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.

blogging · crafty · lists · parenting · Renovation · waxing philosophical

Day 93: What’s on your photo roll?

I think you can tell a lot about a person by their photo roll. Take my dad, for instance: his photo roll is mostly plants and wildlife, with occasional spurts of family snapshots. You can tell he’s a green-thumbed family man who lives near the ravine.

My photo roll says a lot about me, too. Here are some of the most common types of photos I take with my phone:

Rashes and injured limbs

Guess which one hurts. Aw, go on, guess

I’d say about 20% of my photos these days are of medical problems. Skin rash? Let’s take a picture (maybe even next to a ruler or measuring tape so we know if it’s getting bigger.) You foot hurts? Let’s photograph both feet to see if one looks swollen.

You may think this is a direct result of the shift to online doctor’s appointments; it’s not. I have rash pictures dating back to 2014. I’ll admit it can be jarring when one scrolls through my photo roll, but these pictures have proven themselves useful over and over again.

One hundred consecutive kid selfies

These happen when my children get a hold of my phone. Before I set it down, the last picture on my photo roll is something normal (okay, given the first item maybe not normal normal, but normal for me.) When I pick it up again, there are a hundred pics in a row that look something like this:

“Hello? Is this thing on?”

Perfect parenting moments

These are photos of times that everything went right. Scratch that: these are times when something went right, and I had to document it for posterity. Things like beautiful birthday parties, the bigger kids helping the little ones, or idyllic photos of my carefree children playing out in nature, barefoot. These are the photographic evidence I’ll need to remind myself that I actually did a pretty good job of this parenting thing.

Child labour

I really just can’t get enough of pictures of my kids doing real, valuable work in the house. Cooking, cleaning, laundry… I have dozens of those.

Endless renovation shots

While we were building our house, Mr. December used my camera to document the process. We have hundreds of photos of everything from the fully-gutted shell of our house to the exact position and placement of the wires, before the drywall was installed. It’s a lot to scroll through, but those photos have come in handy on many occasions.

Pretty food

Remember the days before digital photography, when you had to wait for the film to be developed and then you had to go knock on everyone’s door to show them what you made for dinner? Yeah, me neither. But I’ve often fallen into the trap of photographing food I’ve made — especially adorable things like the bento lunches I made for K when I was younger and less jaded.

Stuff I make

I try to photograph everything I make with my own hands, from quilts to bookcases. Most of these photos don’t really go anywhere except this blog, but there was a period many years ago when I was selling stuff I had sewn. My photo roll from that time is full of pics taken for my now-defunct Etsy store.

And a bunch of other stuff…

I have photos of my little blue Yaris after it got rear-ended on the 401; stuff I was selling on Craigslist; “before” pics of me in workout gear (note to self: I looked better in the “before”. Maybe just be happy with where we are right now, hmm?); and, of course, normal everyday snapshots.

So… what’s on your photo roll?

better homes than yours · crafty · DIY · Independence · it's my potty · Kids · Renovation

Day 82: Bathroom time!

Today I’d like to show you the kids’ bathrooms. There are two — one for R and E, and one for K and N. A lot of thought and planning went into these rooms, as well as a fair amount of blood, sweat. and tears (remember the back-painted plexiglass from the basement bathroom? It’s in these ones too.)

As you can see in the mirror of the first picture, the bathrooms are at opposite ends of the hall. I can supervise tooth-brushing for both bathrooms at the same time.

This bathroom belongs to R and E. As in their bedrooms, the colour choice was theirs. They also had a hand in making those pendant lights; After I had spray-painted the large beads, the girls each created a pattern and strung beads on the lamp cord. The light pendants (i.e. the cords and globes) are from IKEA — as is most of this room.

The vanity and countertop/sink is from IKEA, and I spray-painted the drawer fronts. It’s installed quite low to the ground — maybe two feet high. Since the girls have to use this bathroom every day, I wanted to make sure it was comfortable for them to use. As they grow, it’s a simple enough task to raise the vanity (same vanity, taller platform underneath) and the mirror (cheap builder’s mirror from Lowe’s — if it doesn’t come off the wall cleanly, it’s not much of a loss). I specifically chose pendant lights so that we could adjust their height as the girls get taller.

