Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Grand Dame

When we speak of the reno here, we refer to the house as the grand dame. We like to say that she's gone in for a hip replacement. (Yes, those who anthropomorphize their homes are 110% more likely to freak out during home improvement than those who see the bones as, well, something other than actual bones. But that's not how we roll here.)

I haven't gone to the house since the site crew started the tear down on Monday. I'm preparing myself to have a look on Saturday. But Scott's there daily and taking photos of everything. Here's a brutalist view of the back yard from Monday:

No one's going to say that TO in early April is anything other than hideous, reno or no. BTW, the sky has been that shade of grey for 5 months now. There's occasional reprieve but not enough to make one anything other than desperate for California. For what it's worth, the fence is now gone, as is the pergola. They haven't destroyed the plants yet, but they're the next to go. I have given some of them away but it's tough to move well entrenched root systems at this time of year. Most of my decade-old plant-life will be killed in the next few days. Fellow gardeners, I'm sure you feel my pain.

I've declined to show photos of the huge bin (out of the shot) and other ugliness. But I'm sure my aptitude for those views will change as I acclimate to reconstruction.

FWIW, you can see the third floor reno in the photo (the window-dense area at the top of the house). Everything in the foreground of that - the full "addition" bump out from which the wooden chute descends - is a goner. We estimate that add-on was created in the 50s. It was terribly constructed, not linked properly to the foundation, and has caused structural stress in the last 50 years. The basement will be dug out beneath this area, when the structure is removed. A new basement entrance-way will be built. A 15-foot piece of the common foundation on the south side of the house - down that little pathway on the right, near to attached structure, will be stabilized. That's the big deal. That's what's costing fully 30% of the fortune we are spending. That's where the project will be knowable and 6-months in duration, or complicated and longer-lasting. Cuz when you work on a house that's 130 years old, you don't know what you're going to find - even having undertaken as much forensic prep as possible.

Interestingly, our neighbours to the north (on the left of the pic, their house barely visible in this pic, saved us lots of money and effort by stabilizing the foundation on the north side of the house when they did a major basement reno 5 years ago. While this wrecked my original plaster on the common wall (since fixed), I'm not complaining now! The take-away here: When you live in a Victorian row house, your reno is your neighbours' - on either side.

To give a sense of the big-picture change to come:
  • New basement entry-way and stairs
  • New basement in the back third of the house (digging out beyond where the original basement ended) This will add about 300 sq feet to the size of the structure. As I've said before, this reno is not about increasing square footage. In fact - the City doesn't consider basement floor area as house footage so, technically my house is staying exactly the same size, though the shape is changing slightly. It is not my intention to finish this room in any meaningful way. The next owners can do that. My husband wants to finish it. We're not.
  • New back room / den*, will include fireplace of some sort (but maybe not wood stove because EVERY human being on the planet has provided sensible, and unique, reasons why this is a very bad idea). At what point does a girl heed the message?
  • New kitchen (plumbing changed)*
  • New sewga room*, will include professionally-installed (sexy) yoga rope wall and custom furniture for sewing (no, I haven't yet found a carpenter)
  • 2 new bathrooms on second floor*
  • New floors throughout first floor
  • New lighting throughout the entire first and second floors (in new and pre-existing space)
  • New painting of entire house - and maybe the outside too
  • New windows throughout the home (including really gorgeous ones along the back wall of the first and second floors)
  • New deck with gas hook up to BBQ (which we do all year - currently in the elements), new wooden overhang for weather protection
  • New cedar fencing and hardscaping in the new back yard (may include lighting)
  • New landscaping of the back yard, including a tall tree
  • New, insanely appealing gas stove / conventional oven (brand tbd), dishwasher, microwave (which I haven't had for 10 yrs). You may recall my fridge was recently replaced because the one we had, 25 yrs old, bit the dust. I'll also plumb-in the sexy-ass-car-version of espresso machines. Man, I really went flashy with that appliance. Occasionally, my American largesse emerges.
Fuck. That's a lot of shit.

