Feb 12, 2016

Installing Ceiling Light Fixtures

One of the things we've had a hard time adjusting to in the new house is the lack of overhead lighting. In our previous houses, even if we didn't like the lighting, at least there was something there to illuminate the room at night until we could get it changed. This house only has lighting in the kitchen and bathrooms (and the basement of course - fabulous, buzzing fluorescent lighting).

We were back to work just a couple of days after moving, so most of our unpacking happens at night. There's nothing more fun than unpacking by flashlight. Really, nothing. You should try it. One box and you're ready to go to bed. We did eventually set up some lamps, but without the rooms arranged a couple are still sitting on the floor. (My friend Jody unpacked and arranged her entire house the day she moved in - I'm sure my place drives her bananas.)

So we knew we had to get our butts out there and buy some overhead lighting. But what to buy? We want to take our time with this place and love everything we choose, so we've I've been really fussy.

It was easier to pick out lights for the two spare rooms - I loved the drum light in our old bedroom so much that I knew I needed to see it again in the new place. Luckily Home Depot still had a couple kicking around at one nearby store. That's the worst, isn't it? Falling in love with something that's discontinued when you want to buy it again.

The process of installing a brand-new fixture involves cutting a hole in the ceiling and running wire from the wall switch up and across to the designated spot. I would love to show you exactly what Tom did, but it was freezing cold in the attic and he refused to stop to take pictures. But we have plenty more lights to add so I know there'll be many, many more chances.

Here's a quick rundown though:

Do I need to point out that the power to the room (or the whole house if you'd like) should be turned off while doing electrical work? I hope not.

He started with the area around the light switch. A section of drywall was cut out so that the wires were visible. Normally he would also cut out a section nearer to the ceiling so that he could drill a hole through the framework to run the wiring up into the attic. Up until a couple of years ago the house had baseboard heating and he found that the wiring from that was still in place (capped at each end) so he was able to reuse this instead of running new wire. He extended the red wire down so that it reached the box with the light switch and capped off the beige wire (which runs to one of the wall outlets in the room).

We measured the center of the room and he cut a hole in the ceiling with a 4" hole saw. The ceiling box is secured to a 2x4 cross piece mounted to the joist on the attic side with the wiring running through down to the room.

Once the wiring was done, installing the light itself was the easy part. I'll show you how that's done at a later date. You'll be amazed at how easy it is and will be changing lights all over your house in no time. I'm not zooming out on these 'cause the rooms are still as ugly as before. Maybe ugly is too harsh - unappealing?

I'm still looking for the perfect light for the master bedroom. For now we have these table lamps from Lowe's. I love the shades and want to mimic the crosshatch pattern in the ceiling fixture somehow. The base is a fun design too that totally different than anything we've had before.

Tom finally got fed up with just the bedside lamps (they really aren't meant for task lighting) and installed a cheap $10 "boob" light in the ceiling. I hate that thing but I do admit, it's nice to be able to tell my black socks from my navy socks. (Or my black boots from my brown boots  - true story - stuck at the gym with a black and a brown - both right foot. Guess who wore bright purple running shoes to work that day?)

We still have lights to put in the hallway and the living room. We'll probably go with pot lights for that. We've never installed them before so it's going to be interesting - no room for error on those ones!

Feb 2, 2016

Country House Tour

Now that we've said goodbye to the old house (click here for the final tour), how about a look around at the new house?

This new house is the complete opposite of the old one. Raised bungalow vs. two story semi-detached.15 acres vs. a 23x128 ft lot. On a country road 20 minutes from the nearest town vs. on a cul de sac smack dab in the middle of town. I'd be in a state of shock...if it wasn't exactly where we wanted to be.

The other difference is that this house needs A LOT of work. Nothing that's going to keep us from being comfortable, just mostly upgraded finishes. But everywhere I turn I see something I want to change. And there is a desperate need for lighting. The only overhead lighting is in the kitchen and the bathrooms.

Let's take a tour, shall we?

The front of the house has huge windows, on the main floor and in the basement. So much light comes in! I like the large flat stones along the sidewalk, and the previous owners did some really nice garden landscaping. Hopefully I can keep it up.

The front entrance is pretty plain - we're definitely going to replace the door and maybe extend the entrance out so there is more of a foyer. Maybe add some shutters?

There is no garage right now but there is a concrete pad poured at the side of the house. We put up a temporary shelter for the winter so I didn't have to clean off my car in the morning. We'll be extending that pad out and building a two-car garage that joins with the house.

Backyard next, or inside? Let's stay outside. The house is built on a hill so the basement is above ground at the back. We'd like to build a double-door walk-out from the basement one day. Wouldn't you want to see as much of that view as possible?

The deck is the full width of the house. The railing has an interesting design with the combination of dark balusters and glass panels. The dogs love their "squirrel TV". Sasha especially loves to sit for hours and stare across to the neighbour's property where two German shepherds live.