The floor is a pebble mosaic tile, chosen partly for its natural look and partly for its many grout lines that make the floor fairly non-slip. This is another area where I drove my contractors crazy; the tiles come in mats with wavy edges, so that they interlock. The problem is that when you install them as sold, you see these wavy lines of grout and the construction of the mosaic becomes obvious. I got the tile installer to remove some pebbles here and there to make the lines disappear. He was a good sport and a perfectionist to boot, and he did a really great job, here and in every place that there’s a stone floor.

For baseboard — and the sidesplashes by the sink — we decided to use the same stone mosaic. Our tile guy cut each mat in half and installed them with the wavy side up.

The round hooks are another IKEA classic. They come in packages of mixed colours, and as you’ll see in the next bathroom, I managed to use most of the colours in the pack.

The sink area is separated from the toilet and bath by a door. My reasoning for this stems from my adolescence: few things are more annoying than having to wait an hour to brush your teeth because your brother needs a long shower. This way the more private functions of the bathroom can be behind a closed door, and other people can still wash their hands, do their hair, or brush their teeth.

The door to the toilet area is a normal swing door, and the door between the sink area and the hallway is another sliding pocket door. We assumed (so far correctly) that the sliding door would never be closed.

You might notice that there are three shades of pink in this bathroom. Since we had colours for two doorways and a shower wall, I decided to do it as a gradient. We picked three colours from the same paint chip and went from lightest to darkest.

Have I mentioned how much E loves elephants? This shower curtain is probably the most expensive shower curtain I’ve ever bought, and worth every cent of it.

This bathroom has a preschool-height toilet. You might think that it will be too low for them in very short order, but so far R’s knees are only just at a right angle if she sits on it with feet flat on the floor. And given the recent popularity of the “Squatty Potty”, I might not have to swap it out as soon as I had anticipated. In any event, I felt (and still feel) that $500 for a new toilet (and installation) was well worth the years of comfort and independence this preschool toilet would give the girls.

Behind the shower curtain you can see the back-painted plexiglass shower walls. You can also see one of the major problems with them: the mastic we used to adhere them to the wall wasn’t clear, and it shows through. Live and learn. I’m trying to make myself believe that the wavy pattern was intentional.

I used these shower columns in the children’s bathrooms because I recognized a fundamental truth: if my shower was better than theirs, they’d be nagging me to use my shower all the time. Mine is still a little nicer, but they really can’t complain about this one. It’s also a very quick and easy installation from a plumbing perspective since all you need are hot and cold water lines. All the rest of the plumbing is inside the panel.

Now over to K and N’s bathroom. You can see how the colour changes from dark teal to turquoise. The floors are the same tile as in the pink bathroom, and in both bathrooms we have under-floor heating. If I could go back, I’d keep the heating but move its thermostat to somewhere inconvenient, like behind the vanity drawers. My kids are too fond of turning the heat up to 30 degrees celsius and then lying on the floor to read.

The vanity is identical to the pink one in R and E’s bathroom, except for the colour and the height. This countertop is lower than the current standard (which seems to be 36″), but it’s pretty close to the height bathroom counters used to be fifteen years ago. Still, it can be raised if need be.

The vanity lights are from IKEA. So is the round mirror, but I bought it off Craigslist since this design had been discontinued. Above the large mirror we have smaller round mirrors that trail up to the ceiling like air bubbles in water.

As I mentioned earlier, I used the same round hooks from IKEA in both bathrooms. All the blue and green ones ended up in here for K and N’s towels and bathrobes.

You can see the shower walls (yup, back-painted plexiglass again) and the shower column (identical to the one in the pink shower) just beyond the door.

Since this bathroom is used by a hygiene-challenged nine-year-old boy (really, what nine-year-old boy isn’t?), I used some wall decals to remind him of a few important steps in his bathroom routine. These were a late addition that I jumped at when I discovered them at Dollarama. The perfect colours, perfect words, and perfect price.

So that’s it. We’ll start touring the kids’ rooms this week, hit my room on the way back down the hall, and end in the attic — at the top of the house and so much fun that it feels like we’re on top of the world!

better homes than yours · crafty · DIY · Renovation

Day 80: Onward and upward! (house tour continued)

Welcome back! If you’re finished admiring my perch, we can head upstairs to the second floor.

You may recall that each child chose their own colour, and those colour choices formed the palette for our entire house. On the second floor we highlighted those colour choices by keeping the hallway white — except for the trim and the doors, which are painted the same colour as the trim inside the room beyond.

