Saturday, June 30, 2018

Let's Get This Party Started

A while ago, when I was trying to articulate "my style", I wrote a bit about my design objectives and process (which some of my friends refer to as my scary-ass "non-process"). I find it interesting to reflect on these posts because I continue to feel all of those feelings - and to work in this haphazard way - but I also have a much more integrated understanding of my style and approach now, having been put on the hook for (aka given the opportunity to) design at every turn.

So let's have a moment with a Kristin-reno photo that isn't only posted on instagram. And remember, if you want to see house photos, you really should check out that insta link:

Kristin's and Scott's New Kitchen - unfinished but getting there!
I find this space profoundly pleasing. Even incomplete, I see how it's going to look (not generally one of my strong suits, fyi). The countertops are going to be pure white quartz, which goes up the wall a few inches as backsplash (not the cheapest finish I've chosen, admittedly) and my fancy-ass Bertazzoni dual fuel stove* will be on the other side, with a thin sheet-metal backsplash. It's the tiniest bit industrial, but mainly warm and sleek. I live in a horrible climate in a city that is architecturally rather suspect. My interior needs to scream hygge.

I feel I'm at a point that I can articulate what I'm going for and, of course, I'm not one to hold back! I want this house to be sexy. I want it to be the sexiest fucking little space that ever was. I want people to leave my dinner parties utterly hot for one another because my interior is messing with their minds.

No question, there's a way in which this space is the kitchen-equivalent of the midlife crisis sports car. But it's much more than that. It's shiny (reflective), briefly colourful (cheerful), uncluttered (zen), wood-forward (warm). The proportions are beautiful.

On the topic of kitchen renos - this one was rather affordable (in the scheme of unaffordability). I went with cabinets that are obvs customized and of good quality, but mid-range in cost. I'm not replacing my fridge or dishwasher. They both work, I feel they can meld with the eclectic scheme so I'm not changing them until they fall apart. Sure, this place might be sexier if you didn't see the fridge, but that would be opulent. Moreover, lest we never forget, I've paid for this (not cheap) reno twice. I've got to pick my poison.

Yesterday I showed a similar photo of the kitchen to a friend at work. Before she could catch herself, she gasped and said: That red comes off when the kitchen is finished, right? It's not actually supposed to be that colour?! And I laughed with glee! I was entirely unfussed by her admission of horror. Have at it, I say! You don't like this, no problem. Chances are I don't love your kitchen design (except inasmuch as it's an expression of where you live and what you like). It's no one's job to appreciate my kitchen but mine. And Scott, natch. PS: He is SO on board at this point, all pre-installation anxiety is rapidly diminishing.

What I loved about my encounter with my friend is that it was unscripted. And this space got a huge reaction. Sure, I'd have liked it more for her to say it was the best thing she's ever seen, but I am just so happy she had a reaction - that I created something worthy of response.

For me, interior design is art. Beautiful construction is art. Efficient placement is art. But my style of art may not be yours and that's alright!

What I've come to understand about my home is that it really is a little mansion! It's proportions are unbeatable, to my eye. It has individual rooms, all of which have individual purpose, and yet they cohere. It's old, it's modern. It's a little bit rustic, a little bit sleek. As I like to say, it punches above its weight. If it makes you think, even for a second, about what you like and what you don't - about what suits you - then I have been successful. Wait - I have been successful. At this point, it's just a matter of degrees.

*Before you predict that I went stupidly high-style (which one does when buying a fancy-ass stove), I got this baby on sale for half price (the model is now discontinued). It's also the small version, a) because I don't have more than 30" of width to spare and b) because I really don't need six burners and 2 ovens in my household of 3 / soon to be 2.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

And Now For A Terrific Story (That, Admittedly, Gets Off to a Slow Start)...

