Renovation · whine and cheese

Day 559: “Fire! Feu!”

I was asleep.

Suddenly, a piercing sound and flashing lights… and a woman’s voice saying “Fire! Feu!”

Beside me, Mr. December bolted upright with a shout and then swore. He was wearing his CPAP mask so I couldn’t hear what he said, but it might have rhymed with “brother chucker.” He threw on his robe and ran out of our room to check on the kids.

I, on the other hand, pulled the blanket over my head and covered my ears. This wasn’t the first time we were woken up by a false alarm, after all. I took my sweet time getting out of bed and following Mr. December out to the hallway.

We checked each of the alarms—they’re all linked, you see, so as soon as one goes off they all do—to see which was the instigator. We couldn’t tell, despite the fact that there’s supposed to be a flashing red light on the one that initiated the alarm. Mr. December grabbed N’s bunk-bed ladder and started taking the units down one at a time. Finally, after probably six solid minutes of the shrill alarm and blinding strobes (and that insufferable bilingual woman,) the alarms stopped. Blessed, blessed silence.

I hate these alarms. We have had more false alarms that I can count on two hands. The first time, the firefighters came and when they saw our alarms they informed us that they don’t trust those things. They installed an old-fashioned smoke detector in our upstairs hallway before they left. Apparently the alarms we have—in addition to being notorious among firefighters for their false alarms—have a hair trigger: if a piece of dust floats into one, the alarm could go off. Last time I called customer service to complain, I was told that we’re supposed to clean these units with compressed air every few months.

Is it too much to ask for a fire detector that detects fires, and only fires? Or at the very least, an alarm that doesn’t always choose the middle of the night for a malfunction?

I do worry that we’ve become inured to these false alarms and were a real fire to occur (God forbid,) we might not take it seriously. Of course, it’s hard not to be resentful and dismissive of the alarm when the entire family has been jolted out of a good night’s sleep for nothing.

As you can imagine, homeschool was a disaster today. We were all too tired to focus, and we did next to nothing. Hopefully tomorrow will be better; hopefully tonight will be alarm-free.

Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · parenting · Renovation · whine and cheese

Day 557: Who needs it? I do.

I never understood the point of huge “master suites” in otherwise normal houses. Toronto real estate is expensive; why would you waste so much of it on a sitting area when you already have a living room and a family room, and maybe a rec room? Mr. December agreed with me, so when we designed our house we made our bedroom big enough for a king-size bed and some bedside tables. When she suggested that it was too small, our architect was outvoted.

For the most part, I’ve been happy with our decision: the bedroom does what we need it to do, our bathroom is the right size for the way we use it, and we’ve got plenty of storage in our closet. Sometimes, though, I start to wish I’d designed a whole big suite just for the two of us.

I didn’t feel the need for so much private space when the kids were little (probably because they went to bed long before us and I had time and space to myself anywhere I wanted it.) These days, however, there’s always someone awake until I go to bed, and the same kids who mostly ignore me during the day always need to talk to me after bedtime.

Mr. December just came out of someone’s room and asked if we could maybe go to sleep earlier tonight. Instead of a very reasonable, “Sure, I’m just finishing up my blog post,” I unleashed my exasperation on him: “Oh my God, seriously, can everybody just stop talking to me for, like, five minutes so I can finish a sentence?!?!?”

It’s becoming very clear that I need an office with a door. Or a giant suite to which I can retreat at nine p.m. after proclaiming that I’m done for the night. Until then I’ll be right here, practicing my relaxation techniques so my cortisol level doesn’t spike every time I hear someone talking to me after bedtime.

blogging · DIY · Keepin' it real · mental health · Renovation

Day 428: Unpublished

I wrote a very long post today. It was full of my anger and pain and frustration (see yesterday’s post if you must.) Then I deleted it, but not before asking a good friend’s opinion. In case you’re wondering, it was a clear, “This is NOT a good idea.” I love and respect this friend, so I took his advice and deleted the draft. Some things should remain unpublished.

Now that I’ve purged all those feelings and consigned them to the dustbin of my computer, all I’m left with is tremendous gratitude for a friend who can read the pain behind the words, acknowledge it, and then keep me from doing something stupid like publishing my brain dump. My friends are such a blessing. I’m lucky and I know it.