Look, this is the first and last time I intend to undertake a project of this scope, so I'm not holding back. All I can say is that I'm very grateful to have got into the housing market in TO when I did (early 90s) because I would never be able to afford this house in its current state, much less in its renoed state, if I didn't have the equity bestowed by time - and hard work. This market is absurd. You cannot find anything for less than a million bucks, and, below 1.5M, it's seriously hit and miss. And that's for places sized under 2000 square feet that aren't even an easy walk from the subway. So, while destruction ain't my jam, the end-state - if well-achieved - will be stunning (and retirement-supporting).

And, despite how I feel overall these days, my money's on me that I will achieve this well. I've got skin in this game.

* refers to actual new build, not just redesign


  1. It's going to be STUNNING.
    It's going to be a royal PITA to get it done, but it is going to be stunning. And worth it. Soooooo worth.

  2. OK, you keep reminding me of this on a regular basis. Ok? :-)

  3. sewga! why didn't I ever think of that? My office is my work + sewga room...should that be sewgork?

    It will be stunning. You will hyperventilate between now and then, but it will be amazing.

    1. Ha! Your room, your call! And thank you for the vote of confidence on the reno.

  4. When I think of how a single bathroom reno blighted my life a couple years ago, I am in awe of all you are undertaking. On the other hand, the new bath is SO WORTH IT, but I'm not tempted to touch the others, they can stay outdated and shabby.

    Hope a lovely spring month or two suddenly appears!


    1. Ceci - a bathroom reno blighted my life too (more like 10 years ago) so I cannot believe I'm doing this. Though I have incrementally got to this stage via other renos first, including the 3rd floor of our house a few years ago.

      The sun has come out so I'm starting to feel a bit hopeful.

  5. I was traumatized by renos at an early age. When I was 14 my parents moved us to Omemee, Ont. We moved into a 125 year old, yellow brick farmhouse with bats and a snake that lived under the hot water tank (consequently we had no mice). Renovations were ongoing for the whole of the 35 years that my parents lived in that house. I am totally in awe of your ambitious list, and I am looking forward to some photos down the road. Hopefully it won't be too painful to finish. Barb

    1. You've mentioned this house before Barb. It's like a person for you, yes? I totally understand that because my house is like a person to me too. But slightly less inhabited by creatures than yours was :-) I'm planning for the best with this reno. But 35 years of renovating is not in my plans. Your parents had fortitude.

    2. As a 14 year old I didn't appreciate it nearly enough- I was suffering great angst at having been ripped out of high school to move to the sticks. In later years I came to love that old house and the character it had. When folks tell me my 50 year old Prince George home is old, I laugh and tell them the stories about Seven Gables.

    3. Gotta love a house that has a name! That's it. I've decided I'm going to name my house too. Lord knows, I don't know how that trend hasn't already happened in TO (retro as it is), given how we feel about our houses and being retro :-)

  6. I think you are undertaking this at a good point in your life. Too soon, the $'s not there & the style may again be dated by the time you leave. Too late, the will to face it isn't there. --I mean of course if you're planning to stay for the long haul.
    (Btw I just had an actual hip replacement & I find your metaphor ...apt...)

    1. I agree. I couldn't have fathomed the cost before (not that I was poor then and rich now). It's just that time changes one's perspective on all things (including money). And there's nothing worse than when the reno reaches its limit. I mean, that's what effectively had happened in my place, although what we'll do now will be of much better quality (and less able to be dated, if I do it well).

      I hope you are healing well from your surgery. It's not a simple little procedure. Rest up well and be as mobile as ever soon.

  7. Its gonna be gorgeous! I'm in awe of your list, and that you are taking it on. Meanwhile I'm still packing, and packing myself, because my own reno is going to be handled in a 3 stage approach, and I have to sort out stuff to be stored until each stage is completed. But that's my own fault for falling in love with a house a year before my planned move and before I can afford a full reno.