our neighbourhood – as in yours I’m sure – the old makes way for the new.  And it’s disappointing at best and heart-breaking at its worst to see fine old homes ripped down for cookie-cutter-mini mansions (in our neighbourhood) or mega-mansions (in richer neighbourhoods).  We had a moment’s worry when the homes on either side of our two-house compound were sold, but luck was with us, the new owners have renovated a bit and moved into the original structures.

Tearing down old houses creates waste and lots of it.  Each demolished home sends 50 tonnes of material to the landfill.  Often homes are ripped down with no thought of recycling the building materials.

But not in Gimli.  Gimli, Manitoba.  According to this story in the Interlake Enterprise newspaper, clever Melanie Casselman is recycling homes rescued from nearby Winnipeg and putting them on lots in Gimli.

Photo courtesy of Interlake Enterprise

Photo courtesy of Interlake Enterprise

 

It’s a great idea, and not just because it saves money for the developers (because they don’t have to pay for demolishing) and not just because it puts up instant homes in a growing community.  It’s a great idea because it perfectly embraces the idea that we don’t just throw things out.  We try to save as much as we can.

Well done, Melanie Casselman!  Bravo Gimli!

Full disclosure, Melanie Casselman is a distant cousin of my son-in-law.  Further disclosure, I went to college with a girl from Gimli, a natural Icelandic blond by name of Solvason.

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?

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.

 

 

Why I love my bathroom

I want to write a love letter to my WC.  I’ve been away from home this summer, using different bathrooms and I came to realize all the things I truly love about my bathroom. I realized how perfectly it fit our needs, and how easy it is to keep clean and bright. And if you are planning to remodel or build a new powder room maybe you can use some of the solutions we found for our severe lack of space.

We all want the bathroom of our dreams. Some of us dream big;
BathLuxurySome of us have more modest dreams:

Bathmodest

But as you can imagine, for our laneway home we had to make some sacrifices.  Because our bathroom is eensy, weensy, teensy.  Seriously, check out the plans.

PlansLower

The bathroom is less than 8 feet wide.  So it took some planning to get everything we wanted into the room. But we did!

One of the features that we appreciate so much is the radiant floor heating.  We moved into our place in winter, and we couldn’t believe the difference it makes to your comfort.

In our planning with the designer we ditched the tub.  We prefer a shower so it would be a waste of precious, precious space to put in a tub.  Then we decided to keep everything square and linear.  We wanted subway tiles to line the shower, nothing fancy that dates so quickly, just the classics.  Honeycomb tiles on the floor of the shower to help make it less slippery.

BathTiil

Nice and clean looking.  Plus the clear glass doors make it look as if the shower is part of the whole room, there’s no visual separation.  And we have a handy niche to hold our shower needs.

BathNicheBetter

There are those honeycomb tiles again.  Having that little shelf seems like such a no-brainer, but DH’s shower in our old condo didn’t have one.  It makes a huge difference.  You’ll also note that we empty our shampoo, conditioner, and body wash into little bottles (from the dollar store) which keeps the space looking less cluttered.

The shower itself delivers what we really want — comfort.  We have a rain-shower head — one of the first things to go on our list of features we wanted. We also have a shower wand for when we want to pretend it’s a microphone. C’mon who doesn’t do that when they’re singing in the shower?

BathRain

The controls let us set the most comfortable temperature, and turn it on immediately without fussing and fidgeting.

BathControl

Square shape again — see?  It keeps the look uncluttered.

The toilet also has features we want — clean lines right down to the floor, and the seat closes with a gentle movement (the first days of my holiday were spent apologizing for noisily dropping the toilet seat cover, I was so used to it dropping softly onto the seat at home).   Yes, it’s a little thing, as is the feature that the whole seat lifts off the toilet for super-easy cleaning — but it’s just one of the things I love about our bathroom.

While we were on the Heritage Foundation’s laneway house tour two years ago, we saw the IKEA Godmorgen system.  We loved it at first sight — clean lines, storage space, and it floats above the floor to give the illusion of more space.  We also solved the problem of having no room for sconces beside the bathroom mirror with a great mirror with the lights built right in.

Bathsink

Again, square towel and toilet roll holders.  Square faucet and tap.  There’s also something in our bathroom that I never thought I needed — a clock.  The light/fan switch has a little digital clock to control the fan for ventilation purposes, and it’s so handy!  Up in the middle of the night — check out how long you can sleep before the alarm goes off.  Getting ready for work?  You can schedule your makeup/hair time and NEVER BE LATE AGAIN!

In this shot you can see the little square tiles on the floor — they are quite slip proof when wet, another safety feature as we age in place in this space.

Storage is always at a premium in any bathroom — so our designer, Laurel, found a great way to increase ours.  There’s an inset in the wall the bathroom shares with the washer/dryer closet.  And into it, Laurel placed two IKEA Lillangen cabinets with mirror doors.

BathCabinet

As well as giving us lots of storage space, the cabinets give us a full length mirror.  There’s practically no other space for a big mirror, so this is really appreciated.  Plus it reflects the light and brightens the whole room.

We bought all white towels for the new bath — gave away all our multi-coloured towels to keep things beautifully clean and white.  Plus if one gets stained it’s easily replaced — white always goes with white.

There’s also something Laurel suggested that we had never heard of — lockable valve boxes set into the wall for storage.

Bathboxes

We can lock our prescription drugs away for when the little ones are around.  They’re also handy for holding our jewellery when we’re not wearing it.

It’s so indicative of the comfort and ease we find in our home that our bathroom (is it still a bathroom without a bath) is so perfect for us.  Hope you can find a couple of good ideas to incorporate in yours!