On the subject of things that remained unpublished: Last time I told you about our curtain problem, I neglected to mention that this was a deal I made with Mr. December when we designed our house. I wanted all these windows; he pointed out that it would make it very difficult to keep the room dark. I promised that I’d make sure we had a complete blackout solution for the window coverings. He conceded. So far I’ve got my windows, but haven’t managed to block out the light.

That’s why when I wasn’t venting my spleen through my keyboard, I was making a cardboard mock-up (longtime readers know about my passion for mockups) of a valence (or maybe it’s a cornice?) for our bedroom curtains. My hope is that it will eliminate the light leaking around the tops of the curtains. It had better, because it’s my last good idea. Next I’m just going to paint our bedroom windows black; I’ll scrape the paint off after the Autumn Equinox, when mornings are dark again.

better homes than yours · DIY · hackin' it · IKEA · Renovation

Day 314: Vanity, thy name is HEMNES

When we were designing our house, way back in ’15, I already knew I wanted our powder room to have more than just a tiny handwashing sink. It needed to be able to store lots of extra toilet paper and hand towels, of course, but also things like hairbrushes and elastics for last-minute I’m-not-going-back-upstairs-for-this ponytails. It also needed to fit in a six-foot by four-foot bathroom along with a toilet and an inswing door.

“Why don’t you just do a nice wall-hung sink and store your stuff somewhere else?” the architect asked.

“What about just a tiny vanity?” the architect’s assistant wondered aloud.

“Nope and nope,” I said resolutely.

I hadn’t told them yet, but I also wanted a wide sink so that two kids could stand side-by-side to wash their hands. They didn’t disappoint: they told me that was unlikely to work in such a small bathroom.

To them I basically said, “Hold my coffee.” Then I hacked a vanity that ticked all the boxes.

Unsurprisingly (if you know me,) it started at IKEA. They had some nice big sinks that didn’t stick out too much. The one I chose—LILLANGEN—had a soap dish and a tray that fit inside the sink itself. As a bonus, I figured it could be installed so that it looked like an apron-front farmhouse sink.

But the vanity designed for that sink was one of IKEA’s cheaper ones, and it didn’t look very nice. I preferred the solid-wood HEMNES vanities with drawers. Some quick math told me that I could fit three of them along the six-foot wall in the bathroom, and as they only protruded about 12 inches into the room, there’d still be space for the toilet beside it.

(Unfortunately for those of you who’d like to reproduce this hack, IKEA doesn’t seem to sell the 12-inch-deep version of the HEMNES anymore.)

There were a couple of minor problems. The first was the colour: I could only get the vanity in black. No problem—that would be solved with some spray paint.

The next problem was that if I set the sink fully centered on one of the three vanities I was combining, it would be very weirdly off centre and half-obscured by the door when the door was open (which is a lot of the time, especially if you’re just ducking in to wash your hands.) It would look much better if I could offset the sink so that it was centred on two of the cabinets, but that would require some fancy work.

Here’s how I did it:

Step One: Purchasing
I bought three HEMNES vanities and the LILLANGEN sink. I was still a bit unsure of what I’d have to do to hack it, so I also bought a HEMNES étagère shelf as well: it was relatively inexpensive and would give me some extra (matching) materials to work with if I needed them.

Step Two: Planning for the sink
I needed the sink to straddle the post between two units. To do that, I measured and marked how low the sink would sit, and then cut one panel to the correct height.

Step Three: Modifying the frame
The vanities were only intended to have drawer glides attached to the insides of their side panels. For my vanity, though, I needed the two panels in the middle to have drawer hardware on both sides. Using the cut-down side panel from Step Two as well as an unmodified side panel, I drilled through all of the holes in the panel so that they were open on both sides. Then I assembled the vanity as I would normally.

Now I had one whole vanity frame with holes on its outside. Then I followed the original instructions to attach the outer frames to the inner one (by dropping a side panel each and using the central frame as the side panels.) Make sense?

Because the panels weren’t recessed equally on the inside and outside of the side pieces, I couldn’t just use the parts that came with the vanity to mount the drawer glides on the outsides: instead I used shims to install the drawer glides so that the drawers would fit properly. Then I followed the instructions to connect the side panels to each other so that they framed three columns of drawers.