Three months ago my husband went to the doctor and found out his cholesterol was through the roof. In fact, they couldn't even tell him how bad it was because his triglyceride levels were too high to determine LDL levels. (Note: He's one of those stereotypical men who won't go to the doctor more than once in a decade, and then only after being nagged for 5 years by a woman.) But - here's the stupid thing - he'd actually gone for the same tests a year earlier and no one called him back with "bad results" (which is the don't call us, we'll call you policy. Except when they mess it up. Which they did because his doctor died shortly after he came in for the tests more than a year ago and then Scott's file was misplaced.)

Now, one might not worry overly, if one wasn't in one's mid-fifties with a family history of heart disease. Every man on both sides of Scott's family has died of some sort of circulatory heart disorder. Scott's father has had triple bypass surgery. His mother has a pace-maker. Both of his parents have been on mega doses of statins since first they became available on the market. Scott's father actually takes the kind of statin that stops your body from producing cholesterol AND the kind that stops your body from absorbing it. And his cholesterol is still high. 

Y'all also know about my feelings about statins. I am really down on them. Everything I've read points to evidence that a) you need cholesterol to keep your brain working throughout the span of your life b) you need it to keep sex organs happy and c) you can have high cholesterol (even VERY high cholesterol) and it needn't impact artery hardening or width, though it can, of course, in a subset of patients. I predict that statins will eventually be known as the drug scam of the early 21st century. Only time will tell if I'm right or wrong.

Of course, I'm not unrealistic. I know that my husband's medical treatment is not my call. I also know that when you've got family members dying at the Xmas table from heart attacks (no joke), you don't take a light approach - unless, perhaps, you happen to be the kind of person who doesn't bother to go to the doc despite your family history.

However, statins weren't on the table after Scott's initial visit because they couldn't determine his LDL levels. The doctor read him the riot act and told him to get 150 minutes of exercise per week, cut down on booze, cut down on sugar, cut down on saturated fat and come back for another test in 3 months. He also said: Then we'll put you on statins. The guy was something out of the Canada Food Guide.

At first Scott was pissed. I mean, our lives have been unpleasant enough over the last 18-months. To cut out everything fun and find time to exercise was not a welcome prescription. But he realized that we haven't been going through drama and hell to make our lives luxe and sexy, only for him to die prematurely from complications of high cholesterol.

In true Scott style, he just decided to give it his all. He went from arguing with the doc about not having time to exercise (and he really doesn't right now) to somehow getting an average of 250 minutes of really vigorous exercise per week. On my watch, but driven by his own goals, he gave up all grains (except for half an english muffin in the am), sugar (english muff doesn't get jam and coffee is cream-only!), most starchy carbs, all but 1 G&T a week and all processed foods. He opted to increase his vegetable consumption by 1000 per cent and I am not on that bandwagon with him. (Note to reader: The only thing I can eat right now without feeling like I'm going to throw up is hot dogs, no joke. So I'm no role model.) I also bamboozled him into taking fish oil and a probiotic.

That's all he did. He's still massively sleep-deprived. He's more stressed than he's ever been in his life. He's currently a workaholic by necessity. He's continued to eat 20 oz of steak at a sitting and all the meat, daily, with skin and fat on it.

Yesterday he went back to the doc to find out the results of another blood test he did last week. The doc was blown away - like stunned. Effectively, Scott has managed to eradicate generations of family predisposition in 90 days without taking a drug - unless you consider supplements and food to be drugs. His every level is now in the range of normal. Seriously, the guy went from being borderline diabetic (and he didn't even know it) to being cholesterol-normal in 3 freakin' months - which would be impressive for anyone, much less someone with family history who's working 14 hour days, sleeping 4 hours a night and doing the work of 5 people. Oh, and he lost 10 pounds (and he wasn't overweight to begin with).

In the words of my mother: Just goes to show you can eat a marbled cow weekly and still bring your cholesterol levels down - if you're willing to give up sugar.

Other note to reader: My mother's had the best diet in the world forever and she still can't bring down her cholesterol by eschewing sugar, so I'm not suggesting that Scott's results represent everyone's potentiality.