The first door on our right, in light green, leads to the laundry room. As you’ll see in a minute, the laundry room boasts a large window and I didn’t want to lose all that light just because we might not want to hear the machines; hence the glass door. It’s a sliding pocket door because there’s really no good place for a door to swing open here.

Inside the laundry room we have the machines on the right and the countertop, drying racks, and sink on the left. And in the middle, a big beautiful window that ensures it’s always bright enough to see stains that need pre-treating.

The cabinets are one of my builds. They hold laundry baskets and hampers on the bottom; the short, wide opening was designed to accommodate a swing-out ironing board that I haven’t gotten around to building yet. The cabinet under the sink was going to have a door, but in the end I felt that we don’t need one, and it would probably just get in our way.

The drying racks up above are one of my DIY upcycling projects: they were a way to use parts of our old crib, now that our baby days are behind us. The wood countertop is the same as those in our kitchen; it gives us plenty of space to fold clean clothes. The sink is a bit small for my liking, but a couple of SNAFUs during construction led us here; my consolation is that we have a big utility sink in the Makery.

We built a platform for the laundry machines. The platform is fully waterproof and has a drain in its floor in case of a leak or a flood — it’s essentially built like a shower floor. This puts the machines at a comfortable height, and gives us a lot of usable space below. Right now it’s where we keep the extra toilet paper and paper towels. Sitting on top of the machines (no special installation) is another part of our old crib, serving as a drying rack.

Right-o. Back out into the hall, where you notice these four panels in the wall. This was one of those details that probably drove our builder crazy. When they were framing the walls, this wall had to be thicker than most to accommodate the pocket doors (they have to slide in somewhere.) I saw huge spaces between the studs that were just going to be closed up with drywall, and informed the contractors that I would be installing cabinets in those openings. In the end I built the cabinet boxes, installed them with Mr. December’s help (it’s not a job for just two hands), and milled and installed the trim.

What’s inside? All of the extra toiletries and supplies, as well as our first aid kit. The doors have push-openers so that we don’t have knobs sticking out into the hallway and catching on people’s clothes.

By the way, installing cabinets like these is easy. I posted a tutorial for it years ago, when I built an in-wall spice cabinet in our kitchen. I’m hooked on using every inch of otherwise unusable space, and this is a great way to do it.

I’ll leave you here for today. When the tour continues, we’ll do the children’s bathrooms and I’ll answer the question of why I bothered putting a preschool-sized toilet and low sink in a bathroom my kids will be using until they move out.

better homes than yours · blogging · Kids · Renovation

Day 78: My Perch (house tour, continued)

I think it’s time we moved upstairs.

Our next room isn’t really a room, but it’s one of my favourite spots in the house. When you look up the stairs from the dining room, this is what you see:

This is what I call my perch. What you can’t see from this angle is my desk (more of a shelf right now, really). When we were designing the house, I asked the architect to make the landing extra-large to accommodate a nice reading chair. How could I pass up so much natural light? After a little more thought I decided we’d put my desk there, too. The architect pooh-poohed the idea, saying she didn’t think I’d be happy in a cramped corner like that. But one person’s cramped is another person’s cozy, so I stood my ground.

Incidentally, all the plants are courtesy of my dad, who has a gift when it comes to houseplants. Me, I can hardly keep a few plants alive. My dad, on the other hand, lovingly cares for and nurtures more than a few dozen (I’ve never counted, but if I had to estimate I’d say it’s actually more like a hundred or more.)

Our guests tend to gravitate to this spot. It’s a lovely, bright place to sit and have a chat. It’s also a convenient stop, halfway down the stairs, where Mr. December sits down to put on his socks every morning. And it’s where I sit to read emails, pay bills, answer phone calls, and write this blog. All I have to do is turn one chair around, and… voilà!

This setup is temporary, and has been for a while. My initial plan here was to build in a flip-down desk that could be hidden when it wasn’t in use; the space above it would have cabinets for storing all my files (in binders. I prefer them to file folders.) But now I’m not so sure about that plan. Maybe there’s something different I could do with this space? I’m open to suggestions.