Step Four: Accommodating the sink
I wanted the sink to look like a farmhouse sink, which meant that the front of it would have to go where the top drawers would normally be. I had already cut down the centre panel, but now I needed to fill the spaces on either side of the sink as well as add a crossbar to support the sink’s front edge. For this I used the extra side pieces as well as one long piece of wood from the HEMNES étagère that I bought. It would have been really cool to have tiny drawers there, but I was hesitant to complicate things any further.

At this point the sink fit, but two of my top drawers were now too tall.

Fortunately, the drawer boxes themselves mostly fit under the sink. I just had to cut out a bit of one side and the back of each to accommodate the sink and the plumbing. The drawer fronts were easily cut down to their new size, and I used my router on the new top edge to make it look like the original.

As for the drain, IKEA has a neat drain system where the drain almost immediately runs back to the wall and then goes down into the P-trap, so I only had to cut a bit out of the panel directly under the middle of the sink to accommodate the drain assembly.

Step Five: Colour
The vanity needed paint now. I found a colour of Rustoleum Painter’s Touch spray paint—Ink Blue—that was almost an exact match for the Benjamin Moore Starry Night Blue that covered the trim and the ceiling of our powder room. I used my spray tent to protect the driveway (although to this day my parents’ driveway still has flecks of this colour on it—sorry, Mum and Dad.)

Step Six: Installation
When I brought the vanity over to our house, there were a few tense moments trying to get it through the powder room door. Twisting and turning it eventually worked, and our contractors leveled the feet and screwed the vanity into the wall. I cut the countertops so that they were recessed from the front of the sink; the plumber installed the sink, faucet, and drain. My final finishing touch was to install ring pulls so that there wouldn’t be knobs sticking out into an already-too-small space.

Ta-da! That’s it! I’m so pleased with how this vanity turned out. If you do try it, please come back and brag in the comments!

DIY · Keepin' it real · Renovation

Day 233: “Go in peace.”

(The title is courtesy of my dad. If I or one of the kids say, “I have to go pee,” he responds, “Go’n peace.”)

You know how parents like to complain that they can’t even use the bathroom in private? Usually it’s the fault of kids who just don’t respect people’s privacy—or more likely, don’t really think of their parents as separate people in need of privacy from their offspring. This time, however, it’s my builder’s fault.

No, really. Although I didn’t notice it right when we moved in two years ago, it soon became apparent to us that the powder room door wasn’t really closing, nevermind locking. If I closed it and a child so much as tapped gently from outside, the door would pop open whether or not I had engaged the lock. It simply didn’t latch in place.

For a while we just advised any guests that it didn’t really lock, and that maybe they should keep one foot behind the door while they were in there (it’s not hard to do—the bathroom is tiny.) Then COVID happened and guests were a thing of the past, so it basically became a non-issue. I mean, half the people here don’t even close the door when they’re using the bathroom, and the other half just use another bathroom if they need real privacy.

So “fix the powder room door” languished in the parking lot of my to-do list for a long time. It was simply not on my top 10 (or even top 50) list of things to do next.

Last night I got tired of Facebook: it was mostly commentary on the U.S. election, and I have a policy of not spending a lot of time dwelling on things I can’t actually do anything about. So I clicked on each of my open tabs (only about eight of them today) and finally landed on my Trello board, with its lists marked “Parking Lot,” “To Do,” “In Progress,” “Blocked,” and “Done.” I wondered what small task I might accomplish before Mr. December’s work meeting was over. For some reason, “fix the powder room door” seemed to be taunting me. How long could it possibly take?

I started by taking a very close look at the latch plate. It was clear from the wear lines that the latch and the plate weren’t making contact in the right place; the plate was about five millimeters too low for the latch to engage.

The fix was pretty easy: I took some measurements, removed the plate, chiseled out some of the door jamb so it would fit flush, and screwed the plate in five millimeters lower than it was before. I may or may not have stripped a screw in the process. When I tried closing the door I realized that I needed to chisel out a bit more of the door jamb than I thought. I’m lazy, so instead of removing the plate again (and further stripping the screw) I took a knife to the interfering wood and hollowed out a bit of it. That solved the problem.

So now our powder room door works as intended. If I were more of a perfectionist I’d try filling the cracks and gaps that resulted from moving the plate. I’m not that picky, but I didn’t like how I could see some bare wood against the dark plate and jamb. I did the easy thing: I grabbed a blue Sharpie marker and coloured the bare wood so it blended better with the door jamb. As you can see in this tiny picture, it looks fine now unless you’re taking a very close look. And if you are taking a very close look at the latch plate on my powder room door jamb, I have to ask: why?