There is a sliding door from the dining room and windows all along the back. We're going to convert the sliders to french doors, and we'll have at least two seating areas - one for meals, one for conversation. We've already bought a freestanding fireplace for next summer.

There's an expanse of lawn that leads to a scrubby area with a concrete pad. This is where Tom's shop is going to go. He's going to build it two stories high so that he can have a full hoist at one end and a loft for storage at the other. There'll also be room for a woodworking area. We're going to lay grass where it's "scrubby" and also plant a line of trees to give some separation between the house and the shop.

Behind that is acres of trees with a couple of small clearings. Through the trees there is a winding path that goes back about half a mile or so. It is so nice to go tromping back there with the dogs. We can let them off their leashes and they just run and play and sniff to their hearts' content. We even found the beginnings of a tree fort way back there. Everyone needs a tree fort, right?


Okay, back to the house. The front entrance is a split level going up to the main floor and down to the unfinished basement. We're going to have to find a way to make the entrance larger as no more than one or two people can come in the door at the same time and it gets a bit congested if there are boots and coats to take off.

The main living area is open concept - kitchen, dining room and living room. The huge front window and sliding back door let in an amazing amount of light. And the dogs love having a complete view of the property. Nothing's getting past them!

The kitchen is open and bright, much larger than our old one, but there isn't enough storage and counter space so we'll be doing a complete renovation, adding a pantry and an island. The living room doesn't need any work except to add trim and crown moulding. (It's a given that every room is going to be repainted.)

The main bathroom is a good size, but we found out the day before closing that there is another 4x8 foot space behind the left side wall where the laundry room used to be. They moved the laundry room to the basement and walled up the space. Bonus room! We'll be opening it back up and expanding either this bathroom or both this and the ensuite on the other side.

There are two tiny linen closets in the hallway that we'll probably eliminate and build one large one in the main bathroom now that we have that extra space to play with.

The master bedroom is a nice size with a window facing out to the deck and the backyard. We plan to install French doors here as well to give us a direct walkout to the deck. How about that dark blue feature wall? I still find it a bit startling every time I walk in.

The ensuite bathroom is bigger than our last one but it's only a two-piece. The funny thing is, there's room for a shower. So we're going to put one in, probably following the same layout as our ensuite in the last house since we loved it so much. There is plenty of room here so we haven't decided whether or not to take some of that hidden space mentioned above, just to give more clearance for the door and the vanity.

There are two more small bedrooms, both facing the front of the house. One will be the guest room and one the office/computer room. Right now they are just full of everything we haven't found a place for yet.

The basement is unfinished but for a concrete floor. There is drywall up, but it is so old (over 15 years judging by the notes written in a couple of spots) that we're just going to take it down and start fresh. It's going to be fun having a completely blank slate to work with.

Along the front are the large windows I mentioned - you almost don't feel like you're in a basement at all. We're planning to put in a laundry room, an office/storage/spare bedroom, a powder room, and have a huge family/TV/reading room. This is where my beloved glass front bookcases are going to go.

So there you have it - the new house. Sometimes I look around and can't wait to get started on all of the projects. Other times I feel completely overwhelmed with how much there is to do. Where the heck do you start?

Jan 11, 2016

One Final Tour of Our Old House (with Before & Afters)

We've been in our new house for a month now. With the combination of Christmas and snowstorms and all those daily, little chores that steal away your time, we haven't done more than a few superficial repairs and changes so far - things like installing some temporary strip lighting in the closet (instead of using a flashlight to find matching clothes in the morning) and putting up a shelter to keep the snow off my precious car.

It's difficult not to compare this new house with our last one - we had spent seven years making changes and improvements, making it ours. Just like a fitness journey, "You can't compare your beginning to someone else's middle", I have to keep reminding myself that the new house will be beautiful some day and the joy is in getting it there.

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to take one last look at our old house, the before & after, and highlight some of our favourite projects.

When we moved in, the house was mostly decorated in green, yellow, and orange. We thought it was perfect and didn't change a thing. It took about two years before it started feeling a little too Southwestern for our tastes. We slowly brought in some neutrals, starting with the living room and foyer.


After (BM Ranchwood):
Photo courtesy of West Blue Studio Services
Photo courtesy of West Blue Studio Services

Once you change the walls though, suddenly your kitchen cabinets no longer match. I'd originally planned to strip the green and stain them a dark brown, but in the end went with a clean white. It instantly lightened up the whole room, especially since there was no window to bring in extra light.

We also added undercounter lighting (touchless!), and changed out all of the appliances. We kept the terracotta-coloured tiles and I think they go just as well with taupe and white as they did with yellow and green.



Upstairs, the front room was our "computer room", aka the office. It had a huge bay window and received the most sunshine of the whole house. It was the dogs' favourite hangout for sure. We changed it from a deep cranberry to a light blue, and accented with white picture frames and a grey loveseat.