One important feature of my office space is the views. I do have a lovely view of the trees and the backyard, which is handy for keeping an eye on the children when they’re playing out there. But my perch, as I’ve taken to calling it, also allows me to see the front door (and the porch beyond, thanks to the large window), The upstairs hallway and attic stair, the living and dining rooms, and even the kitchen. It’s the perfect place to keep tabs on everyone but be a little removed from the action. Here are a few of the views from my chair:

I have to admit, I’ve been second guessing my choice of office location every since COVID caused all six of us to be at home all the time. Now that I don’t have a quiet house from 9:00 to 3:00 every day, I find it hard to do anything that involves serious thinking or intense concentration. There are definitely times I’d like a room with a door. But then I authorize my kids to open the front door without my having to get up, or I catch them eating in the living room (not allowed in our house,) and having to put up with a little noise and a lot of chaos feels worth it.

better homes than yours · crafty · DIY · quilty pleasures · Renovation

Day 69: Welcome to the Messy Place!

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s here. Welcome to the Makery!

Prior to our renovation, I wanted a space for my sewing and woodworking projects. Then it dawned on me that my kids should have a place to work on projects where it would be okay to not clean up every single time. We needed a messy space, and my concept for the Makery was born.

Not long after the concept, I came up with a motto for our Makery: “Don’t just stand there… make something!” Our good friend Tanya very kindly used her vinyl-cutting machine to make the letters for us. The plan was for each of us to make one letter from the word “Makery” so that we’d have the whole word, made in six different media, on the wall. That hasn’t happened yet, but I remain hopeful.

Here’s my sewing area. It’s in what I’ve dubbed the “clean” half of the room. The IKEA Trofast bins on the right of the photo are full of quilting fabrics in every colour imaginable. I’ve got my threads all lined up nicely and all the tools and notions are close at hand while I sew. My favourite practical detail here has got to be the huge jars across the top of the shelf — those are my scrap jars. I fell in love with scrap projects a while ago, and even when I’m not opening them up regularly, these jars are pretty and cheerful.

I have tons of these bins. Starting under the window (everything before the window is fabric), everything above table height is my hardware or household supplies, all organized by material or purpose. Below table height is where I keep some of the craft materials that the kids are allowed to access: modelling clay, beads, boondoggle, stamps, paints, papercrafting supplies, and stickers.

Now let’s shift to the “messy” side of the Makery. The white cabinets are from our old kitchen — we removed and salvaged them ourselves. Now they’re home to my collection of non-quilting fabrics: minky, fleece, chenille, flannel, and a bunch of other stuff I couldn’t even name. It’s all in there. Below the fabric cabinet is a desk for the kids. You see it here in its natural state, which is to say, covered in stuff. To the left of the desk, open shelves (also from our old kitchen) hold more craft supplies. The blue cart in the foreground has containers of tools: clay tools, pencils, markers, pens, scissors.

Our printer lives in the corner, along with many reams of paper. You would not believe how much paper and ink we’ve gone through since the lockdown started. We also have a set of laundry machines here: these are our old washer and dryer. They were already ten years old when we were moving back in, and I didn’t want to build our laundry room upstairs around machines that could die in just a few years; so we have this set downstairs and another set upstairs. This set is supposed to be for things that are gross or that we don’t want to carry upstairs to wash. I doubt we’ll replace them when they go.

To the right of the laundry machines, under the window, we have a run of cabinets from, you guessed it, our old kitchen. The sink is fabulous for soaking brushes and washing out paint trays. My favourite thing about it is the lack of pressure to clean the sink itself. I like to think of the paint drips as decoration.

In the drawers I’ve stashed more materials. The large bottom drawer holds all kinds of small scraps of wood. The top large drawer holds cardboard for the kids to use in their crafts. You can see my paintbrushes, paint trays, and spray bottles all stored on the wall rail above the sink. The toaster oven on the counter is for crafts like Fimo and Shrinky Dinks, which need to be baked as part of the process.

My workbench is on the same wall as my sewing room, but on opposite sides of the “clean/messy” line. The two chunky base units were my kitchen island in our first apartment on Charles Street; we added a long countertop and then I hacked a couple of drawers from our old PAX wardrobes to hold my screws, nails, and other hardware, as well as sets of drill bits and other small tool accessories. Magnetic strips on the wall are a handy place to throw things that I haven’t had a chance to sort yet, and all my tools are hanging right in front of me. It’s a great setup.

In the centre of the room stands our old dining room table. At 5 feet by 7 feet, it’s got enough room for many crafters at once, or for huge projects. You can also see our kids’ easel, which gets moved around as needed.

So that’s it. The messy, the clean… well, in theory, anyhow. It’s all pretty messy, which is how I always thought it would be. It’s a workspace, not a showpiece… although I do like to use my work to decorate the space whenever possible, which is why this unfinished quilt top is just hanging on the wall, waiting to be completed.

better homes than yours · Renovation · Resorting to Violins

Day 61: People of the Book Room (house tour!)