With that fifteen-minute investment of time, I can finally “go in peace”…or just pretend that’s what I’m doing, when really I’m just taking the opportunity to think my own thoughts for five minutes…and maybe finish a sudoku.

better homes than yours · DIY · family fun · Renovation

Day 221: Again with the Mocking

“All you’re getting is tiny chips! I can do better than that!”

“Fine. Show me.” THWACK! “Oh, please. Move over, little girl! Watch how a woman does it.”


“See? That’s how it’s done.

“Yeah, in like seven strokes. My turn. Watch and learn.”

K and I were in the backyard, splitting logs for firewood. I had been doing it alone for twenty minutes (great workout, by the way) when K came out to join me. She’s actually quite good at it, but I couldn’t help ribbing her a bit when the logs wouldn’t split. Solitary work turned into a friendly competition with all the trash-talking and mocking that that entails.

The other mocking I did today was a hardboard mock-up of my dining room tabletop. You probably already know about my love of cardboard mock-ups for projects like my kitchen and E’s playhouse. This time I used a sheet of ⅛” Masonite that served as floor protection during our renovation. I’m trying to figure out how long I can make the table before it becomes too big for the room (right now I’m thinking around nine feet,) and trying to decide how narrow is too narrow (thirty-six inches? thirty-eight?).

And then there are the corners. Because of where the table has to be (at the entrance to the dining room, in a high-traffic area,) I’m a little worried that people will walk into the corners (okay, fine. I’m worried that I’ll walk into the corners and have a bruised left hip for the rest of my life.) So I’m going to start cutting various degrees of rounded corners to see what looks best.

Of course, deciding on seating would be a good idea too. I initially wanted a banquette along the wall, but I’m thinking people might get pretty sick of having to slide in and out, especially with a table that can seat five people on a side. On the other hand, a banquette puts a stop to people bashing their chairs into the wall when they get up. On the other other hand, it means that the table can be closer to the wall. So many things to think about.

Advice? Thoughts? Do you have a long table with a built-in bench on one side? All advice gratefully accepted!

better homes than yours · DIY · Kids · Renovation

Day 153: Cheery blues (house tour continued)

Welcome to K’s room!

Naturally, we started with the paint colour (which every decorator and designer will tell you is exactly the wrong thing to start with.) K chose Bahaman Sea Blue. I talked her into trying something very different with the paint: we painted the ceiling and trim in her colour of choice and kept the walls white.

The door (almost all the doors of the house, in fact) is painted in an unusual way. I had the idea of painting the splines (the door’s edges) and the recessed panel in colour, and the rails and stiles in white. It’s one of the details that I absolutely love about this house: the colour of each door hints at the room beyond.

We decided to split up K’s wardrobes and use two of them to flank her bed, with the remaining one tucked beside her desk. I found the turquoise crystal knobs on Amazon, much to her delight. The wardrobes are set up with lights that turn on whenever the doors are open.

K’s bed is the one I built for her just before E was born. I never got around to painting it, and now K doesn’t really want me to. It’s solid, simple, and has enough room underneath to house an extra single mattress. My mom found the duvet cover and pillow sham and decided it was perfect for K’s room. She was right.

K also sleeps with the quilt I made her when she moved into her first big-girl bed. I still get a little thrill every time I see her wrapped up in it.

Her bedside table arrangement is another thing that is turning out to be more permanent than I hoped. On one side she has a shoe cabinet from IKEA, and the other side is a wire cart I’ve had pretty much forever. Not pretty, but they get the job done.

K’s desk… oy, her desk. Even after I organized the wall with some pegboard to hold stationery, school supplies, and mementoes, it’s still covered with stuff all the time. The under-shelf lighting I installed as a space-saving alternative to a desk lamp never gets used. Underneath the desk live all sorts of stuffies and special pillows. It’s not really a work space and K isn’t keen on making it one.

Here’s my favourite feature in this room: K’s display and storage wall. I hacked it using TRONES shoe cabinets and some shelves from IKEA, with picture ledges above. The cabinets, which I customized with some quilting fabric and mod podge, tilt open to store K’s dance costumes, craft kits, and other random stuff. Her rubber duck collection has taken up residence on the display ledges along with various certificates and pictures. Beside the shelves, a giant stuffed giraffe named “Giraffy Taffy” stands guard against duck theft.