I'm writing to tell any of you who are on the fence - and no one was more on the fence than my husband: Before you go on statins or medication for type 2 diabetes or the myriad other drugs with potentially deleterious side-effects you'll prob have to manage on the flip side - give up sugar and grains for 3-6 months. Scott didn't even give it up entirely. I mean, he still eats fruit and drinks alcohol and he has that freakin' half english muffin every freakin' day. Of course, follow the advice of your doctor - though know enough know to when your doctor isn't giving you good advice - but, just for kicks, take the sugar and processed foods out of your diet and see what happens.

It could make every difference in the world or none at all. But you won't have the vaguest idea unless you try.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Watch This

Perhaps it won't surprise you to learn that I've gone through a spate of home-show binging and I've got a type. For my money, the show's gotta be:
  • Architecturally-motivated, which is to say the presenter is an architect/engineer or there's one on stand by in each episode.
  • Either entirely focused on the finished product (which is generally rather architecturally dramatic) or the in-depth renovation / restoration process. Anything flip-oriented, cheap-and-cheerful or DIY is of no interest. If the presenter's claim to fame is painting shit and making papier-mâché gizmos that hide crappy work, I run screaming.
  • Preferably English because North American home-show presenters are the bottom of the barrel, IMO, and yes I am casting aspersions on the majority offerings of HGTV.
In case you're looking for a few options that go really well with knitting and wine, may I suggest:
  • This Old House (the restoration standard and the American in the bunch)
  • The World's Most Extraordinary Homes (absurd eye candy!)
  • Grand Designs (this one will give you heart palpitations from the stress, in a good way)
  • I Own Britain's Best Home (this is really old but it only just made its way to my Netflix, note: it's the iffiest of the bunch but there's an Australian version too!)
  • Amazing Spaces (I have an unnatural affinity for George Clarke and his sidekick, who really is the brains of the team)
I actually learned about Grand Designs from my parents, cuz it's avail on US Netflix but not in Canada. Mind you, CBC runs the full 14 seasons for free, just sign up. When I was visiting for my mother's birthday, in the spring, they bamboozled me into watching it with promises of wine and popcorn. I was not excited by the prospect but, man, they hooked me by showing me the perfect first episode called North London (Season 11, episode 2), about a couple (the woman is an actor, the guy ran his own business till he sold it to pay for the freakin' reno gone rogue) who undertake the most INSANE of projects ever. BTW, I don't like the end result but the story arc is amazing. They have to negotiate 17 party-wall agreements before beginning the project and just the land - which has no street front - cost about a million bucks CDN. There's also another episode in this season where 2 London guys move to the country and make the most beautiful home (60,000 pound window - and by that I mean pounds sterling, not the imperial version of weight) while simultaneously developing a working farm and creating a craft brew business (Newbury, Season 11, episode 9). It's mind-blowing what people can accomplish.

It took us 2 hours to get through the North London episode because I literally forced my parents (with the power of my shrillness) to stop it every 2 minutes so that I could yell at the television set. I mean, we got through at least a bottle of wine between the three us during that time frame. Most of the time my ranting was a riff on: OMG, I had that happen! That boulder thing - check. That zoning issue - check. That moronic engineering error - check. That foundation disaster - check.  That thing with the builders, oy vey - check. The main distinctions between my experience and theirs is that they were living seriously low-brow during the years of construction (one room, two babies) and their project was triple the size and scope of ours. I sense I've experienced the microcosmic version of this process, but I aim not to come out of it in a similar fashion. (As I understand it from internet stalking, they have since divorced and sold the house.)

All of the shows I've suggested have one thing in common: each of the renovators/restorers, at some point, in some way (large or small) articulates that (s)he is utterly compelled by the project. Each guest acknowledges that this presupposes some sort of insanity because, to a one, s(he) is all too aware of folly that simply cannot be repressed. Each is there on the basis of one thing over all else: sacrifice and the compulsion to restore a part of history, or to assert vision that can't slumber in the margins of one's mind. As you can imagine, Scott isn't much enjoying the reno either, but he tells me frequently about how relevant he feels.