You’re about to enter one of the most beloved rooms in our house:

(Drumroll, excited murmuring from the crowd)

The Library.

When we started planning this renovation, a library was at the top of Mr. December’s list of must-haves. It made my top three as well, but it got edged out by natural light.

We knew we wanted the library to be an “away room”, to borrow a term from architect Sarah Susanka. If we had a living room and dining room that were open to each other, then we needed a room that could be closed off and isolated from noise. Since I also wanted a music room (for instruments and live music, not for listening to recordings) and that would require isolation of sound as well, we decided to put the two together. Besides, does it get any more classy than a room full of books and musical instruments?

On the first day of this tour you saw the mirrored doors on one side of the front hall. When they and the sliding glass door to the dining room are closed, there’s significantly less sound transfer between rooms. Between that and the built-in sound mitigation strategies (double drywall with green glue, resilient channel in the ceiling, extra insulation in the walls), the library/music room is the quietest room in the house. IMG_3579

Let’s open the doors, shall we?


The library has large windows that face due west, which means that we get bright sunlight all afternoon, which is why you can’t see the stone fireplace very well. The only part of our bungalow’s interior that we preserved, the wood-burning fireplace makes this our favourite room to be in on chilly nights.


It took us a while to decide what to put on the wall above the fireplace. We discussed a wedding photo, metal sculpture, and paintings; then Mr. December found this 3D wooden map of the world, and everything else paled in comparison — especially after we learned that it could be lit up with colourful LED lights. Tacky? Maybe. Epic? Oh yeah.

There’s a tiny house engraved on the map right where Toronto is, to signify our home. We also had a quote engraved just below where it says “Antarctica”: Life is short and the world is wide. 

I see this room as essentially having two halves: the book side, and the music side.


Three walls of the library are lined with built-in bookshelves and cabinetry. This was yet another one of my DIY projects that was interrupted by my concussion. I designed the library in sketchup and had our painter/carpenter dude build it for us. One day I plan to build a rolling ladder to help us reach the top shelves, but for now we just keep Terry’s poker books there, along with the complete transcripts of the Nuremberg Trials (important to have, but we don’t actually want to read them.)

The magazine rack in the back right corner of the photo is another example of making lemonade out of lemons. You see, we had to put a steel beam into the basement ceiling to hold up this wall and the post above it. To our consternation, the contractors installed the beam almost a foot away from where it was supposed to be, thus making our pantry smaller. I insisted that we enlarge the pantry by stealing some space from the library. To disguise it, we built these very shallow ledges to use as a magazine display.


At the other end of the library, on the music side, we have this beautiful window seat. The cushions are from the old window seat in our bungalow — I’m very stuck on choosing a fabric for this seat, so if you have any suggestions please send them my way.

Under the window seat is a huge space for storing instrument cases. We don’t access them often because we don’t take our instruments out of the house very often, and we prefer to have them easily accessible.


In case you’re wondering, yes, that is the same instrument hanger that I built years ago. I painted it to match the library and it’s still going strong.

Since the library is so quiet and private, K really likes doing her homework in here. For a while we dithered on where to put a desk — in the interim she used a folding table — until I decided that a pull-out desk would be just the thing. When she wants to use it, it pulls out and locks in the open position. With a sharp push, it unlocks and rolls back inside the cabinet.


On the opposite wall we have our electric piano with an adjustable reading lamp above it, and all of our music books. We also have a sturdy music stand that gets moved around a lot.


Since a library is really a celebration of words, we decided to decorate the crown moulding with quotes about books and reading. We chose our favourite quotes and deliberated over fonts; then I did the layout and sent it to a vinyl sign company to be laser-cut from adhesive vinyl. Installation was surprisingly easy, and we’re very happy with the results:


When we were choosing paint colours, everyone thought I was crazy for painting the ceiling the same dark purple-blue as the bookcases, walls, and woodwork. “It’ll be so dark!” my mother declared. “Don’t you want to lighten it up a little with a white ceiling?” The answer to that one was an emphatic no. I wanted to feel enveloped and cozy in here, and to do something a little different and daring. And now I’m so glad that I did.

The library still needs work. It needs furniture, a window seat cushion that actually fits, and some more books (see all those empty shelves? Don’t worry! We’re working on it!) But even in its underfurnished state, it’s a room where we all want to be.