I still want to add some kind of statement-making display of books and art to the blank wall; maybe one day I’ll have time for projects again. In the meantime, this room is K’s haven. Sometimes I even wish it was mine.

better homes than yours · DIY · education · Kids · parenting · Renovation

Day 143: A Time to Build, and a Time to Dismantle

Guess what?

(Aw, c’mon. Guess!)

Remember I told you about how my mitre saw was stolen out of the tent shed in my backyard last summer? Well, I’ve finally replaced it.

Everyone, I want you to meet Daisy:

Yes, I took a selfie with my new saw… because I’m cool like that.

I took Daisy out last night to start working on a desk and some shelves for my office. I do have that temporary ledge I set up a few months ago, but I need a bit more space: I want to hook up my laptop to a larger monitor and a keyboard so I can have a more ergonomic arrangement. I started yesterday morning by taking at least a dozen measurements, and then rendered it in SketchUp. Have a look:

I took K with me to Lowe’s (aka my happy place) to buy materials. I got some really nice thick pine slabs for the floating shelves (I think they’ll tie in nicely with the pine stair treads and handrails.) I’m using regular pine boards for the desk, and the drawer will be painted the same blue as my kitchen, just for some variety.

So anyhow, last night I was out on my parents’ driveway with Daisy, happily making some very clean and precise cuts. Everything went well with the boards for the floating shelves and the dowels that will help hold them up. Then I started on the desk box. This one had the potential to be very tricky because, unlike in the rendering, I decided to build the box with nice 45-degree miter cuts.

It was more than tricky — it was bad. The pine boards were cupped ever so slightly (meaning they were curved from side to side, not end to end, in something resembling the arrow from the Amazon logo.) When I made the miter cuts it was plain to see that the cuts weren’t straight (because the boards weren’t.) Back to the drawing board I go.

I’ve always wanted my kids to show an interest in tools and building, but last week N made me question that desire for a second or two. He was helping K measure her super-long chain of Rainbow Loom bands, and I guess he pulled the tape out a bit too far, because it refused to retract again. I couldn’t do it and eventually pulled the tape all the way out of its case.

While it’s likely that most people probably would have thrown the whole thing out, I’m not most people. I took the case and the tape downstairs to see if it could be fixed. N noticed it on the bench in the Makery and asked, “What’s inside there?”

I’m so glad he asked. I fetched a couple of screw drivers and pointed N towards the screws on the side of the case. We opened it up to see the spring-loaded spool and the lever that runs between the thumb lock button and the stop. Mr. December walked by at that point and explained how the whole thing worked. N was fascinated.

Granted, I don’t want my kids to walk around breaking stuff. But I can’t deny that dismantling things is almost as educational as building them, and it requires only a fraction of the skills that building does. I guess a $13 measuring tape was worth sacrificing for my kid’s education.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go hide the rest of my good measuring tapes. I’ll be using them a lot more now that Daisy is in my life.

better homes than yours · blogging · crafty · DIY · Kids · Montessori · Renovation

Day 142: A sunny room for a sunny girl (house tour)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on our house tour. I have to admit that as much as I want to “keep it real” and show you our house the way we live in it, I kind of wanted to do a bit of cleanup first, maybe fix the window coverings that kept coming apart, that sort of thing. I think you know as well as I do where the time for that has gone. (*cough**homeschool**cough*)

Let’s do E’s room today. She picked the colour herself, which some might say is unnecessary in the case of a three-year-old, but it was very important to Mr. December especially that the kids make those choices. She chose “Mellow Yellow” for the walls, which is sunny without leaning too far towards green. I love that E’s room is at the end of the hall. It faces due west, so in the afternoon the room seems to glow. Many times I’ve walked in to turn off the light, only to realize that the light wasn’t on. The combination of Mellow Yellow and sunshine just makes it look that way.

Her door, like all the other doors in the house, isn’t painted all one colour. Instead we painted the centre panel and the splines (the edges of the door) in the colour chosen by the room’s inhabitant, and the stiles and rails are white.