When I watch a good home show I see imagination transformed into action. It's so joyful to watch people express themselves through their quirky decisions, even when I hate those decisions. I don't frequently relate to the creative choices of others but, no question, Scott and I are in the same crazy club. We're people who don't have the good sense to enjoy the weekends (or weeks or mornings or evenings or vacations or anything really) because we're chasing, dare I say realizing, the dream. People who renovate have one thing in common and it's not spendiness or fortitutde or talent or unified vision. It's confidence. It's the arrogance of believing that we're more than the forces with which we must conflict continuously. These shows pull you along for that amazing journey. Do tell me what you think of them!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Not Over Till It's Over

Writing here for the first time in practically 8 months, it's a bit like starting from scratch. And honestly, I can't write in the old voice, because I'm not that person anymore. I'm a "revised" human being, cobbled together like a child's plasticene model of a functional lady. To be clear: I'm very angry. I'm whatever comes after exhausted. I'm disappointed in humanity. I'm still carrying my metaphoric boulder up my metaphoric hill only it feels real, the constant weight of moving. It's been so un-fun for so long that I can barely remember unfettered enjoyment. There's always a caveat - the goddamn project and its endless goddamn problems. (Pls. note - I hate the project with the power of a million suns but I do not hate the house or the husband. In fact, I love them both more than ever.)

Don't feel bad for me. My emerging self is amazingly functional, if mostly miserable. Things that would have thrown me into a state of utter chaos, 18-months ago - now they merely gut-punch in a momentary way. In fact, it appears I've been waiting all of my life to apply my anxiety to something truly deserving, I just didn't know it. :-)

In November, after months of being dicked around, I had no crew, no plan forward. My house was a disaster-zone. At my lowest ebb, I didn't so much speak, as squeak, shrill with disbelief. I could not imagine how things could have come to this (I did SO much fucking research) or that things could ever get better. I actually lost all imagination because it seemed like a liability. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat. For the most part, I still can't. (Don't worry, I have adequate caloric intake from alcohol alone. And on the topic of honesty, you cannot go through this kind of experience without a spate of functional alcoholism.) Somehow I get my ass out of bed every morning and perform my full-spectrum modern-woman function. Somehow we've cobbled together the wherewithal, albeit in a state of shock, to get from there to here. But it's so not over.

(Subject of another post: The brick veneer on the front of the house exterior, always ugly, has decided to help us by falling off under the weight of carelessness and heavy construction. So, this job ain't done by a long shot. Next up - trashing the front porch and garden to rip off the front of the house and repoint the original brick. Also we'll need to hazmat-demolish the front/original part of the basement which, after my pipes burst this winter, is a den of mold. But, as row-house dwellers, we have to finish the hardscaping in the back yard before doing this because we need a way to leave and enter the house.)

This is the part of the story where I dwell on my husband, a mere mortal-turned-super hero whose cover is blown. He works 14 hour days, every day, running a business (where he treats everyone with respect) and GC-ing our renovation (where he also treats everyone with respect, though rarely is that sentiment returned in action). Obviously, I think he's a really cool person or I wouldn't have married him but I could not have predicted his level of competence in the face of near-disaster. I am blown-away by his efficacy and his endurance. He has spreadsheets of hundreds of columns - project plans and financial tables - which he monitors daily. He's on the phone with one trade at 7am and another at 11pm. He's constantly resolving serious issues that no one else can come up with a solution to address (even though those issues shouldn't have occurred in the first place). Eventually, I do intend to post a room-by-room inventory of changes to the house, for posterity. When you see how much we've altered, I imagine you'll think 2 things: Lord, how did he keep it all together and Lord, how much is all that shit costing. The answer to both of these things is, I have no fucking idea.

OK, I have no idea about the keeping it together. The money part I know. One simply shouldn't dwell overly. I mean, unless we start to earn more money, and I like to think this is feasible - or come into a sizeable inheritance - I'm not retiring early. But I am so incredibly fortunate. Many others would have lost everything under these circumstances. I've been given the opportunity - the choice - to spend money in this way. There's no more fairness to this than my hideous luck on the construction-front. When you spin the wheel, you get what you get. At some moment everyone has to decide whether to throw in the towel, or to double-down with investment on every level, and the essence of commitment is commitment. We are putting ourselves into this home, viscerally, dozens of times a day. We are this place - as much as everyone who has preceded us over 5 generations. And I consider those people in every choice I make.

