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.





better homes than yours · family fun · Kids · Renovation

Day 58: The tour continues (downstairs)

I need more time to make my library not look like a disaster area, so today we’ll head downstairs into the rec room. What you see is a bit different from how we were using it before COVID: When schools closed I came down here and turned the rec room into the “school room.” And wouldn’t you know it, we do almost none of our homeschooling here — everybody wants to work at the dining room table.


Standing at the top of the basement stairs, you can see right out to our backyard. The landing has the same flagstone flooring (and heating!) as the front hall. It has to serve as a sort of mudroom, since this is where the children run in and out of the house all the time.

I actually have plans to outfit this area with some shoe organizers and a few hooks for coats, but I just haven’t gotten there yet.

As you descend from the landing you can look over the railing and see almost the entire room.


The room (including the staircase) is the same size as as it was when this house was a bungalow, but we made one substantial change: the windows. We used to have three tiny windows way up at the ceiling. Now we’ve got this wide expanse of glass that brings in lots of light and helps it feel less like a basement.


At first we thought this room might be used for swings, so we had our builders clad the wall with plywood instead of drywall to hide the inevitable dents. Clearly there are no swings here; but I do enjoy the fact that if I wanted to hang something on this wall I could screw right into it without using anchors or trying to find a stud.

The blue table was a very lucky curbside find. I set it up here so that E could have a workspace that was her size and was separate from everyone else’s work. The couch is our old couch from the living room in our bungalow.


The slightly darker patch on the wall is my quick and dirty method for an instant whiteboard. I used a roll of adhesive book covering material and stuck it right to the wall. See the red writing? My ambitious plan was to update it weekly with everyone’s learning goals. The first week I wrote on it was also the last week.



There’s a small table that looks like it belongs in a classroom. It did, before a private preschool went bust and sold off its furniture. My in-laws bought it for their home but were happy to send it to ours. There’s also an adult-sized table for the older kids to work at.



At the far end of the room we have a play area, with open shelving that houses puzzles and toys. This is where large-scale construction takes place with magna-tiles and the train set. The video game equipment that you see is on loan from friends. The screen was gathering dust in the storage room and is connected to nothing but the PlayStation (for which we have only three games: Rock Band, Lego Rock Band, and Rock Band 2.)

When you turn around and look back at the stairs, you can see E’s playhouse and, just beyond the stairs, a costume corner.


Here is the inside of the playhouse…


… and the view from the inside looking out:



You can access the costume corner directly from the playhouse or from the bottom of the stairs. This setup is relatively new: We used to have an old treasure-chest style trunk where we stuffed everything in. I’m hoping that the clothesline makes it easy to hang things back up and easier to find the one costume you want. 







That’s it for today. Next stop on the tour: The Makery!



better homes than yours · DIY · Kids · Renovation

Day 56: Kitchen tour!

My old kitchen had a few problems:

  • The most direct route from the front door to the bedrooms went straight through the kitchen. In the after-school hours, right when dinner needed to be cooked, people would be right in the way.
  • Because we walked back and forth through the kitchen all the time, Mr. December and I found it far too easy to snack every time we passed through.
  • Non-perishables were stored in cupboards at opposite ends of the kitchen. I hated going back and forth between them, trying to remember where exactly I put that can of beans.
  • There was only one stretch of countertop, which was fine for one cook but wasn’t enough prep space (or dirty dishes after shabbat dinner space) for two or more of us. You couldn’t make a sandwich at the counter while someone else made dinner.
  • I couldn’t see anything from my kitchen. Not the living or dining rooms, not the front door, not the back.

So I went and designed a kitchen that solved those problems. Mr. December and I were both adamantly against an open concept kitchen. Who wants to hear my blender while they’re trying to have a conversation in the living room? And I’m not a clean-as-you-go chef — I definitely don’t need my guests looking at piles of dirty pots and utensils while eating dinner at our table. So our kitchen is a closed kitchen, but with excellent views into other rooms and the option to open up a little.


Remember the built-in hutch in my dining room with the dish cupboards that open from both sides? The kitchen side of that hutch is just to your left as you enter the kitchen. Below the dish cupboards, at counter level, it houses a microwave, toaster, and our new coffee machine. The opening in the middle allows me to see into the dining room if I want, or to close it up so that noise and smells stay inside the kitchen.