As in other parts of the house, Montessori philosophy heavily influenced our decor choices in E’s room. Here’s her desk area. We used an adjustable-height desk and a children’s desk chair, set low enough that when she’s seated her elbows are at or above desk height and her knees are at a right angle. It the right height for her to be able to work at the desk with her feet touching the floor. I attached one of IKEA’s SKADIS pegboards to her desk and added a few shelves, cups, and clips. E herself decided to populate it with pictures of her younger self, birthday cards, and a few school supplies.

It’s important to note that this desk picture, as well as a few others in this post, was taken from E’s eye level. I think that’s essential to appreciating how she sees her room. There’s not a whole lot going on above the four foot mark. To give you a better sense of the scale on the whole, I’ve also taken some pictures from the adult’s perspective, like the very first photo at the top of this post.

E’s reading nook is really the result of a trip I made to HomeSense. I found this little armchair with elephants all over it and felt that it would be perfect for E. Then, as we were starting to unwrap and hang our artwork, the microcalligraphy painting called to me. I hung it at E’s eye level, not ours.

(An aside about the painting: it’s the first piece of art Mr. December and I ever bought together. We were in Israel while we were dating and happened upon this gallery in Tzfat. The artist specializes in microcalligraphy, meaning that by writing the words of a biblical story in tiny, tiny letters, he crates pictures of the story itself. When I saw the Noah’s Ark print, I leaned over to Mr. December and said, “That would be perfect for a kid’s room, wouldn’t it?” To which he replied, “Let’s buy it for our children, then.” Note that we weren’t even engaged at the time, although I suppose we had already agreed that’s where we were headed.)

The reading nook also happens to be conveniently located right next door to Peppa Pig’s house:

At E’s level, too, against most of our decor instincts, is where I installed the cute yellow doorknobs for her wardrobes. On opening the doors you can see that I arranged the drawers and hanging rods so that E could reach her everyday clothes by herself. The wardrobes are PAX from IKEA, which means that as she grows and her storage needs change, I can swap out the interior fittings and rearrange them to suit her needs. Have I mentioned that “retaining flexibility” was a high priority for both Mr. December and me?

As you can see in the photos, the height of the doorknobs and hanging rod make sense when viewed from E’s eye level:

E’s bed was my choice: since we don’t have a guest bedroom but would like to be able to have guests, three of the four kids’ rooms are able to sleep at least two people. That way we can get the kids to double up and give one child’s room to our guests. This bed pulls out to form a king-size bed (just add another single mattress,) which has been very handy when the three younger kids want to sleep together. Even in its enlarged mode, there are two large drawers underneath for bed sheets and pyjamas.

The yellow bedding is a result of serendipity at work. This duvet cover and pillow sham were mine when I was a teenager. After E had chosen her wall colour, my mom pointed out that it was almost a perfect match for my old bedding, dug up said bedding, and presented it to E for her new room.

I made the Roman shade for E’s window myself, which you can probably tell by the imperfect way it’s hanging. For some reason the cord keeps fraying and breaking even though I’m using the nice kind of hardware (with a pulley wheel and everything.) I need to fix it one day. I found the fabric, which matches the upholstered armchair, in an online store with free U.S. shipping and had it shipped to Mr. December’s company in California in advance of one of his business trips.

The bookcase serving as a headboard is really a placeholder, although I’m not sure if and when I’ll get around to building what I really wanted there. Nevertheless, it gives E’s elephant herd a place to live and still has space for some bedtime books.

What else is missing from my grand plan? I’d like to flank the bed with a bookcase/storage unit on each end, and add some wall-mounted reading lights on either side of the window (what can I say? I like symmetry.) If E so chooses, we can add some more decorations on the walls, although I like how clean and simple it is right now.

That’s it for E’s room. Stay tuned for the rest of the kids’ bedrooms, each of which is as unique as the child who lives in it.

better homes than yours · DIY · Just the two of us · Renovation

Day 116: Bedroom in the Trees (house tour continues)

At the top of the stairs, if you look behind you and to the left, there’s a door painted in blue. That’s my bedroom (okay, fine. I share it with Mr. December.)

N made the “knock first, then wait for an answer” sign for me. I’d love to have a prettier sign that says the same thing, but, in a prime example of the constant tension between aesthetics and parenting, I decided to honour N’s effort and thoughtfulness by using the sign he made.

Let’s open the door…

Let’s start with the windows. They’re high enough that all we can see is trees and the sky. The walls are white, and the ceiling and trim are my favourite Benjamin Moore paint colour, Windmill Wings.