The original owner was a municipal public servant in the early days of Toronto. The house was practically suburban in those years. He had 3 children, the youngest of whom died days before Christmas, at the age of 2 (and very probably in my home, though there's no sense of it that hovers). Shortly thereafter the family moved out and rented the property for many years. The husband died before they opted to retake possession. His wife sold it to the next people and she moved to Kensington Market after re-marrying...

Then there was the woman who owned it in the 1900s, for longer than any other owners to date - though we're fast catching up. It had originally belonged to her husband but he died young so she lived there with her daughters, who were rather modern ladies, all working downtown. This woman lived to her 80s and eventually the property was sold. The sisters moved to a house a few doors north.

The peeps who lived there before the couple from whom we bought the place were "the crazy old ones". They painted everything pink. Something tells me they were hoarders. We still hear stories from long-time residents (including our attached neighbours) about how the frail, elderly lady once ran down the block - wielding an axe - to get rid of a door canvasser. To her credit, apparently she warned the guy first. They were ancient yet climbed out the attic windows regularly to clean them - not that anything else was clean. They tarped the entire backyard, we understand, because they didn't like light.

Those from whom we purchased, entrusted the house to us though there was a bidding war and we were not the highest bidders. Partly, that's because we riskily agreed to take immediate possession, despite our ownership of another property, and they'd both managed to score tenure at UCLA in their respective professorial fields starting immediately. Partly - I like to believe - it's because we sent them a message assuring them that we would care for the home and become its stewards, explaining that we'd offered as much money as we possibly could. They left us the curtains in the front room, the ones made by his mother, from fabric she'd snuck out of Germany as she fled the death camps during WWII.

This home was shaped by those lives. It's shaped by ours. Now, when I nighttime property-stalk (I'm discreet but if you leave your blinds open I'm gonna look!), I can't peek at those properties in the same way. Before, I wanted all of the sexy Victorian homes. Now I cannot imagine living somewhere other than my home because I have no investment elsewhere. I'm not in those floors and walls and windows. I wasn't the source of their vision.

Every 5 minutes I tell someone I am never doing this again. (When Scott is with me, he says scary shit like: You'll forget about the misery and I really want to put in a coach house studio someday, or (worse still): You know there's realistically another year of renovation remaining once we actually move back in. Mind you, I can't say I regret it. In every moment I'm reminded of my firey desire, my fortitude. And honestly, I fucking love how it is coming together. I'm the only one I need to satisfy and I am largely very satisfied. This has contextualized my irrepressible confidence and reminded me of its value.

If you want to do a major reno and have fun, there's only one solution IMO (and I stand by this, though many of you may counter): Be fucking rich. Way richer than I am. Way richer than you are (unless you happen to be super wealthy, in which case you have my congratulations). You need to be able to rent a house and not worry about how much it costs when your project triples in time span. You need to be able to comfortably afford to pay for your reno twice in the event that you get fucked over by people. You need money to afford the team of people who will help you to litigate against the people who may fuck you over. You need to be able to take time off work without pay (or maybe just not bother with a job cuz you don't need one). You need to have the money to fly away on a trip when everything becomes soul-crushing, and it will, even if you're a zillionaire. You need not to worry about how every cost overrun may impact your ability to fund your kid's out of province university experience (even as your mind is blown and you are insanely grateful that your kid got into the best university in Canada).

If money is no object, you'll get from here to there pretty unscathed, I hazard to guess. Otherwise, hope to heaven that your health holds up and you come to love your partner more than you did in the first place. Hope that you have the visceral memory of a mouse. Hope that you love what you create to such an extent that the punishing journey of its achievement is an eventual afterthought. Hope that you become more, because of pain, than you would have been otherwise. And take the long view. Cuz really, there's no alternative.