What’s keeping in the kitchen?

Does anyone else wonder where the money goes for their food?

Yum!

Yum!

We hardly ever eat out.  We love to eat — and cook — and we make our own dinners almost every night (we went out twice in the past month — one anniversary and one reunion dinner with family).  We don’t order out.  We don’t bring home take-out.  So where does the money go?  I wonder……not worry……just wonder.

So when I saw a post on Houzz about 6 Tips From a Nearly Zero Waste Home. I was on it like a shot.  Let’s stop the waste!  Rule #1:

Then I heard that needle across the record noise.

You see my problem?  We don’t eat chips (just don’t care for them).  We don’t use K-Cups (it makes us anxious that we have any waste from our coffee making — even compostable  filters and grounds). No tetra paks except for some stock now and again.  We actually make our own cereal mixes.  Few crackers.  We’re exterior-walls-of-the-super-market shoppers.  PLUS!  No room for bringing home and storing huge packs of ANYTHING!  Costco is not on our list of favourite stores. We just can’t stock up for the zombie apocalypse.

What else can we do to minimize our food bill?  Reduce waste.  Over to Life Edited for tips on creating a smaller footprint in the kitchen.

Rule #1:

  1. Buy only what you need. This is a pretty obvious one, but try to buy the food and the quantities you know you’ll consume from one shopping trip to another. It’s okay to have an empty fridge before you go shopping. If feasible in your area, make more frequent, smaller shopping trips.

That’s a bit more like it.  We live up the hill from a Superstore.  DH likes to take a nice walk every day.  It’s a match (of purposes) made in heaven.  Following the rest of the rules, we compost — Vancouver has a great composting program.  We don’t hoard food until it’s spoiled — our tiny fridge and freezer means we’re faced with our leftovers whenever we dip in for a cold one or an ice cube.  We use up our leftovers.  What to do to reduce our food bill?

**sigh**

One place I would really like to reduce our waste is with food storage.  I rely on plastic wrap.  I use it to keep my lunch from drying out, I wrap my cut onions in it, and put over dishes of leftovers.

Can someone please invent a biodegradable plastic wrap?

Thanks!

Teensy tinyness — taking it even smaller

I was chatting with an acquaintance the other day, who knowing how fanatical keen I am on small houses, told me that he and his wife are planning on building a tiny house. Not small — tiny.  One of the houses that fit snugly into the Tiny House Movement, at under 120 square feet.

Rustic Exterior by Other Metro Architects & Designers Tumbleweed Tiny House Company

Currently they are renting a nice condo in Vancouver.  The tiny house (on wheels) would sit on his in-law’s property out in the Fraser Valley, and would serve as their quarters as they help her parents renovate their home. If the home is then sold, they would just roll the home onto some recreational property, or onto a corner of the subdivided property. Or they might just decide to move out there and stay.

It’s the perfect solution to their current dilemma, although presently they are not planning to live full-time in the home.

But others do.

Dee Williams has lived for 10 years in just 84 square feet. It’s an accomplishment, to be sure, one worthy of having a book written about her experience.

Like this one.  Which she wrote.
Williams used to live in a much bigger house.  With a big mortgage and big heating bills.  But a life crisis made her realize what was really important — and she turned her life around and put it into a tiny house.
She realized what her true priorities are.
Time has become her most valued and abundant possession. “I have time to notice my natural environment and take a breath through the seasons, to puzzle over the way that nature is throwing itself at me and the community. I live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. If you’re working all the time, sitting inside, you miss a lot of it. I feel lucky and blessed that I’ve been able to pay attention to it.” 

Dee’s story has been told here in Houzz, and here.  And she’s given a TED Talk on it.

It’s a big story (about a tiny house).

Tiny houses come in a surprising variety of designs.  This couple has a luxuriant 240 square feet in a space no wider than 8 1/2 feet and no taller than 13 1/2 feet.

Contemporary Exterior by Sebastopol Architects & Designers The Tiny Project

 

What makes tiny houses so liveable?

The blog Tiny House Talk has some suggestions to get the most spaciousness (if not space) in your tiny home.

Some of them are fairly apparent, such as combining your living room and your bedroom to avoid partitioning already small areas even further.  But some I would never think of, like

Keep the space uncluttered above waist height. Anything above waist height that projects into the living space will make the space feel that much smaller. That means kitchen base cabinets are not a problem, but upper cabinets might be. Limit cabinets, shelves, or anything else that intrudes into this space.

This one is a given

Use light colors to create a spacious feeling. Light colors make a space seem bigger, while dark colors make a space seem smaller. Choose white or light-colored finishes for the ceiling and walls. (The floor color is less important for this purpose).

In most of the tiny houses I have seen have seen the ceiling and walls are all the same light colour, so your eye travels from the walls up to the gabled roof without interruption.

And of course

Open up to the outdoors. In addition to windows, think of creative ways that doors or even whole sliding walls could allow you to open your house up. (Check out the Virginia Tech LumenHaus for one elegant example). With a porch, deck, and a whole landscape outside, your tiny space won’t feel at all claustrophobic.

I know that just having our deck outside the upper floor of our laneway makes the entire storey seem larger.

As the author at Tiny House Talk points out

There’s no doubt about it—downsizing and simplifying your life to fit in a tiny home is a very difficult thing to do. And you certainly will want some storage space, partitions, and so on. But beware of the “big house mentality” in which a room can be packed with cabinets, bookshelves, and furniture and still feel spacious. In a tiny house, it can’t. Restraint, and a little bit of good design, will go a long way towards making your small space feel plenty comfortable.

And as DH has pointed out several times, Good Design Trumps Space.

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