(Is it weird to have a favourite paint colour? I’ve loved this one since 2003 — my old bathroom at my parents’ house was painted this colour as well.)

The ceiling light is from IKEA, and fulfils Mr. December’s major requirement of being very bright but very diffuse: you can lie on your back facing the fixture and still not get spots in front of your eyes when you look away.

The bed is from IKEA too, as are the side tables. I’m building the headboard myself, with the side tables and reading lamps attached, so that we don’t have things falling down behind the bedside tables all the time. My plan is to clad the front of the headboard with distressed, whitish-bluish wood boards; we’ll see how that pans out. Right now it’s way down on my list of priorities.

The curtains, however, were a high priority; Mr. December was hesitant to have so many east-facing windows in our bedroom and only agreed to them after I promised that we’d have some kind of complete blackout treatment for them. They’re full-length, lined with blackout fabric, and wide enough to overlap with each other. They also happen to include the colour of our trim (which is hard to match, as it has a touch of violet that other light blues don’t.)

There’s a small nook on my side of the room that I call my treehouse. It looks out into the big old Douglas fir tree outside. I’ve hung my own hammock chair here, and it’s my quiet space to sit and chat on the phone with friends. The reading light in the nook is my favourite light fixture in the house; K has cleverly named it “Dimwit.” Beside Dimwit I’ve hung my favourite photo of the two of us, taken twenty years ago at Half Moon Bay, California.

At the foot of our bed we’ve hung our Ketubah (Jewish marriage contract.) Mr. December had it custom-made for us. I only noticed after we hung it up that it matches our ceiling perfectly and echoes the trees outside. We couldn’t have known that sixteen years ago, and we didn’t even think about the ketubah when we designed this room. There’s something to be said for designing your house to your specifications: in the end, everything (even the things you owned before) just fits.

Just to the left of our ketubah is the doorway to our walk-in closet. My goal was to keep all of our clothes in one well-organized place. I could have gone with an expensive custom closet place, but why bother? I went to IKEA, which (aside from looking really darned good and being completely modular) allows me to go back later to get new components or storage trays and boxes with the assurance that everything will fit perfectly.

See the mirrors in the two pictures on the right? Another example of my reluctance to waste a single square inch — they conceal shallow cabinets inside the wall, and when I open them they create a 3-way mirror so that I can see all of myself at once (above, last picture on the right).

And now, my favourite part… the bathroom.

Some people find ocean views relaxing; for me, a view of a forest with a lake makes me feel good whenever I see it. The image is a wallpaper mural, laminated to be waterproof, spanning the entire wall (Mr. December and I installed it ourselves.) The floor is the same Scotia slate flagstone that we used in the front hallway and by the back door.

On your left when you enter the bathroom is our double vanity. This was one of my builds, my second-proudest moment after the herringbone shelves in the living room. I wasn’t originally planning to build my own vanity, but after my architect refused to give me three extra inches in that room, I couldn’t get a ready-made vanity to fit the space. After seeing the cost of a custom vanity and scoffing (“It’s a box! I can build a box!”) I decided to do it myself.

The toilet is behind the half wall, which (predictably) contains a few in-wall cabinets that house toilet paper and books. To the right of the toilet is the shower.

I wanted it to feel like we were showering outside; the floor is teak, which is never too cold on the feet and keeps the feet out of standing water. To keep costs down, I bought a ready-made teak mat and just trimmed the sides a bit. In case you’re wondering, it’s been nearly two years of daily use and the mat still looks good, although it’s probably due for a new coat of teak oil.

I flirted with the idea of using outdoor siding as the shower walls, but I couldn’t find anyone who had done it and had suggestions, and the manufacturer didn’t recommend it (probably because it never occurred to them.) In the meantime, I found these tiles and decided that they would provide the desired effect.

Finally, we have the bathtub. I don’t use it often, but for the ten times a year that I want a bath, I really don’t want to use the one in the kids’ bathroom. Our tub is contoured like a chaise, and surrounded by teak decking that echoes the shower floor and the countertop. I also installed a reading light on a dimmer switch so that I can enjoy my bath in a darkened room while still being able to see my book. There’s a skylight over the tub too — although in hindsight I would have put it over the shower, which we use far more frequently.

So that’s it — my sanctuary. A ceiling the colour of a perfect sky, trees all around, the warmth of natural materials, and a place for everything. I love it here.