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Laneway Life

We swung by the laneway the other evening to have a look at the developments.  We found Angelito, our builder, patiently revamping the top of the stairs.  The inspector had asked that he change the staircase where it makes a 180 degree turn — from the landing just inside the garden-side door at the top of the first run to where it enters the kitchen part of the upper storey.  Apparently the way it was originally built it would not pass code.  I asked Angelito if these were the same stairs that the same inspector had been climbing every visit for the past six weeks.  He paused and said yes.

We then chatted about the next steps and how soon everything will be coming together.  Of course, to us, things are moving maddeningly slow.  We can’t always see the subtle but important steps that lead to the final product.  Angelito assured us that by the time of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation tour the place will be substantially finished.  That means exterior Hardie siding, insulation, drywall, painting, floors, cabinets, and lighting will all be done within the next couple of weeks.  We should see the home bloom before our eyes, as we did in the first weeks when the footings and foundation appeared to spring from the earth.  We are very excited, but I find I am a little anxious.  There is still so much to be done to get us ready for the move!

Every time we leave the laneway we walk down the lane, noticing yards where another laneway home could be built, adding to the lane community and to the ambience and livability of the lane.

We are very happy to be part of the laneway renaissance movement.  You don’t think that’s a real thing?  Thanks to This City Life, we know that cities around the world are taking back their alleyways, embracing them, repairing and renovating them.

Like in Seattle:





Here in Vancouver Livable Laneways is an organization

dedicated to transforming the overlooked laneways and alleys of Vancouver into pedestrian-friendly civic spaces.

They recentlyheld an event in association with The Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Association.  There was music, vendors, food, and even a lovely art piece made out of a fire escape:

LeeBuildingArtpieceMore events are being planned for the future.  On the North Shore, an organization called More Fun Alleys had a contest to re-name an alley in North Vancouver.  The winner:  LoLo Lane.

Alleys can be wonderful places.  And they have great acoustics:

Acoustic of a saxophone player in Vancouver’s back alley from Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier on Vimeo.

What should we name our lane?  I think Penny Lane is taken.

A showhouse laneway!

I’m sure you’ve seen lots of model houses — all tricked out and decorated to the last cornice.  But I hadn’t seen any laneway houses like that — until today!

DH and I skipped off to the IDSWest show at the new(er) convention centre.  It’s always nice to wander around and see the beautiful finishings and furnishings, but the real reason I wanted to go was to tour the Homes & Living Laneway Feature Home.  The home has been auctioned off in support of Alzheimers research — and it was chock full of great style and features.

It was set up in the convention center, here’s a shot of the place while it was being assembled:

ISDWestLaneway1you get the idea of the home, even though you can’t see the finished exterior (dark wood) or some of the walls (sleek white).  The auction winner will have to provide a pad and heating system, plus a bunch of other stuff (permits, engineers report, lot to put the home on, etc.) but should get quite a lovely place out of it.  Unsurprisingly, I could not take any pictures, but the home had some pretty sweet features:

  • ten-foot ceilings
  • an overhang and sliding glass walls that open up for outdoor entertaining
  • completely built in kitchen so the dishwasher, fridge and freezer are behind cupboard doors
  • a hefty wooden counter top that slides over the stove and sink to completely hide them away
  • state of the art sound system that can be run from an iPad
  • beautiful furniture (natch)
  • floor-to-ceiling doors so it looks like the wall slides away or opens up
  • the Nest thermostat, pretty impressive and affordable, too

The roof is flat and the new owner must put on the torchon to finish it.  I asked twice, and no, there won’t be a living roof on the house.  You could put one on, I guess, but that’s something for an engineer and the designer to confirm.

There’s a big takeaway —  this is a real design experiment. That’s great, love to see so much talent and time going into the design of a laneway home, but just one caveat. If you are a decorating junky like I am, you know how “theoretical” designers can always come up with something really spectacular.  Of course!  They are not restricted by civic building codes, lot sizes, lot shapes, lot slopes, budgets.  Put that place anywhere you want — Narnia, Wonderland, just outside Hogwarts.  When you start with a completely clean slate you can do anything you want.  All they had to worry about was the size. A big deal, sure, but it’s just the start of a lot of big deals.

I love looking at other laneway designs, and (IMHO) the best way to do that is with the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s Laneway Tour.  We took the tour last year and loved it!  Lots of great ideas!  But this year we won’t be able to go around — because our house is part of it!  There will be more on that to come.

What else did I like about IDSWest?  It’s a very nice to see all those lovely examples of finishes and accessories.  And we actually saw Tommy Smythe in person!

My heart be still.

PS:  The winning big was $230,000.  The winner will still have to pay at least $73,000 to have the home installed on their lot.  Good news for the Alzheimer’s Society!

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.
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Artist and Desert Dweller with Big City Style.

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