The kitchen side of the hutch also houses two important features. One is the built-in and fully concealed dishwasher, directly below where we store our dishes and right next to the cutlery drawers. Unloading our dishwasher is now as easy as it could possibly get.


The other neat thing is my roll-away island. I especially love how I can pull it out to bake with the kids, so they can stand all around the bowl and work together. I have a matching island on wheels in my pantry, and I can use the two together to create a buffet or serving cart for parties.

(Remember parties? When dozens of people came to your house to mix and mingle in close proximity? Those were the days…)

As you move around the room (clockwise) you can see the window I built between the kitchen and the living room. Thanks to this window, I can see the kids in the living room — and even in the backyard — while I’m working in the kitchen.


When you stand at the sink, the garbage bins are to your right, with garbage on the bottom and green bin (organics) on top. When the dishwasher is open it’s directly to your left. The whole setup ensures easy workflow when doing dishes: turn to your right and scrape the plates into the green bin, face forward and rinse the dishes in the sink, turn to your left to load them into the dishwasher.

The other really cool thing about the garbage drawers: the bottom (garbage) drawer and the recycling drawer under the sink both have electric drawer openers. You nudge the drawer with your knee or kick it with your foot, and it slowly opens. Tap the drawer front and it closes itself gently. I really like not having to touch the drawer pulls when my hands are dirty with whatever is about to go in the garbage.

I especially love the placement of the green bin. I can chop vegetables and then sweep the scraps into the green bin without bending down or having to carry the scraps to a different part of the kitchen. It also makes for a much neater plate-scraping experience since you’re not dropping the scrapings from any height.

I love how the kitchen sink neatly divides two separate (and generously sized) prep areas. The one to the right, between the sink and the stove, is usually our go-to for serious cooking. The one on the left most often gets used for reheating leftovers or preparing simple breakfasts.

The stove is our old one — I really want an induction stove, but I also want it to have a downdraft vent like my current stove. So I’m waiting for Jenn-Air to decide to make an induction version of their downdraft range.

The middle drawer to the right of the stove is actually a warming drawer. It’s great for preparing dinner a bit early and then keeping it warm. I also use it when I’m making waffles, to keep the cooked waffles warm as they come off the iron.


If you turn to your right one more time you see the fourth wall of our kitchen, where you’ll find the step-in pantry, the fridge, and what we affectionately call the kids’ kitchen with its own prep sink. The door to the dining room is just to the right of that.

What I love about this setup is that if someone just needs a snack or a drink, they can get it all without walking into my workspace.


Many people have commented to me about the kids kitchen, “They’ll grow up, you know. Then what will you do?” My answer: yes, they’ll grow up. But right now they’re still small (well, some of them are) and if I want them to be independent in the kitchen (and I do) I need to make sure they have appropriately-sized workspaces and tools to use.

When they grow up, we can raise the cabinets or just replace that one section so that the worktop is higher. We can extend the plumbing upwards just a bit so there’s still a prep sink; and then we can move our coffee maker there and call it a coffee station or a bar. It’s all good.

Here’s a closer look into my pantry:

I really love being able to see everything I have at a glance. I also love not having to see the contents of my pantry all the time, so we made sure it had a sliding door. I must admit, it stays open most of the time. When the door does get closed, it’s almost always by someone who just needs to be completely alone for two minutes. It makes a decent isolation booth, seeing as that’s where all the snacks are kept!


Did I mention that my cabinets are from IKEA? I love their kitchens. All the hardware is by Blum (top-of-the-line hardware that custom cabinetmakers use) so the drawers glide like a dream. And since it’s modular, I can change things around if I want to — like my future rearrangement of the kids’ kitchen.

The only part of the kitchen that I built was the built-in hutch (everything from the countertop up.) The architect and the builder told me that it would have to be a custom piece and would cost an arm and a leg. “What?” I exclaimed. “But it’s seriously just a bunch of boxes. I can build a bunch of boxes!” … so I did.