After (BM Nimbus Grey):
Photo courtesy of West Blue Studio Services

The custom-made glass front bookcases have been with me for over 15 years - from my apartment in Toronto to three houses now - I'll never let them go.

Photo courtesy of West Blue Studio Services

We turned one of the bedrooms into a craft room. It really became an everything room - gift wrapping, sewing, photography studio, and crafting of course. It started out midnight blue with little stars stickers all over the walls. Big change!



My favourite (I say that a lot) project in here is the wrapping paper and ribbon station. Tom and I designed it together using ideas we saw online and then tweaking it along the way until we had what worked for us. It was wonderful having all of my wrapping supplies right on hand whenever I needed them.

The guest room was the first room I painted here. It started out as a bright, bright yellow. I painted it one weekend while Tom was away. He didn't even notice it had changed until I told him about a month later. I just went to the paint store and grabbed a colour that I liked. I didn't like it for long but never got around to changing it either. So this room ended up being a mishmash of leftover decorating items. We even stored all of our extra artwork under the bed! It does contain my first piece of refinished furniture though - the  stained & waxed dresser from Goodwill. This is when I fell in love with finishing a piece with furniture wax instead of polyurethane.

Photo courtesy of West Blue Studio Services

Smaller projects were the main bathroom, the powder room, and the linen closet in the upstairs hallway. In the main bathroom, beyond paint, we replaced the medicine cabinet and mirror with custom-made pieces we did ourselves. Tom has become an old hand at building mirror frames. The ones in the powder room and ensuite were built by him as well.

Photo courtesy of West Blue Studio Services

Photo courtesy of West Blue Studio Services

The linen closet received all new shelving, a more streamlined laundry chute (I miss that so much!), and framed bi-fold doors. We also framed out and added bi-fold doors to the front foyer coat closet.



The two biggest changes upstairs were the master bedroom and the ensuite bathroom. The top half of the bedroom walls were done in a textured plaster with a brown glaze over yellow paint. I wasn't a fan, but I thought it would be too much work to scrape it all down and repair the walls. So I just painted it all one colour - first a dark grey (BM Arctic Seal) that was way too dark (think prison cell) - and then a lighter grey that was much more soothing.


1st Change (BM Stormy Monday):

I got a hankering for more though, so I installed faux board and batten wainscoting all around the bottom half of the room. This project was all mine. I learned so much about using different power tools that week. And my body paid the price for all that crawling around on the floor. There's something I adore about grey and white together. The room felt like a suite at a fancy hotel. One covered in dog hair of course.

After (BM Stormy Monday):
Photo courtesy of West Blue Studio Services

The ensuite bathroom was our pride and joy. It was a complete gut, right down to the studs. We even had to replace some studs because they were warped and weren't even connected to the drywall! We painstakingly chose all of the finishes, even driving to another town to get more tile when our local store ran out just as it was almost finished. We had the tile installed by a contractor as we knew it would take us months of evening and weekend work to get it done.


Photo courtesy of West Blue Studio Services

Tom rerouted all of the plumbing himself so that we could have a wall-hung vanity. He also framed out the shower niche, built the mirror frame and shelves, and of course designed and built the inset toilet paper holder that he is so proud of.

The ensuite in our new house is a bit of a blank slate. We'll probably incorporate some of the same ideas - wood grain floor tile, inset toilet paper holder (as if that was in question!), wall-hung vanity - and we're going to have a go at doing it all ourselves. Cross your fingers for us!

The basement was fully finished when we moved in so there wasn't a lot to do. We rearranged some things like the washer/dryer and water heater, and installed a water softener, but most of the changes were cosmetic. We painted the entire basement a warm blue as we were going for a cottage/beachy feel. We changed out all of the lighting, hung some "beachy" artwork, and I painted a huge pallet sign. It's an homage to our favourite beach rental in Hawaii.


Photo courtesy of West Blue Studio Services

We turned the cold storage into a regular storage area (it was still pretty cold) with wood paneled walls and strong wooden shelves. I always loved the smell of that room - I think I'm a carpenter at heart.

The backyard also got an overhaul. The house came with a tiny, tiny deck, actually two tiny decks attached to each other, but not on the same level. We raised up the second deck, enlarged it, and then added another lower deck off to the side where we hung our hammock. The plain wooden rail pickets were replaced with metal balusters.

The final project was to enclose the bottom of the deck, something we did just a month or so before we listed the house. It's too bad we didn't do it sooner as it really added to the appeal.


Photo courtesy of West Blue Studio Services

Whew! That was a lot of change. We loved renovating this house. We made a few changes to our previous house (beyond paint), but this one was where we really got our groove on. I'm really going to miss it.

Here are a few more photos from the real estate listing that show it off like a model home.

Photo courtesy of West Blue Studio Services
Photo courtesy of West Blue Studio Services
Photo courtesy of West Blue Studio Services
Photo courtesy of West Blue Studio Services
Photo courtesy of West Blue Studio Services

(All real estate photos courtesy of West Blue Studio Services)


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