If you couldn’t tell yet, I love bright colours. I went through about 20 sample tins of blue paint before I found the right colour for the cupboard doors which, incidentally, are not from IKEA. I had the drawer fronts and doors custom-made by a local company that specializes in IKEA kitchens. fullsizeoutput_6534

Well, that’s my kitchen. I’ve probably missed some detail somewhere, so if there’s anything you really want to know feel free to leave it in the comments down below and I’ll get back to you.

Next up, but probably not tomorrow, I’ll take you downstairs to the basement.

better homes than yours · blogging · crafty · DIY · Renovation · waxing philosophical

Day 55: Is it designer? Well, yeah…

It’s a running joke at this point: whenever a product of some sort claims to be a “designer” anything, Mr. December starts to scoff. “What does that even mean?” He rants. “Obviously it’s designer — everything is, because everything is designed by someone, right?” Then he prances around a bit, displaying his “designer” shoehorn, our “designer” minivan, and the kids’ “designer” school supplies.

So when someone messaged me last night and asked whether I’m a designer, my first impulse was to say, “Well, yeah! I designed this stuff, right?” For the record, however, I do not work as a professional designer.

People sometimes ask me where I come up for ideas for the cool features in my house. It’s pretty simple, as I see it: I made a list of all the things in our old house that were problematic. Then I figured out how to solve them for our new house. Or I walked myself through a day in our home and thought of all the things I needed to do in each room — which is why, for example, we have enough drawers in the powder room to hold powder room stuff and last-minute “we have to get out the door now and you need to brush your hair and where the heck are your socks!?!” stuff.

When I come across things that have clearly been designed without considering how they’ll be used, I get kind of annoyed. My pet peeve for today: Perler beads (or melty beads, or as IKEA calls them, PYSSLA.)

If you don’t know what they are, Perler beads are tiny plastic beads that you place onto a pegboard to make designs. When your design is finished, you iron over the beads (using a piece of parchment between the iron and the plastic) and the beads fuse together. The result is peeled off the pegboard and used for… um… you know what, I have no idea what they’re used for, although it has occurred to me that they’d make great sukkah decorations seeing as they’re rainproof.

What’s my peeve? Let’s think about this: when using melty beads to make a pattern, one usually wants specific colours for each part of the pattern. Why, then, are they packaged in a huge multicoloured jumble, like this? Just so that parents like me can be put to work finding “all the reds, eema”? If you ask me, it’s badly designed.


(Although if you ask an Occupational Therapist, they’ll tell you it’s excellent fine motor skills training. These beads require a very exacting pincer grasp.)

Anyhow, as I frequently do, I’m taking matters into my own hands. I ordered a case of divided plastic part organizers (from Dollarama — yes, they sell online if you’ll buy a whole case), and I’m stealing a few minutes here and there to sort the beads by colour so that we can spend our crafting time on… crafting (and not sorting or searching.)

Enter a caption

“That’s nice,” you say, “But why are you telling us this now, when we all just want to see the rest of your house?”

Because, dear readers, I want you to understand that I spent months and months designing our kitchen. I had to solve problems like people getting in the way of the cook when all they want is a drink or a snack; the frustration of searching through many cupboards to find the exact package of food I’m looking for; dirty handles on the garbage drawers; and the fact that I often dislike kitchen islands (they get in my way), but they are wonderful for cooking and baking with kids. 

So yes, I designed the heck out of our kitchen. I want to show you everything in there, but that’s a really long post for a Friday (when I spend much of my day making challah.) I guess this post is my preamble to the tour of my kitchen, which I really do hope to post by Sunday night at the latest.

In the meantime, it’s late. My “designer” bed is calling me.




better homes than yours · DIY · family fun · Renovation · waxing philosophical

Day 54: Unstaged (mostly)

To stage or not to stage?

That was the question when I decided to photograph my house for you. Was I trying for a lifestyle magazine type tour of my house? Or should it be a tour of our house the way we live in it?

Those of you who know me well could probably have guessed that I’d err on the side of “what you see is what you get.” Partly because I want to post this now and not in six months, and it would take time to make everything look perfect; but mostly because I’m always in favour of keepin’ it real.

I’m a big fan of the saying, “don’t compare someone else’s greatest hits with your blooper reel.” There are currently six people living in our house — Six people who love books and crafts and who aren’t neatniks. So while I did move some of the small toys littering the windowsill, and cleared some stuff off the floor so you could see the floor (which I love), I didn’t declutter or stage my home for you.

Anyhow, welcome back! I’m glad you’re here.


Yesterday I left you right at the threshold from the entryway to the dining room. As you enter, if you look a bit to the left, you’ll see our table. We eat here all the time, so I wanted it to be able to be formal or informal as the situation demands. I do plan to get a nice long table one day soon, but right now we’re using an IKEA table that’s been with us for the last sixteen years.

fullsizeoutput_6523On your right we have a built-in china hutch. The glass door cabinets are double-sided so we can access them from the dining room and from the kitchen. We use the drawers and cabinets below to store tablecloths, serving utensils, platters, and alcoholic drinks.

As you move past the table and toward the living room, you can see the huge windows in the stairwell, and our gorgeous floors. Yes, they’re pine — red pine from Northern Ontario, in fact — and yes, they dent. But I’m in favour of patina. Besides, if you have an oak floor like everyone else and it gets one scratch, you’ll see that one scratch until you refinish the floor. When your floor is pine, there’s never just one scratch — so the whole thing just looks “distressed”, which is very cool right now. Flooring manufacturers were charging $1.50 per square foot extra to distress the floors. No thanks — my kids distressed my floors for free!


See the sloped shelving next to the stairs? I did that. I designed it in SketchUp and built it by hand. Not a single one of those angles is a whole number. I had to cut and install one piece at a time, and there was plenty of trial and error. It was a pain in the butt and I’ll never do it again, but I’m pretty proud of the way it turned out. We use it to store our vast board game collection (it’s been recently culled. These are the games that we actually play.)


As you turn to your right, you can see the rest of the living room. Large windows were a must-have for me. These windows open up nice and wide so I can pretend I’m on a screened porch at a cottage somewhere. We’ve got two hammock chairs — the comfiest and most coveted seats in the house — that are well-anchored in the ceiling. Our builders thought we were crazy when we requested reinforcement in the ceiling for swings. But who’s crazy now, huh?

The door at the far end of the room leads to our covered back porch.


The wall unit was designed by me, but I got a concussion before I could build it, so I hired someone else to do the actual build. It’s got two workstations (one of which is so cluttered that it’s unusable right now), cubbies for each of the children, some display shelves, and a lot of closed storage.


This house used to be a three-bedroom bungalow, you know. The living room and stairs occupy what used to be all three bedrooms, and the house had very few closets. Is it any wonder that I’ve tried to squeeze in extra storage wherever I can? IMG_3619

The interior window is another one of my builds. It has one moving panel, and it separates the kitchen from the living room. It allows me to see out into the backyard from the kitchen without having to share the noise and smells of cooking with everyone else.


Below the window I have two sets of drawers. They occupy the corners of my kitchen; I absolutely hate corner cabinets, and yes, I’ve seen all the amazing hardware you can get for them. That changes nothing. So instead of putting corner cabinets in my kitchen, I used the space to add these to the wall in the living room. We use them to store school supplies, gift wrap, and occasionally the family laptop.

(What’s that between the drawers, you ask? It’s a giant colouring page — a cartoonish map of the world. Every so often someone will grab the markers from the drawer on the right and get to work colouring it in.)


Looking back towards the dining room you can’t really see the broom closet: it’s just to the left of the hutch, built in to look like part of the wall.

On the other hand, you can easily see my command centre in the far corner. It houses our calendar, our unopened mail, our bills and documents. The drawers on the bottom hide my personal office supplies (the ones I don’t want the kids to ruin), a charging station, and books that need to be returned to the public library. There’s a basket for newspapers at the bottom. We have important phone numbers, our chore charts, and a small chalkboard on the inside of the door.

But this is also our formal dining room, and I neither need nor want my guests to see all our stuff when they’re sitting at the table. So we built in the command centre and painted it to match the walls. When it’s closed, you could walk right past and not notice it.

So that’s our living room and dining room, where we spend most of our family time. Here’s a view of the living room (and part of the kitchen) from the stairs:


We really love it here.